Smooth as a baby’s

The things I do for fun. Two days to go before I fly off to climb Kilimanjaro. This evening was shaving evening! I’ve had a beard for just over two years, mainly because I hate the inevitable shaving rash I used to get when wet shaving (an electric razor never did it for me). But I have to look like my passport photo so I decided to shave the beard off.

Me with full beard

Beard

I’ve grown (grown, ha ha! Groan,) used to my beard now and I even let it grow over Christmas until I found coffee and bread crumbs from breakfast still there when I got to work. I trimmed it back again to what you see above. I set to work with shaving cream, two razors and hot water.

10 minutes later, I was at the goatee stage.

Me with goatee

Weird

I was alternately soaking one razor and using the other. It still took ages to get the long bristles off. I kept scraping but the razor was being deflected over the longer hairs. Still, eventually after another 15 minutes, I managed to get the Mexican Bandit look.

Me with moustache

Village people

If you’ve ever seen the episode of Top Gear where they make an intro for a 70’s action hero show (with a Reliant Scimitar as the main car) you’ll recognise this style of moustache. By now, all the scraping was taking a toll on my skin and my upper lip always suffers the worst. But the temptation to leave the mo’ was countered by the inevitable comparison to Village People. So the scraping continued.

After another 15 minutes, it had almost all gone and I’d had enough.

Clean shaven

16 again

 

As I’m writing this, I can feel a gentle waft of air on my upper lip. It’s stinging too. The double chin that the beard hid is still there but I was looking up slightly at the camera (there are some benefits to being a photographer – I know the tricks to hid the undesirable bits).

It’s as smooth as a baby’s bum,. apart from the bits where the blade was obviously blunt, which is as smooth as a piece of sandpaper.  

www.justgiving.com/DaveFarmer0304. It’s got to be worth it just to see the mo’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The last misty mountain

Including today, I have five days left before I fly out to Tanzania and try to get to the top of Kilimanjaro. Today was the last realistic opportunity to get some hill training in. At least that’s what Rufus was telepathically transferring into my head. I know it was him because I also had an overwhelming urge to fill my back pack full of doggy treats.

So after breakfast and a swift patrol of the garden, we were off and very quickly at the start of the path over Moel Feity and to Llyn y Fan Fawr. Last time we were heading in this direction, we ended up scurrying back to the car in the middle of thunder and lightning and a tremendous hail storm. Today, the weather couldn’t have been more different. It was cold and clear and a golden glow from the just risen sun brought out the yellows and oranges in the grass and it was as if we were walking on a brick red carpet. Albeit a soggy one.

We made our way up onto Moel Feity, stopping to tidy up the memorial to the American bomber crash. Wind had scattered some of the poppies and I placed them back on the small cairn, weighted down with stones. Then it was off down the other side and up the hill to the lake. By now, Fan Brecheiniog was covered in a fluffy cloud hat and for a moment I had to look twice to make sure it wasn’t another thunder cloud. That day still haunts me. But it wasn’t and we reached the lake relatively dry.

After a stop to refuel, during which I had the urge to sacrifice my Snickers to Rufus (which I only just managed to overcome), we started the steep trudge up on to Fan Brecheiniog itself. As we climbed, the cloud lifted so that by the time we were on the top, there was a light haze covering the ridge. Ahead, a huge aerial stucjk up from the stone shelter and as we passed I heard the distinct nasal clip of someone speaker over a radio circuit. I’m not sure what was happening but the two guys with the radio were comfortable in the shelter. Rufus and I walked on to the end of the ridge and took a few selfies before we turned around and headed back down to the lake.

At the water’s edge, I sat and threw stones for Rufus to catch. This will be the last time we walk together for a while and I wanted to make sure that he had a bit of a play as well as a good long walk. There was much wagging of tail and barking, which suggested to me that he was having fun.

The two kilometres walk back to the car isn’t the best part of this route and we splashed, squelched and slipped our way back in about an hour. Rufus was reluctant, as usual, to jump up on to the back seat but he didn’t know what I knew – we were only going a mile down the road to the river. Or maybe he did know. Maybe it was his idea? Once he realised we were stopping again, he was stood up and ready to jump out. I parked by the side of the river so that he could have a proper paddle, and rinse some of the mud out of his paws.

We walked up and down the river bank until I found some stones and there followed a stone fest. I threw, he chased. He jumped, paddled, slipped, bathed and barked. His tail wagged so much that if it had been submerged it would have propelled him up against the flow of the water. A few times he made athletic leaps across to a stone in the middle of the river, only to leap back on to the bank again with equal grace. A lot of fun was being had. All too quickly it was time to leave and Rufus dried off in the back while I drove behind horses, tractors, cyclist and slow learner drivers back home.

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Just a little bit further

Yesterday was the last decent day, weather-wise, that would fit in with my training plan. I intend to wind down in the last week, concentrating on gym/cardio/aerobic exercise in a controlled environment to minimise the risk of injury. So Rufus and I headed out to Fan Llia. I had an idea that we’d walk Fan Llia and Fan Dringarth and then drop down to the east side of the Ystradefllte reservoir to make our way back to the car.

At the stile, Rufus struggled a little to get over so I gave him a helping hand. I may have helped a little too much, or he may have slipped but the next thing I knew, he was going head over heels to land in the mud on the other side. I jumped over but by the time I’d got to him, he was up, shaking himself down and wagging his tail. I kept an eye on him but there were no limps or winces, and we climbed steadily through mist and wind to the cairn on Fan Llia. There was a little drizzle but also a little sunshine as the clouds blew rapidly across the mountain. By the time we’d reached Fan Dringarth, the cloud was lifting again and there were large patches of blue sky.

Much to Rufus’ surprise (as he knows our normal route north well) I turned west to head down to the Nant y Gasseg and Nant y Gwair streams which join to form the Afon  Dringarth which feeds the reservoir. He was confused for a moment, and then he spotted the river, and there was no stopping him. I had to watch where I was stepping because of half buried rocks but every time I looked up, there was a small black shape bounding towards the water. By the time I reached the river, Rufus was wading and waiting for me. I threw stones stones and a stick for him to chase and he was a happy dog.

This little valley, Cwm Dringarth, has signs of habitation going back hundreds of years if not further. I saw the remains of sheep folds and other rough drystone structures. There were obvious and not so obvious flattened platforms that once formed the base of dwellings for those farming in the valley. It must have been a bleak and hard life in the valley, although it;s likely that the climate was a little better and, of course, the reservoir wasn’t there and so access would have been much easier.

The going along the side of the valley was tough for me as I had to avoid the river itself and negotiate many little streams that had cut deep into the hillside. I seemed to be climbing up and down all the time, while Rufus used the riverbank and riverbed to make smooth progress. Walking on a slope was hard too; my feet were always at an angle and my left leg was slightly lower than my right. Between us, we managed to make our way along the valley, through mud and bog, until we reached the reservoir.

It was fenced off, which was very disappointing for Rufus who looked longingly at the water through the railings. But eventually, he realised a dip was not to be and carried on, only occasionally glancing across to see if there was a convenient gap in the fence. Streams coming down from the hills were in full spate after the rain and they had cut deep channels in the soft earth. Each had places where sheep had created crossings, but slipping and sliding down and back up again was hard going.

Eventually, we reached the dam at the head of the valley, and this was where in the past I’d crossed over to start the long climb back up to the cairn on Fan Llia. This time, the plan was to head on south, climbing more gradually as we went. By now, the blue skies we’d had for a while were beginning to cloud over again and with the prospect of more storms in the afternoon, we were at the right part of the route; nearly at the car.

False summits can be demoralising if you aren’t expecting them. I had an idea that the summit of the ridge ahead wasn’t the final one and I was right, so it wasn’t too disappointing. But as we got to it, the rain started. Light at first, it became heavier as we reached the real summit and started the last stretch down to the car park. Here the going was treacherous, with saturated ground beneath my feet running with water. I know from experience that this is slippery so I was very careful as I made my way down. Looking up, I saw Rufus disappearing into the reeds in the distance. I wasn’t worried but I wondered if he’s get lost and I’d have to call him to the stile. I decided to cross the fence early, at a point where some inconsiderate farmer has chained a gate shut. As I stepped onto the wooden platform leading to the gate, my feet went from under me on the slimy wood. I fell sideways to my left and managed to tear a fingernail off, bend another one back as I landed on my left hand. I lay on the wood and in slow motion, Rufus’ lead (an extending one, with a big plastic reel) flew around and hit my forehead. I may have sworn.

Giving up on the gate, I made my way down to the stile, where Rufus met me and proceeded to show me how crossing a stile should be done. Back home, we were both tired and when I checked the route, I found we’d walked 10km and climbed 400m, which was more than I had estimated. It was a good final workout for me, and judging by the near constant tail wagging during the walk, an enjoyable day for Rufus.

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Winding down

With 17 days to go until I fly out to Tanzania, there are a lot of things to do. I still have to train but having down the long walks, these will be shorter but more frequent tramps through the countryside. And Rufus has agreed to accompany me, which will be a great incentive and pleasant company.

This morning, I got the last of my dollars and had a nice chat with the young lady at the travel agent. She was fascinated by the up coming trek (she wasn’t trying to sell me anything I didn’t want, and the questions and her reactions seemed genuine). And somewhere between then and when I found myself on Cefn Cul with Rufus, it all became a step more real.

The walk today was partly to check out my knee after yesterday’s testing route. And it was fine. As we walked in the wind and occasional sunshine, I was trying to think about everything I need to do before I set off on the 15th. I got the point where there were so many things (charge batteries, replace head torch batteries, redirect mail, online check-in etc) that I realised I need to make a list. I did this for my first trek, too, and stuck it on the fridge door. It even included ‘switch off lights’ as a last act before leaving the house.

The ground was soaking wet. It wasn’t so much mud as saturated ground. The water was running off in new rivulets  and where the going was flat, it sat in clear pools. Most of the time I had no choice but to walk in the water. The end of the ridge came suddenly – with a fence. Although the whole ridge is access land, I didn’t climb it as the sun was going down and I wanted to get back before we got a drenching from the clouds that were forming ahead of us. So we turned around and splashed our way back.

I left the path we followed to drop down to the road a little earlier and that was a big mistake. Off the path, the ground was uneven and full of holes and little channels where water had dug away at the earth. It made the walking much harder and I was staring at the ground the whole time. And I still managed to twist my left ankle and then turn my right one. I was fortunate not to injure either ankle but it’s a risk of continuing to train. I have no choice but I must be more careful.

Rufus doesn’t seem to have any problem with ruts and dips. He trots, dashes, walks and jumps along without a care. As we were crossing through a patch of high grass, he was bounding with leaps as sure footed as any mountain goat. He despatched the inevitable stile with ease, too.

I’m waiting to see what the weather forecast is for tomorrow before deciding on our day’s activity. The one thing I know is that there will be no lie-in. Rufus will see to that!

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Not another mountain?

The weather forecast for today was the best for the next few days or so and I had to get another long walk in before the trek. So there wasn’t any choice about getting out on to the hills today. I had an early night and was cooking breakfast at 7am. I haven’t had a cooked breakfast for ages, and this was very much a whim, so it wasn’t complete (no hash browns or mushrooms) but it was most welcome. Outside, a crescent moon shone in a clear sky. I defrosted the windscreen and set off.

My plan for today was to walk the same route over Fan Llia and Fan Fawr as two weeks ago. I wanted to get the pacing right and I estimated it would take between 5½ and 6 hours. I set off just before sunrise and was grateful for the frozen ground; what would have been boggy and unpleasant walking was actually quite easy going thanks to the layer of frost providing a firm base.

I was soon at the cairn on Fan Llia. It usually take me 45 minutes and I was hoping, by adjusting my pace, to take a little longer. I did it in 43 minutes! Some work needed there. The morning was cold and clear; The sun rose and lit up Fan Nedd opposite, and started to warm up the air. Snow covered all the summits I could see and as I walked along, I lost all track of time. Over Corn Du, a faint whisper of cloud partially obscured the top and similarly with Fan Brecheiniog. The mountains themselves were causing the clouds to form.

By the time I got the Craig Cerrig Glesiad, I was feeling pretty good and so I decided to detour over to Fan Frynych. The route is only 20 minutes off the track, but there’s a bit of a dip and then a climb. The area is full of old limestone and other mining remains and a bright white trig point which has had a Welsh dragon painted on its side since the last time I was here.

By now there was a little bit of cloud overhead, and I set off back to rejoin the main route and head over to Fan Fawr. Last time I was here, there was a thick mist making route finding hard, but today it was clear and I was able to choose a lightly drier path. For 40 minutes I trudged over featureless moorland before I reached the slopes of Fan Fawr, white with snow. I sheltered for a few minutes by a convenient rock and chatted to a couple of walkers who passed by. They were on their way to the Mountain Centre but as far as I could tell on the map, they were a fair distance from it.

After a few minutes break, I set off up the side of Fan Fawr. This is the highest point on this route and it’s a relentless slog up the side of the hill. The snow, obscuring the little paths and tracks, made the going slippery and robbed me of any little landmarks to help me gauge when to turn up the hill. In the end, I followed the path I used last time, which was hard work in the snow. But eventually, I got to the top to find a completely white landscape with a myriad of footprints – human and animal – milling about near the summit.

A wind was blowing now and it was cold. In the distance, clouds were appearing on the horizon. These were more than light mist from the hills and I guessed that before long there would be rain. I set off along the top of Fan Fawr and down to the Ystradfellte reservoir. This is a tough and steep downhill section but the views across the reservoir to Fan Llia are wonderful. Unfortunately, I was looking at the steep climb up to Fan Llia’s cairn which was waiting for me once I’d crossed the dam. The reason I chose this route was for the climb at the end – it’s a psychological challenge and in the past I’ve found it helps as part of the training to finish with a difficult section.

As soon as I started on the climb away from the reservoir, the dark clouds arrived. It started raining and I was a little apprehensive after recent experiences. Mist dropped down to hide the cairn I was aiming for. Over to my left, the clouds were dark but ahead they were lighter. Over to my right there was still some blue sky. But that quickly disappeared in the mist too. The final 10 minutes of climb were completed in a familiar grey world.

At least the heavy rain didn’t materialise and once I’d reached the cairn, the mist lifted a little so I could see the path back to the car. A quick descent to the river followed, hindered only by boots which were working themselves loose despite me tightening the laces up. I have to replace those laces – another lesson learned – part of the reason for doing these walks.

At the car, I tucked in to ham sandwiches before heading home.

Today’s walk was 20.6km with 829m of climb, all achieved in 6hrs 45 minutes.

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Walking off the turkey

Boxing day and I had eaten too much Christmas dinner, too many Green & Blacks chocolates and too much Turkish delight. There was only option left to me. Walk it off.

After Tuesday’s experience, I was a little apprehensive of going back onto the hills. But I knew I had to so that it didn’t become a permanent worry, and I knew I needed the training time. So after checking the mountain weather forecasts (low risk of thunder storms), I headed off to the Storey Arms and the start of the path to Corn Du. The weather was looking good – sun and blue sky at the start and low cloud on the hills themselves. No sign of high winds or hail, and the western sky was clear of storm clouds.

I set off on the snowy and slippery path. Immediately, I passed another walker who had stopped to put crampons on. My ice grips were at home – they’re in the back pack now – but I didn’t really feel I needed them. Although the path was icy, there were plenty of protruding rocks to give me grip and I knew that if the ice got worse I could walk on the snowy grass at the side and be okay. In no time, I was on the top of the first hill, looking down at the swollen stream and the climb up to Corn Du. I was passed by four walkers here, and two a little further on. I was setting my own pace (I’m aiming for around 3kph) and so being passed never worries me. There was no sign of the crampon man (and I didn’t see him the whole time I was on the hills).

The visibility dropped as I climbed into the clouds and with the thick snow that now covered the path, it was hard to see where I was going or how far I’d come. For a while I could see the two guys ahead of me but they disappeared into the cloud as they pulled ahead and then I was on my own. It doesn’t worry me – I like the solitude, but I felt a couple of twinges of unease as I thought back to Tuesday. But the cloud above me was too bright to be thick and I knew from previous experience that this was just a mist. The unease eased off.

Soon I came to the junction of paths that lead from the Storey Arms and from Pen Milan. At this point the climb up to Corn Du steepens so I usually take a moment to catch my breath and enjoy the northerly views. There were no views this morning, but I took a break anyway. I checked the path up and there were faint traces of the sides of the route.The main part, stones laid down by volunteers from the National Trust, was covered in a layer of snow around 8″ deep that had drifted into the channel. I chose to walk on the side, where the going would be much less tiring. In no time, the bulk of Corn Du loomed out of the mist and I waded through knee deep snow to reach the summit.

It was much easier to get to this time as there was little wind blowing. The top was white but the snow wasn’t deep here; it had been blown elsewhere by what wind there was. I spent a few minutes here before heading across to the drop and path to Pen y Fan. Just before I left the summit, I was joined by two more walkers. It was getting a little busy compared to when I’m here normally.

The wind dropped completely between the two mountains, and I could clearly hear someone talking on their phone. I couldn’t see them, though, until I walked on quite a bit when a red jacket suddenly appeared to my right and lower down.

Pen y Fan was similarly windswept and I reached the cairn in near whiteout conditions. Two people stood taking photos of each other. I turned around to go back and dropped down behind Corn Du. The snow was knee high again here and it took me about 10 minutes to make may way around until I got tot the path that heads down to Pont Ar Daf. In that time, I must have passed about 15 people. It was a popular place.

The path down was smooth with snow but not as slippery as it looked. I’m getting to the point, with 20 days to go to the trek, that I am paranoid about getting an injury. At this stage, anything serious enough to stop me training might well stop me from going. So I was careful where I stepped and took it easy. In the 30 minutes or so it took me to get down, I must have passed around 50 people. There were solo walkers, families with kids, pairs, trios, and one largish group. It was interesting to note that on the way up, everyone I passed responded to my ‘good morning’. On the way down, apart from one or two at the very top, few gave me more than a second glance as I greeted them. I’ve seen this before. It seems that genuine walkers are friendlier that the weekend strollers.

I was also amused to see a couple gingerly making their way down what was a fairly easy path at the bottom. She was holding on to him despite having a pair of walking poles. As I got closer, I spotted that while he was wearing the right kit, she was wearing trainers with worn soles. I have no sympathy for that lack of preparation and I hope she slipped and fell. (As I was driving back, the rescue helicopter flew over the car heading towards the hills. I expect it was some other unprepared fool being overconfident and risking the lives of others when it all went wrong).

Back at the car, the sun was shining once again and I drove down to a favourite location to take some photos of a tree by the river. I’ve been there several times and when the light is right, it’s a lovely place to stop and snap away.

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Lightning

On Sunday, I wrote about a few minutes coming down off Fan Fawr when I thought there might be a thunder storm. I can think of nothing else that frightens me as much as being caught out on the hills in a thunder storm.

Fast forward to today. I finished work at 11, picked Rufus up shortly afterwards and at just after midday, we set off from the car to climb up to Llyn y Fan Fawr. The mountains looked lovely in the sun, with a sprinkling of snow on them. It was soggy underfoot but this route usually is, and my boots are waterproof.

Not long after we started, a light sleety snow started to fall, and it turned into hails stones. But it was a light shower. All morning I’d watched short, sharp showers pass over. Rarely did they last more than 10 minutes. The clouds ahead were nothing more than another shower. As we started to climb, the hail got heavier and the wind picked up. I knelt down and for a few minutes, sheltered Rufus from the worst of the hail. There was tail wagging and I got a lot of kisses – I think Rufus likes my beard, which I’ve left grow a bit recently.

The hail got a lot lighter and we set off again. A little way up the hill, the wind picked up and once again the hail started. And then there was an ominous rumbling. I knew straight away what it was, and I was frightened. Thunder coming from the clouds directly ahead.

I immediately turned around. There was no thought of sheltering. I made sure I could see Rufus and we started back down the path.  It had taken us about 30 minutes to get here. The thought of walking back with the risk of lightning for 30 minutes was rather unpleasant. So I began to jog. I was conscious of the risk to my knee but that was secondary. I kept talking to Rufus as he’s not happy with thunder and there were several claps going off. He seemed okay, treating the jogging as a game and criss-crossing in front of me. But he stayed close, which is not his preferred way when he’s out. It was clear he was aware something was up.

I took the direct route back towards the car. That meant missing out the detour to cross the river and I found myself on the wrong side of it. But the ground underfoot was a little flatter so we made good progress. And then I saw the first lightning bolt. It was over to the right, and I saw it out of the corner of my eye. Almost immediately there was a loud clap of thunder. I checked on Rufus, who was hesitating a bit, and I kept talking to him in what I felt was a normal tone of voice, although I was beginning to feel quite scared.

We got to the point where we had to cross the river. Without any hesitation, I waded through the shallows, the water slopping over my boots. Rufus was over quickly and we were about a minute from the car. Then I saw the second lightning bolt, directly overhead. Once again, fortunately, it didn’t touch the ground.The thunder broke at the same time as the lightning.  A little bit of my mind was wondering if a bolt struck the ground, how far away it would have to be so that we wouldn’t be affected. All around me was bog, waterlogged grass and river. I decided to concentrate on getting to the car.

The last few hundred metres was covered in a dash. Rufus was still by my side and he leapt into the car as I opened the door for him. I made sure he was in and shut the door, then climbed in to the passenger seat and closed that door.

Another flash and thunderclap happened at the same time, but I felt so much safer in the car. Rufus was standing, staring at me and I was trying to get my breath back. I gave him a lot of fussing but he was clearly wound up with the excitement of it all. A treat helped. The wind buffeted the car and blew snow up against the windows. In the time it had taken us to get back, I hadn’t noticed the hail turn to snow.

It took me five minutes to stop panting (I’m no runner) and by the time I’d calmed down, Rufus was lying on the back seat, watching me. Several more claps of thunder sounded while we were there but I saw no more lightning. Checking the GPS tracker, I saw that the 30 minute journey up had taken just over 16 minutes to cover on the way down.

The road was white with snow or hail, and I took it slowly at first as I drove down and away from the mountains,. The wind blew snow directly into the windscreen and the visibility wasn’t the best. After a few minutes of careful driving, we reached the main road. And a few minutes after that, the sun was shining and there was blue sky! As had recovered, and both of us had been robbed of a decent walk, I decided to stop on the way back so that we could walk a bit further. Careful to check the clouds,  we walked along side the River Tawe near Ystalafera. Compared to our ordeal, it was pleasant walking.

I’ve been in a white out on Ben Nevis, I’ve taken the wrong path on Blencathra and ended up clinging to the side of a vertical drop several hundred feet high, and I’ve walked along Crib Goch in a gusty breeze. But today was the most scared I’ve ever been on the hills.

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