Heavy rain with a chance of getting soaked

The weather forecast said rain and that’s my excuse for having a lie- in. I say lie-in, of course I was up at 5.30am at the request of the boss for a quick sprint out into the drizzle before we both went back for another hour or so of kip.

The plan for today was to get some shopping done and then some chores around the house while the weather was bad. But as is the way with Welsh climate, when I got up for breakfast, the sun was shining. Breakfast and shopping over, there was no sign of rain so we had a brief discussion and Rufus decided we’d better head off to the hills to take advantage of the sun. Of course, as we left the house, it started to rain again but it’s only water so we hopped in the car and set off.

We went back to the river. We were there on Wednesday evening and as we wandered along the river bank, we were buzzed by an RAF Typhoon. This afternoon, there was no activity as we walked along the riverbank up towards Fan Brecheiniog. I had no firm plans for where to go and I thought we’d just wander and see where our noses took us.

Rufus’ nose took him into a deep pool and at first he was happy swimming about. But there was a strong current under the surface and I could see he was being swept off course. There was no real risk of him being swept away as the water left the pool in quite a narrow and shallow waterfall. But he wasn’t happy so I called him over to the bank. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make it to the shallow bit as the current was strong, so he tried to climb a steep part of the bank. Between us, we managed to get him out of the water; I dragged him up and on to me and he kicked out with his back legs. I was drenched! Rufus was happy.

We carried on and with the sun shining and a breeze keeping the temperature comfortable, we headed up the hill towards Llyn y Fan Fawr. After the last day’s rain, the going was extremely soggy but we finally made it to the shore. We haven’t been there for a while and it was nice to see it in the sunlight. We walked around the shore and while I threw stones for Rufus to chase and catch, he splashed about in the shallow water. The level of the lake was much lower than usual even with the heavy rain we had yesterday; I don’t think I’ve seen it that low.

By the time we’d made a complete circuit of the lake, the cloud was heading back over the mountain. As we set off to the car, the rain started; light at first but getting heavier as we went. The only good thing was that I had my back tot he direction of the wind, which was gusting quite strongly. I was resigned to getting a soaking. Rufus was already wet from his dips in the river and the lake so he’d didn’t see the problem. About half way down the hill, the rain stopped and the sun came out again.

Back home, we both sat back on the sofa and there was much snoring!

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5 years in the planning

Yesterday, after 5 years of planning, discussion, postponement and more planning, I climbed Pen y Fan. Big deal, you may say, recalling the various times I’ve mentioned the highest point in the country south of Snowdonia. But yesterday’s ascent was a special one for me. I went in the company of a friend who, 5 years ago, was ill and who I promised to take to the top of Pen y Fan once she was better.

I’m glad to say she is better, and has been for a while. But it’s been impossible for us to synchronise our busy social schedules to arrive at a day to go. The weather hasn’t helped. Work hasn’t made things easy, either. But yesterday it all came together on an splendid, sunny morning. We were early enough that there were plenty of parking spaces and few people actually making the ascent. Normally on a summer Saturday there are queues of people making the long, steady climb to the top.

We set off at exactly 8am, as laid down in the project plan. We took a steady, approach and kept the pace nice and easy. Sadly, much of the talk on the way up was work related but it meant that we were occupied so that the metres slipped by without too much trouble. Before we knew it, we had reached the bwlch and rather than the howling gale I half expected, there was a gentle, cooling breeze which took the edge off the warmth we were all feeling.

It was a short walk to the top of the mountain, skirting to the east of Corn Du which wasn’t on the plan for today. The first time I ever came up here, in the company of one of my friends present yesterday, we’d missed pen y Fan completely as it was hiding beneath a cloud and we’d climbed Corn Du assuming it was our goal. It was only when we were driving off to have lunch afterwards that we realised there were two peaks not the one we’d seen.

No such trouble today and we spent a few minutes enjoying the clear view from the top before making our way back down to the car park again. By now, there were a lot of people climbing; families, dog walkers, joggers and lots of kids all sporting massive back packs. One of the rewards for getting tot he top is that you can be smug on the way down, jauntily breezing past those who, like you on the way up, are panting and taking short breaks to rest.

By the time we got back, the car park was full and as we sat and enjoyed hot drinks, we were passed by more walkers and many cars trying to find somewhere to stop.

A great morning.

 

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Wednesday

The predicted gorgeous summer’s day showed up on cue this morning and so a surprised Rufus found me getting out of bed as soon as he came to wake me up.

(Yeah, because normally it takes several attempts before you wake up and we’ve usually missed half the day by then.)

Breakfast was a formality.

(It may well have been for you, but breakfast is important to a pedigree hound.)

We set off for the Llia valley. No hills today, just a nice long stroll along the river. It was too hot for either of us to climb a mountain.

(Speak for yourself. I could have sprinted up and down before the sun had a chance to warm me up.)

I parked up next to the river, balancing the car on the edge of a drop down to the water.

(I could have done with a parachute when I jumped out of the car.)

There followed an hour of splashing, jumping, paddling, swimming, barking and catching stones.

(And endless photograph taking.)

And then we jumped back in the car for a short spring down to the forestry car park, where I thought we’d be able to walk through the woods by the river, taking advantage of the shade. But only a few yards away from the car park, several trees had come down and blocked the path. There was no way around so after some more paddling…

(…and barking…)

…and barking, we crossed the river and took a short walk up along the forestry road until, about 150 yards beyond the bridge, more trees blocked the route. They all seem to have toppled as a result of landslip followed by high winds, as all the trees affected were on slopes and the earth around them had also moved.

I stood for a moment looking back down the forestry track and listening to the sounds. The birds were singing but it was a different sound to the dawn chorus, more upbeat and sharp. Very faintly, I could hear sheep. There was no wind in the tree tops today and everything was still.

It was getting hot without a cooling breeze so we turned back for the car, home and second breakfast.

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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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Blown Away

It didn’t look too bad out when I jumped in the car and set off for the hills. There was a bit of a breeze, and the radio was telling me about gale and storm warnings for Scotland and the East coast. But the sea looked calm and I wasn’t concerned.

I was heading for Pen y Fan and Corn Du. On my first trek, these were my training hills of choice. I watched my fitness improve by seeing the time it took to get to the top drop by over half an hour in the space of 6 months. But having climbed them more than 40 times, they became too familiar and, usually, very crowded. I preferred other hills and after the treks, I stayed away. But today I needed the steady climb these two offered.

I started off from the Storey Arms car park. This route takes longer and has an ‘up-down-up’ profile that is great for mental preparation as well as physical. Just as you’ve climbed the first bit, you lose all that height gain as you drop back down to a little stream. Visible ahead for the whole of this descent is the re-ascent.

Once I’d set the pace, I found the going quite easy. I wasn’t rushing – there was no need. But I found I didn’t have to take a break  and I kept the plodding pace going. Before long I was on the re-ascent and feeling great. The wind picked up a little but nothing of any note. Before long I could see the shoulder of the hill, where the path to Tommy Jones’ memorial joins the route up to Corn Du. Just before reaching there, the wind picked up a lot more and began to gust strongly. Although it was blowing from behind, it didn’t help me as it was catching my backpack, which acted like a sail and blew me off course. The further I went, the harder the wind gusted.

At the shoulder, the constant wind was strong and the gusts stronger. The path changed direction and the wind was blowing from my right side. I made sure I was away from the edge on my left as the wind was now pushing me off course most of the time. As I climbed, it got worse and I found myself having to lean to my right just to keep going straight. Every time I lifted a foot to step forward, the wind would pivot me on my other foot. I couldn’t get a rhythm going and it made for tiring work.

The last part of this route is steep, slippery and hard going underfoot. And just before the summit, the wind became almost impossible to battle. I sat just below the edge of Corn Du, using the lip of rock as a brace, which I had to hold on to with both hands. Had I stood up at this point, I would have been carried across the flat summit to the northern edge, which is the express route down. I stayed like this for a minute or so until the wind died slightly. When I stood up, I was immediately pushed with some force onto the summit and only a combination of leaning back into the wind, digging my heels in to gaps between rocks and using my walking pole as a brace stopped me from going over. Even so, I was taking reluctant steps in the wrong direction.

I spent 10 seconds on Corn Du before I realised I had to get off and in to shelter before the wind picked up again. But the problem was, which way to go. I couldn’t have gone back the way I came as I’d been blown away before I could get any firm footing. There was only one way to go – east towards Pen y Fan. Crossing the summit was an ordeal and several times I was carried forward by gusts. Then I reached the little path off the top. This is made up of naturally formed steps and as soon as I started down these, the wind began to push me off balance again. I was struggling now and a little worried about getting off in one piece.

Further down the path I spotted three people sheltering by the side of the path, I decided to join them and took a few more steps. The next thing I knew, a gust knocked my legs from under me and I went skidding down the path. Fortunately, I was off the worst of the rocks steps and although painful, I wasn’t hurt (although as I type, my left wrist is painful where I landed on it). I sat in front of the walkers and I couldn’t help laughing. It turned out that all three had gone over in the same place.

They made to move off and the wind caught them. One went flying backwards, only just staying on his feet. The other two bent low and too small steps as the forced their way uphill. I got up, got blown forward but managed to keep my balance and slowly made my way to the gap between Corn Du and Pen y Fan. I was beginning to doubt whether I should go further. The path ran close to the edge on the left and I left it to move further to the right. Even so, the strong wind was pushing me to the left, and the gusts on top were almost like someone shoving me. In the end, I decided to let common sense prevail. I’ve been on Pen y Fan in the wind and it’s worse than Corn Du. And there are more edges to fall off.

Almost as soon as I’d made the decision, I found myself flat on my back again as the wind had beaten me once more. I turned to head around Corn Du as I knew the path was a little more sheltered but it was almost impossible to make headway against the constant force and the gusts. I could barely breathe as the wind was now in my face. Each gust snapped abruptly, making it hard to compensate in time and for a third time I found myself  blown over, this time close to a steep slope which might have seen my tumbling down to the valley below.

Time for a quick exit! As I made my stop start way along the path, the wind began to die down in intensity until suddenly I found myself in a strangely calm and quiet part of the path. Corn Du was deflecting the wind to either side and I could see the mist ahead swirling back and forth. I had five minutes of this calm, which was most welcome, before the wind began to pick up again. I expected the worst to be on the bwlch where the Corn Du path meets the one coming up from Pont ar Daf. Most times I’ve come up that way, the wind has been bad at the top. Today it was no worse that at other times. I guess the mass of Corn Du was affecting the wind patterns.

Grateful for some respite, I headed down the path. It was easy going despite a constant wind, still from the right. I stopped to chat with a chap making his way up and I warned him about the wind, He dismissed it because, as he said, ‘I come up this way every week and I’m off to Brecon for a cup of coffee’. Good for him!

Getting down to Pont ar Daf was quick and I arrive back at the car only two hours after I’d left it. I was amused to see my phone GPS had logged my route as over 160km in two hours – giving me an average speed of around 80km per hour. I have been training a lot recently, but I was fairly sure there was some kind of error and sure enough, when I checked at home, it seems it had been logging me at three points some 20km apart in a triangle over and over.

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Fan Brecheiniog, Fan Hir and Moel Feity

It was cold last night and so in the early hours I found myself sharing the bed with a larger-than-normal Cocker Spaniel. As a result, I was allowed a lie in until 6.30 before the call of the wild garden became too much for him and we had to go on patrol. Borders cleared, breakfast was served and then we set off for the mountains.

I was keen to push a little today and at the same time conscious that Rufus is not the young hound he once was. So I decided on the now familiar route up and down Moel Feity, on to Llyn y Fan Fawr and then up on the Fan Brecheiniog, with the option that if we were both feeling okay, we’d head back to Bwlch Giedd and then along Fan Hir for a while. This would add the all important time and extra ascent but we could turn back at any time should the need arise.

It was another golden morning but a cold wind from the East chilled the air and meant the gloves went on early. We skirted the horses once again and then struck off almost directly up the side of Moel Feity. By the time we’d reached the top, the sun had warmed us up and the breeze had disappeared. We climbed a little further than last time and when we started to drop into the valley between Feity and Brecheiniog, it was steeper than usual. Rufus determined the path as we descended and we wandered about at the whim of scents and aromas like a summer butterfly.

We found ourselves to the north of our normal path but all of this was good for the training and I heard no complaints from Rufus. We climbed over rough ground full of little ankle-turning ruts and pits and it was hard going as we climbed steadily towards the lake. In just under 70 minutes, we reached the lake shore and took our first break. In the distance through the still air I could hear two walkers chatting as they made their way up the path to the Bwlch as we would be shortly. Rufus’ barks as I threw stones for him to dredge and catch echoed around the lake.

We followed the lake shore south until we reached the path up the side of Fan Brecheiniog. It’s a short climb but steep and hard going. National Trust volunteers have constructed steps out of large stones and these do a lot to manage erosion but they can become slippery when they are wet or, like last week, frosty. They force walkers to take larger steps than perhaps they otherwise would too. You climb from the lake at 608m to the Bwlch around 100m higher in a little over 400m of walking. It looks hard and it is, but it’s over quickly. But then there’s another 80m climb ahead. Once that’s over, it’s a lovely airy walk along the edge of the mountain. It’s the 36th time I’ve climbed this mountain and I still love it as if it was the first time.

After we’d walked to the north end of the ridge we turned around and walked half way along the southern bit, Fan Hir. It has an even steeper drop to the moorland below and you get a fantastic feeling of being up in the clouds. Except today there were no clouds.

We made our way down to the lake where stones were thrown in the now traditional ‘throw stones for me or I’ll bark like the Hound of the Baskerville’ session. The walk back down to the car from the lake is rough and this bit of this route I don’t look forward to. It’s wet, riddled with pools and marsh, and crossed by numerous little streams and rivulets which just hinder progress.

Back at the car I was disappointed to find that we had only added an extra 12 minutes to last week’s four hours, despite adding just over 2km to the distance and 100m to the ascent. When I checked on the app that records my routes, it turns out that my average pace was considerably faster. I’ve always had problems pacing.

The sofa and the fire were most welcome when we got home.

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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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