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The Siyafunda 3000s


Opening the door of the hostel at 0310, I glanced up at an imposing Crib Goch towering in the distance, and was met with an overwhelming sense of calmness. It was clear that it had been raining over night, but as I stood looking up at the sky, it felt completely still, almost like I was staring at a painting. The stillness I felt was in complete contrast to the anxiety that had prevented me from sleeping the whole of that night. Not long before, I laid in the hostel bunk bed, counting my breath, desperately trying to sleep, but constantly being kept up by the thought of worst-case scenarios. Suddenly, taking 10 other people across one of the most infamous ridges in the UK, didn’t seem like such a good idea. But when I stood outside and gazed up at Crib Goch, something told me it was going to be alright.



Traversing Crib Goch

This was it, the start of our Siyafunda 3000s challenge and after a quick 0345 briefing and a team photo we headed off into the low lit mountains towards the first peak of 15. As per the briefing, we arrived at a crossroads on the route. Go straight and you continue along the PYG track, eventually summiting Snowdon. Turn right and you rear off to Crib Goch. Past here was the point of no return. Soon after the path disappears, you start the scramble, up an intimidating wall of rock until you reach the ridge line. Turning around and downclimbing wasn’t an option, but luckily the whole group committed to the task in hand.

Bit-by-bit, we made our way up the rockface, gaining a large amount of elevation in a very short distance. Pete, being the gent that he is, pulled in two unexperienced young men, dressed in tracksuits, who had decided Crib Goch would be their first ever mountain experience and were already looking like they were regretting their life choices. They were to remain with us for the remainder of Crib Goch.


As we started to hit the ridge line it was the clear that the weather was turning already. Far from the stillness I had experienced outside the hostel, the wind was now pounding us, making for an uncomfortable crossing. The team, consisting of Shana, Sarah, Phoebe, Iona, Darren, Tim, Kiran, Stuart, Lewie, Pete and myself, made our way carefully across the ridge-line.


Crib Goch is a knife-edge ridge that is a popular route to the summit of Snowdon. It is extremely exposed, requiring a good head for heights and nerves of steel, especially when being battered by wind. It’s fair to say that Crib Goch was living rent free in the heads of some of the team for months, including Iona and Lewie, who crossed with me at the back of the group. Trying to control my own fear of heights, I was inspired greatly by Iona’s courage and determination to get across. Fear can do strange things to you if you let it, but step by step she edged her way across and before too long we had crossed the ridge. All that was left now was a climb around and over the awe inspiring pinnacles and the team had bagged their first peak.


Despite already starting well over an hour ago, the Welsh 3000s route officially starts on the first peak, which for us doing the alternative route, meant Crib Goch. Already pumped full of adrenaline, battered by the weather and needing a brew to warm us up, officially our challenge had just started. We quickly scrambled up the last bit of rock face and it wasn’t long until we had bagged our second peak, the uninspiring Garnedd Ugain. From here we marched along the path to the highest peak in Wales, Mount Snowdon, and our third summit. A quick photo in typical Snowdon weather, with zero views in any direction, and we were off back down the mountain for our next stop, RV1.


Bagging the third summit, Mount Snowdon

Despite only having completed 1 of 3 mountain ranges, it’s fair to say that Crib Goch took it out of us, and as we approached the car park in the small village of Nants Peris, the thought of a warm drink and a five-minute sit down felt like heaven. The support vehicle, consisting of Jacqui and Lucy from Dogs4Wildlife, didn’t disappoint, and as we approached one by one, we were greeted with freshly made coffee - a morale boost of epic proportions.


At this point, Iona and Kiran decided to call it a day. An achievement they can both be massively proud of. Let’s face it, a trip up the tallest mountain in England and Wales, along a dangerous knife-edge ridge is far from a walk in the park. The rest of us packed up and headed off to ascend peak 4, the dreaded Elidir Fawr. Far from the frightening exposure of Crib Goch, Elidir Fawr is its own beast. Starting in Nant Peris, it is one almighty climb to the summit, standing at a whopping 924 metres. Largely featureless, the path seemed to go on for an eternity, with an annoyingly consistent incline the whole way up. A true soul sapper, it was on this ascent that we realised just what a huge challenge this was. With the thighs burning and the lungs desperate for air, we slowly made our way to the summit. There was not much to shout about here as the cloud that also covered Snowdon’s peak, stopped any chance of mountain views and, as such, we sheltered in the round brick structure at the top for a quick drink before moving on to bag our next peak.


Scrambling up the Crib Goch Pinnacles

In order to reach our peak we needed to again descend, our knees getting battered by the rocky downhill path. Suddenly, like the flick of a switch we dropped out of the clouds and for the first time of the day we were greeted by 360-degree views of the stunning Snowdonia mountains. There’s nothing quite like the beauty of Mother Nature to boost your mood and it was great to see the team smiling after what had been a huge slog to the 4th peak.


Next came the short and steady ascent to Y Garn, but as we were already so high up, this felt far less hideous than Elidir Fawr. Before long we had reached the top and stunning views over our next targets of Glyder Fawr, Glyder Fach and the menacing Tryfan spanned across the horizon in front of us. The layby of RV2 could be seen at the foot of Tryfan, with the cars looking like a small army of marching ants, seemingly a million miles away. We could see Glyder Fawr standing tall in front of us but, much to our dismay, a deep valley lay between the two mountains which meant another huge descent and ascent ahead of us. The gravity of just how big a challenge this was had truly set in, but there was no choice but to march on. We had a job to do.


The Siyafunda 3000s wasn’t just a physical and mental challenge designed to push us to the edge. It was a fundraiser for our programme in partnership with Dogs4Wildlife, The Siyafunda Ngemvelo programme. Translated from isiZulu, it means ‘we learn in nature’, and the programme aims to take young rural South Africans into their local wildlife reserves so that they can learn about nature and build a long-lasting connection to their wildlife heritage.


The sad reality is, that despite often living in close proximity to wildlife reserves or National Parks, only 2% of children in rural South Africa have ever visited a game reserve. For decades, brutal apartheid laws virtually stopped black people from visiting these places, they were seen as a place for only the white man to enjoy. Thankfully, the horrors of apartheid came to an end 30 years ago but, in reality, not much has changed. High levels of poverty and lack of opportunity mean that most black South Africans don’t have the chance to visit these stunning natural places, where often their ancestors would have once lived. Private reserves often charge thousands of pounds per night and only really cater for the international market, not the local one, meaning millions of people miss out on their wildlife heritage.



Endangered white rhino

Given the obvious disconnect between communities and their neighbouring reserves, it’s really no surprise when you hear of the huge levels of poaching, particularly for rhinos, that is sweeping the nation and the continent. South Africa is home to 80% of the world’s rhinos, however, thousands of these majestic animals have been killed in the last decade, with Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe Imfolozi taking the biggest hit. As well as these flag ship parks, many private reserves have also been hit hard by the recent wave of poaching.


It is easy for us to condemn poaching whilst sitting in comfy western homes, watching Sir David Attenborough teach us about Africa’s stunning megafauna. But if you didn’t know where your next meal was coming from, and someone offered you a life-changing sum of money to kill an animal you had never seen before and had no emotional connection with, you too might think otherwise. It is an important skill when trying to understand the poaching crisis, to put yourself in the shoes of others. Without an ability to recognise what causes people to poach, you will never be able to deal with the problem. If the first time a poacher sees a rhino is when he breaks into the park to kill it, there lies half the problem.


Children from Glen Park Primary on a trip to Bonamanzi Game Reserve

The Siyafunda Ngemvelo programme was set up to change this narrative and give young South Africans a chance to visit their local wildlife reserves and build a connection to their wildlife heritage. Already, over 100 children from Glen Park Primary School have visited their local Bonamanzi Game Reserve, seeing the incredible wildlife that live there for the first time, whilst also learning the importance of conserving it. The funds raised from this challenge go solely towards the Siyafunda programme and it was that that kept us going in moments of darkness.


Back to the mountains and it was clear there was no easy route to the summit of Glyder Fawr. From the other side of the valley, it was hard to get visuals on a defined path, but as we got closer, we realised that the only way up was up a steep path of loose stones, making the ascent all the more difficult. As the awkward path winded up the side of the mountain, our feet slid with the stones on every step, and the route to the summit seemed to take an eternity. It was a small relief when we reached the summit, but with time pressing, we needed to head straight on.


By this point we had been out for around 11 hours and both the steep ascents and, more so, descents, were starting to take their toll. Knee pain of various kinds was a common complaint amongst the group, and as we approached summit 7, Gylder Fach, the wind again started to hammer us. A mix of pain, cold, tiredness, and the thought of walking for many more hours, was playing on the minds of pretty much everyone.


Pete bagging another summit

Luckily, it didn’t take long to reach the summit of Glyder Fach, and a fun scramble across an endless playground of huge rocks, stood in our way. It felt good to move our bodies in a different way to the usual monotonous pounding of the steep uphill paths that brought us here. As the cloud parted once again, the mighty Tryfan glistened in the sun, like something out of a Welsh mythology book.


To get to the foot of Tryfan meant that we had to downclimb a very steep gully of scree, that moved every time you stepped on it. It made for a VERY slow descent, especially on already-tired legs. At the bottom, I could see heads starting to drop, so I promised there would be sausage sandwiches courtesy of the support vehicle, waiting at the bottom of the mountain. Up until that point we had been living on nuts, energy bars, fruit and electrolytes so the thought of warm food got everyone back on the move. The truth was, we wouldn’t taste those sausages for another 2 hours!


Tryfan by itself is a mountain not to be messed with. When you look at it, a wall of jagged, angry rocks looks menacingly back at you. There is no simple path up, and the use of hands is essential to reaching the top. We zigzagged our way up, scrambling up any safe passage we could find, until eventually we reached the summit. I knew that we couldn’t hang around as now we were really pressed for time, so it meant one thing only, a speedy downclimb back to the main path, which led to the campsite where our support vehicle was waiting.

The tiredness and pain had really set in by the time we approached the 2nd RV, and I knew it was likely that we would lose some of the group here. Despite having completed 2/3rds of the trail, another 10 miles awaited us, and with it being close to 7pm already, for most, this was a stretch too far. Seeing Mike, who was stopped from taking part by a back injury, waiting for us with a huge smile and high fives, was the best of morale boosts.


As we sat around the minibus eating our sausage sandwiches, a huge sense of pride came over me. Although most of the group confirmed that for them, this was the end, I knew that just completing what we had done already was a mammoth achievement, especially for a group who had never done anything to this scale before. By this point we had ticked off Crib Goch (which felt like a completely different trip already), smashed out well over 3000m of elevation, and bagged 8 mountains. It was nothing short of extraordinary and I hope that every single one of them understands just how big an achievement it was.


The support crew providing the best morale boost

I knew that Pete would be joining me for the last section, but I had a hunch that there was one other dark horse left in this race. Step forward, Lewie! Aged 62, Lewie was neither the fastest nor fittest of the group - in fact, he was often last heading along the route. But what Lewie does have in abundance is determination, and a heart that won’t give up, whatever happens. We asked Lewie if he was up for it and he replied with language not suitable for any charity blog post, but we got the message that he was ready to go.


The rest of the group gave us the warmest send off and we trotted off to peak 9, Pen Yr Ole Wen. Just like Elidir Fawr, this mountain seemed to go on for ever, with nothing but a short, wet scramble to break it up. We pushed on and on, gradually making our way to the top, but knowing full well that we had hours ahead of us. At that point, little did I know just how mentally taxing it would get.


The next section of the route is by far the easiest, following along the ridgeline you bag peak after peak. We were however starting to lose light, and after a short but stunning sunset, it was time to put on the headtorches, just as we had started with 19+ hours ago. We had done the majority of the hard work now, so all we could do was push on, as the light faded into complete darkness. Typically, after initially briefing the group about the importance of head torches and spare batteries, my head torch decided it was going play silly buggers and failed to switch on. Sandwiched between Pete and Lewie, I tried to position myself so that I could steal their light to guide my route. It's fair to say I hit the deck a couple of times!


Although there wasn’t much in the way of ascent or descent, the terrain was far from easy, and we often stumbled our way through rocky fields, that would be tricky enough in daylight, but were a nightmare in the dark. Lewie, despite the warrior in him, was starting to really slow now, and in my head, I was mulling over what a man down situation would look like in the middle of Snowdonia National Park at midnight. It was a realistic prospect, and we were still miles away from the pick-up point, with only mountains surrounding us. However, like a scene from Rocky 2, Lewie, step by step, kept marching on. Pete and I were both left in complete awe of this tenacious man.


King Lewie


Eventually, just after midnight, we reached the last summit of Foel Fras and sent a jubilant voice note to let the group know we had finished. I don’t know why I thought there would be a banner, balloons and ‘Celebration’ by Kool and the Gang being blasted out of a speaker somewhere, but I felt like we had earned it. Instead, we were met with a few bricks to mark the summit and a boggy field that we now had to get out of. That boggy field, despite not being very far distance wise, often caused us to be ankle - sometimes knee - deep in bog, with the darkness making it very difficult to navigate. The realisation of being stuck in a bog and still so far from the pick-up point, was sobering to say the least. I was telling the other two that at any point we should be hitting a roman road, but as we slogged through the damp grass, I was wondering if it would ever arrive. Eventually it did, and if I had the energy at that point, I would have kissed it. I knew that we now just had to plough on for another 5 or so kilometres and we would be back in the car.


Unbeknown to us, the support vehicle had its own issues, and was unable to make it down the narrow country lanes to the RV point. Luckily Mike had saved the day and drove with Phoebe to the pickup point. When we finally saw their headlights in the distance and started to push towards them, they had already been sitting there for 3 hours waiting for us! Oops.

Seeing them there waiting for us was one of the best moments of the whole trek. The rain had started lashing down on us by now, and we all just wanted to be wrapped up in bed. But we were there, we had done it, 15 mountains and 23 hours later and we had finally got back.

Pete and I knew that we would finish this challenge comfortably, but we were both left with complete admiration for the man of the hour, Lewie, who defied the odds to finish the Siyafunda 3000s. Considering he wasn’t sure if he would even do Crib Goch, the magnitude of what he had done didn’t escape me, and hopefully not him either.


That day 10 people had put their trust in me to get them across the mountains safely, but in truth, really it was me who put my trust in them. Every single person rose to the challenge and made what was an absolutely brutal challenge, an incredibly enjoyable day out. There’s no two ways about it, the Welsh 3000s, or in our case the Siyafunda 3000s, is an extremely tough mental and physical challenge. The terrain, the weather, the time on your feet, and the elevation, all make for one tough day at the office. But our group really did smash it out the park.


To top it off, close to £4,000 has been raised for the Siyafunda Ngemvelo Programme, which will literally give hundreds of children the chance to visit their local wildlife reserve and build a connection to nature, that we hope will last a lifetime. If just one of them is inspired to become the next field guide, ranger or conservationist, then we would all go through the pain over and over again.


Our world is changing, and as human populations continue to grow, a great pressure is put on remaining wildlife populations. Through this community-focused conservation programme, we hope to create a planet where humans and wildlife can thrive side by side for generations to come.


If you'd like to donate, please click on the link below. Every penny goes towards the Siyafunda Ngemvelo Programme.





We thank you.

 

 

 

 

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