Daz Graham’s Welsh Traverse 2021
Words by Ricky Parrish
Pictures by Ricky Parrish & Darren Graham
Fell Running is a simple sport right? So why had I spent the best part of a whole week constantly packing and re-packing my bag, using my kitchen scales to weigh out every single piece of kit, weighing out my food and logging it in a spreadsheet…only to throw that all out of the window upon seeing a fairly intimidating weather forecast the night before setting off?
It was the 2021 version of Daz Graham’s annual mountain traverse. It’s a small, informal and unofficial ‘event’ he puts on, usually attended by a small number of runners from Todmorden Harriers, Calder Valley, Stainland Lions, Ross
endale Harriers and friends. The 2019 version was run from Shap to Santon Bridge across the Lake District over 2 nights, where we were blessed with wall-to-wall rain from almost start to finish, although we did have the luxury of the Mosedale Cottage bothy and the Achille Ratti hut in Langdale which made the experience a lot more tolerable, and even somewhat enjoyable. 2020 was a write off for obvious reasons but this year we were back up and running, and it was set to be a little more hardcore this year, opting for a traverse of Snowdonia from Rowen in the North East to Tremadog in the South West.
So its all pretty informal, but with a slight competitive element to add to the fun. There were points on offer for summits all around the different ranges of Snowdonia and there were no rules. Taxi’s, buses and campervans were even used by some and were all within the legal parameters.
I teamed up with Daz himself and told him I wanted to go for the win and wouldn’t be seen dead in any kind of 2 or 4 wheeled transport, so we prepared ourselves for a tough weekend ahead. We both had about 7-8kg of weight each that we carried all weekend and the route we’d put together (which also got tossed out the window by 8am on the Saturday morning) was looking brutal, with a planned route across the Carneddau, Glyers and Snowdon ranges with Nantlle Ridge and Hebog on the Sunday. Setting off from Rowen, it was looking like a potential repeat of the 2019 weather conditions. Not terribly exciting considering I was using a bivvy bag for the first time. Some slept in campervans and one team even checked in at the Travelodge back at Colwyn Bay. Very sensible.
Soon after setting off, myself and organizer Daz made our first comical error. We headed for the first hill in front of us. I hadn’t spotted it on his list of summit points, but he was assured that it was on there. I just accepted this as names of Welsh hills aren’t my specialty. My calves were on fire as we straight lined it up the steep slope in front of us to the summit of Pen-y-gaer, only to realize we’d gone to the wrong hill completely. We debated whether Daz should try and sneak in a hidden rule of extra points for extra summits but somehow we didn’t think this would fly with the rest of the teams so we just accepted our error and carried on towards Penygadair and then onto Pen-y-Castell. The clag was down, so there was a bit of compass work involved and the summit was a slightly tricky find. It was freezing cold so we decided not to carry on any further and dropped off the ridge to find somewhere to set up camp. The land was so saturated we were getting a little worried, but amongst all the bog, someone up there had kept a nice dry patch right next to a stream just for us. We quickly got changed and camped down for the night. Fortunately it was quite mild where we were, a vast contrast to the bitter conditions on the ridge.
I was a little restless through the night, waking up several times as when my face was getting rained on through the hood of my bivvy bag, but I was warm and comfortable, so I’ll take that. 3 o’clock came round and I was wide awake, so I gave it a while and then very gradually started to make a little more noise around 4ish before just sticking my head in Daz’s tent and telling him to wake up. Before we knew it we were off up the hill, just following the stream up towards Drum. It was still claggy and cold but it was calm at least. Still not pleasant when wearing wet clothes from the night before. This was where I realised my biggest error of the weekend, only bringing a t-shirt and 1 base layer, which I desperately wanted to keep dry for the evenings.
We were picking off summits pretty quickly on this section, towards Carnedd Llewelyn, but we were getting a little concerned by the greasiness of the rocks underfoot. If it was like this on the Glyders we would surely lose a lot of time and it might potentially be pretty dangerous, so we opted to swing South East along the ridge to Pen-yr-Helgi Ddu and Pen Llithrig y Wrach. For some reason I was expecting grassy ridge running so was pleasantly surprised by the exhilarating ridge scrambles along this section.
We dropped down to Capel Curig for a 2 hour breakfast stop where I also stocked up on an extra layer. It was getting warm now and the clag was lifting over most of Snowdonia. Climbing Moel Siabod was a little dull but I guess you can get your legs going and keep a good momentum for most of it. The owner of the Moel Siabod café was doing hill reps from the café to the summit for charity and came past us on the way up and down. Hats off to him, that must take some mental strength.
ff the summit we started on the boundary ridge used on the Paddy Buckley. What a grind! One of those boggy sections where you just never seem to make any progress. The hills along here had very little points value for us too, but we had to go past them so we may as well bag them before ditching our bags for the out and back to Yr Arddu which I think has the most outstanding viewpoint of anywhere I have been so far in Snowdonia. We were feeling good, but starting to tire a little. Daz was trying to encourage me to push on and bag the Moelwyns by myself but I didn’t fancy bivvying on my own. I had a very brief wobble where my legs felt like jelly
but after leaning on a rock for a moment and necking back some Peanut M&M’s I was good to go again. Probably my briefest low moment ever!
We carried on bagging most of the Paddy Buckley tops apart from a couple of obscure ones which weren’t on our list before calling it a day at Allt Fawr and heading down to Llyn Cwm Colsiog, just above the quarries. I couldn’t help thinking about how we had barely seen anyone since Siabod and how if we were in the lakes this Llyn / Tarn would have been a campsite, yet here we had the place to ourselves. Absolute Bliss.
I was woken up by Daz around 5:30am the Sunday morning, who wanted to check that I was still alive. I’d had probably the best nights sleep I’ve ever had up in the hills. In
fact it was the best night’s sleep I’d had all week! We just about managed to squeeze enough gas out of our cannisters to have a brew and some porridge before heading down to the quarries for what was to be the highlight of the weekend for me. We ditched our bags and pocketed some gels and water and headed off to bag the 3 Moelwyn peaks that are on the Ras-Y-Moelwyn race (one of my favourites), although we essentially did it in reverse and didn’t drop down to the dam wall. That was a high scoring morning and I think we were back at the bags within 1 – 1.5hrs and heading up the side of Cnicht. I’d heard bad things about Cnicht and it looked imposing but I actually quite enjoyed the climb. Perhaps not being on any real time pressure makes these things a little more bearable.
Climbing down the ridge from Cnicht was another highlight. What an incredible mountain! Another highlight for me. Although there’s a bit of a slab / bad step bit which we found ourselves going down the wrong side of. I had to channel my inner mountain goat whilst traversing across these slabs, just leaning into the wall and hoping the foot holds were enough to see me over. I don’t think think my wife, Alice, would have been too happy if she’d been there to witness it. a bit sketchy but it was fine and I lived to write this story.
I’d like to end it there really, because it all went downhill from here. We’d spotted a mid scoring peak just across from Cnicht called Yr Arddu and it was in the general direction we wanted to go, we figured we’d bag it. its one of these kind of craggy outliers full of vegetation that I can’t imagine gets many visitors. It looked like there was a classic green dotted line heading into the woods below and we’d just pick that up and come out the other side of the woods and down to road with plenty of time to spare for one final pull up to Moel Ddu before the finish. Much to our frustration, we spent a good hour and a half stuck in the woods, with the forest getting denser and denser in every direction. We were so close to the road yet so far. Anyone down at the road would have heard a lot of F’s and C’s coming out from the woods. It was infuriating.
By the time we reached the road we just headed for Tremadog along roads and farmers fields, again following imaginary dotted lines which didn’t exist in real life. Seriously what is that all about!?! And the next few miles were incredibly forgettable and boring.
But we’d done it, and we were the first team back, which was just as well as our closest competitors, Tim Brooks and Peter Bowles matched us on 47 points, so it came down to the first team back.
It’s the first and probably only thing I’ll ever win, but it was a valuable training weekend and a great adventure. It was a great compliment for Daz to tell me he felt I’d beasted him all weekend, because he has a lot of pedigree in the hills, fells and mountains.
Thanks to Daz for organizing and putting up with my tantrums in the woods near the end and thanks to rest of the teams for coming along and who all had equally as much fun by all accounts.
Full Route mapped out on OS Maps: