Just a little bit further

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Not another mountain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Mind altering substances

Back to the late 60’s today – experimenting with new drugs! But wait, you say, Dave is an innocent. He wouldn’t do that! Read on…

The plan to day was to walk for between 5 and 6 hours on the hills, including as much ascent as I could fit in. But I’m also recovering from Housemid’s Knee so it wasn’t as clear cut as it first seemed. And to add to the adventure, I’d got my anti-malaria tablets and the stuff I’ll be taking to try and prevent altitude sickness (diamox). What better opportunity to try them out for side effects? (I should add that both were prescribed by my GP, who is an expedition medic with two Kilimanjaro summits to his credit, and they were both private prescriptions so the NHS didn’t pay).

So I popped the pills (as they would have said back in the day) and waited half an hour to see if the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything popped into my head in swirls of prurple haze. It didn’t, so I set off for Fan Llia instead.

I was trying to get my pace down to around 3km/h, which is the upper end of the pace we’ll be expected to keep on the trek itself. The route in my head was one I’d done before but at a faster pace. I left the car just before 8am and was climbing steadily towards the cairn that marks the top of Fan Llia. The weather was almost perfect; some sun, a breeze to keep me cool and clear views all around. In the distance to the north I could see dark ran clouds but they were passing by with no risk of soaking me.

From the top of Fan Llia I made my way northwards along the ridge over Fan Dringarth and across Cefn Perfedd. From there, I headed back south with the intention of climbing Fan Fawr. I’ve done this one a couple of times with Rufus from the east, where the climb is short but steep. Today’s route was longer but the slope was more gentle. At the cairn on Fan Fawr, a large group of walkers were gathered. I don’t like huge groups of people – part of the enjoyment of hill walking for me is being alone or with one or two good friends who will share the personal experience. So I avoided the group and let then leave first.

The plan was to head down to Ystradfellte reservoir, which I’d seen so many times from Fan Llia but which I’d never visited. it was a long stretch of open moorland with a moderate downward slope and I used the waking pole to take the strain off my knee. The walking group drew further ahead and as I dropped closer to the water, I saw them start up the other side. It looked steep and they strung out very quickly into a snaking line of colourful walking jackets. My plan was to skirt the reservoir and use the access road as an easy final km or so to the car. But seeing the walkers climbing Fan Llia, I thought I’d give it a go. I was feeling pretty good.

The climb was steep and I set a slow pace to try and do it in one go without taking a break. In fact, I did it with one short stop to take photos. At the top by the cairn, the group were having a rest and for the 30 minutes or so that I was plodding up the hill, I felt they were watching me. I avoided them again, missing the cairn and turning south to head along and then down the ridge back to the car park.

I got back to the car some 6 hours after I’d left – on target for me. Various bits of me were aching, some more than others. But nothing had fallen off. More importantly, I hadn’t disappeared into a puff of purple clouds as a result of my experimentation with my new medication. The only side effect of the diamox was the extra pee stops. It’s meant to do this as part of it’s action against altitude sickness.

This is today’s route.

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Twin Peaks

Rain is no excuse for postponing training walks. Nor is it an excuse for not patrolling the garden at 5am. The rain was steady and the birds singing despite it this morning and even the sun was sheltering from the rain first thing. But I went back to bed for two hours and by the time we were ready to leave… it was still raining. A drizzle that threatened to stay all day.

We set off for Fan Llia in the drizzle, passing through patches of dry weather and even a hint of blue sky through the grey cloud. But by the time we were driving along the narrow lane that led to the forestry car park, the drizzle had turned to proper rain. But it was okay because Rufus likes the water and I was cocooned in waterproof clothing. So off we went.

The first part of the walk, up to the stile, is a gravel path and easy enough to negotiate. The stile itself is a nasty one for dogs as the top crossbar is a double strip of wood with a gap big enough to trap a paw between them. I was very careful with Rufus but he was fine getting over it. Then comes the marsh. We start off at the foot of Fan Llia and all the water running off the hill gathers here. There are several footpaths, all equally muddy and soft. But once beyond that, the going gets quite good with a choice of routes angling up the hill.

Today I had to weave between paths to avoid little groups of sheep, who all seemed intent on walking towards us in order to get away. Rufus was on the lead (he doesn’t chase sheep unless they run – it’s an instinct for him) and it took a little forward planning to get through. But soon we were past the sheep layer and we had the hill to ourselves. About this time, the drizzle finally stopped and very quickly the wind dried us both off, giving Rufus a lovely set of curls.

We climbed up onto the ridge of the hill and plodded steadily on for the cairn of stones that marks the summit. We reached it in about 45 minutes and stopped to get some shelter from the wind and to have a drink and snack break.

Then it was time to move on and we continued on our way along the line of the Llia valley northwards. By now, patches of blue sky were beginning to appear through the cloud cover, which still obscured the mountains a round us: We seemed to be in a little island of sun. We walked on towards Fan Dringarth, which we passed without really knowing we’d got there. The only feature of this secondary summit was a disused quarry, overgrown with grass and sheep. All around were familiar hill tops; Pen y Fan and Corn Du, Fan Fawr, Fan Nedd, Fan Gyhirich and, in the distance, Fan Brecheiniog and Moel Feity – our theatre last week.

We walked on along the ridge, enjoying the warmth now the sun was finally out. In the end, our progress was brought to a halt by a stone wall and fence, and beyond a steep drop the the valley below. After a brief stop, we set off back along the ridge again, heading towards low cloud and rain crossing our path. I guessed we’d get damp by the cairn; it was only a few minutes after we got there that a short but sharp shower blew in.

We survived, and the wind soon dried us off so that when we got to the car, we were both comfortable and ready for more. So we spent half an hour in the river, me throwing stones and Rufus catching them.

Back home, we both needed a shower and as I type, we both smell fresh and slightly damp.

This is our route – 11km, 368m climb, 3 hours.

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Fan Llia

The weather forecast was good so after doing some chores (chores = things I have to do but don’t want to do. Don’t worry, I won’t blog about shopping and washing and ironing), I went to pick up Rufus and we set off for the Llia valley and Fan Llia.

There was a cold wind blowing as we set off from the car. We started off by walking along part of the Beacons Way. The long distance Beacons Way stretches from Llanfihangel in the east to Carreg Cennen castle and Bethlehem in the west. Over the years, we’ve walked chunks of the route but never the whole route in one go. One day, perhaps. (Rufus is lying at my feet as I type and he has just sighed as if he knew what I was typing).

The going was quite wet underfoot. We waded through reeds and across mud and bog until firmer ground appeared as we started up the slope. I tried to thread my way through little groups of sheep but Rufus didn’t really seem to be interested. We carried on slogging uphill against the wind, which was getting strong and colder. A shower passed quickly by and before long we had gained the ridge and the slope lessened.

A few minutes later, we got to the cairn that marks to top of Fan Llia. It’s a proper top so there was a great 360 degree view around, and the rain clouds had melted away. In the distance to the east were the peaks of Corn Du and Pen y Fan, both covered in a thin coating of snow. To the west was Fann Nedd and Fan Gyhyrich, both looking tempting in the sun.

(Rufus is staying with me tonight so we can get an early start tomorrow. He is in front of the fire now and has started to snore rather loudly).

We carried on north along the ridge towards Fan Dringarth. We were following the valley of the Afon Llia off to the left, west. My plan was to get to the summit of Fan Dringarth and then drop down into the valley, to make our way back along the river itself. Rufus loves the river and I wanted to see if I could find some of the remains of iron age settlements and earthworks that line the valley. I also wanted to walk along the route of the Roman road Sarn Helen.

We dropped down the slope towards Maen Llia, a large standing stone that points the way down the valley. We reached Sarn Helen after a few minutes. This was also a toll road that was finally replaced by the tarmac road most visitors to the valley use today. No direct sign of the Roman road remains; but further down the valley another standing stone – Maen Madoc – bears a Roman inscription. This stone stands on the eastern side of the line of Sarn Helen.

We strolled back along the river Llia. Rufus spent most of the time in the water chasing the stones I threw for him. It was lovely in the sun and we stopped several times just to enjoy the day. I did n’t see any of the earthworks I was hoping to glimpse but I spotted the sites of several buildings, now only flattened platforms above the flood level of the river.

Then we were back at the car and ready to head home for food. As I drove north, dark clouds were building ahead of us and it wasn’t long before heavy rain started to fall. We’d missed it by about 5 minutes. We walked, ran, swam and paddled 5.5 miles today, and climbed just under 900 feet.

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