Let’s all do the Konga (Ri)

My bid to climb the 6200m Dzo Jongo in Ladakh was thwarted by climate change in the form of an unusual short but intense rain and snow storm. It was disappointing but that summit was only one of a series of amazing sights, challenge and achievements in the 10 days we trekked through the Stok mountain range. And we did bag a summit, the 5750m Konga Ri. This is my experience of it.

We had trekked from the village of Stok over 6 passes ranging from 4700m to 5300m in height. It had rained for two days and we spent one afternoon walking through a blizzard. On one day as we climbed up to Gongmaru La we followed the river through its gorge, wading across it 14 times as the path weaved and twisted along its banks. The river was in full spate due to the snow and rain on the mountains the fed it. We later found out that we had been cut off from the rest of Ladakh for several days due to floods and landslides.

On the day after the blizzard, we found that our original base camp was under a foot of snow and, more seriously, under the threat of avalanche from an overhanging serac. The summit ridge was heavily corniced and the approach was waist deep in snow. We got the message. So our experienced guide (Valerie has been leading treks in the region for more than 30 years) pointed to a low, rounded summit to the left of Dzo Jongo and said ‘we’ll do that one instead’.

The plan was to ascend to the Lhalung La pass, at 5320m. There we would split with those who had chosen not to attempt Konga Ri, who would drop down towards the camp with the ponies and crew and await our return. Those going on would have to commit to the climb, as the only escape routes were over Konga Ri or back the way we’d come.

We set off around 8am, taking an easy line up the side of the valley. As we reached the snow it made the going that much harder. Feet slipped back with every step forward and as the sun rose it became warm and then hot. The light was bright and reflecting off the snow and I was glad of my sunglasses which dealt with the intense radiation. I’d covered myself in sun cream and was liberally applying lip protection but I could still feel the sun burning my lips.

It took us a couple of slow hours to reach the pass, a flat plateau of thick white snow at 5300m with fantastic views all around. We gathered slowly at a cairn and took a break while the stragglers arrived. In every direction there were snow covered mountains.

We said goodbye to the people that weren’t making the attempt on Konga Ri and set off to the right, ironically heading directly towards Dzo Jongo. The route was flat to start with but the snow and altitude made even that walking more tiring that usual. Before long, the path started to descend slightly as we crossed over to the ridge that would lead up to the summit. I could see that beyond the dip in the ridge there was a steeper pull up the side of the mountain. We walked slowly, pacing ourselves and saving energy for the climb but even so the altitude began to tell.

Tamchos, our guide, suddenly stopped us and I tried to see what he was staring at. He said he’d spotted three wolves in the distance, following the path we would be taking up the side of the mountain. I couldn’t see anything and I stared ahead trying to spot the movement. My sunglasses have prescription lenses but they are so curved that it’s a compromise and my vision isn’t as good with them as with my usual glasses. I aimed my camera in the general direction and snapped away. Later, I found one image where I can see three dots which correspond to the place Tamchos was pointing.

We moved on a little and bumped into two trekkers who had been following our group and staying in the same campsites. We’d got to know Andy and Phil, the latter was a photographer and movie maker who was carrying around a lot of camera kit that had attracted my attention. They and their guide were stationary also watching the dots in the distance through telephoto lenses. They were convinced it was a snow leopard and two cubs. Tamchos didn’t agree but didn’t argue. However a few minutes after we left Phil and Andy, we came across paw prints in the snow. The general opinion was that they were cat like, not dog like as dogs cannot retract their claws and there were no claw marks. We only saw one set, which were adult leopard sized and they followed the route we were taking, leading up to where we’d spotted the dots.

Now we started to climb again and once the excitement of the wildlife spotting had faded, it began to get tough. The snow was deep, the path indistinct and the gradient rapidly became steep. We must have been around 5500m, higher then Everest Base Camp, and the gradient began to take its toll. I tried to maintain Tamchos’ pace as we climbed the side of the mountain but found it increasingly hard to do as my feet were slipping in the snow, dropping me back half a pace for every one I took forward. I expected him to zig zag up the slope but he attacked it full on.

We reached the top of the climb exhausted and panting only to find it was a false summit. We set off again with Tamchos explaining that there were two more such false summits but that it wasn’t far. The next section was very steep and although I overtook a couple of our group (I’m not sure who as I had my head down) I did so very, very slowly and as I recall, they had stopped to rest or to remove a layer. As I reached the top of the second climb I had to stop. It was getting increasingly hot now and I had to remove a layer and take a drink or risk overheating. Tamchos had taken a pause but set off again almost as soon as I reached him. I didn’t dare look up to see how far was left because now I was in a world of my own; my own breathing was the only sound I could hear. My feet were all I could see and my pace was the only pace. In my head, thoughts were racing between the ‘this is do-able’ mantra I had used on all the other passes and ‘I can’t do this’, which I dismissed several times as I was clearly doing it.

Suddenly, in my head, I decided that there was another false summit ahead. At the same time I felt all my energy just draining away, a strange feeling I’ve never come across before. It really was as if a tap had been opened and my energy was spilling onto the floor. I slowed to a crawl, barely able to put one foot in front of the other. I took a couple of staggering footsteps and looked up, ready for another slope ahead and the inevitable defeat.

It was flat. The way ahead was a plateau with Tamchos about 10m in front of me. I stopped for a couple of breaths, unable or unwilling to accept that I had done the hard bit. Then I thought I’d better keep going or I might never move again. Each step was an effort but also a reward. I was there and all I had to do was walk about 50m and I could rest. I don’t know how long those 50m took me to walk, but I made it and stopped, only able to stand and grin as Tamchos congratulated me. I had done it and it felt really, really good. Then Tamchos offered me a piece of cherry cake and that felt even better. It was 2.55pm, seven hours after we’d left camp.

The others staggered in over the next few minutes until everyone who had set out to get here was standing or sitting around the cairn. There were congratulations and selfies. I had more cherry cake and some digestive biscuits. I finished the last of my Snickers off, and had a few squares of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut.

By now, I was starting to regain breath, energy and my senses. And I started to look around at the view from the top of this mountain. Everywhere I looked there were snow capped mountains. To the south was the extended ridge of Dzo Jongo. It was clear how the cornice of snow would have halted our progress over the final ridge; we wouldn’t have known whether we were stepping on solid ground or a thin covering of snow over a sheer drop of some 500m. Roped up or not, it would have been extremely dangerous. I don’t think anyone had any doubts that Valerie’s assessment was the wisest and, in reality, the only decision. Other peaks were characterised by long sharp ridges with steep sides and few accessible slopes. In the distance, the horizon was made up of the whole Himalaya and such was the perspective that between our white plateau and the white tops of the distant peaks was a darker strip that could have been placed there just to enhance my photographs.

The brilliant blue sky and intense sunshine that had accompanied us on our climb so far was being threatened by clouds coming in from the south. But we were still in brilliant sunshine and I didn’t want to leave this hard gained summit. We gathered around the cairn, which was adorned with a complete yak skull and horns, and a group photo was taken. Then, after another piece of cherry cake, we prepared to leave. At least it was all downhill from here.

Tamchos set off and soon he was outpacing us and I was finding it hard to walk in the deep snow. In places it was up to my knees and mostly way above my ankles so I was having to lift my legs higher to avoid dragging them through the snow. Under the snow, the ground was rocky and so now and again my foot would slip and twist on a hidden rock or dip, making progress harder. And this was before we’d reached the serious slope.

The downhill gradient started to pick up but rather than it being easier to walk, it was just as hard as coming up, as my feet were slipping, failing to get purchase on the uneven ground beneath the fresh snow. There was a steep drop to my left as we descended and I did consider getting my ice axe out, but it was rocky and it would have been unlikely to do much; I was better off using my walking pole to maintain balance.

We continued down for about 30 minutes until Tamchos stopped to check the route ahead, I welcomed the break and looked back to see that we had outdistanced the others. It made me feel a little better that I wasn’t the only one suffering and my aching legs relished the short rest. But cramp threatened to set in and I was eager to set off again.

We took a slightly different bearing that led through deeper and steeper snow. My feet continued to slip but now I found that occasionally, I could control the slip to ease the impact on my knees by deliberately sliding. Tamchos advised me to pick my own route so that the fresh snow would help prevent more serious slips and falls. We spread out and now some of the others caught me up. We descended the steepest part of the mountain in an extended line, overtaking and being passed as the conditions dictated. We later joked that one of the camp tea trays would have enabled us to slide down far quicker, although everyone admitted later that they hadn’t considered the stopping part.

After about an hour of slipping and sliding and giant steps down, we reached the snow line and shortly afterwards we stopped for a rest. It had been almost as exhausting coming down as the last part of going up, and it had certainly taken its toll on muscles I hadn’t been using until now.

We could see the green valley ahead and Valerie explained that just around the corner behind the rocks on our right were the tents. I half believed her, thinking it might just be a moral booster; the false summits earlier still played on my mind. We set off once more on ground that was much easier to walk on. It was green and rocky and muddy in places but now we could see the hazards and the slip risk was considerably less. Everything ached and the sun was beginning to warm me up again now we had left the cooling breeze of the descent. We kept together as an extended group as we walked over the flood plain and dropped lower until we were crossing the little tributaries that made up the river ahead. The red rocks of the mountain in front of us began to glow with the evening sun and contrasted with the greenery surrounding us.

And then, just as we walked down a particularly steep part of the plain, the white of the cook’s tent came into view ahead. As we rounded the spur of grey rock and scree, more tents became visible. The mess tent looked beautiful and inviting and as we neared we could see that all the tents had been put up. It had taken us 9 hours to complete the summit and return.

We all did the Konga (Ri).

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Kitchenwatch 2 – what kitchen? I see no kitchen.

Rufus knew something was up on Wednesday. First of all, after his early, early morning garden visit, I went back to bed rather than got up and made him breakfast. Being the every caring hound, he checked to make sure everything was alright – at 6am, 6.15am, 6.30am and 6.45am. After our long hill walk on Tuesday, I wanted a lie-in and we weren’t going anywhere until the builders had started, which was supposed to be 8.30. But no. We were up at just after 7am. Yaay!

The builders were here early and started straight away. Once I’d talked through with them what was going to happen, I took Rufus with me to the recycling dump where I got rid of another car load of junk, then we set off for a walk in the warm morning sun. Initially, I thought I’d just take him for 30 minutes or so before heading back to make sure all was ok. But we ended up strolling around Fairwood Common for about an hour, mainly because the normal thick mud and boggy marsh had dried out.

When I got home, I found my old kitchen, complete with kitchen sink, in a gigantic rubbish bag in the drive. Even the old cooker was lying there, looking totally out of place. Inside, the kitchen was and empty, echoing shell where the builders were busy cutting into the walls to rewire and shift sockets. I was surprised at how big the empty space was but I still couldn’t picture the new layout.

Rufus was due a haircut and thanks to a cancellation, he had an appointment that afternoon. So while he was pampered and preened, I sat and enjoyed a coffee sitting outside in the sun. With his new slick look making him far more comfortable in the heat, we set off for a picnic by the River Tawe. By the time I got home again, the builders had gone and Rufus and I had a good look through the kitchen before we flopped down on the sofa.

Today, after the 5.30am garden patrol, I was generously allowed an hour of extra sleep time before Rufus checked on me. This time, possibly because he was more comfy in his fur free state, we stayed in bed until 7.30. The decadence! As soon as the builders arrived, we set off while the weather was still cool back tot he river for a longer stroll there. It was a glorious morning and walking on the side of the hill high above the river, we were cooled by a breeze which took the edge off the heat of the sun. We ended up at a series of waterfalls hidden from the road and casual glances and all the more attractive for it. They were little more than serious trickles but I prefer waterfalls like that. They’re more delicate and from a photographic point of view, you get more interesting patterns and shapes.

It was nice just to be able to sit by the waterfall and enjoy they day and even Rufus took the opportunity to calm down a little – in other words, he trotted or walked rather than ran between pools. He enjoyed the opportunity to cool his paws and to get in the way of my camera every time I stopped to take a snap. There was plenty of barking and chasing and catching stones.

On the way back to the car the breeze had died down and it got quite hot but fortunately, there were plenty more pools and streams to cool Rufus down. By the time we’d set off home again, he’d fallen asleep in the back.

Back home, it was time for toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. One of the great things about not having a kitchen is that I don’t have to make excuses for eating junk. Both of us were tired and we settled back on the sofa to watch daytime TV. Next door, they were ripping the floor up in preparation for the under floor heating and both Rufus and I fell asleep to the grinding drill. The floor now looks like something out of Time Team. In the old kitchen, there is a portion that is concrete (it was laid after we had dry rot in the floor joists. This turns into small red clay tiles that look Victorian (I suspect they were original from when the house was built in the 1920s). Then, where the extension joins the house, we get really rubbish concrete (real cowboys built the extension; they tied their horses up in the back garden every morning).

I’m trying to persuade Rufus that we can have a proper lie-in tomorrow, as they won’t be here to start until later in the morning. I’m not sure I’ve got through to him. Time will tell.

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The wrong turn and the wrong river

Breaking news: The Tour de France took a wrong turn! To find out more, read on.

An early start for Fan Nedd was the order of the day, so that we could take advantage of the cooler temperatures. Neither of us are fans of really hot weather, and for walking on the hills, the cooler the better. So we left the house before 8am heading up the Swansea Valley to turn off at Crai and make our way through the winding, narrow lanes up to the little car park at the foot of the hill. But at the turn off to the valley, a bright yellow sign proclaimed that Sarn Helen was closed, with no explanation. I was annoyed, as there were no signs on the main road and we’d driven for about 15 minutes before reaching the first sign. But I was also amused, as the concept of the main Roman road linking north and south Wales being closed was funny. You can imagine the conversation… “Sorry, Julius, it’s closed.”

So we turned around and drove back and by the time I’d reached the main road again, I’d decided to head for Llyn y Fan Fawr. Rufus relaxed in the back and although he’s comfy in there, I don’t like to drive for longer than I have to with him as it can’t be much fun. So after we’d passed several parking spots, helpfully blocked off by single cars, we found our favourite spot and set off.

It was a lovely morning with sun and blue sky and a few fluffy white clouds. The wind kept the temperature down and I wondered if I should have brought my gloves. But I soon warmed up. Rufus relished the open air and bounded off in all directions. We passed, at a respectful distance, several horses and two tiny foals as we made our way along the flanks of Moel Feity up towards the lake. Fan Brecheiniog was looking tempting and by the time we’d reached the lake, I’d decided to head on up. It was still relatively cool and Rufus was looking up for it.

We made slow but steady progress to the bwlch and then plodded up the final steep part to the ridge and the trig point. The views were spectacular in the clear morning air. I had an idea that we should head down into the bwlch and go in search of an aeroplane crash site I’d visited a few years ago. A deHaviland Vampire hit the side of the hill there, killing the pilot and destroying the plane. We set off across the moorland, much tot he annoyance of the birds who tried to distract us. But keeping one eye on the ground for nests and one eye on Rufus (in case he found a nest) we made it down to the little valley between Fan Brecheiniog and Fan Hir.

I remembered the wreckage as being on the side of a little river and so we walked along the bank; me up on the top so I could see ahead and Rufus in the water. After about 15 minutes, there was no wreckage in sight and I was beginning to doubt myself. We stopped at a little pool and while Rufus paddled and chased stones, I sat and ate a snack. It was a lovely little place, sheltered and dry and I made a mental note of it in case we come wild camping in this area.

It was beginning to warm up now so I decided that rather than go looking for the plane, we’d head back and return another day. We set off towards the foot of Fan Hir to make best use of the dry path there and as we reached it, I looked back to see the glinting metal of the plane further down the valley, on the bank of a different river. We’d followed the wrong river (checking the map later there were two parallel streams invisible from each other). It was too far to go to and beat the heat, so we set off for the lake instead.

 

150,000 stones later, we dropped down from the lake and followed the marshy, muddy ground back to the car, passing the two foals with their older relatives enjoying the sunshine. At the car, we were both glad to get in and cool off with the air conditioning.

When we got down to the main road, it was full of cyclists. Fortunately, they were all heading in the opposite direction to me and so they didn’t hold me up. I felt sorry for the motorists on their side of the road as there were groups of cyclists for the next five miles or so. I was convinced that I’d stumbled upon the Tour de France. Cyclists in multi coloured jerseys and with a multitude of different bikes struggled up the hills and freewheeled down again. I didn’t envy them at all. It turns out that this was the Wiggle Dragon Ride 2015 and many of the riders were competing over a 300 mile course. Rather them than me.

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Seeking the snow

After yesterday’s cultural extravaganza, today was back to normal for a weekend. A short lie in, swift breakfast and a quick drive up to the mountains, which were still snow covered. We went back to Garreg Lwyd.

Last week, the deep snow and bitterly cold wind cut short our wanderings. This morning, despite much of the snow still lying on the ground, the weather was much better. For a start, the bitter wind was a mild breeze, and the sun was warmer. On closer inspection, there was less snow, too.

We set off on a much clearer path. The frozen snow crunched beneath my feet but once again Rufus was able to trip lightly on the frozen crust. He edged ahead of me and as I huffed and puffed up the slope, he darted here and there as if to highlight his superior energy levels.

As we got higher up, so the covering of snow thickened until we were walking over the broken rocks and boulders that normally create problems when trying to pick a way through them. And then we were on the flat summit with the cairns ahead.

By now, the sun was quite warm and I regretted my choice of insulated jacket. I noticed that Rufus, even with his shorter hair, was starting to feel the effects of the sun and for the first time in ages, he drank when I offered him water. At the cairns, we paused for a break and to enjoy being on a mountain. So often, I tend to head to a summit only to head back down again and there sometimes isn’t an opportunity to just enjoy. Today, it was lovely on Garreg Lwyd and I took the time to appreciate the views.

It was clear at the top, and to the south I could see the wind farm we often visit. In the little valleys beyond, there was the remains of a morning mist lingering. To the north, the Carmarthen Fans were white and very mountain-like, while to the west I could just make out the white tops of the Preseli mountains. To complete the panorama, in the east Pen y Fan and Corn Du stood out against the horizon. We’ve climbed them all.

Off we went down into the valley between Garreg Lwyd and Foel Fraith. The path was indistinct at first and it was a case of trying to pick a route between the bigger boulders, and hoping the snow wasn’t too deep. Of course, in places it was and several times I sank up to my knee as the top crust gave way. Once again, Rufus sprang daintily from snow drift to snow drift and hardly noticed the tough going I was experiencing.

The walk to Foel Fraith isn’t my favourite part of this route. It’s long and usually boring, although today the snow gave it more of an interesting feel. The frozen marsh and streams were most welcome, as wet boots are another pet hate of mine. Soon we were climbing up to the top of Foel Fraith and the Carmarthen Fans came into view again. I’ve noticed that in previous blogs I’ve spoken about continuing the walk on the Picws Du – something I was thinking this morning. I have yet to do it, though, and it would more than double the route length.

We stopped on Foel Fraith and after I’d taken some photographs and Rufus had eaten some snacks, I threw snowballs for him. He seemed to have learned that they are cold, because he didn’t make an effort to catch them as he normally does. Instead he sprinted over to where they fell, took a few sniffs to make sure they were the right blobs of snow, and then watched me eagerly for the next one. All the while, he was keen to show me how much more fit he was than me.

Then it was time to turn around and we retraced our steps back to the top of Garreg Lwyd before detouring across the summit towards the quarry. We made our way down the steep slope and into the little dips and cuttings where, in the past, limestone was taken to be used on farms and in industry. Given the conditions, even today, I can’t imagine what it must have been like to work here every day.

We finally reached the car about two and a half hours after we set off, feeling energised and exercised.

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Twice in one day!

Neither Rufus nor I do heat. It’s great to see fine weather, the sun is a rare visitor and always welcome. But you won’t find either of us sweltering on the beach, or panting across some shadeless moorland in the high noon heat.

That’s why we both like the early morning. And there’s an added bonus; no one around. It means we can enjoy the countryside free of shouts and screams and this means more chances to see the native wildlife. Yesterday morning, we headed off the Brynllefrith Plantation again. We were there at 7am and immediately we were rewarded for our early start by the sight of a buzzard flying lazily between perches in the trees. All the time as we walked through the trees, sheep called and the echoes amongst the woods made for an eerie atmosphere.

After last week’s visit, I was wary of where Rufus went and my caution was rewarded when I was able to stop him from trying to investigate at an intimate level two dead sheep within yards of each other. Aromatic disaster averted, we dived off the main path to head deeper into the trees and away from any more ovines. I found myself being attacked by horseflies and wishing I had put on some of the insect repellent I’d got for the trek.

We walked for about two miles through the trees, down to the Upper Lliw reservoir and back again and by the time we left the plantation, it was getting hot. I had planned to head off the sort distance to the wind farm, where by it’s very definition I knew there would be a cooling breeze. But as we neared the car, Rufus munched on some grass and a minute or so later was suddenly sick. He didn’t seem ill (he’s been running around in the woods) but I decided to cut our walk short and head home. By the time we got to the house, all signs of a tummy upset were gone and a healthy appetite had appeared. I can only assume it was a bit of dodgy belly and he’s made himself sick with the grass.

The day was hot with little breeze to cool things down. Even in the shade the temperature was up. We sat and sweated and dozed and channel hopped between the Tour de France and the Commonwealth Games. But there was something missing. unfinished business.

Once the day’s temperature had dropped, we set off back to the wind farm. Rufus was bouncing once more and I wanted to try some long exposures of the moving turbine blades. I hoped there would be enough of a breeze to get them going. I needn’t have worried. as we made our way across the moorland, the blades were slowly swooping and swishing. In the silence of the late evening, I could hear them and the whine of the generators almost as soon as we left the car.

The sunset was quite disappointing but the evening was pleasant and the turbines dramatic.

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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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Ilston Valley

With the day to ourselves, Rufus and I both had a short lie in before getting up, still relatively early. The cool of the morning, and the solitude, both appeal to me and I know Rufus appreciates not having to walk, run, bark and generally show me who’s the fitter in the heat of midday. So after a quick breakfast, we were out of the door and off in the car to Ilston Woods.

We went there recently and both enjoyed the walk from the little village down to Parkmill. There is a river for Rufus to cool off in and the chance, however slim, for me to snap a Kingfisher. I’d conveniently forgotten about the mud. So much mud!

We quickly negotiated the little church yard and made our way through the gate into the woods proper. The canopy gave us some shelter from the sun for although it was only 8am, I could feel the warmth in the village. The smell of wild garlic was even stronger than last time, taking me back to the summers of the early 80’s when I was here a lot, taking photos of the church and wild camping amongst the trees. Very little has changed, or so it seems in my mind. The birds were competing between each other to see which ones could sing the loudest. There was a lot of movement as blackbirds and starlings flitted about. For a long time there were not man made sounds.

The river is quite low at this time of year, despite some recent heavy downpours, and in places it ran completely dry. I seem to remember reading somewhere that there was a swallow hole and of r part of its course, the water runs underground. Closer to Parkmill there was a health flow on the surface and this is where I saw the Kingfisher last time. There was no sign of it today, though. We must have been making too much noise.

At the southern end of the valley is the Gower Inn, where I celebrated my 18th birthday and, a few years later, passing my degree. We lingered a while by the river here before setting off back towards Ilston and the car. I try to vary the route a little and we inevitably take a wrong turning now and again. Today, I managed to follow the muddiest path back – even worse than the one we started off on.

Back at the car, we both paddled a little in the river to clean muddy paws before setting off home. It is Rufus’ mission in life to get the back of may car as dirty as he can and so as much as I try to clean him off before he gets in, he manages to keep some mud hidden from me!

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Back on track 2: Return of the sun

My training calls for back to back hikes. This weekend, it called for two four hour strolls. It called very loudly at 6am. But not loudly enough. After my first decent night’s sleep for ages, thanks to a lovely cool breeze coming through the windows, I was reluctant to get up. So in my head when I did surface at around 6.30am, I was late.

As I left the house, the weather was looking similar to yesterday and I guessed that I’d be walking under a sheet of grey cloud. Part of the reason for walking this weekend was to experience the heat and get used to keeping hydrated. Although hot conditions aren’t my favourite, I was looking forward to some strolling in the sunshine. I was heading for Fan Brecheiniog, an old favourite. But before I got to the turn off to the lane that leads to the start of the walk, I decided to try an new route. I parked opposite the Tafarn y Garreg and took the signposted footpath from there. It would mean a southerly climb up Fan Hir and then a nice brisk walk across the ridge to the short but steep slog to Fan Brecheiniog itself.

Immediately, I realised this was a lovely little route, following the banks of the River Tawe for several hundred yards before cutting through farmland and up onto the first part of the climb. The river was shaded by trees and the sun was shining and it would make an ideal picnic spot at some point. I’m fairly certain Rufus would approve of it’s paw cooling potential, too. (Once again, it was too hot for Rufus to make the long distance).

Climbing up the southern end of Fan Hir, the sun was shining brightly but a breeze kept the temperature from being too much. But it was steep and I could feel myself warming up. This was what I was (perversely) hoping for as I could check that my idea of hydration would work. Using the bladder and hose system is great because you don’t have to stop to drink. The theory goes that you are more likely to drink more often in that case. But it’s harder to judge how much you’ve had to drink, and how much is left in the bladder.

I reached the top of the steep part of the climb. Although I was still ascending, the slope was gentler and I sped up a little. I was consciously trying to keep a slow pace to get used to the one I’d be using on the trek. It’s still the part of hiking I find most difficult.

Before long, I’d reached the crest of the ridge and I turned north to continue along Fan Hir. The views all around were fantastic. To the south was Craig Y Nos and Waun Fignen Felin. The latter was once the site of a large lake and much evidence that prehistoric hunter-gatherers stayed in the area has been found in the form of weapons and bones of their prey. Nearby is a stone row, the Saeth Maen, which may have been a marker for travellers in the area. It’s also the site of more modern remains; several military aircraft have crashed there or thereabouts.

To the east, the dramatic near vertical face of Fan Hir dropped to the Cerrig Duon valley and the course of the Tawe. To the west, the rest of the Brecon Beacons natioanl park stretched as far as the eye can see. It’s a beautiful part of the country.

I was concentrating on the view to the north. This was the path I was taking. Underfoot lots of broken stones made the going a little harder than usual. Ahead, the seemingly endless series of little summits were crested, only to find another one ahead. But before long, I could see Fan Brechieniog in the distance. The sun was getting hot now and I was glad I’d plastered on the sun cream. I’m using a small tube of factor 50 at the moment. I didn’t notice when I bought it, but it’s for kids. So it smells of banana. Every now and again, I’d get a whiff of banana in the wind as I moved along.

The short climb to Fan Brecheiniog was tough but over quickly. Then I walked along my favourite mountain to the very northern end, where I sat and stared out at the gorgeous countryside, while eating a Snickers.

Then it was time to turn around and head back. The view south, which dominated now, was of a more industrialised landscape. There were at least three sets of wind farms in view. I could see the building where I work. The sea was crammed in between the horizon and the sky and the lush green of farmland contrasted with the grey and brown of the upland moors and rocky tops. I was walking into the wind and sun now. My hat kept the sun at bay but the wind flapped the brim and one part kept folding down over my left eye. It was annoying and ruined my depth perception, but it didn’t cause any problems.

The drop back down to the river was steeper than I remembered and I found it hard going on the knees. The path was dry and dusty which made it slippery, too. I sought grass and natural steps in the rocks to try and stop myself falling, and I managed to stay upright the whole time. As I descended, the wind died down and it became very hot in the sun. At the river, the shade was welcome and I stopped several times just to enjoy the view. I spotted a movement in the water and saw a duck trying to paddle along. The water level was low so it couldn’t float and was content with waddling between pools and spots of deeper water.

Back at the car, it was boiling and I was glad to get the back pack off and to gulp down more water.

My second hike of the weekend was just over 7.5 miles and it took 4 hours. I climbed around 700m in that time.

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Those magnificent men

Two years ago today (well, two years and four days ago actually), I wrote my first blog, and 242 posts later I’m writing about it again. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean the blog will cycle around in a 242 post circle but it was about the Swansea Airshow, as is this one. Yesterday and today I was at the 2013 Swansea Airshow (now called the Wales National Airshow). And it was just as brilliant. The weather was perfect, the beach was packed with people and there was a great line up.

On Saturday I met up with friends I hadn’t seen in the real world for a few years. We converse in the virtual realm of Flickr and Facebook, but there’s nothing like a sunny day on the beach to renew old acquaintances.  We spent most of the afternoon watching the displays. The wing walkers always fascinate me and having recently been in a biplane seemed to make it a little more real. The Typhoon was back after missing out last time. It’s the loudest plane I’ve ever heard (and remember, I was brought up on RAF airbases). The sound thumped the chest and was enough to move internal organs.

But my favourite is (and always has been ) the Red Arrows. From the moment their master of ceremonies announced their arrival as the shot overhead until the bomb burst finale, they were exciting and spectacular and precise. The commentator explained that for some of the maneouvers, they were 8 feet apart flying at 400mph, and you could see the proximity.

The Battle of Britain Memorial flight finished the day off – possibly the only act that could follow the Red Arrows (and I don;t mean to do the other displays a disservice). The Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire all used the same engines and the sound alone was enough to make the experience special. To see these aircraft, nearing 70 years old, flying over the bay was special. During the war, the bay echoed to the Hurricanes of 317 Polish squadron, 504 squadron and 79 squadron. Spitfires of 312 (Czech) squadron replaced them. All were based at RAF Fairwood Common – now Swansea Airport. My mum remembered seeing a Spitfire roar up the valley behind Swansea College from her aunt’s house just below Cefn Coed and she was looking down on the plane and pilot. If you know the area, you’ll know the plane was very, very low for that to happen.

Today, I headed back down to the bay to catch the Red Arrows again (you might be getting a hint that I’m a fan) and the Battle of Britain flight. They were well worth watching a second time and the high tide meant that the planes flew closer to the shore this time.

I walked home in the hot sun. Although I normally dislike walking in the heat, I have to remember that the trek will start and end in the African sun so it’s probably a good idea to get some experience of it in advance. Although my foot hasn’t fully healed, it didn’t stop me making the 3 mile round trip both days.

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When the sun beats down…

There is only one thing for the discerning dog about town to do. Get his chauffeur to drive him to the country so that he can take a relaxing dip in cool, fresh river water. So that’s what I did.

Rufus here. Dave’s preening himself for the airshow later this afternoon. I think he’s trying to decide which camera to take. Not which would be best for catching sharp pictures of the aircraft, but which one will look best hanging around his neck. He’s muttering about focal lengths and crop factors. If it keeps him happy, I don’t care. I’ve left him too it.

He’s missed out on exercise recently, using some excuse about having a bad paw. Well, he only has two paws and if one is sore, it can hinder him. But I didn’t believe him so I turned up to make sure he got out last night and this morning. It’s hot here. Very hot. So neither of us slept well last night. I know because every time I pushed my nose into his hand, he tickled my chin. So I got him out of bed at 6am and by 7am we were on our way to the source of the River Tawe. It’s one of my favourite bathing spots and this morning as the sun rapidly warmed the day, it was bliss. I managed to get Dave to throw stones for me to chase – he likes to feel involved. I spent a lot of time swimming and for once Dave didn’t stop and take loads of photographs. So I didn’t have to hurry him along.

We walked along the river for a bit before stopping by a large pool. I swam, Dave rested his foot and we both enjoyed. Then Dave saw a big dragon fly and that was it. I couldn’t attract his attention and he was off, chasing after it and trying to take photos. I suspect from some of the words he used that he didn’t get any photos. It was funny to watch him completely distracted, though.

We watched soldiers marching along into the hills. They looked a bit like Dave when he has his back pack, but they were bigger than him and they had guns.

It soon got too warm and I urged Dave to go back to the car. He gets overheated so quickly and then he starts to smell. It’s not pleasant, and always difficult to bring up the subject without upsetting him.

I’m glad he was able to get out again, though.

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