My two friends are really old. As old as the hills, as the saying goes. When I first started hill walking seriously, my friends were often there. When I trained for both treks, I can honestly say that these two acquaintances really made the difference. You’ll have figured out by now that the two mates are mountains. Pen y Fan and Corn Du.
Much of my preparation for the first trek was on or around Pen y Fan. It’s the highest spot in England and Wales south of Snowdonia, at 889m. It’s very popular with walkers as there are a number of easy routes from car parks. In one photograph below, there is a long line of 28 people on the path in shot (you may not be able to make them out as the file has been compressed for publication). I’ve climbed it in just about every type of weather – the only one I’ve missed is thunder, as I’m slightly apprehensive about being hit by lightning! By far my favourite is snow. The first time I climbed Corn Du (with friends from work) it was covered in snow. I headed up one day before dawn to catch the sunrise and was rewarded with a thick layer of snow which took the colour of the sun as it came up over the horizon. I’ve turned back in snow when it;s been too bad to carry on.
This morning promised to start clear and cold so Rufus and I set off early from the house. I prefer to have the mountain to myself so an early start is a simple price to pay. As we neared the car park, the roads were icy but I took it easy and it posed no problem other than slowing the journey. There were already a number of cars parked there but as we headed through the gate there was only one other walker near, and he soon turned off the path.
It was slippery underfoot. The lower slopes seemed to have experienced some thawing, which had re-frozen during the night. Even Rufus, with built in crampons on his paws, slipped and slithered and soon followed me onto the snow covered grass at the side of the path. There was slightly more grip, but also more snow drifts, and several times we sank to our respective knees and tummies. Crossing the stream was an ordeal; snow had drifted on either bank presenting a metre high wall which would have been hard to scramble over from the water. So I searched for a narrower bit and finally found something that looked ‘do-able’. Rufus made light work of it but I got across without getting soaked, and we were off up a snow-filled gully, across a line of knee deep snow that had frozen and which randomly collapsed underfoot and back on to a reasonable line which vaguely followed the path.
Behind me, Fan Fawr soaked up the morning sun and ahead, Corn Du slowly disappeared in a mist. I passed a couple of walkers and the mist descended to take away the views. By the time I got to the steepest part of the climb – the final haul up to Corn Du – the visibility was down to yards. On this stretch, with a sheer drop on the left, it was quite a challenge. I found my self wandering off the path towards the drop as the line of the main route wasn’t hidden by the snow. Rufus, with keener vision, kept well clear and was up on the rocks watching me as I tried to avoid icy patches of rock and ground. Then we were on Corn Du and it felt great.
It was very windy there, and I decided to to hang around but to head across the summit to Pen y Fan. It’s only a short distance but it involves a drop down to a path and another climb to the summit. The drop was icy and Rufus was hesitating, so I showed him the way and encouraged him and he was fine. The walk between the two tops reminded me of my adventures in a white out on Ben Nevis (that’s another story but it involves 2000 foot drops and near zero visibility). Then, suddenly, we were on top of Pen y Fan and although this was the 43rd time I’d climbed it, it felt just as good.
The wind was blowing a gale now and once we’d had a snack and a drink, it was time to head back down. Rufus made short work of the icy steps dropping from Corn Du but I wasn’t far behind him. Initially, the path was steeps and it was difficult to find grip but it soon slackened off, and thicker snow made the going easier. We left the moist behind and suddenly, there were groups of walkers heading towards us. It seemed there were three large groups and numerous smaller ones. We left the path and walked parallel to it, where the going was much easier and we wouldn’t have to keep dodging walking poles. Lower down, we left the groups behind and started encountering families. In avoiding the icy path, I was looking for more grip. Twice I managed to step into snowdrifts deep enough that they pitched me over. Rufus was gracious enough not to stare and laugh inwardly. Then we were back at the car park, which was now jammed full of cars, and I was able to enjoy a coffee from the flask left in the car.
While I drank and munched on a Snickers (other snacks are available) on the slopes of Fan Fawr, I threw snowballs for Rufus. He chased them, grabbed them, found they were cold, dropped them and then barked for another one to be thrown. The journey home was easier as the ice had melted on the roads. By the time I got back home, Rufus was fast asleep on the back seat.
As I type this, he’s snoring away on the sofa. I’ll be joining him shortly.