49er

“Pen y Fan is that way. If you carry on in the direction you’re going now, you’ll fall off the edge.”

I’ve seen some inappropriate things and actions on the mountains but today ticked a few new ones. I’ve climbed Pen y Fan in just about every weather condition. Some of the best times have been in poor conditions; I particularly like walking there in the snow. This morning the weather forecast was overcast, drab, drizzle. Not ideal conditions, but I had a particular reason go there today. It would be the 49th time I’d got to the summit. I wanted to get the 49th out of the way because I’d like to make the 50th time something a little special.

Off we set from the car park at around 8am, hoping to avoid the masses. I needn’t have worried as the weather was enough to put people off at this time. It was cold and grey and I could see we would be walking into cloud before long. I couldn’t see any snow, though.

Around 15 minutes later, we hit the snow line. The fog was thick and very quickly, the snow went from muddy slush to a white covering that hid the path. At the same time, a light drizzle started. I checked on Rufus – he hasn’t done anything this strenuous for a while. But he was so far ahead of me up the hill that I had to assume he was enjoying showing up my lack of fitness.

We trudged on up, occasionally passing people coming down. I was surprised at how many had made it before us. The fog thickened again and the visibility dropped to a few metres. The snow made it hard to judge distance and the best gauge I had was Rufus, who stood out nicely against the bright white.

The drizzle was intermittent and as we got higher, so it became icy. Rufus didn’t seem to be suffering from the cold; in fact it wasn’t that cold as there wasn’t much of a breeze. It was bright too and we couldn’t have been far below the top of the clouds. It reminded me of the white out conditions on Ben Nevis I encountered in 2007, but without the risk of sheer drops either side of the path. The snow became deeper and the path was defined by footprints, bounded by deeper prints where feet had gone into the drainage ditches.

I stopped to chat to a walker coming down and I remarked on the number of people I’d passed coming down. He said they’d all turned back because to the conditions. I admire them for that; I’ve turned back on Pen y Fan and other mountains. It was something I was considering today, but Rufus was doing fine and I was confident of the route. As I stood and chatted, Rufus began to yap and nudge my leg. It was clearly time to carry on.

The traverse across the ridge in the lee of Corn Du is flat and it offers an opportunity to rest from the incessant uphill from the car park. Today it was most welcome, but the visibility coupled with the thick and unspoiled snow made it strange and a challenge. It seemed from the footprints that most people had indeed turned back at the ridge; the footprints visible now were old. We carried on but I had Rufus on the lead now, as I didn’t want him to disappear in the fog. He was still full of energy and threatening to bound off as I clearly wasn’t moving quickly enough for him.

A final short and unwelcome pull up on to Pen y Fan itself and suddenly we stumbled on the summit cairn. We stopped for a few photos but there was nothing to keep us on top, so we set off back the way we’d come. Which was easier said than done as there was little in the way of any indication of where the path was. I’ve been in this situation before and a combination of knowing which way the wind was blowing on the way up and remembering isolated marks int he ground meant I was confident of finding the path down. Still, there were a few moments of that thrill when you realise the risk. In small doses it’s not too bad a feeling.

It was on the way down that I started to encounter the foolish and the ill prepared. Four lads, only a minute from the summit, asking me where Pen y Fan was. One of them was wearing jeans. They were soaked and I know they were cold, and they wouldn’t dry out. Further down the path by Corn Du another pair of walkers who didn’t know where they were. Then my warning, with which I started this post, to the guy who for no apparent reason, struck off the path heading up towards Corn Du and a sheer rock face that he wouldn’t be able to scale. And he had a dog with him. Finally, another four lads, all in jeans, who turned back shortly after I met them, and passed me going down again.

Heading down the main path was easy at first, once I’d found place to turn down. I’ve missed that spot in far better visibility than today so I was prepared in case I got lost. I’d checked the distance from there to the summit and calculated the distance reading that I’d see when I got back. In the event, I didn’t need it as I recognised a few other landmarks. The snow was deep enough that I could descend quite quickly with fear of slipping but as we got lower and the snow thinned it became much more treacherous underfoot. Even Rufus was experiencing four paw slips and slides.

Then we started coming across a whole new set of people coming up. Just like there is a snow line, so there is a line below which the people you encounter are predominantly casual walkers out for a stroll. There are several ways to spot them. The lack of back packs or any proper walking kit, the ‘sprint-rest-spring-rest’ way they go rather than the slow but steady gait of the experienced walker. But the thing that annoys me the most is the manners. In my experience, a cheery ‘morning’ will always get some kind of response from a fellow walker. It usually results in a chat about conditions, previous hills and how much better it is to be on a windswept mountain in a hail storm than shopping. But the casual walker rarely responds, and if they do it is normally little more than a grunt.

I tested it today and greeted everyone I met with ‘morning’. At the top of the hill, in the worst conditions, we had several conversations and Rufus had a lot of attention. But as the snow thinned and the morning wore on, the responses got less and less until last last few, who didn’t even acknowledge my existence. But many of the people I came across below the snow line were wearing jeans, light macs and trainers. I only hope they would have the sense to turn back when the going got difficult.

We reached the car just over 2hrs after we left it. We got home around 45 minutes later and the snoring began some 10 minutes after that.

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Return of the sheep

A crisp and clear morning, the last day of the festive holiday and a hound that knows what he wants. All these meant only one thing; a morning on the hills.

This time last year (expect more of that phrase in the coming weeks) I was into the last phase of training for my trek. One of my favourite routes was up and over Moel Feity before dropping down to the source of the River Tawe. From there, I would climb back up to Llyn y Fan Fawr and on to Fan Brecheiniog. This morning I decided to take the same route, although we would stop short of Fan Brecheiniog itself.

We set off from the car and immediately, my boots were soaked. Yesterday’s rain was still lying on the ground in great puddles, small streams and marsh. We splashed our way around and up the side of Moel Feity, spiralling along sheep paths in the cold wind until we reached the flat top. The wind blew even stronger and colder but it was great to be on a familiar hilltop again.

We crossed westward to the memorial to the crashed US Navy Liberator and spent a few moments tidying up before heading on towards Llyn y Fan Fawr. The top of Moel Feity has a number of tracks, some made by quad bikes, some made by sheep. But we decided to make out own to avoid the worst of the water. But it was an impossible task, so eventually I just accepted that I’d get wet. Rufus loves the water anyway and it never bothers him. He criss crossed my path, checking out the scents and aromas.

We dropped off the hill and down to the young River Tawe, which was flowing healthily this morning. Then it was another climb up to the lake through even more boggy ground until we crested a small mound to find the clear blue water ahead. Rufus was off like a shot and headed straight to the spot we used to stop and rest at during the training last year. The lake was full after the rain and it was only just possible to sit on the rocks.

Little waves covered the surface of the water and as eddy’s of wind spun off the steep side of Fan Brecheiniog, they created moving patterns on the surface of the water. The sun shone on the lake and high above us I could hear the echo of two walkers shouting to each other as they traversed the ridge to Fan Foel.

We spent a short time taking in the view and enjoying the solitude before reluctantly leaving for the dry comfort of the car.

The route down was easier, but wetter, if that was possible. Every tuft of grass seemed to conceal a small pool. As we passed through patches of reeds, I could only tell where Rufus was by the splash of this paws in the water. We crossed the Tawe a little further down the hill and although it was only 18 inches or so wide, it was deep and flowing fast even here. On the opposite bank there were several paths visible in the distance on the side of Moel Fiety. I knew from experience that each contoured around the hill at different heights. But which one to take?

Ultimately, it wouldn’t matter as they all led to the general vicinity of the car. Of course, I picked the only one that faded out after a hundred yards and turned into a marsh. The last mile was splashed and squelched, although Rufus seemed to avoid the worst of it.

We popped over a small ridge to find several wild horses sheltering from the wind. Both Rufus, I and the horses were surprised and for a few moments  we stood and stared at each other. The horses remained calm, Rufus came back to me to see what I wanted him to do and we walked past them with little disturbance.

With the car in sight, we came across a small flock of sheep. Their winter coats made them look much larger than normal and they all looked up as one to see what we were. I put Rufus on the lead and we slowly walked past. When I turned to look at them again, they were all following us. It was an odd thing to see as sheep usually head in the opposite direction to us. But for about a minute, they were content to tag along, almost within touching distance. At any moment, I expected a lunge from them as they sought to steal Rufus’ treats.

But we managed to escape their evil clutches, and got to the car in one piece.

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Right to reply

I understand that elsewhere in this blog, Dave has written that I needed to have a rest after his pathetic attempt to climb Fan Hir? I have exercised my right to reply and here is the truth about it all.

We should never have started off on Thursday. The weather forecast clearly said it would rain around midday. We would have been fine if someone had managed to get up early enough, but no, Dave insisted on a lie-in despite my attempts to remind him we had a deadline to meet (I notice he didn’t mention that in his blog entry). By the time he’d faffed around and managed to get himself together, it was too late and we were running out of dry weather time. When he decided to turn around, I was still heading up towards the ridge and he had to call me several times before I came back. I love getting wet, as I demonstrated when we got to the river. In other words, Dave was the one that needed to turn back because he’s afraid of the rain.

Anyway, it turns out that he went off without me yesterday and found a great place for a walk. I should have been with him but he decided to leave me at home. Hmph! Well, I let him know how I felt by ignoring him and not sleeping on the bed. There!

He got the message because this morning, really early, we were up and off back to the place he found. And I have to admit it was quite a place. Of course, I had to be careful not to look too happy because he still has a lesson to learn about taking me with him, but it was hard not to wag my tail at all the new aromas and interesting sights everywhere. Of course, he waffled on a bit, explaining to me something about gunpowder, ruins, tramways and a mill. Yeah, whatever. When I saw the first squirrel (I knew they were around as I’d sniffed their trails out already) I showed him exactly how tired and aching I was by immediately chasing after it. It had a head start or it would have been mine. I chased or stalked several more before we left the tramway and went into the woods.

Dave likes this part of the world as there are lots of waterfalls for him to take photos of. It keeps him happy It’s fine for me too, as where there are waterfalls, there are rivers and stones to be thrown. Sure enough, we found a nice shallow bit of the river upstream of a weir (I know about these things, you know) and I could tell how guilty Dave felt by the way I didn’t have to bark to remind him to throw me stones. We carried on further up the valley on proper footpaths (I’d like to see a tram get over that kind of terrain) and once again I proved I could hack it. Tired, me? I had to keep looking back to see if Dave could keep up.

When we turned back, guess who made the decision? Yup! Mr Fitness decided we should go back to the car and once again, he had to call be back as I was all for going on. I chased several more squirrels, kept taking the lead, caught more stones and I still had the energy left to sneak into the female changing area near the car park (much to Dave’s embarrassment, although I knew there weren’t any people in there – you should have heard him trying to call me back!) Payback is such good fun.

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Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 9: Frustration on the mountain

The plan for today was to climb up onto Fan Hir and walk along the ridge above the Cerrig Duon valley. As I’ve mentioned before, I love ridge walks as they give you a sense of space and freedom. Both Rufus and I were rested after Tuesday’s trek, so we were ready to go. The weather forecast said rain coming in around midday but we had a few hours before we were due to get wet.

We parked up and set off, walking under the trees along the river. I keep expecting to see kingfishers along this stretch of the Tawe, but I guess the combination of me and Rufus put paid tot hat. Instead, we threaded our way between two fields full of sheep, with drystone walls either side, and up onto the hillside. The first part of this route is very steep. The height gain is fast but over relatively quickly and that’s why I like this. You climb about 300m in around 30 minutes and then the slope slackens and the rest of the walk can be enjoyed at leisure. I used this route a lot during my training for the trek and much prefer this route to Fan Brechieniog.

We trudged up, taking a lot more than 30 minutes to get the ascent out of the way. All around, the hilltops normally visible each had caps of low cloud on them. Suddenly, we popped over the last steep bit and ahead lay the path up on to Fan Hir. But Fan Hir was under more low cloud and as we walked further, so I felt the first faint sensations of drizzle on my face. Over to the west, the clouds were coming in quite quickly. We marched on but it was clear that we were going to get wet very soon. So reluctantly, I decided to turn around. It was frustrating as we’d done the hard bit and I was looking forward to the reward.

As I gave Rufus some water and a snack, I heard a faint rumbling, not of thunder thank goodness, but a number of wild horses galloping along the track. As I watched, two started fighting while the others looked on as if fascinated. Sheep also looked up to watch the spectacle. We set off back down the track, negotiating the steep slope which was now becoming slippery with the rain. Under the tress we had some shelter, and I let Rufus have a paddle while I took some photos. We were watched by a sheep dog in the field next tot eh river. We’ve come across him before and he is very friendly. As Rufus and the sheepdog exchanged sniffs, I checked to see if the farmer was watching and then gave our new fried one of Rufus’ snacks. The sheepdog took it away, placed it on the ground and then started to roll around next to it.

Back home, Rufus had a quick shower to remove the smell of a dead sheep he’d found, and then dried himself off on my lap. Having completed the hard part of the walk, we were both tired and we both dozed on the sofa.

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Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 8: Chill out

After yesterday’s marathon peak bagging session, we both needed a quieter day. So while Rufus dozed, I went back to the local museum to see their 1914-18 exhibition. It was interesting to see the local aspect of how the Great War had affected lives at home. Panels detailed a number of individual’s experiences of the war, and of course, many of them didn’t survive the conflict. There were also a number of personal exhibits that emphasised the role of the individual rather than the anonymous numbers that appear in the history books. Letters home, written in pencil, sounded hopeful (in the sense that you always try and make light of a bad situation, plus you don’t want to scare your loved ones). But alongside the letter was another from the commanding officer to the parents expressing his sympathy at the loss of their son.

I shared the exhibition with a bunch of schoolkids. I hope they were able to pick up on the reality of what they were seeing. These are the people who need to remember and understand what war is really like so that the likelihood of it happening again is lessened.

When i got home, Rufus persuaded me that a short trip out was required and we ended up at the Tawe. It was a gorgeous evening with deep blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Rufus splashed about tin the river and I managed to get some photos of the sky. At one point, a strange wispy cloud passed over head. We got home a little chilly; Rufus’ paws were cold and so were his ears! I’ve never seen that with him before, so I spent some time warming up his feet before making tea.

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Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 3: Back to the hills.

“Rufus, I’ve got a new car. Look, it’s red and shiny.”

Dave, it’s a car. Like other cars, it has four wheels and a comfy seat for me to recline on while you drive me. It’s only purpose is to transport me to rivers and other bodies of water so I can paddle and swim. Get over it.

Yesterday, while Dave was drooling over… it.. I had my hair cut, which not only made me look good again, but really cooled me off. Cool and cool. So today, I was ready to go for a long walk. I stepped in to the back of the car – it really is easier to get into than that big monstrosity he used to drive – and settled down for what I expected to be a long, drawn out drive to Gower. But I was proved wrong. It was a long drive, I can’t think why, and I’m sure Dave grinned the whole time. When I stepped out, we were at an old favourite spot; Gareg Lwyd.

The last few times we’ve been here, it’s been misty and neither of us has been able to see much. Dave was training for his African hill walk last year and regardless of the weather, he would insist we went on. Last time we were here, he got lost and nearly walked over the edge of the nearby quarry. How I laughed. But today was nice, with a cooling breeze (not that I needed it) and fairly good visibility. We set off up the side of the hill. Dave kept looking back at his car and I sensed he didn’t want to leave, but I dragged him on past the sheep and before long, we were out of sight of the car park. It’s very rocky underfoot and I have to be careful not to go too fast in case Dave slips and twists an ankle trying to keep up.

On the very top is a huge pile of stones that Dave keeps calling a cairn. He also once told me that from a certain angle it looks like a woman’s breast, complete with nipple, and now he giggles a lot every time we walk past it. I can’t see it myself. Today, the conditions were ideal to extend the stroll down the other side of the hill and up on to Foel Fraith. We’ve done that one a few times too, and I know the way. So with Dave hesitating to stray further from his new acquisition, I charged down the hill and onto the flat valley floor. He had no choice but to follow me.

On Foel Fraith, it was very hazy and we could barely see the other hills we’d climbed in the past. I found our favourite resting spot – a collection of limestone boulders – and waited for Dave to catch up. To be fair, he’s good with all the food and drink and so I had a small feast while we sat and contemplated the world. But I could tell Dave was distracted, and soon we set off back to the car.

I had a nice surprise as when I stepped out of the car again, we were at my former owner’s house. I got to see all my friends again and have a wander around the new (to me) house. I always like going there. By the time we finally got home, it was late and we were both tired and it wasn’t long before we were both sleeping.

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Heavy rain with a chance of getting soaked

The weather forecast said rain and that’s my excuse for having a lie- in. I say lie-in, of course I was up at 5.30am at the request of the boss for a quick sprint out into the drizzle before we both went back for another hour or so of kip.

The plan for today was to get some shopping done and then some chores around the house while the weather was bad. But as is the way with Welsh climate, when I got up for breakfast, the sun was shining. Breakfast and shopping over, there was no sign of rain so we had a brief discussion and Rufus decided we’d better head off to the hills to take advantage of the sun. Of course, as we left the house, it started to rain again but it’s only water so we hopped in the car and set off.

We went back to the river. We were there on Wednesday evening and as we wandered along the river bank, we were buzzed by an RAF Typhoon. This afternoon, there was no activity as we walked along the riverbank up towards Fan Brecheiniog. I had no firm plans for where to go and I thought we’d just wander and see where our noses took us.

Rufus’ nose took him into a deep pool and at first he was happy swimming about. But there was a strong current under the surface and I could see he was being swept off course. There was no real risk of him being swept away as the water left the pool in quite a narrow and shallow waterfall. But he wasn’t happy so I called him over to the bank. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make it to the shallow bit as the current was strong, so he tried to climb a steep part of the bank. Between us, we managed to get him out of the water; I dragged him up and on to me and he kicked out with his back legs. I was drenched! Rufus was happy.

We carried on and with the sun shining and a breeze keeping the temperature comfortable, we headed up the hill towards Llyn y Fan Fawr. After the last day’s rain, the going was extremely soggy but we finally made it to the shore. We haven’t been there for a while and it was nice to see it in the sunlight. We walked around the shore and while I threw stones for Rufus to chase and catch, he splashed about in the shallow water. The level of the lake was much lower than usual even with the heavy rain we had yesterday; I don’t think I’ve seen it that low.

By the time we’d made a complete circuit of the lake, the cloud was heading back over the mountain. As we set off to the car, the rain started; light at first but getting heavier as we went. The only good thing was that I had my back tot he direction of the wind, which was gusting quite strongly. I was resigned to getting a soaking. Rufus was already wet from his dips in the river and the lake so he’d didn’t see the problem. About half way down the hill, the rain stopped and the sun came out again.

Back home, we both sat back on the sofa and there was much snoring!

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