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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3 Mountains

Looking out of the window at 8am, the western sky was black with rain clouds. It reinforced the message of the weather forecast last night – storms, winds, thunder. Not the best weather to be on the hills. Stubborn to the last, I headed out to the hills.

My goal today was to get to Pen y Fan via Corn Du. This would be the same route as I tried before, when the wind was so strong I had to abandon the attempt. It would be about two hours in total, fine if the weather was rough. There were plenty of extensions if the weather was good and escape routes if the perfect storm broke. Rain doesn’t really bother me as long as I’m not starting out in it, but my greatest fear is a thunder and lightening storm popping up when I’m the highest conductor around. There was a chance of lightening today, so I needed to know I could get off the mountain quickly if necessary. The bonus of Pen y Fan is all round visibility, so I could see any threats in the distance.

As I drove over the moorland to get to the start, there was a gorgeous light on Corn Du and the hint of snow on it’s summit. I even stopped to take a photo, so lovely was the sight. It didn’t take long to get to the car park and in no time, I was heading up the hill. Almost immediately, I was passed by four lads in trainers in jogging pants charging up. I’d seen them whooping and yelling in the car park and I deliberately walked slowly to let them pass me. Pen y Fan tends to attract the trophy walkers and I’ve seen all sorts of walkers in the years I’ve been walking it. The funniest was a woman in fur coat and Ugg boots, squelching away and thoroughly unhappy with her partner who was encouraging her to continue.

The lads kept going and before long I was alone again. it was cold out and ahead I could see frost and the remains of the last hail shower on the ground. But I was snug and warm in several layers. I reached the top of the first little hill and the lads were just in front of me. Although they were walking quickly, they were stopping frequently, too. I slowed down again. The path drops down to a little stream and after the week’s rain, this was swollen. Wearing only trainers, the lads struggled to find a way across. I didn’t laugh. I’ve crossed this river so many times that I know the narrow places and was across with no problem.

The path climbs steadily from the river and is fairly featureless. Ahead, Corn Du kept appearing and disappearing as low cloud brushed over the top. The frost and hail on the ground increased. It began to feel a little wintery. At least the wind wasn’t  as bad as last time. The last 15 minutes are on a very steep and slippery section of rocky path and the ground was white with proper snow. I climbed over the edge of the summit and was immediately buffeted by the wind. But it was easy to keep my balance this time.

After a few minutes on the summit, it was time to head over to Pen y Fan. As I climbed up the extra few metres, the sun forced its way through the cloud and the cairn was lit up against the darker sky to the north. The lads were lined up on the cairn and I stopped to take a couple of photos for them. I was feeling good and the weather certainly wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, so as they turned around to head back down, I decided to drop down off Pen y Fan and head towards Cribyn – the next Beacon in the line. The path down from the summit was difficult, not least because of the snow and ice. The natural rock steps are large and sloping downwards, so it would have been all too easy to slip as my weight went on to each foot.

As I reached the bottom of the steepest part, it began to get dark. The wind picked up and after another couple of minutes, it began to hail, The wind was blowing hard from the west and for most of the rest of the path down to the lowest point it was battering up against my back pack. But it got a lot colder. I decided not to climb Cribyn and turned to go back up Pen y Fan.

Now, the wind was blowing the hail directly into my face. It felt like a lot of little needles against my cheeks, despite the beard. I was having to climb against the wind, which made the going tough. I bent my head down and slogged on. Suddenly, there was a noise to my left and someone passed me. I jumped, as I had no idea there was anyone near. A few minutes later, I was at the top of Pen y Fan again and the wind and hail had stopped. It brightened up and there were some great photo opportunities as I made my way back to Corn Du.

I struggled a little to climb down off Corn Du as the wind had picked up again, but I was soon heading down the path in bright sunshine. Ahead, the moorland of Forest Fawr and the Black Mountain was golden in the sun. Suddenly, it was a lovely morning again and all the dark clouds had passed. I felt great and I was just enjoying being out, so I decided to detour onto Pen Milan to add some distance to my walk. As I walked, the views all around were spectacular. Corn Du looked like a proper mountain with it’s rough and vertical north face, and Pen y Fan sat in the background looking slight less dramatic.

At the top of Pen Milan, which is flat and hardly a summit, there’s a fence with a rickety old stile. I managed to climb over it, although it wobbled and gave slightly and I nearly lost my balance. The next kilometer or so was the wettest I’ve walked through for a long time. Every footfall squelched. If I was n’t stepping into some kind of bog, my foot was disappearing into a hole in the ground. In the end, I didn’t bother trying to avoid the water. My boots are fairly waterproof so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I was more concerned about twisting my ankle in a rut or on a tuft of grass. #

Eventually, I crested the hill and started to drop down tot he car park again. The ground was slippery with water now, rather than boggy and I took my time coming down. In no time I was crossing the busy A470 and back at the car. The sun was still shining and I still felt pretty good. I’d walked for about 3 hours and I knew I needed to do a bit more. With the weather better than expected, I sat snacking on a Snickers and thinking where I could go next.

In the rear view mirror was Fan Fawr. Last week, this was the highest point of my walk. It rose high above the car park and I wondered if I was in any shape to climb it. I’ve done it before from the car park and it’s a short, sharp pull up to the top. There are rarely any people on it. I decided to give it a go and see how far I could get. I set off slowly and before long I’d reached the first ridge. It was flat going for a while, and very wet as all the water draining off the hill seemed to have collected here. I splashed my way through and started on the next slope. This one was steeper and hid the top of Fan Fawr. I dealt with it slowly and steadily and was confronted by another flat marsh. I picked the route that looked least least soggy and found myself at the foot of the steepest part of the hill.

The path up was muddy and I was careful where I placed my feet. I was now feeling the consequences of the other hills I’d walked this morning. My dodgy knee was beginning to ache, as was the other one. But there wasn’t far to go and my walking pole helped. In a few tough minutes, the slope lessened and I found myself walking on a slightly less steep path which made it’s way around the side of Fan Fawr. Another 15 minutes of steady walking found me at the top of the hill, standing next to the rough cairn. The view back to Corn Du was clear and the route I’d taken this morning looked much steeper than I remembered it.

The wind was cold on Fan Fawr and I felt I’d done enough, so after a couple of photos, I headed back down. Just after I left the top, the skies darkened again and suddenly I was in the middle of what seemed like a blizzard. For a few minutes, the visibility dropped so I couldn’t see the car park, and thick snow fell. I was concentrating on not falling on the slippery and steep slopes but it got so dark that I started to worry about lightning. But I needn’t have, as by the time I got to the last slope, the sky started to brighten again and the last few hundred metres was competed with snow falling ahead and sun shining behind me.

At the car, I was soaked, tired and very pleased with my day’s activities. Not the 6 hours I’d hoped for (it turned out to be 4.5 hours) but a lot more climbing than I’d anticipated (889m) and just an enjoyable time on some of my favourite hills.

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600 hours

600 hours to go to my trek. 25 sleeps!

It was important to get a walk in today, regardless of the weather. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad and equally fortunately, Rufus was keen to come along .

Keen to come along? I was warm and cosy in my home, hangin’ with me bro’s in front of the fire. There was the delicious smell of home made soup in the kitchen and I was fairly confident that with a little application of puppy dog eyes, I’d get some. Then he turned up and one slip, just one wag of the tail, sealed my fate. Before I knew it I was in the back of the car listening to the wind howling outside.

We drove to the foot of Moel Feity. The plan was to go straight to the top and then drop down to the river, climb back to the top again and head back to the car. Plenty of ascent in a compact walk so that if the predicted storms did turn up, we wouldn’t be far from the car.

He pretty much dragged me out of the car. I would have been happy to wait in the relative warmth for him to come back, but oh no! I had to go. Once I was out and braced for the cold, it wasn’t too bad. There were plenty of things to investigate and, of course, I had to keep an eye on him to make sure he didn’t wander off.

We spiralled our way up the side of the mountain. By the time we got to the top, the wind was blowing. All around, the tops of the higher hills were shrouded in mist and the drizzly rain there threatened to drop down and envelope us, too. It was dark as well. We’d started out later today, so it was getting nearer to sunset than we’re normally used to.

When I faced into the wind, my ears flapped backwards and made me look slick and streamlined.

We meandered around the top of the hill for a bit, seeking the highest points, before we made our way down to the river. Once there, I threw stones for Rufus and he carefully retrieved each one from the water. We were sheltered from the wind in the little river cutting but eventually we had to leave. The wind had picked up quite a bit and as we climbed back up the side of Moel Feity, it was blowing from just behind. It helped push me up but before long the direction changed again and it was trying to blow me off course. It made the going harder.

Don’t listen to him – he’s trying to make it sound hard. I ran up the hill, jogged back down, ran around him several times, headed off to a particularly interesting scent and back again while he was huffing and puffing his way up.

At the top, we turned to face the wind again, and headed across the featureless moorland before dropping back down towards the car. On the way, I passed a strange looking ring of stones, low in the grass. It looked like a hollowed out barrow; it was too small to be a sheep fold or a permanent shelter. At the southern end was a larger upright stone. It didn’t look ancient so I’m guessing it was a small temporary shelter of some kind.

It was just a bunch of stones. No big deal.

At the car, we were both still feeling energetic, so we drove a little way down the road and stopped so that we could climb up to the standing stone above the road. It’s a short but steep climb and I wanted to get some more ascent in today in case tomorrow proves to be too stormy. Rufus cleared the stile with a little help from me and we started off up the hill.

A little help from him? Unasked for, I must say! The balancing act on the top of the stile was just that! An act! And a good one!

We reached the standing stone in no time despite deep, boggy mud underfoot. Still feeling good, we set off to climb to the top of the hill. The wind was now almost as strong as it had been last week and it was getting harder and harder to battle against it. Great training!

I was as slick in the wind as ever.

At the top, visibility wasn’t good but I could just make out Crai reservoir in the distance. Down below, beyond the standing stone, was my car. It was quicker going down and after negotiating the stile…

…in some style, I should add! Style… ha ha!…

… we got back to the car still dry. I dropped Rufus off just as the proper rain started.

It was great to get back to me homies who were keeping my bed nice and warm.

This was the route we did today.

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Packing 2 – get in there you **!$&£”**

Housework done, coffee supped, luncheon taken. Time to have another go at packing for the trek, then.

Today was about building on the last packing session by taking a more critical look at what I needed to take with me. I had also given some thought to the bags themselves and decided that I could use different ones, which would help.

Below is the kit laid out on the floor.

Trek kit on the floor

Trek kit

In the bottom left hand corner are a few items I decided I could do without. I still consider the rest of the stuff to be essential at this stage, although this will probably change as the date gets closer.

Below, after some clever re-arranging of the kit and some tight squeezing, I managed to get it all in my new travel bag. It’s heavier than it looks!

Tiny bag

Amazing

 

I’m really pleased with my efforts and I’m sure with a little more thought, I should be able to fit another pair of socks in.

Of course, I’m joking. Below is the real picture of the bags as packed. The little bag is actually the one I’ll be leaving behind at the hotel with clean clothes for the journey home. The back pack is the one I’ll be using to trek with and it will just fit as carry on luggage.

Real bags packed

This is what I’m taking

If anyone is interested, the kitbag holds two fleeces, four long sleeved baselayer tops, one short sleeved baselayer top, two pairs of thermal long johns, 6 pairs of baselayer pants, one pair of walking trousers, one shirt, 8 pairs of hiking socks, a raincoat, an insulated jacket, a sleeping bag, a silk liner for the bag, an inflatable sleeping mat and foot pump, various toiletries, various medications (including Diamox for altitude sickness, Malarone for malaria and Avon ‘Skin So Soft’ as an insect repellent), a box of batteries and memory cards for the cameras, a walking pole and various spare shoelaces, belts etc.

The backpack has my camera, two changes of underwear and socks, basic toiletries, hat, small towel, journal and a basic medical kit.

I haven’t figured out where the Snickers will fit in yet.

 

 

Four Tops

It was odd not being woken up by Rufus this morning but I still managed to surface around 6am for breakfast and I was leaving the house just after 7 for the Llia valley. Today was the first of the longer walks I have to do as part of my Kilimanjaro preparation and it would be a bit too demanding for Rufus, who manages to cover about 50% more distance than me when we’re out. I know he would complete the walk, but he ‘d be too tired at the end and the strain on his joints wouldn’t be good for him. The last time I did this route was the day before I realised I had to cancel the last trek, so it was quite important for me to get this one under my belt.

The route was to climb up out of the Forestry Commission car park onto the ridge of Fan Llia, follow it around to Craig Cerrig Gleisiad and then on to Fan Fawr before dropping down to the Ystradfellte reservoir and the final trudge back to the top of Fan Llia. I estimated to would take about 6 hours and would be a good test of fitness with plenty of ascending and descending and lots of rough ground to strengthen the ankle muscles.

The weather forecast was grim – high winds in Wales and rain coming in around 11am. I’d be half way around by then and the walk had no easy escape routes should the weather get too bad. And I’d left my waterproof trousers at my friend’s house – thus guaranteeing the heaviest rain of all.

I drove through the first of the rain showers and on the the car park. As I got ready to start, I could see that all the tops of the hills were covered in mist and it was still quite dark. There was a light rain in the air. My main concern was the mist as two large sections of the walk would be across featureless moorland.

The first part of the walk was a straight slog up the side of Fan Llia. It usually takes around 45 minutes to climb the 260m and get to the cairn and today was no exception. In the mist, I took a slightly new route but I’m familiar enough with the area to know where I am and the cairn appeared in the mist as expected. I continued along the ridge in the mist for the next 30 minutes, following a rough path. Although the visibility was poor, I knew that the route was flat, so any unexpected descent would mean I was veering off track. On Fan Dringarth, the clouds started to lift as the wind picked up to a constant blast. For minutes at a time, my route became visible for perhaps a mile ahead, only to disappear again as the cloud came back down.

At the end of the ridge, I stopped for a moment to get my bearings and check the map. I was on target and actually moving quicker than I had planned. I turned eastwards and dropped down onto the first of the moorland sections. Mist came and went and I kept checking on my GPS to make sure I didn’t head off in the wrong direction. By the time I had climbed up onto Craig Cerrig Gleisiad the cloud had lifted completely and I could see my lunch break stop – Fan Fawr – over the the right. A line of cloud covered its summit, but I would be stopping in the shelter of some rocks lower down on the slope.

Walking across the moor between me and Fan Fawr, the wind was blowing into my face and buffeting me. It made progress harder and rather than being a relatively restful 45 minute stroll, I found myself leaning into the wind and using my walking pole to stop me being pushed off track. My back pack acted like a small sail, too, which didn’t help. When I got to the shelter of the rocks, I was glad of the break from the wind. As I sat and ate my corned beef pasty, I could feel the skin on my face tingling.

Over to the east was Corn Du and Pen y Fan, and for some reason their summits were clear of cloud. I was conscious of the incoming rain and so I set off again for Fan Fawr as soon as I’d finished eating. Now I was walking directly into the wind. My eyes began to water and I put my head down and pushed on. Although the slope wasn’t great here, pushing against the wind made the going hard. I passed a tumbled down stone shelter. It had interior walls and I guessed it was more than just a sheep pen; rather a temporary dwelling for a shepherd.

After 10 minutes I came across the path leading up to the top of Fan Fawr. By now the cloud had lifted completely and as I turned on to it  I spotted blue sky above me. It was great to see and lifted my spirits. Which is exactly what I needed, as the path up to Fan Fawr was muddy, slippery, steep and seemingly endless.

But it wasn’t endless, and I knew I’d reached the top when the wind took on a new ferocity and pushed me onto the flat summit. By now, the cloud had lifted completely and rather than the rain I was expecting, the sun was shining, and the sky was clear. I could see down to the Storey Arms and the start of the route up to Corn Du I had walked last week, across to the Beacons reservoir and back along the way I had walked. It was a completely different day in terms of the weather. I took a few minutes to enjoy the views before turning into the wind once again. I was most definitely on the last leg of the journey now. I was facing back towards the car park with only the Ystradfellte reservoir and Fan Llia in my way.

The short walk  across the top of Fan Fawr took longer because once again I was battling the wind. But as I began to drop down to the reservoir it started to die down and after another 15 minutes I was walking along a gentle slope in calm conditions. Eventually, the slope steepened and for the last 10 minutes I was leaning heavily on the walking pole to help with the descent. I dropped 360m to the reservoir; ahead was a steep climb back up to Fan Llia.

I bent my head down and set a slow and steady pace up the steep side of the hill. 30 minutes and 235m later, I was at the cairn again. By now, the wind was as strong as it had ever been, and the clouds carrying the rain – mercifully late – were bearing down on me. I turned south and made my was as quickly as the muddy conditions would allow back down to the car.

I just managed to avoid the rain, which started as I was driving away from the car park. I was tired and aching, but feeling good. All the gym work I had done had paid off and I had a renewed sense that I was on track with my training.

This is the route I took. 

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Hat Trick

My third day on the mountains and Rufus’ second. It was important for me psychologically to get this one done as it would give me confidence in my knee and it would be a test of my trek preparation so far.

Yesterday, I managed to squirt a blob of shower gel into my right eye. I struggled to see for most of the afternoon and evening. An early night beckoned and was welcomed by both Rufus and I. Nevertheless (or perhaps because of the early night), Rufus was awake early for his first visit to the garden. I tried delaying the inevitable, by a single whimper from him told me it was serious and we went out. We then enjoyed another half hour lie-in before finally getting up at 7am.

At 8.45, we were in the car park of the Tafarn y Garreg, setting off for the steep climb up to the start of Fan Hir. We passed a small sheepdog in the field who was happy to see us and he and Rufus exchanged sniffs before we carried on. The climb here is steep; we climb around 220m in a little over 1km. But then the slope eases and the walking becomes more pleasant. Add to that the steep drop to the east and it’s a very pleasant and picturesque route. It’s the first time Rufus has done this with me and he took the slope with ease, showing my slow and plodding progress up yet again. He even had to stop and wait for me several times, which he made sure I was aware of.

There was mist all around us but we were walking in the clear, with blue sky above and a gentle breeze blowing. As we made our way along the ridge, the sun came out and when I turned around to face it, I could see a long line of thick mist cutting across the route we’d just followed. It looked gorgeous and I took lots of photos. Moments like this are one of the reasons I go hill walking. We kept going along the ridge. It’s an odd route in that even after passing the summit – barely discernible along the ridge – it seems as if you are continuing to climb. Ahead always looks higher.

We turned around just before the drop to Bwlch y Giedd. Last week we walked this route from the other side. I can see that before the trek I’m going to have to do the full circle. But for now, Fan Hir was enough.

We turned around to go back and were confronted by a beautiful sight. The combination of low winter sun, mist and the golden heather and grass made the ridge a pleasure to walk through. We took our time going back but inevitably it was quicker going down hill. The rocks and mud of the steepest part of the hill were slippery underfoot. I had to put Rufus on the lead to start with as there were sheep around, but as usual he wasn’t interested. I took him off again after we’d passed below the main sheep  level and instead I relied on him listening to me if there was a stray ovine about. He did, of course, and it was much easier for me to negotiate the slope without him pulling me faster.

A river runs alongside the path at the bottom of the hill and Rufus took the opportunity to cool his paws off as I threw some stones in for him. We were both tired, though, so we didn’t linger.

I’m pleased with my three hill days – I’ve done a total of  23km and just under 1300m of ascent.

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More hills

As I type, Rufus is lying besides me, snoring quietly. We’re both tired after a stroll on Gareg Lwyd and Foel Fraith in the mist. The fire is on and there is rubbish on the TV. Perfect.

Rufus stayed over last night but we both stayed up late so I wasn’t woken until 6.30. The garden checked, we both went back to bed and it wasn’t until around 7.30 that we both surfaced again. We took our time – the traffic at this time in the morning meant that it was pointless leaving early and so we set off around 9.15.

By 10.15, we were at Gareg Lwyd, setting off from the car park to climb the first hill. It’s part of a quarry complex and limestone was cut from the hills all around here. There are plenty of man made dips, cliff faces and a lot of quarry spoil to be wary of, and the going is quite tough as there is a lot of scree where the limestone has been broken by the action freezing and thawing. Finding a path to the top that avoids the rough ground is always a challenge.

As usual with this hill, mist was lying on the top, making the featureless plateau hard to navigate. I always get disorientated on this hill and today was no exception. But I had come prepared – a map, compass, GPS unit and the mobile phone tracking app. I used the GPS unit as it displays an OS map and was quickly back on track for the two large cairns that mark the true summit.

And there they were, faintly appearing in the mist. Rufus beat me to them and waited patiently as I picked my way through the stones. After a small snack for him, we set off over the hill and down to the shallow valley between Gareg Lwyd and Foel Fraith. The mist lifted only slightly as we got the to lowest part of the valley and thickened again as we climbed back up the other side. A chill wind picked up, too, but thankfully it was nowhere near as bad as yesterday.

The top of Foel Fraith was also shrouded in thick mist. It’s a strange feeling to be out in this kind of weather without any visual references. It’s a little scary, challenging and exciting all at the same time. Of course, I was secure with the GPS, but I’ve been on these hills before and found myself veering way off course, despite electronic aids. Sure enough, on the way back and even though I was checking the route, I noticed I’d missed one of the turns of the path.

Turning back on track, I soon began to hear the sound of traffic on the road by the car park. Moments later, we descended beneath the mist and before us were the quarry workings and beyond that the flatter farmland of Llangadog, with sunshine picking out the fields.

Back home, we settled on the sofa and the snoring started.

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Blown Away

It didn’t look too bad out when I jumped in the car and set off for the hills. There was a bit of a breeze, and the radio was telling me about gale and storm warnings for Scotland and the East coast. But the sea looked calm and I wasn’t concerned.

I was heading for Pen y Fan and Corn Du. On my first trek, these were my training hills of choice. I watched my fitness improve by seeing the time it took to get to the top drop by over half an hour in the space of 6 months. But having climbed them more than 40 times, they became too familiar and, usually, very crowded. I preferred other hills and after the treks, I stayed away. But today I needed the steady climb these two offered.

I started off from the Storey Arms car park. This route takes longer and has an ‘up-down-up’ profile that is great for mental preparation as well as physical. Just as you’ve climbed the first bit, you lose all that height gain as you drop back down to a little stream. Visible ahead for the whole of this descent is the re-ascent.

Once I’d set the pace, I found the going quite easy. I wasn’t rushing – there was no need. But I found I didn’t have to take a break  and I kept the plodding pace going. Before long I was on the re-ascent and feeling great. The wind picked up a little but nothing of any note. Before long I could see the shoulder of the hill, where the path to Tommy Jones’ memorial joins the route up to Corn Du. Just before reaching there, the wind picked up a lot more and began to gust strongly. Although it was blowing from behind, it didn’t help me as it was catching my backpack, which acted like a sail and blew me off course. The further I went, the harder the wind gusted.

At the shoulder, the constant wind was strong and the gusts stronger. The path changed direction and the wind was blowing from my right side. I made sure I was away from the edge on my left as the wind was now pushing me off course most of the time. As I climbed, it got worse and I found myself having to lean to my right just to keep going straight. Every time I lifted a foot to step forward, the wind would pivot me on my other foot. I couldn’t get a rhythm going and it made for tiring work.

The last part of this route is steep, slippery and hard going underfoot. And just before the summit, the wind became almost impossible to battle. I sat just below the edge of Corn Du, using the lip of rock as a brace, which I had to hold on to with both hands. Had I stood up at this point, I would have been carried across the flat summit to the northern edge, which is the express route down. I stayed like this for a minute or so until the wind died slightly. When I stood up, I was immediately pushed with some force onto the summit and only a combination of leaning back into the wind, digging my heels in to gaps between rocks and using my walking pole as a brace stopped me from going over. Even so, I was taking reluctant steps in the wrong direction.

I spent 10 seconds on Corn Du before I realised I had to get off and in to shelter before the wind picked up again. But the problem was, which way to go. I couldn’t have gone back the way I came as I’d been blown away before I could get any firm footing. There was only one way to go – east towards Pen y Fan. Crossing the summit was an ordeal and several times I was carried forward by gusts. Then I reached the little path off the top. This is made up of naturally formed steps and as soon as I started down these, the wind began to push me off balance again. I was struggling now and a little worried about getting off in one piece.

Further down the path I spotted three people sheltering by the side of the path, I decided to join them and took a few more steps. The next thing I knew, a gust knocked my legs from under me and I went skidding down the path. Fortunately, I was off the worst of the rocks steps and although painful, I wasn’t hurt (although as I type, my left wrist is painful where I landed on it). I sat in front of the walkers and I couldn’t help laughing. It turned out that all three had gone over in the same place.

They made to move off and the wind caught them. One went flying backwards, only just staying on his feet. The other two bent low and too small steps as the forced their way uphill. I got up, got blown forward but managed to keep my balance and slowly made my way to the gap between Corn Du and Pen y Fan. I was beginning to doubt whether I should go further. The path ran close to the edge on the left and I left it to move further to the right. Even so, the strong wind was pushing me to the left, and the gusts on top were almost like someone shoving me. In the end, I decided to let common sense prevail. I’ve been on Pen y Fan in the wind and it’s worse than Corn Du. And there are more edges to fall off.

Almost as soon as I’d made the decision, I found myself flat on my back again as the wind had beaten me once more. I turned to head around Corn Du as I knew the path was a little more sheltered but it was almost impossible to make headway against the constant force and the gusts. I could barely breathe as the wind was now in my face. Each gust snapped abruptly, making it hard to compensate in time and for a third time I found myself  blown over, this time close to a steep slope which might have seen my tumbling down to the valley below.

Time for a quick exit! As I made my stop start way along the path, the wind began to die down in intensity until suddenly I found myself in a strangely calm and quiet part of the path. Corn Du was deflecting the wind to either side and I could see the mist ahead swirling back and forth. I had five minutes of this calm, which was most welcome, before the wind began to pick up again. I expected the worst to be on the bwlch where the Corn Du path meets the one coming up from Pont ar Daf. Most times I’ve come up that way, the wind has been bad at the top. Today it was no worse that at other times. I guess the mass of Corn Du was affecting the wind patterns.

Grateful for some respite, I headed down the path. It was easy going despite a constant wind, still from the right. I stopped to chat with a chap making his way up and I warned him about the wind, He dismissed it because, as he said, ‘I come up this way every week and I’m off to Brecon for a cup of coffee’. Good for him!

Getting down to Pont ar Daf was quick and I arrive back at the car only two hours after I’d left it. I was amused to see my phone GPS had logged my route as over 160km in two hours – giving me an average speed of around 80km per hour. I have been training a lot recently, but I was fairly sure there was some kind of error and sure enough, when I checked at home, it seems it had been logging me at three points some 20km apart in a triangle over and over.

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Packing it in

A day off. And after a stroll into Swansea this morning, and a load of housework this afternoon, I decided that I should have a preliminary trial pack of my kit bag for Kilimanjaro. Although the trek is shorter than Everest Base Camp, some of the stuff I’m taking is bulkier. It’s colder on the upper slopes of Kilimanjaro and after the trek leader laughed at my sleeping bag at Lobuche (5100m), I thought I ought to get a warmer one. Warmer = bigger. I’ve also decided to take my duvet jacket for the same reason and I’ve been told to take an inflatable sleeping mat as the ground can be cold and uneven. As I figured out early on, to inflate it, I won’t have enough breath at high altitude, so there’s also a foot pump in there.

With everything laid out on the floor, I was wondering where to start. Last time, I started off with everything and ended up removing loads of things until I had only what I really needed. That’s the benefit of practice packs. By the third time I’ve done this, I may even get down to one of everything. But today, that wasn’t to be.

My carry on bag will take some of the bulk – after running out of clean clothes in Kathmandu, there’s be a change in there, along with my camera and various other essentials. If my main luggage is lost, I should be able to make a valiant attempt on the mountain with a couple of hired items and a lot of smelly clothes. Hmm!

Bit by bit, things went in the kit bag. Small stuff first, packing out the sides. Then the bigger bits and finally the sleeping bag. And then the fun began, because the kit bag wouldn’t close. And I’d already left out a load of things. Some repositioning of fleeces and adjusting of socks ensued to no avail. The sleeping bag was so big, even squeezed into its stuff sac, that the zips just wouldn’t meet.

It’s all very well squeezing and squashing it all in today, but I have to think about doing that each morning in a tent, tired, cold and eager to set off. So out came some more bits, in went the sleeping bag again, and then more shifting and squeezing. As I type, it’s closed and it’s not bursting at the seams.  One good thing is that the weight is just about 13kg – under the 15kg limit for the porters. And it will be lighter still on the trek, as I’ll be carrying around 5kg of stuff on my back.

I might have another go at packing tonight.

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Fan Brecheiniog, Fan Hir and Moel Feity

It was cold last night and so in the early hours I found myself sharing the bed with a larger-than-normal Cocker Spaniel. As a result, I was allowed a lie in until 6.30 before the call of the wild garden became too much for him and we had to go on patrol. Borders cleared, breakfast was served and then we set off for the mountains.

I was keen to push a little today and at the same time conscious that Rufus is not the young hound he once was. So I decided on the now familiar route up and down Moel Feity, on to Llyn y Fan Fawr and then up on the Fan Brecheiniog, with the option that if we were both feeling okay, we’d head back to Bwlch Giedd and then along Fan Hir for a while. This would add the all important time and extra ascent but we could turn back at any time should the need arise.

It was another golden morning but a cold wind from the East chilled the air and meant the gloves went on early. We skirted the horses once again and then struck off almost directly up the side of Moel Feity. By the time we’d reached the top, the sun had warmed us up and the breeze had disappeared. We climbed a little further than last time and when we started to drop into the valley between Feity and Brecheiniog, it was steeper than usual. Rufus determined the path as we descended and we wandered about at the whim of scents and aromas like a summer butterfly.

We found ourselves to the north of our normal path but all of this was good for the training and I heard no complaints from Rufus. We climbed over rough ground full of little ankle-turning ruts and pits and it was hard going as we climbed steadily towards the lake. In just under 70 minutes, we reached the lake shore and took our first break. In the distance through the still air I could hear two walkers chatting as they made their way up the path to the Bwlch as we would be shortly. Rufus’ barks as I threw stones for him to dredge and catch echoed around the lake.

We followed the lake shore south until we reached the path up the side of Fan Brecheiniog. It’s a short climb but steep and hard going. National Trust volunteers have constructed steps out of large stones and these do a lot to manage erosion but they can become slippery when they are wet or, like last week, frosty. They force walkers to take larger steps than perhaps they otherwise would too. You climb from the lake at 608m to the Bwlch around 100m higher in a little over 400m of walking. It looks hard and it is, but it’s over quickly. But then there’s another 80m climb ahead. Once that’s over, it’s a lovely airy walk along the edge of the mountain. It’s the 36th time I’ve climbed this mountain and I still love it as if it was the first time.

After we’d walked to the north end of the ridge we turned around and walked half way along the southern bit, Fan Hir. It has an even steeper drop to the moorland below and you get a fantastic feeling of being up in the clouds. Except today there were no clouds.

We made our way down to the lake where stones were thrown in the now traditional ‘throw stones for me or I’ll bark like the Hound of the Baskerville’ session. The walk back down to the car from the lake is rough and this bit of this route I don’t look forward to. It’s wet, riddled with pools and marsh, and crossed by numerous little streams and rivulets which just hinder progress.

Back at the car I was disappointed to find that we had only added an extra 12 minutes to last week’s four hours, despite adding just over 2km to the distance and 100m to the ascent. When I checked on the app that records my routes, it turns out that my average pace was considerably faster. I’ve always had problems pacing.

The sofa and the fire were most welcome when we got home.

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