Back in September, we met with the Year 8s to discuss the opportunities that lay ahead of them, regarding OBE’s and their expedition. We were keen to give the children an opportunity to plan, prepare and execute an expedition of their choice; one which would challenge, and they would remember for a long time.
After quite a lot of debate, they agreed on the proposal to climb the Welsh Three peaks and after a presentation to the Headmaster and me, we started the planning. Needless to say, June came around very quickly and after the Common Entrance exams we were all very excited about spending some time in the hills away from school. Thankfully I had a ‘crack team’ of staff, who had undergone a vigorous selection process much like the boys in Hereford! Over a cup of coffee in the staff room, they had kindly volunteered to assist and with their years of outdoor education experience, I felt hugely comforted that they would be by my side!
Departing on the Monday morning we made good progress to Brecon, and after lunch we set off up Pen y Fan at lightening pace. Probably too fast due to the adrenaline, but we found our climbing pace nevertheless, and the whole group marched up and down in just over 3 hours. Tired and a little hungry, we made our way to our first bunkhouse ready for hot food and beds. Unsurprisingly, there was not too much noise the first evening; the children got a good night’s sleep, waking up early the next morning ready for a full breakfast. The kit was packed and they boarded the minibus ready for the journey to Cadair Idris.
We arrived just as the weather came down, poor visibility and light rain meant that we had to be efficient with our navigation and disciplined with our walking pace. The first section of Cadair is tricky. For an hour we trudged up what seemed endless amounts of rocks and ledges. With thighs burning and lungs bursting we rested before the ridge line and it was pleasing to see the children filling up on calories with home made flapjack, biscuits and fruit to keep them going. We headed off down the ridge line with the weather deteriorating, passing climbers that had got to the top. For those that have not been to the top of Cadair, it is not a big summit, with a small ‘bothe’, and not an ideal place to sit 43 children and staff, so we decided to con-tour around the ridge line at the same height as to top, and ‘hunker’ down for food and photos. After a brief break we made the decision to drop out of the weather and make our way down to the bottom of the valley where our support vehicle was waiting with yet more food and drinks. By 6.00 pm we were safely in our next bunkhouse. Hot food, kindly cooked by our support team, and some interesting musical entertainment by the children, ended the day before we all settled down for the evening.
The final climb was always going to be the most challenging, not because it is particularly difficult, but after two days of climbing, moving from bunkhouse to bunkhouse and the inevitable blister or two, the children felt that the challenge was nearly over. But it was hugely important that they kept their focus and completed what they had set out to do. The weather was perfect for sitting on a beach, but climbing a mountain—not so good! At least we would have good views. We set a relaxed pace, stopping constantly for water and food; the ascent took us nearly 4 hours. The children had taken on over 2 litres of water for the ascent, so the first port of call at the top were the toilets! Ice creams, more food and even more water before the photos at the top and after the usual brief from staff, we set off back down. All the children were in great spirits and despite a few sore feet we were in good shape. In every expedition you always get the odd blip/speed bump, and an hour and a half before we got to the bottom of Snowdon, we had our first! A sprained ankle coming down meant that we had to regroup, assess and adjust the pace. Luckily the young lady who sustained the injury is nicknamed ’nails’ so after strapping the ankle, resting, taking on water, we made our way down to the bottom for a well deserved drink and snack. An outstanding effort by her, and the support that she received from the children was everything I look for in these challenges. This was a truly remarkable effort, it was a difficult and challenging climb and descent, with hot weather, general tiredness, and a sprained ankle it is plain to see what this special group of children had actually achieved.
Getting 43 children and staff up three mountains in three days, the logistics involved; driving, cooking, organising beds, navigation, water, avoiding sheep on the road, random parking by the Welsh community, Araf sightings (ask the children), are all part of the challenges that I hoped they would face. There is no doubt that this was a worthy challenge for Year 8, and we were always surprised by the children; very often it is the quieter ones that rise to lead. This is what lies at the heart of OBE’s, giving everyone a chance to be more independent, self reliant and to assess risk.
I would like to thank the staff, who without them, this simply could not have happened, I know, judging by the thank you letters that the children have given you, that they appreciate everything you have done for them.
Well done, Year 8, this was an adventure that we will never forget.
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