Out

Rufus is staying with me at the moment. He’s been pretty good this week, always lying on his fluffy cushion in the conservatory when I get home. So today, we went out to the river for a wander in the glorious sunshine. But it wasn’t sunny. A thick mist had descended during the night. Nevertheless, out we went.

We headed off to the river above Craig y Nos. There were waterfalls to photograph, and stones to throw. I suspected there would be more stone throwing that photographing. I was right.

Straight off, Rufus remembered what the tripod meant. As soon as I’d sent up the camera, he would position himself between it and the waterfall. Every time I got a nice composition, he would stand there, or jump into the water, or brush past, knocking the tripod.

We walked on, one of us wading, the other trying to keep dry. Eventually, the sun started to shine through the low cloud and before long, a patch of blue sky appeared. Within a few minutes, Fan Brecheiniog was visible and it started to get warmer. We walked up the side of Moel Feity and were rewarded with wonderful views down the Cerrig Duon valley. Not having done a lot of hill walking recently, we were both a little tired so after a couple of hours, we headed back home.

I was out in the afternoon. When I got home, Rufus was fast asleep on the cushion. I surprised him when I opened the door. But a little later, my neighbour called around to let me know that he’d seen Rufus out on the street, He’d tried to catch him, but couldn’t. Later he’d seen Rufus sneaking back through the side gate. I checked, as I’d blocked up a gap in it earlier in the week. But when I checked, there was another gap that appeared to be too small for him to squeeze through. My neighbour said he’d seen him push the wooden slat aside.

More fence work required tomorrow, I think.

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Climbing Kilimanjaro 4: Of mice and men

We survived the sloping camp site and we had a late start today – 8.30am. The route was characterised by more dry flood channels and a distinctly different landscape to the Western and Southern slopes we’d been walking on. Now flora was sparse and composed of only the hardiest of species. We were sown the Scottish Thistle, a surprising discovery but, once we’d seen one, a relatively common sight. Low grasses also popped their heads above the volcanic gravel.

After a beautiful sunrise, we walked in the sunshine for a bit before the inevitable mist descended once more. It was colder now and there was a thick frost on the ground. This froze the scree and made it much easier to walk on. The path was rough and once again undulating. It was impossible to tell whether we were climbing because we were crossing little ridges and dropping down again, and passing through more flood channels.

The passage of time was also hard to determine and everything came together to make an unreal few hours of walking. I’d trained in the mists of the Brecon Beacons but I had never felt anything like this. We came across another flood channel and this was was wide and deep. It wasn’t clear how we’d get to the bed to cross it and in the end, we just scrambled and slithered down the side. At the bottom, we heard voices and suddenly, the big blue toilet tent appeared through the mist. We were at Third Cave Camp. We struggled up the loose scree of the other bank and were in camp! It had taken us 3.5 hours instead of the 5-7 hours in the plan. We were getting fitter and more acclimatised.

We had a short break for dinner in the camp before another acclimatisation walk. Again, we took the route we’d be following tomorrow. This time it was a constant ascent up into the hills, heading directly for Kilimanjaro. We were walking in mist but we soon left it behind as we got higher. Eventually, after about an hour of walking we reached a point 300m above the camp site. It had been hard going because we’d pushed the pace a little but I found I recovered quickly. The trip back down took around 25 minutes. Back at camp, I sat out in the sunshine for half an hour, writing my journal, drinking tea and eating hot peanuts. It was probably the best early evening of the whole trek.

During the night, the diamox I was taking to combat altitude sickness resulted in a need to go for a pee. Despite the absolute certainty of needing to go, it took me 20 minutes from waking up to finally deciding to get out of the sleeping bag. By now, ready for this eventuality, I was already wearing trousers and a fleece to bed so the impact wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

The morning came quickly and coldly. To the north east, the sun was rising over the cloud layer again, making a beautiful sight well worth getting up for. To the south of the camp, Kilimanjaro towered above us. But it was definitely closer, and to me it seemed do-able. Once the sun had risen, it warmed the air quickly and by the time we were ready to leave it was quite pleasant.

We retraced our steps up above the camp and the path that had taken us an hour to complete without packs last night took 90 minutes this morning. Still, that was faster than I was expecting and made me feel comfortable about what was to come. Passian, our lead guide, set a good pace which pushed us a little without  tiring us too much. Occasionally we were passed by our porters who raced ahead to get the camp set up for this afternoon.

Today was a straight ascent from Third Cave, at 3900m to School Hut camp at 4770m. School Hut was our base camp for the final day’s push to the summit of Kilimanjaro and that was at the back of all our minds during the walk. Personally, I was waiting for the headache and nausea of altitude sickness to strike, as 4500m was about the time I’d experienced it in Nepal. I hardly dared think about how symptom free I’d been so far. And I was pleased to find I felt physically very fit and mentally ready to take on the long climb later tonight.

We lost track of time again and as the mist descended, of distance too. After a long stretch of walking steeply while weaving between large boulders, I caught a glimpse of several porters resting ahead. Passian saw them too, and they saw him and jumped up to continue onwards. Shortly afterwards, I thought I caught a glimpse of our blue toilet tent in the mist and a quick question to Passian confirmed that we had arrived at School Hut camp.

Years ago, the School Hut was used for trainee guides to stay in while learning how to guide on the mountain but it had long since fallen into disuse. It was now the shelter for the park ranger but still contained communal bunks. We found out later that for the price of a few beers, we could have stayed in there in relative warmth. But for now, although we could see the camp, it was remaining elusive and distant. It seemed that no matter how long we walked, it was no nearer. I adopted my ‘head down’ approach and found that after about 10 minutes, I could see it was noticeably closer. A final, cruel twist was that the last few metres was up and extremely steep and slippery slope. But we were there and after a swift signing in on the register, we were able to find our tents and rest.

We watched Four Stripe mice (large mice with four lighter coloured stripes on their necks) scurrying from rock to rock. The scavenged on scraps from trekkers and later, after we’d had dinner and returned to the tent, we found one inside looking for snacks. It jumped out and ran away but we were careful to check after that.

Passian held our summit briefing after lunch, and it had a more serious feel to it. Tonight would be the final climb to the top. It would be cold, hard going and long. We were warned to wear at least four layers of clothing on top, to drink plenty before setting out and to get as much rest as possible. We were not to wait for anyone if they dropped behind; the guides would do that and to avoid the group getting split up and perhaps walking on their own, we should all make our own progress and pace. This was a sensible if hard rule, which meant that the teamwork that had helped everyone at one time or another through the trek so far would be absent. On the other hand, it meant that everyone had the best chance of getting to the top.

After the briefing, we all retired to the tents to try and get the best 4 or 5 hours sleep we could.

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The last misty mountain

Including today, I have five days left before I fly out to Tanzania and try to get to the top of Kilimanjaro. Today was the last realistic opportunity to get some hill training in. At least that’s what Rufus was telepathically transferring into my head. I know it was him because I also had an overwhelming urge to fill my back pack full of doggy treats.

So after breakfast and a swift patrol of the garden, we were off and very quickly at the start of the path over Moel Feity and to Llyn y Fan Fawr. Last time we were heading in this direction, we ended up scurrying back to the car in the middle of thunder and lightning and a tremendous hail storm. Today, the weather couldn’t have been more different. It was cold and clear and a golden glow from the just risen sun brought out the yellows and oranges in the grass and it was as if we were walking on a brick red carpet. Albeit a soggy one.

We made our way up onto Moel Feity, stopping to tidy up the memorial to the American bomber crash. Wind had scattered some of the poppies and I placed them back on the small cairn, weighted down with stones. Then it was off down the other side and up the hill to the lake. By now, Fan Brecheiniog was covered in a fluffy cloud hat and for a moment I had to look twice to make sure it wasn’t another thunder cloud. That day still haunts me. But it wasn’t and we reached the lake relatively dry.

After a stop to refuel, during which I had the urge to sacrifice my Snickers to Rufus (which I only just managed to overcome), we started the steep trudge up on to Fan Brecheiniog itself. As we climbed, the cloud lifted so that by the time we were on the top, there was a light haze covering the ridge. Ahead, a huge aerial stucjk up from the stone shelter and as we passed I heard the distinct nasal clip of someone speaker over a radio circuit. I’m not sure what was happening but the two guys with the radio were comfortable in the shelter. Rufus and I walked on to the end of the ridge and took a few selfies before we turned around and headed back down to the lake.

At the water’s edge, I sat and threw stones for Rufus to catch. This will be the last time we walk together for a while and I wanted to make sure that he had a bit of a play as well as a good long walk. There was much wagging of tail and barking, which suggested to me that he was having fun.

The two kilometres walk back to the car isn’t the best part of this route and we splashed, squelched and slipped our way back in about an hour. Rufus was reluctant, as usual, to jump up on to the back seat but he didn’t know what I knew – we were only going a mile down the road to the river. Or maybe he did know. Maybe it was his idea? Once he realised we were stopping again, he was stood up and ready to jump out. I parked by the side of the river so that he could have a proper paddle, and rinse some of the mud out of his paws.

We walked up and down the river bank until I found some stones and there followed a stone fest. I threw, he chased. He jumped, paddled, slipped, bathed and barked. His tail wagged so much that if it had been submerged it would have propelled him up against the flow of the water. A few times he made athletic leaps across to a stone in the middle of the river, only to leap back on to the bank again with equal grace. A lot of fun was being had. All too quickly it was time to leave and Rufus dried off in the back while I drove behind horses, tractors, cyclist and slow learner drivers back home.

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Just a little bit further

Yesterday was the last decent day, weather-wise, that would fit in with my training plan. I intend to wind down in the last week, concentrating on gym/cardio/aerobic exercise in a controlled environment to minimise the risk of injury. So Rufus and I headed out to Fan Llia. I had an idea that we’d walk Fan Llia and Fan Dringarth and then drop down to the east side of the Ystradefllte reservoir to make our way back to the car.

At the stile, Rufus struggled a little to get over so I gave him a helping hand. I may have helped a little too much, or he may have slipped but the next thing I knew, he was going head over heels to land in the mud on the other side. I jumped over but by the time I’d got to him, he was up, shaking himself down and wagging his tail. I kept an eye on him but there were no limps or winces, and we climbed steadily through mist and wind to the cairn on Fan Llia. There was a little drizzle but also a little sunshine as the clouds blew rapidly across the mountain. By the time we’d reached Fan Dringarth, the cloud was lifting again and there were large patches of blue sky.

Much to Rufus’ surprise (as he knows our normal route north well) I turned west to head down to the Nant y Gasseg and Nant y Gwair streams which join to form the Afon  Dringarth which feeds the reservoir. He was confused for a moment, and then he spotted the river, and there was no stopping him. I had to watch where I was stepping because of half buried rocks but every time I looked up, there was a small black shape bounding towards the water. By the time I reached the river, Rufus was wading and waiting for me. I threw stones stones and a stick for him to chase and he was a happy dog.

This little valley, Cwm Dringarth, has signs of habitation going back hundreds of years if not further. I saw the remains of sheep folds and other rough drystone structures. There were obvious and not so obvious flattened platforms that once formed the base of dwellings for those farming in the valley. It must have been a bleak and hard life in the valley, although it;s likely that the climate was a little better and, of course, the reservoir wasn’t there and so access would have been much easier.

The going along the side of the valley was tough for me as I had to avoid the river itself and negotiate many little streams that had cut deep into the hillside. I seemed to be climbing up and down all the time, while Rufus used the riverbank and riverbed to make smooth progress. Walking on a slope was hard too; my feet were always at an angle and my left leg was slightly lower than my right. Between us, we managed to make our way along the valley, through mud and bog, until we reached the reservoir.

It was fenced off, which was very disappointing for Rufus who looked longingly at the water through the railings. But eventually, he realised a dip was not to be and carried on, only occasionally glancing across to see if there was a convenient gap in the fence. Streams coming down from the hills were in full spate after the rain and they had cut deep channels in the soft earth. Each had places where sheep had created crossings, but slipping and sliding down and back up again was hard going.

Eventually, we reached the dam at the head of the valley, and this was where in the past I’d crossed over to start the long climb back up to the cairn on Fan Llia. This time, the plan was to head on south, climbing more gradually as we went. By now, the blue skies we’d had for a while were beginning to cloud over again and with the prospect of more storms in the afternoon, we were at the right part of the route; nearly at the car.

False summits can be demoralising if you aren’t expecting them. I had an idea that the summit of the ridge ahead wasn’t the final one and I was right, so it wasn’t too disappointing. But as we got to it, the rain started. Light at first, it became heavier as we reached the real summit and started the last stretch down to the car park. Here the going was treacherous, with saturated ground beneath my feet running with water. I know from experience that this is slippery so I was very careful as I made my way down. Looking up, I saw Rufus disappearing into the reeds in the distance. I wasn’t worried but I wondered if he’s get lost and I’d have to call him to the stile. I decided to cross the fence early, at a point where some inconsiderate farmer has chained a gate shut. As I stepped onto the wooden platform leading to the gate, my feet went from under me on the slimy wood. I fell sideways to my left and managed to tear a fingernail off, bend another one back as I landed on my left hand. I lay on the wood and in slow motion, Rufus’ lead (an extending one, with a big plastic reel) flew around and hit my forehead. I may have sworn.

Giving up on the gate, I made my way down to the stile, where Rufus met me and proceeded to show me how crossing a stile should be done. Back home, we were both tired and when I checked the route, I found we’d walked 10km and climbed 400m, which was more than I had estimated. It was a good final workout for me, and judging by the near constant tail wagging during the walk, an enjoyable day for Rufus.

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Not another mountain?

The weather forecast for today was the best for the next few days or so and I had to get another long walk in before the trek. So there wasn’t any choice about getting out on to the hills today. I had an early night and was cooking breakfast at 7am. I haven’t had a cooked breakfast for ages, and this was very much a whim, so it wasn’t complete (no hash browns or mushrooms) but it was most welcome. Outside, a crescent moon shone in a clear sky. I defrosted the windscreen and set off.

My plan for today was to walk the same route over Fan Llia and Fan Fawr as two weeks ago. I wanted to get the pacing right and I estimated it would take between 5½ and 6 hours. I set off just before sunrise and was grateful for the frozen ground; what would have been boggy and unpleasant walking was actually quite easy going thanks to the layer of frost providing a firm base.

I was soon at the cairn on Fan Llia. It usually take me 45 minutes and I was hoping, by adjusting my pace, to take a little longer. I did it in 43 minutes! Some work needed there. The morning was cold and clear; The sun rose and lit up Fan Nedd opposite, and started to warm up the air. Snow covered all the summits I could see and as I walked along, I lost all track of time. Over Corn Du, a faint whisper of cloud partially obscured the top and similarly with Fan Brecheiniog. The mountains themselves were causing the clouds to form.

By the time I got the Craig Cerrig Glesiad, I was feeling pretty good and so I decided to detour over to Fan Frynych. The route is only 20 minutes off the track, but there’s a bit of a dip and then a climb. The area is full of old limestone and other mining remains and a bright white trig point which has had a Welsh dragon painted on its side since the last time I was here.

By now there was a little bit of cloud overhead, and I set off back to rejoin the main route and head over to Fan Fawr. Last time I was here, there was a thick mist making route finding hard, but today it was clear and I was able to choose a lightly drier path. For 40 minutes I trudged over featureless moorland before I reached the slopes of Fan Fawr, white with snow. I sheltered for a few minutes by a convenient rock and chatted to a couple of walkers who passed by. They were on their way to the Mountain Centre but as far as I could tell on the map, they were a fair distance from it.

After a few minutes break, I set off up the side of Fan Fawr. This is the highest point on this route and it’s a relentless slog up the side of the hill. The snow, obscuring the little paths and tracks, made the going slippery and robbed me of any little landmarks to help me gauge when to turn up the hill. In the end, I followed the path I used last time, which was hard work in the snow. But eventually, I got to the top to find a completely white landscape with a myriad of footprints – human and animal – milling about near the summit.

A wind was blowing now and it was cold. In the distance, clouds were appearing on the horizon. These were more than light mist from the hills and I guessed that before long there would be rain. I set off along the top of Fan Fawr and down to the Ystradfellte reservoir. This is a tough and steep downhill section but the views across the reservoir to Fan Llia are wonderful. Unfortunately, I was looking at the steep climb up to Fan Llia’s cairn which was waiting for me once I’d crossed the dam. The reason I chose this route was for the climb at the end – it’s a psychological challenge and in the past I’ve found it helps as part of the training to finish with a difficult section.

As soon as I started on the climb away from the reservoir, the dark clouds arrived. It started raining and I was a little apprehensive after recent experiences. Mist dropped down to hide the cairn I was aiming for. Over to my left, the clouds were dark but ahead they were lighter. Over to my right there was still some blue sky. But that quickly disappeared in the mist too. The final 10 minutes of climb were completed in a familiar grey world.

At least the heavy rain didn’t materialise and once I’d reached the cairn, the mist lifted a little so I could see the path back to the car. A quick descent to the river followed, hindered only by boots which were working themselves loose despite me tightening the laces up. I have to replace those laces – another lesson learned – part of the reason for doing these walks.

At the car, I tucked in to ham sandwiches before heading home.

Today’s walk was 20.6km with 829m of climb, all achieved in 6hrs 45 minutes.

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Walking off the turkey

Boxing day and I had eaten too much Christmas dinner, too many Green & Blacks chocolates and too much Turkish delight. There was only option left to me. Walk it off.

After Tuesday’s experience, I was a little apprehensive of going back onto the hills. But I knew I had to so that it didn’t become a permanent worry, and I knew I needed the training time. So after checking the mountain weather forecasts (low risk of thunder storms), I headed off to the Storey Arms and the start of the path to Corn Du. The weather was looking good – sun and blue sky at the start and low cloud on the hills themselves. No sign of high winds or hail, and the western sky was clear of storm clouds.

I set off on the snowy and slippery path. Immediately, I passed another walker who had stopped to put crampons on. My ice grips were at home – they’re in the back pack now – but I didn’t really feel I needed them. Although the path was icy, there were plenty of protruding rocks to give me grip and I knew that if the ice got worse I could walk on the snowy grass at the side and be okay. In no time, I was on the top of the first hill, looking down at the swollen stream and the climb up to Corn Du. I was passed by four walkers here, and two a little further on. I was setting my own pace (I’m aiming for around 3kph) and so being passed never worries me. There was no sign of the crampon man (and I didn’t see him the whole time I was on the hills).

The visibility dropped as I climbed into the clouds and with the thick snow that now covered the path, it was hard to see where I was going or how far I’d come. For a while I could see the two guys ahead of me but they disappeared into the cloud as they pulled ahead and then I was on my own. It doesn’t worry me – I like the solitude, but I felt a couple of twinges of unease as I thought back to Tuesday. But the cloud above me was too bright to be thick and I knew from previous experience that this was just a mist. The unease eased off.

Soon I came to the junction of paths that lead from the Storey Arms and from Pen Milan. At this point the climb up to Corn Du steepens so I usually take a moment to catch my breath and enjoy the northerly views. There were no views this morning, but I took a break anyway. I checked the path up and there were faint traces of the sides of the route.The main part, stones laid down by volunteers from the National Trust, was covered in a layer of snow around 8″ deep that had drifted into the channel. I chose to walk on the side, where the going would be much less tiring. In no time, the bulk of Corn Du loomed out of the mist and I waded through knee deep snow to reach the summit.

It was much easier to get to this time as there was little wind blowing. The top was white but the snow wasn’t deep here; it had been blown elsewhere by what wind there was. I spent a few minutes here before heading across to the drop and path to Pen y Fan. Just before I left the summit, I was joined by two more walkers. It was getting a little busy compared to when I’m here normally.

The wind dropped completely between the two mountains, and I could clearly hear someone talking on their phone. I couldn’t see them, though, until I walked on quite a bit when a red jacket suddenly appeared to my right and lower down.

Pen y Fan was similarly windswept and I reached the cairn in near whiteout conditions. Two people stood taking photos of each other. I turned around to go back and dropped down behind Corn Du. The snow was knee high again here and it took me about 10 minutes to make may way around until I got tot the path that heads down to Pont Ar Daf. In that time, I must have passed about 15 people. It was a popular place.

The path down was smooth with snow but not as slippery as it looked. I’m getting to the point, with 20 days to go to the trek, that I am paranoid about getting an injury. At this stage, anything serious enough to stop me training might well stop me from going. So I was careful where I stepped and took it easy. In the 30 minutes or so it took me to get down, I must have passed around 50 people. There were solo walkers, families with kids, pairs, trios, and one largish group. It was interesting to note that on the way up, everyone I passed responded to my ‘good morning’. On the way down, apart from one or two at the very top, few gave me more than a second glance as I greeted them. I’ve seen this before. It seems that genuine walkers are friendlier that the weekend strollers.

I was also amused to see a couple gingerly making their way down what was a fairly easy path at the bottom. She was holding on to him despite having a pair of walking poles. As I got closer, I spotted that while he was wearing the right kit, she was wearing trainers with worn soles. I have no sympathy for that lack of preparation and I hope she slipped and fell. (As I was driving back, the rescue helicopter flew over the car heading towards the hills. I expect it was some other unprepared fool being overconfident and risking the lives of others when it all went wrong).

Back at the car, the sun was shining once again and I drove down to a favourite location to take some photos of a tree by the river. I’ve been there several times and when the light is right, it’s a lovely place to stop and snap away.

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600 hours

600 hours to go to my trek. 25 sleeps!

It was important to get a walk in today, regardless of the weather. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad and equally fortunately, Rufus was keen to come along .

Keen to come along? I was warm and cosy in my home, hangin’ with me bro’s in front of the fire. There was the delicious smell of home made soup in the kitchen and I was fairly confident that with a little application of puppy dog eyes, I’d get some. Then he turned up and one slip, just one wag of the tail, sealed my fate. Before I knew it I was in the back of the car listening to the wind howling outside.

We drove to the foot of Moel Feity. The plan was to go straight to the top and then drop down to the river, climb back to the top again and head back to the car. Plenty of ascent in a compact walk so that if the predicted storms did turn up, we wouldn’t be far from the car.

He pretty much dragged me out of the car. I would have been happy to wait in the relative warmth for him to come back, but oh no! I had to go. Once I was out and braced for the cold, it wasn’t too bad. There were plenty of things to investigate and, of course, I had to keep an eye on him to make sure he didn’t wander off.

We spiralled our way up the side of the mountain. By the time we got to the top, the wind was blowing. All around, the tops of the higher hills were shrouded in mist and the drizzly rain there threatened to drop down and envelope us, too. It was dark as well. We’d started out later today, so it was getting nearer to sunset than we’re normally used to.

When I faced into the wind, my ears flapped backwards and made me look slick and streamlined.

We meandered around the top of the hill for a bit, seeking the highest points, before we made our way down to the river. Once there, I threw stones for Rufus and he carefully retrieved each one from the water. We were sheltered from the wind in the little river cutting but eventually we had to leave. The wind had picked up quite a bit and as we climbed back up the side of Moel Feity, it was blowing from just behind. It helped push me up but before long the direction changed again and it was trying to blow me off course. It made the going harder.

Don’t listen to him – he’s trying to make it sound hard. I ran up the hill, jogged back down, ran around him several times, headed off to a particularly interesting scent and back again while he was huffing and puffing his way up.

At the top, we turned to face the wind again, and headed across the featureless moorland before dropping back down towards the car. On the way, I passed a strange looking ring of stones, low in the grass. It looked like a hollowed out barrow; it was too small to be a sheep fold or a permanent shelter. At the southern end was a larger upright stone. It didn’t look ancient so I’m guessing it was a small temporary shelter of some kind.

It was just a bunch of stones. No big deal.

At the car, we were both still feeling energetic, so we drove a little way down the road and stopped so that we could climb up to the standing stone above the road. It’s a short but steep climb and I wanted to get some more ascent in today in case tomorrow proves to be too stormy. Rufus cleared the stile with a little help from me and we started off up the hill.

A little help from him? Unasked for, I must say! The balancing act on the top of the stile was just that! An act! And a good one!

We reached the standing stone in no time despite deep, boggy mud underfoot. Still feeling good, we set off to climb to the top of the hill. The wind was now almost as strong as it had been last week and it was getting harder and harder to battle against it. Great training!

I was as slick in the wind as ever.

At the top, visibility wasn’t good but I could just make out Crai reservoir in the distance. Down below, beyond the standing stone, was my car. It was quicker going down and after negotiating the stile…

…in some style, I should add! Style… ha ha!…

… we got back to the car still dry. I dropped Rufus off just as the proper rain started.

It was great to get back to me homies who were keeping my bed nice and warm.

This was the route we did today.

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Hat Trick

My third day on the mountains and Rufus’ second. It was important for me psychologically to get this one done as it would give me confidence in my knee and it would be a test of my trek preparation so far.

Yesterday, I managed to squirt a blob of shower gel into my right eye. I struggled to see for most of the afternoon and evening. An early night beckoned and was welcomed by both Rufus and I. Nevertheless (or perhaps because of the early night), Rufus was awake early for his first visit to the garden. I tried delaying the inevitable, by a single whimper from him told me it was serious and we went out. We then enjoyed another half hour lie-in before finally getting up at 7am.

At 8.45, we were in the car park of the Tafarn y Garreg, setting off for the steep climb up to the start of Fan Hir. We passed a small sheepdog in the field who was happy to see us and he and Rufus exchanged sniffs before we carried on. The climb here is steep; we climb around 220m in a little over 1km. But then the slope eases and the walking becomes more pleasant. Add to that the steep drop to the east and it’s a very pleasant and picturesque route. It’s the first time Rufus has done this with me and he took the slope with ease, showing my slow and plodding progress up yet again. He even had to stop and wait for me several times, which he made sure I was aware of.

There was mist all around us but we were walking in the clear, with blue sky above and a gentle breeze blowing. As we made our way along the ridge, the sun came out and when I turned around to face it, I could see a long line of thick mist cutting across the route we’d just followed. It looked gorgeous and I took lots of photos. Moments like this are one of the reasons I go hill walking. We kept going along the ridge. It’s an odd route in that even after passing the summit – barely discernible along the ridge – it seems as if you are continuing to climb. Ahead always looks higher.

We turned around just before the drop to Bwlch y Giedd. Last week we walked this route from the other side. I can see that before the trek I’m going to have to do the full circle. But for now, Fan Hir was enough.

We turned around to go back and were confronted by a beautiful sight. The combination of low winter sun, mist and the golden heather and grass made the ridge a pleasure to walk through. We took our time going back but inevitably it was quicker going down hill. The rocks and mud of the steepest part of the hill were slippery underfoot. I had to put Rufus on the lead to start with as there were sheep around, but as usual he wasn’t interested. I took him off again after we’d passed below the main sheep  level and instead I relied on him listening to me if there was a stray ovine about. He did, of course, and it was much easier for me to negotiate the slope without him pulling me faster.

A river runs alongside the path at the bottom of the hill and Rufus took the opportunity to cool his paws off as I threw some stones in for him. We were both tired, though, so we didn’t linger.

I’m pleased with my three hill days – I’ve done a total of  23km and just under 1300m of ascent.

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More hills

As I type, Rufus is lying besides me, snoring quietly. We’re both tired after a stroll on Gareg Lwyd and Foel Fraith in the mist. The fire is on and there is rubbish on the TV. Perfect.

Rufus stayed over last night but we both stayed up late so I wasn’t woken until 6.30. The garden checked, we both went back to bed and it wasn’t until around 7.30 that we both surfaced again. We took our time – the traffic at this time in the morning meant that it was pointless leaving early and so we set off around 9.15.

By 10.15, we were at Gareg Lwyd, setting off from the car park to climb the first hill. It’s part of a quarry complex and limestone was cut from the hills all around here. There are plenty of man made dips, cliff faces and a lot of quarry spoil to be wary of, and the going is quite tough as there is a lot of scree where the limestone has been broken by the action freezing and thawing. Finding a path to the top that avoids the rough ground is always a challenge.

As usual with this hill, mist was lying on the top, making the featureless plateau hard to navigate. I always get disorientated on this hill and today was no exception. But I had come prepared – a map, compass, GPS unit and the mobile phone tracking app. I used the GPS unit as it displays an OS map and was quickly back on track for the two large cairns that mark the true summit.

And there they were, faintly appearing in the mist. Rufus beat me to them and waited patiently as I picked my way through the stones. After a small snack for him, we set off over the hill and down to the shallow valley between Gareg Lwyd and Foel Fraith. The mist lifted only slightly as we got the to lowest part of the valley and thickened again as we climbed back up the other side. A chill wind picked up, too, but thankfully it was nowhere near as bad as yesterday.

The top of Foel Fraith was also shrouded in thick mist. It’s a strange feeling to be out in this kind of weather without any visual references. It’s a little scary, challenging and exciting all at the same time. Of course, I was secure with the GPS, but I’ve been on these hills before and found myself veering way off course, despite electronic aids. Sure enough, on the way back and even though I was checking the route, I noticed I’d missed one of the turns of the path.

Turning back on track, I soon began to hear the sound of traffic on the road by the car park. Moments later, we descended beneath the mist and before us were the quarry workings and beyond that the flatter farmland of Llangadog, with sunshine picking out the fields.

Back home, we settled on the sofa and the snoring started.

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Weather the whether

Snuffle, snuffle, low grunt. Bark.

Time to get up, then, and after a brief garden run and breakfast, off we went to the hills. Fan Llia this time, for a slightly longer walk in the clouds. Sure enough, as we left the car park, the grey mist was descending to hide the tops of the hills and after the recent deluge, the ground was like a sponge underfoot. Within five minutes, my boots were soaked through despite their proofing, and a few minutes after that, my feet were soaking.

This route has a particularly awkward stile right at the start and I always try and get to it before Rufus to give him a helping hand over it. I was over first and Rufus took a run but slipped on the wet wood. In slow motion, he slipped backwards but landed on his feet and with little encouragement from me, he had another go. This time I caught him as he got to the top of the stile and I managed to bring him over.

From then on, it was relatively easy going. We splashed and slipped along the vague path and soon found ourselves in the clouds. The rock cairn loomed and Rufus, as usual, beat me to it. After a few minutes rest and some snacks, we carried on along the ridge. The wind was gusting strongly and before long, the rain started. Fortunately, it was being blown from my back and so the backpack took the brunt. Every so often, the clouds would lift and we’d catch a glimpse of some landmark in the distance. The Ystradfellte reservoir popped into view and then disappeared again, the road along the Llia valley flashed through the mist.

Soon we were making good progress with the wind at our backs. In the distance, we spotted a pair of walkers coming towards us. They were jogging and clearly part of some race. Not long afterwards, we spotted several more pairs, most of whom were consulting maps and heading across our path. None seemed dressed for the weather.

We walked the length of the ridge, over Fan Dringarth and on to Cefn Perfedd. I wanted to do 10km and three hours so once we’d reached the empty sheep pens, it was time to turn around.

But now we were walking into the wind and the going was tougher. Rufus is quite aerodynamic and with his ears blowing back in the wind, he was fine. I felt every gust and, shortly after, every drop of rain that was blown in my face. The slog back to the cairn on Fan Llia was long and hard and there were no great vistas to make the experience worthwhile, I was reduced to convincing myself I’d benefit from this on the trek.  We passed more runners, all heading down towards the road and eventually the cairn came inot view. ASfter a brief stop, we set off for the car.

Heading down the side of Fan Llia, I found out how slippery the water had made things. It was running down over the grass in sheets, which made it almost like walking on ice. I was reduced to walking in the bed of a small stream, where the stones gave me some purchase. Nevertheless, I slipped and slid down to the marshy ground and the stile. Rufus, with four paw drive, had no such troubles. He cleared the stile in two bounds and waited while I struggled across.

We walked into the car park, where an errant sheep jumped out in front of Rufus. It actually brushed past him and while he went to chase it (instinct takes over whenever anything runs away from Rufus – me, the cats he shares the house with) One call from me stopped him in his tracks. I was so pleased with him as he doesn’t really have any control over that instinct. As a reward (and in addition to the treats he got) we went down to the river where Rufus washed his paws in the fast flowing water. I was cautious as the river was in full spate so I didn’t throw stones for him to chase but no sooner had I turned my back to take a photo than Rufus had managed to get himself on to a little island in the middle of the river. Marvelling at his swimming skills, I was disappointed to watch as he skirted the deep, fast flowing parts and found a shallow bit to tip toe across to get back to the bank!

Back at home, there was much snoring and sofa surfing.

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