Second snow

On the odd occasion that I looked out of the office window last week, all I could see was the white capped hills finally visible after weeks of rain, low cloud and darkness. Last week Rufus and I headed up to one of those hills and although we got snowed on, we had a great walk. I found some waterfalls I wanted to photograph and so we planned a return visit. With the weather forecast showing fine weather today, we set off before dawn to get to Foel Fawr before the crowds – it’s very popular with people sledging when there’s snow about.

I watched the temperature drop as we climbed along the hill road until it read -2 centigrade. Fortunately the road was clear of ice, although sheep and ponies had decided to stand on it rather than the snow either side. Eventually, we got to the quarry and a few yards later, the car park. The car park was frozen but as it had been churned up the previous day, there was plenty of grip for the tyres. We set off, carefully at first, but then more confident as the going underfoot became less slippery. Off the car park surface, the snow was thick and we left deep foot prints as we went. With no paths visible, we struck off towards the rocks of the quarry and hoped for the best. Rufus four paw drive meant he sailed over the snow but I found myself boot deep in unfrozen mud and at one point I nearly lost my balance as the marshy ground tried to stop me.

I was finding the going quite tough with the snow and I kept an eye on Rufus to see how he was coping. Better than me! He was bounding and sprinting all over the place, then stopping to sniff at some unmissable aroma. We were following a fox’s track at one point and he stopped so often that I left him behind. It was great to watch him run, bounce, and hop to catch up, with no sign of problems with his knee.

At the waterfall, there was a short but steep climb down and I kept a hand on Rufus’ collar to make sure he didn’t go too fast to stop at the edge. I stopped for 10 minutes at the waterfall but it was a little disappointing, and the treacherous conditions meant I didn’t fancy scrambling down any further to change the view point. Instead, after a few snapshots, we set off back up the hill, much steeper now and harder with the deep and slippery snow. The path we took last week was covered in snow and hidden but I set off in the general direction to climb up to one of the levels of the quarry. The route I took led along the slope and I had to dig the sides of my boots into the snow to stop me slipping down again. Rufus, making the most of his 4 paw drive, saw no problem as he kept level with me but several yards lower on the slope. Then he tried to get up to me.

The snow was so deep between us that every time he took a step, Rufus sank to his tummy in it. He was struggling to make any headway, so I dropped down and gave him a hand. Together we managed to get out of the deepest snow and Rufus was able to follow my footsteps until we got on firm ground again. Then he was off as if nothing had happened. It didn’t take us long to get back the car.

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Looking back

Four little words – ‘this time last year’. I make no apologies. This time last year I was on the way to completing a big challenge and I think I earned the right to use those words.

This time last year I was climbing up to Shira Plateau on the Western slopes of Kilimanjaro. It was the first full day of the trek and a hot and tough one as we climbed through the rain and cloud forest out on to the heathland the forms the crater of Shira. We ended up at 3500m and while the day was hot, the night was cold.

Today Rufus and I did not set out to recreate the event. Instead, we took advantage of the beautiful weather on the Brecon Beacons to get onto the hills again. Our goal – Fan Brecheiniog. It has featured on this blog many times and I hope it will many more times. I drove this way yesterday but the road was clearer today. There were several moments when i though the car might slide off the road on a thin coating of frost and ice, but a bit of care and forward thinking meant I was able to get to the start point for the long walk to Llyn y Fan Fawr. We set off from the car in brilliant sunshine and snow. The wind was cold but before long my hat and gloves came off as the temperature rose. Rufus bounded through the snow, stopping to greet a fellow canine walker as we made our way along the river. By the time we got to the first steep part of the day, the snow was several inches thick.

Rufus followed the tracks of previous passers by, as it was easier than battling through snow which, in places, was up to his belly. I followed Rufus; he has a good nose for the best path and I’ve learnt to trust his judgement. This time last year I was probably as fit as I have every been. Today was very different. I felt every square of chocolate eaten over Christmas, every mince pie and every roast potato. My backpack was lighter than the 8kg one I took with me on the trek but I felt it’s influence as I stopped several times ‘to take photographs’.

Then, after several false summits, there was the lake. And above it, Fan Brecheiniog shone in the morning sun. We stopped for a few minutes for me to get my breath back. Normally I would throw stones into the water for Rufus, but it was too cold for that today and instead I threw snowballs for him to chase. After yesterday’s fun, he’d learnt not to expect too much and it was enough for him to race to the snowball and break it apart with his nose.

Then we made our way over to the start of the short but knee-achingly steep climb to the bwlch. One of the great things about very cold weather is that all the marsh and bog freezes over. But for some reason I managed to step on the only bit of unfrozen bog in the whole place, and it was deep. I felt myself falling forward before I knew what was going on and I managed to stop myself from going flat on my face. But my left leg disappeared into the water and mud up to the knee.

Undaunted, I headed up the steep path. I thought I heard Rufus snigger, but he was so far ahead it may just have been the wind. It was hard going, even taking into account my lack of fitness. The snow was thick and slippery where it had been trodden down and then frozen overnight. At one point, I was conscious that the view ahead looked a bit like photos in a magazine accompanying an article on how to perform an ice axe arrest! After several ‘photo stops’, I made it to the little valley between Fan Hir and Fan Brecheiniog. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go on and I was looking at Rufus to see if he was coping. Apart from a few tiny snowballs on his feet, which I cleared quickly, he was fine. He was watching me to see if we were going on and every now and then he’d race a few steps up the hill as if to encourage me.

I set off again, adopting a slow plod as my tactic for making the ascent. The snow was deeper again and in places it was like walking up a sand dune – my feet would slip back as I pushed forward. The usual path on to Fan Brecheinog was completely covered in snow; I’ve never see than before. One set of foot prints led off tot he south and up in a curving climb and I decided to follow them as walking on the compacted snow would be easier. Rufus was now reduced to a plod as well as he battled through the snow but he kept going every time I took a breather. But eventually I decided that I was struggling to go further and it would be silly to exhaust myself and risk slipping on the way down. I called Rufus, who was a few paces in front of me.

I swear a big grin appeared on his face. Before I’d finished saying the phrase ‘lets go back to the car’ he had raced past me and was standing on the bwlch again, about 20m away. I love watching him run in the snow. He bounds like a big cat and the snow flies everywhere from his back paws. He usually races down from here and meets me at the lake. I was a little worried that he might slip on the snow going down, but I needn’t have been concerned. He is sure footed. We passed several walkers descending gingerly but I was using my walking pole now and I found it much easier than I had feared. One of the walkers had just put on a set of mini crampons but I knew from experience these wouldn’t work well in the deep snow. Sure enough, both Rufus and I sailed past him.

At the lake, I threw more snowballs for Rufus and we posed for a couple of buddy selfies. Then we set off back down the slope and the car. I don’t like the last mile or so; it tends to be boring. But snow changes everything and I was able to get some nice photos of the Brecon Beacons stretching off to the East. By now the snow was melting from the lower part of the hill. I had to avoid a few boggy patches I’d walked over with ease on the way up. The last bit of this walk is a short, steep climb of no more than 10 metres, and I found this really tiring. Slumping down into the car, I decided I needed to work at getting fit again.

As I drove off, around 12.50, I remembered that this time last year, I’d made it to Shira campsite, at 3500m after climbing 719m and I felt good. Today I’d climbed around 400m and felt shattered. More work required!

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Managing expectations

Another in the occasional series of management guides by Management Guru Rufus Blue.

Managing expectations is key in any business relationship. In this case, the relationship between master (me) and minion (Dave). This is best illustrated by an example this morning.

We have been having a run of bad weather, with heavy rain and strong, gusty wind. I require a walk every day and Dave is the means by which that walk is facilitated. He has a grasp of weather conditions that I don’t really have time to develop, and that’s fine (I can’t be perfect at everything). So I rely on Dave to pick the right moments to avoid the worst of the weather. But underlying this is the ongoing requirement for the daily walk.

This morning, it was raining. It had been yesterday as well. The aim was to build an acceptance that walking in the rain was okay and so yesterday, using the simple but effective technique known as ‘puppy dog eyes’, I ensured a walk in the drizzle. It set me up for this morning. Although the rain was coming down, Dave was already influenced by yesterday’s decision and was more susceptible to suggestion. Thus, there was no question over whether we were going out. It was a case of when and where.

Dave’s pretty good at finding decent places to go so I have no worries there and leave those decisions to him. Giving your minion some responsibility makes him feel valued, as indeed he is. But I didn’t want the effects of yesterday’s walk fading as time went on, so the puppy dog eyes came out again. Sure enough, and as expected, Dave started to get ready to go out. A triumph of the management of expectation by example and repetition.

We ended up at the Brynllenfrith plantation again. The name sounds grand, but it’s just some trees a little north of the Upper Lliw Reservoir. Nevertheless, it’s a great place to explore and, as usual, we had the place to ourselves. Once we were in amongst the trees, I let Dave off the lead (it’s so touching that he think’s I’m the one on the lead) and while he scrabbled around taking photos of the mushrooms and drops of water on the fir tree pines, I explored, made sure he didn’t get into any difficulties, and took my exercise. When he fell over, I didn’t laugh, even when he tried to make light of it by claiming it was a wet and slippery tree root he’d stepped on.

An added bonus was that we didn’t actually get wet because it held off raining until we got home.

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Oh, snow!

More snow today. I left for work at about 7am and finally got in to my desk at 8.20. Although the roads were bad, the standard of driving of some of the people in front and behind me was worse and was the actual cause of all the delays. I watched an articulated lorry, stuck on a hill, slide backwards then get some grip and pull forwards, only to slide back again. In doing so, it blocked the road completely. I watched people abandon cars in the middle of the road. I saw a rubbish lorry slide down a hill out of control and nearly hit a car left at the side of the road ahead of it. The guy behind me was so close I couldn’t see his headlights – I suspect he planned on using me as an extra set of brakes if he needed to stop. Drivers too timid to attempt any manoeuvre slightly off the line of the tyre tracks on the road managed to block three lanes at a major junction.

I’m not impatient when it comes to things that affect safety. But I had my own reasons for urging a little more speed this morning. I was desperate to go for a wee. By the time I was crawling along the motorway and queueing up to leave it, I was also looking for convenient bushes. On the road leading to the office, I was looking for a convenient bottle in the car. Once parked, I negotiated the steps and slippery path gently knowing that one slight bump or slip would result in an embarrassing accident. The sigh of relief as I got to the urinal lasted for several minutes, and could be heard throughout the building.

At lunchtime I went out for a stroll, as it was clear and there was snow on the trees in the nearby graveyard. It was beautiful and poignant given the location, and tranquil too.

Leaving work this evening, I was braced for the horrors of long queues of slow moving vehicles but was surprised that my chosen route home was fairly clear.

About an hour after I got home, there was another 2″ of snow on the windscreen. And I get to do it all again tomorrow!

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Snow more puns

It was cold last night. I’ve taken to using a hot water bottle to keep my feet warm at night. I may not need to but it’s comfy and I like it. There was no Rufus powered alarm clock this morning, either, so I ended up having a lie in until 7.45am. Lovely!

I decided to go for a walk first thing. I love the early morning when few people are about. It was fairly quiet even at 8.30. Having been disappointed with Singleton Park yesterday, I headed instead for a small park across the way from my house.  Walking down my road, the pavement was icy but as it was snow that had frozen, it was still a bit grippy. But at the bottom of the hill, where it joins the main road, there is a short, steep curve and it was like glass. I edged my way down, using the walls and railings of gardens as support. But inevitably I slipped and fell. Luckily, I went sideways into a large, soft bush growing in the driveway of someone’s house.

That was the hardest part though, and the rest of the route was more frozen snow. At the park, the trees still carried their loads of snow. Their branches were weighed down and several drooped wearily with the effort. A weak sun, filtered by thin cloud, gave a coppery glow to the park and it was leovely to have it to myself. I wandered for half a hour exploring the park and snapping away.

Then it was off to visit friends and Rufus.We spent a fun hour at the Lliw Valley reservoir where many snowballs were thrown and we built a snowman. Rufus chased snowballs and even managed to catch a few by leaping athletically into the air. But all that running around in deep snow meant that very quickly, he accumulated a load of snow around his paws until he looked like he was wearing snow boots. It didn’t stop him from charging across the dam and peeing on a very large snowman!

On the way home, I decded to detour to Cefn Bryn. It’s a heck of a detour but I wanted to get some photos of Broadpool and of Athur’s Stone. It’s great being able to nip off road to park without worrying about getting stuck. I popped over to the pool and took some photos. Cefn Bryn was looking wild and windswept and on the ridge I could see people sledging down the slopes.

On top of the ridge the car park was full and once again, I pulled up off road. I walked out to the stone and past wild horses that are often to be seen there. The landscape remined me a lot of Iceland. The snow was crunchy underneath and I didn’t stay long as the temperature was dropping.

Now where is that hot water bottle…

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Slip sliding awaaaay!

Out with Rufus this evening. Off to the river we went to catch the last rays of sunlight. I was looking for a place to cross so I could climb up to the stone circle. The river was quite full, as you would expect after a few days of rain. It takes a while to drain from the surrounding hills and mountains and the high water can be a few days after the actual rain has stopped.

So I was being extra careful in picking a place to cross. I had my wellies on so I could wade but even then, with some of the submerged stones slippery with slime, I had to be sure that my footing would be secure. All the while Rufus was crossing back and forth with four paw drive and the knowledge that I would dry him off later. Then I spotted it – a great big slab of rock, free from running water and extending almost two thirds the way across the river. I could cross on that, wade or jump the other bit and all would be well.

I got to the middle of the slab and suddenly I was falling. My foot had hit a damp patch that was like ice and my feet had gone from under me. You know when you fall and you feel it’s all going in slow motion., Well, that was me. I remember knowing I was going to be okay because the slap was bigger than me, and I remember thinking hitting the stone would hurt.

I landed on my hands and it did hurt. Then, a few milliseconds later, I started sliding down the slab towards the water. It was a pure cartoon moment. If I slipped off the slab, I would fall a foot or so into a pool of water that was probably deep enough for me to disappear under. I scrabbled and scraped and my fingers finally found the edge of the slab above my head and I managed to stop.

I may have sworn. If I did, it was probably only a mild expletive. Honest. I managed to stand up and found a crack in the rock to wedge my foot in. Then, pretending nothing had happened in case anyone was watching, I got back to the bank and started looking for another, safer, crossing point. The fingers of both hands had gone numb but I was okay.

I did manage to cross and I got to the stone circle. And I got back across safely again.

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