From essential training in hill, mountain and wilderness skills to guiding adventure-seekers on hardcore challenges like the Welsh 3000s (Northern Snowdonia’s 15 highest summits) and organising recce events to those preparing for the world’s toughest competitive mountain run (the Dragon’s Back Race from Conwy to Cardiff across the remote central spine of Wales), RAW Adventures have been leading people into North Wales’ mightiest and most majestic mountain landscapes for many years, and showing them there is much more to this mesmeric outdoor region than Snowdon. Here, we catch up with them in rare off-peak hours to learn a little more about the roof of Wales, and how to explore its lesser-known sides…
You could have set up RAW Adventures in quite a few wild parts of the UK. What was it about Snowdonia that made you set up shop there?
Kate: The area of North Snowdonia that we have come to call home offers a variety of landscape and environments of special quality; which makes it a unique place to live and work. Quality of life for our family was high on the agenda. Then, to be able to help others sustainably enjoy these qualities is a privilege, and one that we respect and take seriously. We understand the desires of visitors to learn more about a unique and inspiring area of North Wales, and at the same time, the need to strike a balance between the needs of the local community and environment.
Ross: Snowdonia offers a wonderful variety of landscapes. I like to think it is like Scotland in miniature. We were looking to move out of the South East, so as not to have to travel for hours to reach the mountains, and we both have many years of experience venturing across all the UK national parks. Snowdonia ticked all the boxes. Then there is also the small but not insignificant fact that we met each other here in Snowdonia on our Mountain Leader training course at Plas y Brenin National Mountain centre!
For a lot of people Snowdonia is first and foremost Snowdon itself. It’s been in the news a lot over recent weeks (and, let’s be honest, years) for its overtourism. Could you tell us a bit about some of your favourite, more out-of-the-way, less-crowded parts of the national park, the hikes/adventures you can do there and why they’re special?
We totally understand the notion of trying to reduce the pressure on honey-pot areas like Snowdon, agreed. This is why we conceived the ‘Walks Eryri’ concept [see more below]. For somewhere else that is currently resourced and promoted by Natural Resources Wales, for example, we love walking in the Afon Cynfal gorge in the Ceunant Cynfal National Nature Reserve, for an experience of walking through what a ‘rainforest’ in Wales would have looked like, thousands of years ago.
As you mention above, you’ve recently set up Walks Eryri, which we understand is aimed at getting visitors to Snowdonia exploring adventurously beyond Snowdon. Can you tell us a bit more about this and what dimension this adds to RAW Adventures?
Our concept of ‘Walks Eryri’ has always existed in our own planning with clients. This collection of route ideas is not ‘new’ or ‘secret’ in any way. They are routes that have well used Rights of Ways or established access, and we’ve just made some further attempt at wanting to highlight these to folk that get in touch with us, wanting to ‘Climb Snowdon’ or discover somewhere new with the family etc. We have always suggested alternatives to people to help with their planning and aspirations. Some will be enticed by the idea of visiting somewhere they may not have heard of before, and some are very keen to stick with their plan of climbing the highest mountain in Wales, and nothing else. So while we continue to offer offer alternatives and suggestions, we also accommodate the desires of many to explore Yr Wyddfa [Snowdon]. And ‘Walks Eryri’ is our way of making this conversation easier, especially when trying to do our best to help spread the visitor load on Snowdon. The word ‘Eryri’ is the Welsh for Snowdonia, and whilst there is lots more information on our website, some of the walks we cover include Clogwyn Mawr (2 miles), South Tryfan (5 miles) and Moel Eilio (9 miles).
Everybody loves a story where people get into a sticky situation out in the wilderness and eventually come through unscathed, and in our experience most outdoor lovers have them. What’s your story, what happened and where?
Ross: I can think of a couple of examples from over the many years of visiting Eryri. The standout for me is from a DofE practice expedition as a participant: I must have been about 16 at the time. We were visiting during Easter with my Air Cadet squadron, and the weather was typically marginal, with some old snow lingering in many areas and plenty of liquid sunshine. We were making our way across the Moelwynion [a group of mountains in Central Snowdonia] and were aiming for our second nights wild camp at Llynau Diwaunydd beneath Moel Siabod, the highest of the peaks in the range. There were about three teams of us and we battled against the strong winds and rain all day until we set up our planned camp on the shore of the Llyn. During the night the winds increased and I have a vivid memory of looking out of the tent door and watching the wall of water heading towards us across the Llyn and pounding the tents. Over the course of that long night, one by one, the tents caved in and collapsed, until we had 7/8 people in the remaining two 3-person tents. In the small hours the 2 staff and some of the teams walked out to collect the minibuses whilst our team remained until sunrise then packed up what was left and headed out to meet them for a very welcome hearty cooked breakfast. All before the advent of mobile phones!
There are many outdoor adventure providers based in Snowdonia – what distinguishes RAW Adventures from other operators?
We have worked particularly hard to establish a well-regarded reputation for meticulous organisation of activities. We have always tried to lead by example when it comes to high standards of safety operations, clear communications about what we do, being proactive about environmental concerns and respecting local communities and individuals. Based on our own experience and through our high-calibre freelance staff, RAW can offer a variety of activities from small-scale, guided walks to managing the safety of large, mountain events. We are not shy of saying ‘yes’ and working out the best way to achieve a client’s goal. Over 10 years of operations, RAW has also worked hard to ‘give something back’ to local charities, the environment and communities, via voluntary and charitable work and investment financially.
Finally: five things you’d not be in the middle of the wilderness without, and why?
A mobile phone. As an outdoor professional this is a key part of my emergency kit. Stored in a dry bag, turned off or in flight mode to conserve battery and with a mini battery pack for boost if needed.
A first aid kit. This is especially important as a guide. I’d include in this a great bit of kit called a blizzard bag/jacket for emergency situations to help keep warm.
A head torch. Regardless of the time of year its always in the top pocket of my bag. Then you can choose to stay out longer to watch the sunset or, well, just in case…
In addition to the items Ross mentioned I would add…
A tissue bag. Simple: two small zip-lock bags to put your used loo roll, so it can be disposed of appropriately when back down off the mountains.
A buff. I barely leave the house without one of these, let alone anywhere more remote than Tesco! They are really versatile but mostly help keep my hair in check.