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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rufuis and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 5: History

1: National History

The United Kingdom remains united. Personally, I think that’s a good thing. The arrangement may not be perfect, but it’s better than the alternatives. And if nothing else, the referendum has made people think and brought about concessions, The test is now about how the people of Scotland make use of them. I love Scotland and have been many times. Don’t break it.

2: Personal History

My mother’s side of family is from Gower. When we first moved back to Swansea, more than 40 years ago, we used to go out to Gower to visit relatives and I got to hear a number of stories about old Gower, before cars were the norm. There were ghost stories; my favourite is the one about the farmer who was driving his horse and cart down the lane one day when the horse inexplicable veered the cart into the side of the lane, tight up against the hedge. It wouldn’t budge, despite the urgings of the farmer. But after about 10 minutes the horse carried on as if nothing had happened. The farmer told his story and everyone made light of it. But within a couple of weeks, the farmer was dead and at the same time of day, his funeral procession passed through the same lane in the opposite direction.

My great aunt ran the sweet shop in Burry Green and I remember her well. Typical of country folk, she was independent but kind and friendly. There would always be a spread on the table when we called in, and I particularly remember that she used to slice her bread up incredibly thinly. But the highlight was a visit to the shop, where I would always be given something. As a child of about 9, the back of the shop felt slightly scary and there was the dilemma of going there (bad) and getting a bar of chocolate (good). Years later, when my aunt decided to move into a nearby nursing home – typical of her she made her own mind up and did it and there was no persuading involved – I remember helping to clear out the house. The shop had long gone but there were some fantastic old advertising posters.

One trip to Gower I remember was with my mum and dad and we went to a place called Bullin’s Well. At least, that’s what my mum knew it as. It’s Ryer’s Down on the maps. We took the dog we had then, a black poodle named Pickles (after the dog that found the FA Cup after it had been stolen in the 30’s – my dad’s idea) for a run and he thoroughly enjoyed. as I remember, he was fascinated by the horses on the common. I also remember a very low flying Canberra bomber passing overhead; I now know it must have been from the nearby Pembrey bombing range. But the thing that stuck in my mind the most was walking across the common to a clump of trees where my mum claimed there were the ruins of an old farmhouse.

Sure enough, when we got there, the ruins were where she said they were. They were only a few stones high – no shell of a farm house to mark the spot. Mum said relatives of the family, closer to my great aunt than my mum, lived and farmed there. The reason I remember it so well is that my dad took a cutting of a sycamore tree from there and planted it at the top of our garden. Now I live in the house I grew up in, and the tree is still there although considerably taller.

I’d thought about going back to Bullin’s Well several times, and we often drive past it on our way to Whiteford (which has featured many times in this blog). So today, when I was looking for a short walk after our two long days, I decided to go there to try and find the ruins again. Rufus didn’t object, so off we set. We walked up to the top of Ryer’s Down where I found a trig point – they pop up all over the place on Gower. Then we made our way down, following the hedge line back tot eh road. In fact, it was more of a tree line and I had to duck and squirm through some of the thicker parts as Rufus just ducked under the low branches. But everywhere I looked, there was no ruined farmhouse. By the time we reached the road again, I had decided that my memory must have been playing up as there was nothing. But when I got home and looked at the route we took on Google Earth, I spotted a few parts of the tree line we had missed and one part, inparticular, that looked as if it might have had a building on it.

So another trip is on the cards.

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Relearning

This blog started off a few years ago as a place to talk about and showcase some of my photographs. Over the years, I’ve found it’s wandered a bit and has become a place where I write about anything I feel like. That’s okay by me (and judging by the hits, likes and comments, it’s okay by you, too). But over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about things in general, and perhaps starting up another blog dedicated to travel, and one dedicated to photography. Plans within plans.

Anyway, that line of thought made me realise that over the last year or so, my photography has become little more than snap-shooting. I know what that is; the preparation of the Kilimanjaro trek meant that every spare moment was taken up with training and I didn’t have the luxury of going out, making time and taking photographs. Almost all the photos I took during the preparation time were little more than snapshots. On the trek itself, a similar situation occurred. There were so many things going on that I had very little time to look and contemplate a scene before taking a picture. Perhaps the only time I was able to do this was at night when I was taking long exposures of the night sky. And that’s the nature of the Kilimanjaro trek; time on the mountain is expensive and trekkers are whisked between camps with little spare time. The time you do get to yourself is mostly taken up with preparing kit of the next day and resting.

What to do? I have to rekindle my interest in photography and make time to get out and do one of the things I love the most. I re-read two influential books that I bought years ago when I was using film. “The Making of Landscape Photographs” by Charlie Waite is a great inspiration. In it, Waite displays and talks about around 150 of his photographs. He explains the thought processes behind the pictures, and discusses why they work or, in some cases, what could have been done to make them better. I like that approach as I find learning in the actions and experiences of others.

The second book is “Light in the Landscape” by Peter Watson. Another book of examples and discussion, this one follows an calendar year and explores the effect on the landscape of the seasons. Both tomes have fantastic photographs and buckets of thought provoking comment.

You never forget how to take photographs, and with today’s technology, you are almost guaranteed good results. But for consistent images that you can be proud of, it takes time and thought and patience. These things I need to relearn, and I’m working on it.

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Packing it in

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

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

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

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

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

I might have another go at packing tonight.

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Spamming

WordPress is pretty good at identifying and filtering out the spam comments. But I can’t help laughing at some of them as they are clearly generated automatically, or by someone for whom the English language is just something they have been told about. Probably in a dream. Here are some classics from my recent spams:

“I would not even know the way i ended up right here, but I thought this post has been great. I don’t know what you are but certainly you will a popular blogger should you aren’t already  Many thanks!”

– Well, i aren’t a popular blogger and I’m not sure what I am either. But I is working on it and if you recommend I to all your friends, my popularity is growing!

“This genuinely answered my personal problem, thanks a lot!”

– I am genuinely relieved that your personal problem was resolved by a random post about potatoes.

“Why A Hard-Nosed Millionaire Is Willing To Teach You How To Make Money Online! Watch Here”

– Possibly because the Online money making scheme involves getting ‘suckas’ to click on links to his site? Or am I being a bit too cynical?

“Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article. I will be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post. I will definitely return.”

– Hey there. Useful information on my blog? (Well, I guess I do resolve personal problems through the medium of spud). Hey, I’m looking forward to more of your spam comments.

“When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove people from that service? Many thanks!”

When you initially commented on my blog, I deleted you as a spammer. If you managed somehow to click on the ‘notify by email’ checkbox, that’s your problem, although I doubt you did, personally. However, if you did (please, oh please) and you are getting 4 emails every time someone posts a comment as a result of you trying to spam me, let me and everyone else who has ever been spammed know how it feels and we will try not to laugh at you. And they’re not spam because you asked for them. And no, there is no way I can remove you (even if I wanted to) as I don’t have access.

My comment rules:

1. I welcome genuine comments and as I say on my home page, I will read them all. If they are appropriate (i.e. tasteful and interesting) I will allow them. They don’t have to agree with me, but they must make a point without resorting to aggressive or insulting language. If they don’t meet these simple criteria I won’t allow them.

2. If you appear to be a spammer, or if the message appears to be promoting your own business/get-rich-quick scheme, I will add you to my spam list after copying the message. At some point, I will publish the messages, removing the relevant contact details, and make fun of it.

3. I don’t automatically ‘like’ or ‘follow’ you just because you have done the same to me. I will visit your site but if it’s commercial in any way (and that includes not-for-profit ‘message’ sites) then I will probably not like or follow you. There are always exceptions, and I am the only one who will make them for this site.

4. I don’t expect you to automatically like or follow me. I would rather have fewer genuine likes/followers than masses of ‘auto-likers’. I am old fashioned enough to hope that a ‘like’ actually means something rather than just being a means of generating more likes on your won site. If you get a like from me, it’s because I genuinely appreciate what you have posted. There is no obligation to like me back.

5. There is no point 5.

Take it easy

Day off today and while I would normally be out on a walk somewhere, even if I wasn’t actively training, I can’t at the moment because of my swelling!

Ha! That got your attention. Don’t try to back out of it now, you’re reading because you want to know what my swelling is. Unless you’ve been following the blog, when you’d know that it’s my bursa. Stop giggling at the back. Too much activity and my bursa swells up. I said STOP GIGGLING!

On a serious note, I have gone from a high level of exercise to next to nothing in the space of a week. On one level, that means I have to drastically adjust my diet, because I was eating to fuel the exercise and if I continue that diet, I’ll be adding weight in all the wrong places. So I have to find some other way of exercising and I’ve picked on weights at home as my calorie consumer of choice. That and a reduction in portion size.

On another level there’s the mental change. I’d been building up to the challenge in my mind too. It was about attitude – getting up early on a rainy morning to go on the hills, going out after work, selecting routes that ended on an ascent, going the extra mile. That’s gone and I have to try and find a substitute goal to keep me occupied or I risk making an even bigger dent in the sofa.

The third level is the spare energy I have right now. Although this will diminish as my body adjusts, right now I feel I want to go charging off and doing stuff. I don’t even know what. It’s hard not to overdo things. Last night I cut the lawn then went out to Broadpool. I couldn’t just sit still.

I went out to the River Tawe with Rufus this morning. I was careful not to go too far or do any climbing, but it was hard looking up at Fan Brecheiniog where I’ve been doing a lot of my training and knowing it was out of bounds for a long while. Grrr.

Grrr, was also the noise Rufus made when I picked up the first stone. It was closely followed by a bark and then several more barks. As fats as I could throw the stones into the water, Rufus was bringing them out again. The banks of the Tawe, just above the twin waterfall, are lined with stones now. These days, dredging stones is not enough. I have to carefully select smaller stones to throw for Rufus to catch. He’s very good at it now and I love watching the absolute concentration on his face as he waits for the stone to be thrown. One good thing about throwing stones for Rufus is that i can sit down to do it, and I took advantage of this to rest the knee.

We were following wagtails along the river. they hopped from rock to rock, just keeping ahead of Rufus as he splashed and waded along the riverbed. It was like a game to them and once they realised Rufus wasn’t interested, they started playing it with me. I’m sure they knew I was trying to get a photograph; they’d wait until I’d stopped and raised the camera to my eye before flying away again.

Back home, I can feel my knee aching, which means I’ve probably done a little too much, so as I sit and type this, I have the ice pack on again.

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Kingfisher

Spoiler alert: No Kingfisher Photos!

I have always wanted to see a Kingfisher. They are beautiful, colourful birds and rarely seen as they are nervous, too. Recently, I was told of a place where I might be able to catch sight of one. Around the same time, a friend managed to spot one close to her home. I decided to try and get some photos. I even researched the kinds of camouflage professional bird photographers use. Common sense took over and I only had to imagine the reaction from walkers in the woods to seeing some bloke dressed like a sniper stalking through the undergrowth. After all, we live in a world where photographers are prevented from taking pictures of people and places on city streets.

So this morning, in lieu of my planned hill walk, I went for a quiet stroll in the woods, dressed like a normal person. And I was almost immediately rewarded with the sight of not one, but two Kingfishers perched on two different branches jutting out into the river. One was side on, and the upper blue plumage was bright in the sunlight. As my brain registered the second one, facing me and displaying the lower orange feathers more prominently, they spotted me and before I could blink, they’d disappeared off up the river.

I hadn’t even reached for my camera, which was still in the bag. Poor show on my part. They didn’t come back so I walked on with the intention of giving them time to return. It was lovely and warm in the woods and I managed to get some photos of the insects pollinating flowers all along the river. After 30 minutes or so I headed back, taking much more time to approach the riverbank, and making sure I was obscured by bushes as I did so.

Alas, the Kingfishers weren’t there. Like them, though, I’ll be back.

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&%$@@!%$ (&^%$@^*

Hark, another swear word. What’s going on?

I have mentioned my recurring knee issue in previous blogs.  I’ve been doing my very best to rest it between training strolls and apart from the swelling on the front below the kneecap, it’s been pain free and only mildly uncomfortable. But last night, I was on the exercise bike in the gym and with little warning I suddenly had that horrible feeling, as if my knee was about to lock. Accompanying it was pain – not excruciating, but enough to sound alarm bells.

I stopped cycling, of course, but the pain continued and did so for the rest of the night, despite ice packs and ibuprofen gel. And this morning it was still hurting enough to leave me worried. Ibuprofen helped, as did a tight bandage. But it was clear that there was something more than a week’s rest could fix.

I have 44 days of training left. The training plan calls for two 6hr hikes this weekend, including ascent and descent with back pack. In the following three weeks, I need to do another three 8 hour hikes plus increasing amounts of cardio-vascular training in the gym. By my estimate, I have a two week window to rest the knee and hope it gets better. Even then, there is no guarantee it won’t go again either during the final training or on the mountain itself. On my last trek 6 people had to be evacuated down the trail, two by helicopter. A couple of those were as a result of pre-existing conditions. It nearly cost all of us our chance of getting toe Everest Base Camp. I’m not going to do that.

I went straight to the doctor who confirmed what I already knew, that two weeks wasn’t nearly long enough to sort the problem out. I’m having an X-Ray done too, as there may be more to it than simply Housemaid’s Knee. As long as it has a name with multiple syllables that sounds vaguely heroic, I don’t care.

So, reluctantly, I have decided to postpone the Kilimanjaro trek. Postpone, not give up. I’ll be back next year.

My knee

You know this knee now. The purply red bits are the culprits. Grrr!

I feel gutted and frustrated. Part of the preparation was psychological. I still remember climbing Kala Patthar in Nepal – and that was ‘only’  5,545m. Kili adds another 450m on to that. I can’t risk my knee giving out at that late stage. More importantly, when the adrenaline runs out and we’re heading down, that is when the damage will happen and I’m planning on using my legs after Kili.

Watch this space. I’m guessing the next post will be about the experiences of trying to claim off my travel insurance.

 

Back on track

It’s less than 10 weeks to go until I leave for Tanzania and the trek to Kilimanjaro. I’m behind on my training schedule thanks to a couple of injuries. So this weekend I have to make an effort and pick up where I left off.

It’s too hot for Rufus to do any long walks at the moment; he insists on wearing his fur coat everywhere, and he tends not to take things easy. So today when I set out, I was on my own. It was odd not to have him in the car and I found myself looking around to see if he was okay only to see an empty back seat.

I parked at the Blaen Llia car park and set off up the path to Fan Llia. The sun was shining over the tops of the trees as I crossed the river on the wooden bridge. Someone had fixed two bunches of flowers to the side, presumably to remember a loved one who was no longer with them. It’s a lovely place and ideal for such a memory. Across the stile, there were sheep everywhere and they scattered as I walked through them.

As I started climbing the hill, the sun disappeared behind a cloud. Ahead, I could see mist crossing the Llia valley around where the standing stone is sited. I deliberately took my time and tried to keep my pace slow. A breeze blew but it was warm and the walking conditions were just comfortable. I reached the top of the hill after about 45 minutes and was slightly alarmed to see dark rain clouds ahead. I’m always wary of thunder storms when on the hills. Having been caught in one on Ilkley Moor several years ago and only just getting back tot he car before the lightning started, I’m on the look out for them. There had been a warning of isolated storms possible; these were dark enough that they might cause me problems. My plan was to turn left and descend to the valley if I saw or heard anything.

The breeze picked up on the ridge and the air was humid, but the clouds moved away to the west and I carried on heading north. I was fully expecting rain though, as the cloud cover was complete. I looked over to Fan Nedd and saw that it was in bright sunshine. So I decided to drop down into the valley and climb it.

I crossed over Sarn Helen but my route today lay in a different direction. I was crossing open moorland and it was hard going. There was no path but more than that, there were a lot of birds rising as I walked along. I had to be careful not to step on some well concealed nest. So I made my way slowly until I came across the modern road.

After a brief rest, I set off on the path to Fan Nedd. Disappointingly, the sun was still hiding behind the clouds. It’s funny how I missed Rufus on this part of the route. We’ve done this hill so often that I associate various landmarks with him. The stile is one he clears with no trouble, but he always waits for a treat afterwards. There’s a rock about half way up the hill and when I reach it, Rufus is posing like a great explorer, looking over the valley below, while waiting for me to catch up. When we near the top, he disappears over the lip of the hill and a few seconds later, his head appears as he checks to see if I’m coming.

The sun started to appear between clouds and when it did, is was instantly warm. But between those moments, the atmosphere remained humid and heavy. It wasn’t pleasant walking. Dropping down off the Fan Nedd ridge, I was heading towards another pathless section. This one has large tufts of grass and hidden dips and hole that are just waiting to catch an ankle. Given my recent luck with injuries, I was most careful where I stepped.

Just before I reached the road again, the ground flattened out. There were a lot of sheep there and as I arrived, they ran in all directions. Across the road, hundreds more lay basking in the sun that had reappeared once again. As soon as they saw me climb over the stile, they gave a chorus of bleats and stampeded away down to the river.

I did just over 7 miles in four hours today, climbing more than 500m in the process. It felt good to be back on track.

 

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Post work post

It’s after work time. I’m in a chain coffee outlet. It’s been an interesting day, one of changes, frustrations on behalf of other people, a lot of humour and one remarkable and unintentional revelation from a very senior person. Of course, I can’t talk about any of this in detail because to do so would leave me open to criticism from those who pay my wages. In fact, I probably can’t even tell you that I can’t tell you. Even telling you that leaves me vulnerable.

So instead I’ll talk about the fact that for the first time in many years, I’ve entered a photography competition. For most of those years, I’ve strongly believed that photography is too important a means of escape from the pressures of life for me to risk losing that escape by adding the stress of having to make money or meeting other’s expectations. (That last sentence was brought to you by The Complex Sentence Company of Bakhtapur).

For years I’ve taken the photos I wanted to take, when I wanted to take them and for no reason other than I wanted to do it. In amongst them there have been occasions when I’ve done weddings and commissions but strictly on my own terms.

But yesterday I decided to take the plunge and enter the Amateur Photographer of the Year competition run by, surprisingly, Amateur Photographer magazine. I won’t win and that’s not me being modest. I entered a photo that came from my catalogue, not taken for the competition. I need to get into the mindset of competitions again, too. But it’s a start and another motivator for me.

I have already found that the 1-a-day project I started on January 1st has proved valuable on the days when I am tempted to sit on the sofa and do nothing. I find I am thinking of suitable subjects more often and a welcome by product is that I take more notice of my surroundings and circumstances. I carry a camera everywhere I go so I can always take a snapshot, even if it’s the visual equivalent of a post-it note for later evaluation and action.

It’s time for me to re-evaluate my approach to photography. Less reading, more doing. Looking back over the image files I have I find lots of waterfalls, which seem to be my default subject matter. Probably because they’re easy. So I have to find something else. It adds a bit of pressure, but that may not be a bad thing after all.

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I would rather be with Rufus on a mountain right now!