29th July 2010 The heighting of Tryfan
Graham Jackson

On 15 March BBC Wales TV news carried a small story. In summary the news item said that one of the most spectacular mountains in Snowdonia - Tryfan - may be suffering from delusions of grandeur. With a 915 metre (3,002 ft) map height, it is close to one of Britain's historically important benchmark heights, that of 3,000 ft. Since there is a +/-3 metre (+/-10 ft) margin of uncertainty associated with the surveying method that determined this map height, it means that Tryfan might not be a 3,000 ft mountain after all. If below 3000 ft, this would have repercussions for the Fourteen Peaks race and Tryfan would no longer be one of the elite ‘big boys’. Three walkers, Myrddyn Phillips, John Barnard and Graham Jackson were going to use the latest GPS surveying techniques to discover the truth. Below is an account of the day.

Tryfan Stands Tall(er)

The alarm penetrated my sub-conscious and slowly I emerged from sleep and into the dark world that was 4.30am in Capel Curig Youth Hostel. Already my fellow surveyors were stirring and soon there was a buzz of activity as we assembled our gear and emerged sleepily into the outside world. The morning began dark and grey as we drove into the car park at Ogwen cottage, dark because it was just after 5am and grey because a fine drizzle had descended on the valley. As we emerged from our vehicles, clouds of midges descended for breakfast; this promised to be a hard day. The team of Mark Greaves (Ordnance Survey), Chris Dearden & Brian Jones (BBC), Alun Pugh (Snowdonia Society), Llion Iwan & Stephen Edwards (CREAD), Mark Handford (Mountain Guide) and ourselves assembled and eventually we set off for the summit. The starting pace was brisk and soon the midges were left behind to forage elsewhere. After about 30min though Chris stopped and pulled strange packages from his rucksack. These turned out not to be food, but were quickly transformed into a fancy outside broadcast transmitter and receiver. Without further ado Chris launched into a live broadcast for BBC Radio Wales news, setting the scene for listeners and describing our current progress into the grey mists that shrouded our goal. It was as if Tryfan was playing with us and wanted to hide from our gaze. The drizzle came in once again. ‘Whose idea was this?’ The upward progress was broken on a couple of other occasions for film shots that would go into the TV news slots later in the day. Finally, though we arrived at the summit which was still shrouded in mist, but at least the drizzle had abated and we were relatively dry. There stood Adam and Eve, the two massive summit blocks, brooding and awaiting our next move. We had rehearsed the set-up of the equipment during a visit to Tryfan a few weeks previously, so we were very quickly able to lash the antenna to the summit block and link it to the control unit. Like all good plans though we hit a snag. We could not get a signal. There was only one thing to do. Panic! In forward planning for the event we had decided, luckily, to take a spare extension cable and it turned out it was one of the cables that was faulty. Quickly we fitted the new cable and rearranged the equipment to accommodate it and we were in business. Phew! While all this was ongoing there was a live radio broadcast, a welcome diversion from the technical hitch, but by 09.00hr we were collecting data. As we sat and relaxed for the first time, a warm glow began to fill the sky. Then, to herald this historic occasion, the sun pierced the thick mist and within half-an-hour a wide vista of mountains presented itself and the sun shone from a blue sky. As many will testify, the view from this iconic mountain is one of the best in the UK. There, all around, are the highest mountains in Wales guarding Tryfan from prying eyes, while to the North is the Nant Ffrancon stretching to Bethesda and the shimmering sea beyond. A walker could sit here all day and never tire of such a view. Suddenly, our spirits lifted. The three hours of waiting, while the GPS collected data, thus passed quickly, and our attention was occasionally focussed by more television interviews. Finally, after more than 3hr and over 2,000 readings, the vigil over and we had enough data to calculate an accurate result. We packed the gear away and descended the mountain making our way to the Snowdonia Society’s headquarters at Ty-hyll where Mark processed the results. With the local press and BBC now all present, we held our breath as the result flashed on to the computer screen. Tryfan had confounded its doubters and came in at 917.5m, a couple of metres higher than its current map height! The mountain truly belongs with the ‘big boys’ and stands taller than ever.

John Barnard
Myrddyn Phillips
Graham Jackson