Above the clouds

The plan today was to head out to the hills. Fan Brecheiniog was my goal and I decided that as Rufus had been looking and feeling fit recently, I’d take him along too. It was a beautiful, cloudless morning as we set off and for most of the journey. But, typically, as we reached the little car park at the start of the path, cloud had descended and it looked like a grim and grey walk lay ahead. Visibility was down to a few tens of yards as we set off and I was fully prepared to turn back if it didn’t show any signs of clearing.

It was wet underfoot and we squelched our way along. There was no wind and it wasn’t cold under the insulating layer of cloud. We made good progress and soon reached the river, and crossed it to reach the start of the main slope up to Llyn y Fan Fawr. I’ve walked this route many times before and several times in thick mist, like it was today. I’m confident in being able to find the lake but I usually end up taking a roundabout route if the visibility is poor. Today was no exception; I felt we’d veered off to the south as we climbed the slope. In the past, I’ve missed the lake complete by going too far south and almost bumped into the steep side of Fan Hir. So today, I veered back to the north a little.

In the silence, I could hear the faint sound of a helicopter which quickly got louder until it was clear that it was hovering over Fan Brecheiniog. It made several passes before finally heading off again. I didn’t see it but the idea that it could fly close to the mountain made me hope that as we climbed the mist would clear.

Eventually, I reached the edge of a steep slope where I wasn’t expecting one. Mist blocked the view down the slope but I had an idea we had gone too far south again, so we turned north and followed a clear path. Then I saw Rufus heading down the slope! Before I could stop him, he stopped at the lake edge, which I only noticed by the ripples he made in the water. I had been walking along the lakeside because the mist had made it look like a void. We were no more than 10 feet above the water. Now I knew where we were, I headed back to the path that led to the top of Fan Brecheiniog. In all this mist, I had only been about 20 yards out.

At the end of the lake, I stopped to talk to a guy who had been camping and was just getting ready to go. We chatted for quite a while and he told me he’d seen several people climbing Fan Brecheiniog during the night. Some shift workers had gone up and come down in time to start their morning shift. He’d heard the helicopter too, and had caught a glimpse of it when the mist cleared a little. He thought it was the Coastguard looking for a day walker that hadn’t returned. All the time Rufus wandered about enjoying the opportunity to explore but we were getting cold while we weren’t walking so we said goodbye and headed off to the start of the staircase up to the top.

Rufus seemed fine and keen to go so I decided we would make the effort. We could always turn back at any time. As we climbed slowly up the path, I felt as if the mist was thinning a little but the visibility was still poor. Then, as we started on the final pull to the top, I spotted blue sky above and within seconds, we had burst out of the mist layer and we were looking down on the tops of the clouds.

If you’ve ever flown you’ll know that feeling of being above the clouds in perpetual sunlight. It was a wonderful feeling; all the better for us having made our own way here rather than by plane! The sun was strong but so was the wind on the top of the hill and it got much colder very quickly. But the 360 degree views were stunning. To the north and east, there was nothing but cloud below us. To the south, a hazy mist made the hills leading to the coast fade into the distance. To the west, the views were clear across the Black Mountain and beyond. I stopped to talk to one walker there and we tried to identify all the hilltops we could see.

To the east, Pen y Fan and Corn Du poked their heads just above the clouds and it felt as if you could swim in the cloud between them. We walked on to the cairn at Foel Fawr as we neared the cairn at the end of the ridge, cloud was being blown up the side of the hill and over the path. Small patches of snow remained on the top and they had frozen overnight. We crunched our way through and finally got to the cairn. It was such a different day to the one we had set out in. From a black and white world to one full of colour within an hour, and it did so much to lift my spirits after a long, damp slog through the mud and marsh below.

After a rest and some photos, we reluctantly turned around to make our way back to the car. As I type, there is much snoring coming from a tired hound.

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Seeking the snow

After yesterday’s cultural extravaganza, today was back to normal for a weekend. A short lie in, swift breakfast and a quick drive up to the mountains, which were still snow covered. We went back to Garreg Lwyd.

Last week, the deep snow and bitterly cold wind cut short our wanderings. This morning, despite much of the snow still lying on the ground, the weather was much better. For a start, the bitter wind was a mild breeze, and the sun was warmer. On closer inspection, there was less snow, too.

We set off on a much clearer path. The frozen snow crunched beneath my feet but once again Rufus was able to trip lightly on the frozen crust. He edged ahead of me and as I huffed and puffed up the slope, he darted here and there as if to highlight his superior energy levels.

As we got higher up, so the covering of snow thickened until we were walking over the broken rocks and boulders that normally create problems when trying to pick a way through them. And then we were on the flat summit with the cairns ahead.

By now, the sun was quite warm and I regretted my choice of insulated jacket. I noticed that Rufus, even with his shorter hair, was starting to feel the effects of the sun and for the first time in ages, he drank when I offered him water. At the cairns, we paused for a break and to enjoy being on a mountain. So often, I tend to head to a summit only to head back down again and there sometimes isn’t an opportunity to just enjoy. Today, it was lovely on Garreg Lwyd and I took the time to appreciate the views.

It was clear at the top, and to the south I could see the wind farm we often visit. In the little valleys beyond, there was the remains of a morning mist lingering. To the north, the Carmarthen Fans were white and very mountain-like, while to the west I could just make out the white tops of the Preseli mountains. To complete the panorama, in the east Pen y Fan and Corn Du stood out against the horizon. We’ve climbed them all.

Off we went down into the valley between Garreg Lwyd and Foel Fraith. The path was indistinct at first and it was a case of trying to pick a route between the bigger boulders, and hoping the snow wasn’t too deep. Of course, in places it was and several times I sank up to my knee as the top crust gave way. Once again, Rufus sprang daintily from snow drift to snow drift and hardly noticed the tough going I was experiencing.

The walk to Foel Fraith isn’t my favourite part of this route. It’s long and usually boring, although today the snow gave it more of an interesting feel. The frozen marsh and streams were most welcome, as wet boots are another pet hate of mine. Soon we were climbing up to the top of Foel Fraith and the Carmarthen Fans came into view again. I’ve noticed that in previous blogs I’ve spoken about continuing the walk on the Picws Du – something I was thinking this morning. I have yet to do it, though, and it would more than double the route length.

We stopped on Foel Fraith and after I’d taken some photographs and Rufus had eaten some snacks, I threw snowballs for him. He seemed to have learned that they are cold, because he didn’t make an effort to catch them as he normally does. Instead he sprinted over to where they fell, took a few sniffs to make sure they were the right blobs of snow, and then watched me eagerly for the next one. All the while, he was keen to show me how much more fit he was than me.

Then it was time to turn around and we retraced our steps back to the top of Garreg Lwyd before detouring across the summit towards the quarry. We made our way down the steep slope and into the little dips and cuttings where, in the past, limestone was taken to be used on farms and in industry. Given the conditions, even today, I can’t imagine what it must have been like to work here every day.

We finally reached the car about two and a half hours after we set off, feeling energised and exercised.

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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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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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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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Dave and Rufus’ lads week day 2 – Top of the mountain

Pen y Fan translates as top of the mountain. Rufus and I have been to the top many time over the years, but not for a while. In fact, the last time was at the end of January. (Compare the photo titled ‘Near the stream’ in that post with the one below – both take from the same view point). So it was time to go there again. An early night allowed us an early start and we set off from the Storey Arms car park around 8.10.

I hate the first part of that route – it takes us over ‘Y Gyrn’ which means a relatively steep climb followed by a drop down to a stream and then another, longer climb to Corn Du. But it is a good training route and once we cross the stream, it’s a better path than the tourist route from a little way up the road. Today, there were a lot of sheep on the lower slopes and Rufus stayed on the lead for longer than I would have liked. But soon we were through the sheep layer, and he was off. The trudge up Y Gyrn was soon over and ahead I could see Corn Du, swathed in cloud and with a sugar coating of frost. We slowly made our way up the side of the mountain, arriving at the edge of the ridge that signifies  the steeper end section of the climb. To the left, a sharp drop opened up the view to Brecon and beyond. Ahead, we were engulfed in the low cloud that made Corn Du look like a major summit. The last five minutes felt like I was summiting something much higher, too. Of course, Rufus took it in his stride and waited patiently for me at the top.

The wind at the top was much more fierce and it was colder too. Both had been predicted by the weather forecast so I was well prepared. Rufus carries his own permanent fleece so he wasn’t bothered. We crossed the windswept top of Corn Du and dropped down into the saddle before climbing again to Pen y Fan. By now it was freezing on the top, so we only stayed briefly but it was long enough for my gloves to blow away while I was giving Rufus a well earned treat. I finally managed to find them just before they were blown over the edge.

Coming down was a simple affair and I decided to take a diversion over to Pen Milan to lengthen the walk. We passed thwe Tommy Jones memorial – in 1900, a 5 year old boy got lost travelling between farms and his body was found here 29 days later. The local people erected a memorial to him. It’s a terribly lonely spot, hard enough for a fit walker to get to. I have no idea how Tommy Jones found his way there.

We crossed the common on Pen Milan and swung around to head back to the the car park. We came across a fence which had a ladder stile and Rufus struggle to get up it. So I lifted him, allowing him to jump from the top himself. He landed with an ‘oof!’ but I checked him over and he was fine. He earned his treat for that stile. The rest of the going was easy and we reached the car around 3 hours after setting out. I had a quick coffee from the van in the car park and Rufus and I had a short play fight on the hill opposite the Storey Arms. Then we made a detour down the main road, following the route of the old road to Brecon, where I knew there were some waterfalls. While Rufus chased sticks and paddled, I took some photos of the water cascading over the rocks.

Heading home, two tired boys. Back home, two tired boys on the sofa. A good day for all.

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Two old friends

My two friends are really old. As old as the hills, as the saying goes. When I first started hill walking seriously, my friends were often there. When I trained for both treks, I can honestly say that these two acquaintances really made the difference. You’ll have figured out by now that the two mates are mountains. Pen y Fan and Corn Du.

Much of my preparation for the first trek was on or around Pen y Fan. It’s the highest spot in England and Wales south of Snowdonia, at 889m. It’s very popular with walkers as there are a number of easy routes from car parks. In one photograph below, there is a long line of 28 people on the path in shot (you may not be able to make them out as the file has been compressed for publication). I’ve climbed it in just about every type of weather – the only one I’ve missed is thunder, as I’m slightly apprehensive about being hit by lightning! By far my favourite is snow. The first time I climbed Corn Du (with friends from work) it was covered in snow. I headed up one day before dawn to catch the sunrise and was rewarded with a thick layer of snow which took the colour of the sun as it came up over the horizon. I’ve turned back in snow when it;s been too bad to carry on.

This morning promised to start clear and cold so Rufus and I set off early from the house. I prefer to have the mountain to myself so an early start is a simple price to pay. As we neared the car park, the roads were icy but I took it easy and it posed no problem other than slowing the journey. There were already a number of cars parked there but as we headed through the gate there was only one other walker near, and he soon turned off the path.

It was slippery underfoot. The lower slopes seemed to have experienced some thawing, which had re-frozen during the night. Even Rufus, with built in crampons on his paws, slipped and slithered and soon followed me onto the snow covered grass at the side of the path. There was slightly more grip, but also more snow drifts, and several times we sank to our respective knees and tummies. Crossing the stream was an ordeal; snow had drifted on either bank presenting a metre high wall which would have been hard to scramble over from the water. So I searched for a narrower bit and finally found something that looked ‘do-able’. Rufus made light work of it but I got across without getting soaked, and we were off up a snow-filled gully, across a line of knee deep snow that had frozen and which randomly collapsed underfoot and back on to a reasonable line which vaguely followed the path.

Behind me, Fan Fawr soaked up the morning sun and ahead, Corn Du slowly disappeared in a mist. I passed a couple of walkers and the mist descended to take away the views. By the time I got to the steepest part of the climb – the final haul up to Corn Du – the visibility was down to yards. On this stretch, with a sheer drop on the left, it was quite a challenge. I found my self wandering off the path towards the drop as the line of the main route wasn’t hidden by the snow. Rufus, with keener vision, kept well clear and was up on the rocks watching me as I tried to avoid icy patches of rock and ground. Then we were on Corn Du and it felt great.

It was very windy there, and I decided to to hang around but to head across the summit to Pen y Fan. It’s only a short distance but it involves a drop down to a path and another climb to the summit. The drop was icy and Rufus was hesitating, so I showed him the way and encouraged him and he was fine. The walk between the two tops reminded me of my adventures in a white out on Ben Nevis (that’s another story but it involves 2000 foot drops and near zero visibility). Then, suddenly, we were on top of Pen y Fan and although this was the 43rd time I’d climbed it, it felt just as good.

The wind was blowing a gale now and once we’d had a snack and a drink, it was time to head back down. Rufus made short work of the icy steps dropping from Corn Du but I wasn’t far behind him. Initially, the path was steeps and it was difficult to find grip but it soon slackened off, and thicker snow made the going easier. We left the moist behind and suddenly, there were groups of walkers heading towards us. It seemed there were three large groups and numerous smaller ones. We left the path and walked parallel to it, where the going was much easier and we wouldn’t have to keep dodging walking poles. Lower down, we left the groups behind and started encountering families. In avoiding the icy path, I was looking for more grip. Twice I managed to step into snowdrifts deep enough that they pitched me over. Rufus was gracious enough not to stare and laugh inwardly. Then we were back at the car park, which was now jammed full of cars, and I was able to enjoy a coffee from the flask left in the car.

While I drank and munched on a Snickers (other snacks are available) on the slopes of Fan Fawr, I threw snowballs for Rufus. He chased them, grabbed them, found they were cold, dropped them and then barked for another one to be thrown. The journey home was easier as the ice had melted on the roads. By the time I got back home, Rufus was fast asleep on the back seat.

As I type this, he’s snoring away on the sofa. I’ll be joining him shortly.

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Corn Du and Pen y Fan

I woke this morning to find a hairy Spaniel lying next to me, belly up and paws outstretched. It’s not what I’m used to. I’m sure Rufus isn’t used to waking up next to me either. We got over our initial embarassament and it wasn’t mentioned again.

The weather forecast, for sunshine and clear skies, was accurate and so we made an early start for the Storey Arms and the path to Corn Du and Pen y Fan. I have’t climbed to Pen y Fan for over a year. It was one of the last training days I had before the trek. I see from my geeky notes that I’ve climbed it 41 times before.

We set off on the Storey Arms path towards Corn Du. This one was a favourite when I was training because it challenged mentally as well as physically. The first climb to the top of Y Gyrn is followed by a drop down to a stream, which further down the valley becomes the Taf. Then, it seems, you have to do the whole climb all over again. (Actually, the drop and re-climb is only around 55m but it is very disheartening to lose those hard earned centimetres.) The whole climb is visible from just above the stream and it’s clear that it gets significantly steeper towards the end.

On the way down to the stream we met a walker who had been camping below Corn Du the previous night. Yesterday, we saw snow on Corn Du and he confirmed that yesterday, there had been a fall of about 3 inches, but it melted during the night. It had been warm where he camped, which was a small lake in Cwm Llwch.

When we got to the stream, Rufus dived in up to his tummy. He was clearly relieved to cool down a little as the sun had started to warm him up. By the time we left, he was soaked and the river had lost some of the pebbles from its bed.

The drag up to the ridge was long and it felt endless. But suddenly we were at the point where our path meest the one from Pen Milan. Over a hundred years ago, a little boy was lost on the mountains and died in atrocious weather near here. Little Tommy Jones’ body was found just down the ridge and a memorial stone commemorates the incident. It’s a sad place and when the weather is misty and rough, it’s a sobering reminder of how dangerous this place can be.

We set off up the steepest bit of the climb. I plodded along slowly; Rufus bounded back and forth. The last bit is particularly hard going and I put my head down and got on with it. I looked up just before cresting the summit to find the silhouette of Rufus looking down to see why I was taking so long. Corn Du was windy and cold but it was great to have finally got there.

After a short break, we set off for nearby Pen y Fan, 13m higher but a greater cimb as we had to drop down to the saddle between the two peaks. It’s not far, but it’s enough when you’ve spent an hour climbing. The top of Pen y Fan was deserted, the way we like it. We had breakfast on its southern edge, watching little dots become people as they made their way slowly up from Cribyn. Pen y Fan and Corn Du are outcrops of sandstone and on the flat rocks that make up their summits you can see ripples in the stones. They were once part of a beach and the ripples are the same as those seen on modern beaches where the tide sweeps in and out.

Next on our agenda was a walk along Craig Gwaun Taf. The ridge stretches away to the south from the slope of Corn Du. It reaches down to the reservoirs in the Gwaun Taf valley and is part of the route of the Beacons Horseshoe. We walked along it for just over a mile and took a break at a large cairn before heading back.

It was time to head home and we made our way quickly down the tourist path to Pont ar Daf. It’s an easy path, well made and maintained but very busy and I prefer not to use it if possible. But I had promised Rufus a treat in the form of a bathe in the river Taf (the same river that he had paddled in on the way up).  He had shown no interest in any sheep on the walk but I put him on the lead when we were approaching some ponies, as they had very young foals with them and several ponies were pregnant. One of the foals was tiny, and still a little unsteady on its feet. Rufus showed no interest and neither did the ponies, so I let him off the lead again.

As soon as he saw the water, Rufus was off, leaving me behind. By the time I was nearing the river, Rufus had been in and had come back to meet me. He paddled and I threw stones for him to catch and all the while we watched a bunch of students making some kind of video just down river from us. I expect some of their footage has the insistent barking of Rufus as yet again I wasn’t quick enough, or I threw the stones in the wrong place.

We got back to the car exhausted but happy. Rufus was soon asleep on the back seat and i didn’t hear a peep out of him until we got home.

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