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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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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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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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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