As soon as the first flakes fall, I’m wondering when and how I can get on to the hills. This morning was the first opportunity I had to get out so as early as I could manage, I went round and got my walking buddy, Rufus, and drove off towards Fan Brecheiniog. The last couple of miles along the winding single track road were a bit difficult thanks to snow and ice but by taking it slowly and carefully I managed to get to the little layby and a safe spot off the road.
We set off from the car with a light dusting of snow underfoot but the clouds promised more. The wind was blowing but it wasn’t particularly cold. Visibility was good, although it seemed that either side of us the clouds were coming down to cover the hill tops. Within about 15 minutes, the snow on the ground had increased and it hid semi frozen bog and mud so that every so often, my boots would sink up to the ankle supports. Rufus seemed to fare better with four paw drive.
We left the course of the river and headed up the steepest part of the route. At the top, the wind was blowing colder and the snow was much deeper. It made the going much harder; I frequently stepped into knee deep snow and Rufus managed to float along on his stomach in parts as he, too, sank. But eventually, the slope flattened out and we were walking on the level., That didn’t stop the snow from holding us back though.
By now, the wind was freezing but all the effort we put into walking kept us warm. Ahead, I should have been able to see the slopes of Fan Brecheiniog but low cloud hid them. Behind, though, I could see Fan Gyhirych and in the distance, Pen y Fan and Corn Du. Both were only intermittently clear of cloud and several times as we climbed I could see heavy snow showers falling on them. We were free of any falling snow in a little bubble surrounding by dark clouds.
Eventually, we reached the Llyn y Fan Fawr, much to Rufus’ delight but it was a little too cold even for him to paddle today. Instead, he walked around the edge waiting for me to catch up. After a short break for food, we headed up the steep path on the side of Fan Brecheiniog but after getting about a quarter of the way up, the going got tough because of the deep snow. The path itself was obscured and although I could see where the line ran most of the way, some parts were indistinct. Rufus headed off undaunted and I stopped to take some pictures but when I looked ahead to find him, Rufus was stuck in a drift and struggling to get out. I ran up to get him and he was happy to carry on but I decided that it wasn’t worth it for either of us. He seemed just a little relieved to be heading back down to the lake again.
I’ve been hillwalking for years, since before Rufus was born, and I find that when doing so I’m very much goal driven. I like to get the the top, or to the end, or to the particular place I’ve set as my destination. This attitude is generally frowned upon in the walking community as it suggests too much emphasis on arriving and none on the journey. That’s not true, of course. Personally, I use the goal as the psychological incentive. But I love the journey. The main problem with needing this attitude, though, is the danger that risks will be taken to get there at all costs.
I’ve turned back six times due to weather or other circumstances, three times with Rufus. Each was an easy decision to make. Three were in the Lake District – I turned back after getting more than half way to Scafell Pike because of heavy rain, I gave up on Skiddaw when I realised I was exhausted and I turned around on Sharp Edge when I realised that to go on would probably lead to me falling (I shudder about that one even now). Much to Rufus’ disappointment, I have turned back from Fan Brecheiniog once before, and once on Pen y Fan when he gave me such a look that said ‘I don’t want to go on today’. Each time I felt deflated when I got home. But each time I knew it was the right decision. I feel like that now as I write.
Heading back down to the car, I threw snowballs for Rufus. He chased them all but couldn’t make out why they disappeared when he jumped on them. It didn’t stop him, of course, and he carried on charging off down the slope, nearly tripping up in the deep snow and hopping and jumping from drift to drift. Eventually, we reached the river and I threw a couple of stones in for him to paddle, so the snow clinging to his fur would melt.
We got back to the car just as the snow started falling. It soon turned to heavy sleet as we started the drive home. As usual, turning around in the circumstances was the right decision.