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Monday, 24 June 2013

Sunday 23rd June - lessons to be learnt - training for Oggie 8 - first day of summer?!

I am a bit behind with blogging so some older stuff may follow this, writing this up now whilst it is fresh.

We are entering a team for the Oggie 8 this this year  - fundraising for mountain rescue. I'm feeling a bit uneasy about my fitness levels so decided we needed to do some longer walks with more ascent to get fit. I often walk with my 9 year old daughter so I'm limited in how much I can cram in distance/height gain wise. The height gain side of it worries me the most as I've never done anything with that much ascent. I live in the South West, and my main mountain walking area is the Brecon Beacons. Creating a walk with 2500m of ascent is tricky business unless you include going up and down the same thing a few times. I cave regularly, but I think my arms are probably stronger than my legs!

We'd planned a walk for the weekend with about 16 miles of distance and 1700m ish of ascent 9 year old was with her Dad and not with us for this one). The weather forecast for the day we had planned it kept changing. By the time we checked it in the morning it was saying winds of 35-45 mph and heavy showers in the morning, turning to prolonged rain, easing by mid afternoon. I reproofed my coat & waterproof trousers the night before & also gave them a spin in the drier to regenerate them or whatever it is called. I have walked in winds of 60+ before, if the wind speed had been forecast anywhere near to that level there was no way we'd have planned a long walk, we'd have gone for something of a long distance but lower level, we held out hope the level of rain would reduce by the afternoon..

The plan was to park at the Catref reservior head up the Nant Crew falls and to do a long ridge walk including Pen Y Fan, Corn Du, Cribyn, Fan Y Big. Half the route was pathless, but once on the main ridge it was ontp the main paths we had walked many times before. We packed all the usual gear, loads of food, warm layers, hat, scarf, balaclava, shelter, compass, gps etc etc.

The weather was not good when we arrived, it was tipping down and looked set in. Our route up the Nant Crew falls was pathless and neither of us had walked it before. We'd read descriptions of it online and in my waterfalls book though. It was fairly easy going, but we had to do a number of river crossings to switch sides when the terrain became easier on the other side. This would be easy in dry conditions, conditions had not been dry all weekend and the rocks were wet and slippery + coupled with high water, not easy. I was glad of my waterproof boots and my walking poles. The poles made the crossings 10x easier.

Once we'd ascended up the falls we headed up the side of Craig Y Fann Du rather than carrying on up the ridge for maximum ascent we headed along the ridge in the opposite direction of the main tops and followed the scree/stream path down to Lower Neuadd reservoir. Conditions on the ridge were a little windy, but not dangerously so, so we decided it was okay to carry on with our route. The rain had not let up by this point. After a snack we headed up the Nant Y Gloesyyd to get onto the ridge on the other side. Although not on my map there was a path following the stream up. The stream was raging with all the water coming off the hill and I felt lucky to see it in those conditions. The rain eased and the weather looked like it was going to brighten, so onwards we went.

Once on the top we walked over to Graig Fan Las and then over to Bwlch Y Ddwyallt. The conditions up high worsened and the rain started to fall heavily, the wind was buffeting us about causing me to slip over at one point - thankfully I was walking above the path and used my poles to break my fall. Despite having done many walking up on that ridge it was easily the worst conditions I've had up there, and that's including winter days! The wind was pounding the rain into my waterproofs so heavily it was seeping through my jacket. My hands were so cold  I couldn't feel them, and it was so wet putting my gloves on seemed futile (I'd stupidly left my waterproof mitts at home). We made a decision to get off the ridge, so found a peat hag to shelter behind to look at the map- even keeping hold of my thankfully waterproof map was difficult. Our best way off was to head to the reservoir we had started out ascent from so we set off over the moor. It was so windy on the top I doubted whether we would have been able to easily hold onto my survival shelter. We picked up the stream after a short while and headed down on the opposite bank where there was also a path.

We found some shelter in one of the abandoned buildings and I began putting on all the layers in my bag. I was freezing cold and shivering and very hungry having only managed to eat cereal bars etc that' I'd had in my pocket. I was still shivering even with my layers on. Being very slim I feel the cold much more than others I walk with. From that point we could either reascend Craig Y Fann Du or descend down the road to Pontsticil. I was feeling quite cold and ill by that point so we decided the safest option was stick to the road, we could pull a car over if I felt worse, or if I felt okay we could walk to the pub and call a taxi back to the car from there. Either way we would keep moving and stay low.  Reading this back it sounds a bit ridiculous looking to get a taxi, but I prior to us descending downwards I was extremely cold & it seemed like the only option at the time. I've never had to abandon a walk into the wrong valley before, and at the time, and now it was the right decision. Once walking again with all my layers on I warmed up, although still raining the rain eased a little and I started to thaw out, some chocolate also helped perk me up. By the time we were at the P (Parking) area near Pontsticil I was feeling allot better and we decided to plot a low level route across the moor - this was really the only easy way back to the car without a massive road walk around the mountain. My waterproofs had also significantly dried in the rain & my balaclava/hat combo was trapping the warmth I'd generated stomping down the lane.

We plotted the route to head for a start of a track which would then take us across the remainder of the moor. Thus then began the longest 1.5 miles of my life struggling through some of the worst tussocks/boggy ground I have ever encountered (enough to give Dartmoor a run for it's money!). Again the poles proved an amazing help and after what felt like ages we soon reached the start of our 'track'. I kept myself going by looking at the wild flowers which were coming up in the bog, some I'd never seen before and I look forward to looking at them in greater detail on a nicer day, perhaps in a better location! The track was barely noticeable on the ground,but thankfully the grass was grazed and much easier going. Once at the woods we had a bit of a head scratch as to where the route went through them, but when we found the forestry commission gate advising people to close it behind them we saw the track through - I could have cried when I read the sign - it meant we were on the home straight and close to civilization! - I think we were the first people to use the track in months though as the grass was high and not trodden at all. We then wound our way through the woods on very good forest tracks to pass through fields and to the road.

We walked along the road for a short distance but got fed up with traffic, luckily there was a footbridge over the high running river and we followed a high level path back the the Cantref dam. From there we picked up a path heading along side the reservoir so we could avoid the road. The reservoir was nearly over the path in places - bet all the water boards are happy about this wet spell! As we did the last bit of the walk the sun finally came out, but looking to the hills it was still as dark and grim as it had been all day.

I honestly don't know how mountain rescue do it, rescuing someone in conditions that we had on this walk would be incredibly difficult. It shocked me at how exposed the main ridge really is, and how quickly conditions can change. Although I've walked all over the hills of Wales the weather still look me by surprise on this occasion It was much worse than forecasted & must have been very cold on top for this time of year. The air temp back at the car was 10 degrees, so up at 700m with the windchill it must have been allot cooler.

Lessons learnt - I need a new waterproof coat (test coat if not used in a while to see how it stands up to a shower, shower at home would suffice!). Take more warm layers, although I had a spare in addition to the 3 I was wearing an extra one would have been nice. Do not leave the mitts behind even in the summer.

We mapped our route when we got home, we'd done 18 miles in 8 hours which didn't seem bad given the conditions. Ascent was 1269m. I don't for one second regret heading down off the high ground, any sort of delay in those conditions even with survival bag and shelter could have proved dangerous.

Please donate if you can for our sponsored walk for mountain rescue:

Some photos, none once the weather closed in though
Nant Crew Valley

First stop at the Neaudd - although they can be a pest the rhododendrons giving a splash of colour to the grim skies

Not seen this before, wonder how long it has been there/when it will be removed, presumably stolen and set alight

Heading up Nant Y Gloesyyd

This was before the weather rolled in

Sheltering in a doorway

In the valley, as if nothing ever happened

A brief glimpse of sun on our last section above the road

Cantref reservoir


Finally a bit of brightness, better late than never!