A year in statistics

Happy New Year everyone.

It’s windy and wet out, so Rufus and I are taking the opportunity to chill after a few days of being out on the hills and in the valleys of the Brecon Beacons. No doubt we’ll be out again tomorrow, so there are no feelings of guilt. Today is a day for snoring and flopping and sighing and watching things on TV that we’d never normally watch. There will probably be some eating and drinking (non-alcoholic, of course) and a little more eating.

It’s also a time for reflection. I had a look at last year’s early January posts and there were some resolutions and some reviewing. So how did I do on the resolutions?

1. Give up chocolate? Hahahahaha!

2. Do more exercise? Well, yes. I achieved that spectacularly. Not only did I increase the number of times a week I went to the gym (and the activities I did there) but I got out on a lot more mountains. I hiked and cycled a total of 1395.6km, with a peak in December of 164.8km. Also, in December I climbed a total of 6,121m – that’s 226m more than Kilimanjaro! In the last nine days I’ve climbed 2,985m.

3, Take more photos. Well, I kept 16,093 photos from last year so I guess I must have taken about 18,000. I see I took 1300 infra red images, and 804 macro images. I started and completed my ‘One-a-day’ project on Flickr.

4. Save money. Well, yes and no. I’ve made up some of the losses from the car and the house repairs, but I’ve also spent some on the trek. But my philosophy has changed from ‘save as much as possible’ to ‘save and spend wisely’. There are some things I may not be able to do when I’m older, so what is the point in saving up to be able to do them in 5 or 10 years time?

5. Improve. Well, they say a good wine improves with age. I’m not sure that applies to people. We improve by experiencing things, learning new things and practising things we already do. I’d like to think I’ve done all three. It’s hard to measure as I never set goals last year and to be honest, I didn’t want to then and I don’t want to now. My improvement will come through experience, and that may strike at any time.

No resolutions this year. They just set you up to fall. Instead, aspirations, aims and a reminder to myself of something our expedition leader said on the last Everest Base Camp trek: “There are those who dream of adventure and challenge, and there are those who go and do it.” I want to be the latter.

Finally, geeky stats (you know you want them really).

30% of this year’s photos were taken with a Nikon D7000, 11% with a Fuji X10 and only 0.01% with an iPad. 16% were taken on a full frame digital camera. 18% were taken with a Tamron 18-270mm zoom lens, 10.5% were taken with a prime lens and, according to the programme I’m using, 1.4% were taken with a lens of focal length of zero mm! And that’s the bigger picture!

366 photos - 1 a day

366 photos from my one-a day project.

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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Twin Peaks

In 2007 I trekked to Everest Base Camp and climbed to the top of Kala Patthar, some 5,500m above sea level. I spent 15 days in Nepal, a beautiful country with incredibly friendly people, stunning scenery and the most incredible mountains I have ever seen. It was an experience of a lifetime and one I will never forget. The last 10 minutes of the climb to Kala Patthar was the hardest thing I have ever done and was worth every heaving breath and aching muscle.

It was such a fantastic experience that I went again earlier this year. At the risk of running out of superlatives, this time was even better than the last. We had a fantastic group of people, a great leader and we had a mix of weather that made the trek into a real adventure. Another trip of a lifetime. I am so fortunate to have been able to do them.

Now I have the trekking bug. I have some regrets that I didn’t start trekking sooner – what a waste. But now I am lucky enough to be able to see these wonderful places. On the last trek, the leader said ‘There are those who dream of such adventure, and there are those, like you, who go and do them.’

So in that spirit, and taking advantage of my health, I’m planning my next trek. It’s a double – Mount Kenya and then Mount Kilimanjaro. Kilimanjaro – the highest free standing mountain in the world – is a very popular destination for trekkers and fund raisers. Chances are you know, or know of, someone who has done it. Because it’s so popular, many people see it as an easy challenge. If you know people who have done it, they will tell you it most certainly is not easy. Some groups have a success rate of as low as 30%. Much of this is down to lack of preparation but a significant proportion fail due to poor acclimatisation.

The key to acclimatising properly is to limit the ascent each day and take the pace slowly. Unfortunately, tight schedules mean that an ascent that should really take 9 or 10 days takes only 5 or 6. We took 9 days to reach Kala Patthar and that was 400m lower than Kilimanjaro’s summit – and more than half our group didn’t get to the top.

The beauty of the twin peaks version of this trek is that climbing mount Kenya first acclimatises us to 5,000m before tackling Kilimanjaro. Clever.

My plan is to complete this trek in September 2012, although as I write there is some doubt as the Mount Kenya part of the trek isn’t as popular and there is a minimum number needed to run the trip. I’m really hoping that some of my Base Camp trek colleagues will be able to join me, as their company was a great moral booster last time. There’s a lot of preparation to undertake as the total ascent will be about twice that of the Base Camp trek. I’ve even joined the gym at work (I don’t really like gyms as I find it hard to motivate myself, but needs must and the instructor is a Kilimanjaro veteran, so he can help me with some specific preparation).

Watch this space, as they say, for further updates.

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