Archive for April 2019

“They’re Friends from Work”   12 comments

The fact that I like to hike in the hills seems a source of constant humour for my work colleagues with me the butt of the jokes. I was surprised to find that secretly some of them actually hankered for a hike in the hills so I said I’d lead them out on one my favourite south Wales hikes in the Brecon Beacons.

A little gang of four assembled at the cafe in Talybont on Usk for a fry up before heading for the mountains. (The title of the blog is in reference to one of my favourite lines from the Marvel movies – very topical at this time)

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A round of the Neuadd Reservoirs taking in the highest summits of the Beacons range. We were all rather caught out by just how cold it was.

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Here is the first of our little band posing for a photo. She decided to tone down the colours for this hike!

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Its a short and very steep climb up on to the edges that had is puffing hard. Luckily the sweat was soon removed by the ferocious and icy wind that was blasting at us across the valley.

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The photos don’t really do justice to just how cold and windy it was, enough to blow one our team clean off her feet a few times.

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Whilst the sun disappeared for the rest of the day, the cloud base was high and it stayed dry, which is a much as you can ask for on day planned a long way in advance.

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I had inform my new comrades that a key objective of any hike is make regular and lengthy stops to brew up and eat lots of food. They seemed quite keen on the idea despite the chilly wind, especially when I produced home-made cake that TBF had lovingly prepared.

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We reached the top of Pen y Fan – together with a few dozen other people and posed for a team photo for me on south Wales highest peak.

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Despite blisters and foot problems (this is quite a tough walk by south Wales standards) they agreed to continue the summit bagging and we took in Cribyn as well.

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And another couple of happy looking group shots.

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Including one with yours truly in it, demonstrating an odd pose and leg angle that says very clearly why I try and avoid being photographed in the first place.

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After another brew and scoff stop I convinced them that we could bag one more summit. The fact that my work colleagues share a distinctly smutty sense of humour and that the summit was called Fan y Big had nothing to do with it.

One last summit photo on the rock outcrop on the summit. They look happy that I’ve dragged them out on a bitterly cold day to wander about in the hills when they could have been home watching TV and doing domestic chores.

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And then it was time to head down across grassy slopes and bog and return to the real world.

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I normally walk either on my own or with the family down here so walks can be a little repetitive. I really enjoyed this day immensely for a variety of reasons. It was great to share my passion for both hiking (or should I say mountaineering) and for the Brecon Beacons with new companions. It was equally good to see them really enjoying the day as much as I was (well they said they did anyway) and I have to admit I enjoyed showing off a bit. They have all been out in the mountains before but never as regular thing and seemed to relish the challenge and chance to enjoy the outdoors. This is what keeps me sane through the drudgery of modern life and I really hope they went home with the same feeling of spirits lifted. We certainly laughed a lot on this hike as we always do at work. We are close knit bunch and my working life would likely be intolerable if they weren’t around to make me smile and keep me grounded.

I really hope we can do this more often and hopefully persuade some of my other work friends to join us. Who can’t love a hike!

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Snowdon Horseshoe with The Hardman   21 comments

I’m behind again – just when I’d caught up as well. Back to the last weekend in March for a rare trip out to Snowdonia with The Hardman. He’s planning on a run over the Welsh 3’s and some of his friends haven’t done the narrow ridge of Crib Goch so he wanted a reconnaissance mission. I agreed to join him as the forecast looked like it might be a decent day and worth the 5 hours return trip in the car.

Things didn’t start well. TH wasn’t at the appointed spot we’d agreed to meet (a very handy lay-by that’s free to park and only a few hundred yards from where you have to pay £4). After 45 minutes he still hadn’t arrived and I was worried he might have had some car problems (or maybe just forgotten that the clocks went forward!).

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With no phone signal there was nothing I could do but set off and see what transpired. As I reached the start of the new path up to Pen y Pass from Pen y Gwryd there he was! He’d decided to completely ignore my well written instructions and paid to park. Ah well, times to set off and the increasingly good views soon had us back in tune with the day.

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The weather improved markedly, much more than expected such that by the time we started up the PYG Track there was abundant blue sky. On decent days the path is normally a long train of people but the gloomy start seemed to have kept the crowds at bay.

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The views down the Llanberis Pass and across to the Glyders were amazing.

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And of course Crib Goch looms large and dramatic in the view from here. East Ridge (our route) on the left, North Ridge on the right.

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Fine views across Llyn Llydaw and to Y Lliwedd from Bwlch y Moch.

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Onwards with the steep climb up to Crib Goch. A tough undertaking at the best of times but at Hardman pace even more so! The rocky spur halfway up gives some great, easy scrambling.

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The final section of the ridge pulls you up towards the summit.

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The summit is one of the few in England or Wales with a real sense of narrow exposure. This is looking down the North Ridge. I did this one a couple of years back. Harder and narrower than the East Ridge but its a real pain to get to.

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And the the highlight of the day, the narrow crest of the ridge. In my youth I was able to hop along the crest, mostly only a foot wide but in these less nimble days I prefer the handrail approach.

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It really is quite narrow and exposed and you’d have to head to Lochaber or Skye to find anything quite as challenging in the UK.

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Looking back from the final pinnacle.

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The Hardman on the short steep (and exposed scramble) over the final pinnacle.

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A brief stop for first lunch and onwards to the ridge of Crib y Ddysgl, not as narrow but with plenty of interesting scrambling moves of its own.

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Over the summit of Garnedd Ugain and on to to join the masses on the main Snowdon routes to the summit.

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Not as crowded as it can be, but still the usual comical mixture of under-equipped and unhappy people clearly surprised by just what a long climb it is and how cold it was up there. We didn’t linger and just walked straight over the top heading away from the crowds and towards the other half of the horseshoe (the full route enclosing the dramatic east corries of Snowdon).

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The distant views were a bit hazy and for most of the day we were under a cap of dark cloud. However it was localised and as the sun dropped into the western sky where clouds were less we had some extensive sunny spells and dramatic light effects. The route down to Bwlch Ciliau is still under improvement and the final section is very loose and unpleasant.

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As we reached the bottom the sun came out and we stopped for lunch number two.

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Y Lliwedd is a wonderful peak but its always quiet whenever I’ve done it no matter how busy Snowdon is. Probably its just too much extra effort for the main mob and possibly as its not over 3000 feet. Whatever the climb up its west ridge is a delight with lots of scrambling if you have the energy to seek it out.

Looking back to Crib Goch.

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And Snowdon.

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Watching you, watching Crib Goch.

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The ridge is not narrow but the views from the edge are magnificent and precipitous.

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And our two heroes on the final summit.

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Moel Siabod cast in sunshine in the distance.

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Just the matter of a long descent back to the car.

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And see final sunshine on the Glyders to finish an awesome day on one of the UK’s finest (if not its quietest) mountaineering routes.

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I drew the route into my OS Map software. It told me there was over 6000 feet of ascent so I’m now rather unsure of any figures it comes up with. The the 10 miles distance seems about right though at least.

Thanks to TH for convincing me it was worth the drive.

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Winter Weekend – Ben A’an   14 comments

Last day of our winter trip and we needed a walk before we took the long drive home. The forecast was really poor so a small hill was in order. Ben A’an in the Trossachs fitted the bill and its a regular feature in any list of high quality small hills.

The weather on the drive over was appalling. Torrential rain had us at double wiper speeds and we were looking at a wash out and heading home early. As we approached the car park the skies suddenly and abruptly cleared to almost cloudless blue! The views across Loch Achray to Ben Venue were superb. It almost tempted us to climb it again but apart from a hardy trio of Matts and Hard Men we stuck to the plan for Ben A’an.

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What it lacks in altitude, Ben A’an more than makes up for in steepness. Apart from a short level stretch about halfway up its pretty much a thousand feet straight up.

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We got battered by a very heavy shower on the climb but as we neared the top the skies turned blue again and the sun came out.

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We pressed on as quickly as tired legs allowed figuring clear spells might be very short lived.

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The summit is impressively rocky even though in essence its just an outcrop of a higher and blander heathery mound behind.

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As we climbed the views over the Trossachs forest and Loch Venacher were top drawer.

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It warms you up for the sensational view across Loch Katrine from the summit. Its easy to see why this diminutive little hill is so praised and popular.

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Ben Venue across the Trossachs Pass

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The summit was insanely windy and it was quite a challenge to stand up straight or scramble about on the slippery summit rocks.

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We were incredibly lucky to hit the top in the middle of quite a lengthy blue interlude and the views all round were magnificent.

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Looking back towards Ben Ledi we climbed a few years back.

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Despite the ferocious wind we found a superb lunch spot, grassy and completely sheltered. Nothing finer than sharing a summit with good friends, in grand weather with expansive views.

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We had planned to explore some of the other rocky outcrops up there but it was pathless and heathery.

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Our appetites for a walk had been satisfied and we’d had superb views and with a long drive to come decided just to head back down.

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The blue skies belied the fact a massive downpour was on the way which we didn’t quite beat to the car before getting changed.

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We bid everyone a fond farewell after another cracking weekend. Despite some very uncertain and at times wet weather we’d had 2-3 days of great walking and life doesn’t get better than that. As we drove away the sun came out again treating us to one final view of Ben A’an across Loch Achray. Nice memory to sustain us over 7 hours in the car.

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Winter Weekend – Stob Ghabhar   21 comments

The Saturday of our weekend had a much better forecast. There were clearly still some heavy showers around but there more expansive patches of clear sky. We all went our separate ways but a hardy group planned on one of the areas bigger and more dramatic mountains, Stob Ghabhar.

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The morning was bright and clear with great views across Loch Tulla to the group of four munros rising above it to the east.

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Stob Ghabhar is pretty big (pushing up towards 1,100m), you start from low down and its long walk in, so its a serious undertaking in winter. Luckily there was not much snow around to complicate things and there are good paths most of the way up and down.

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The valley of the Abhainn Shira forms the approach and is a classic scottish glacial valley surrounded by big peaks.

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Our goal was to follow the stalkers path up to the western top and then traverse back over the summit, pretty much along the skyline seen here.

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Plentiful sunshine drew us upwards although the path peters out around 750m so the last couple of hundred metres are harder work over rough ground. These stalkers paths from Victorian times are a godsend where they exist.

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Just before the top we were hit by a heavy hail storm. My mate OGS had a novel solution to this. Yes, that is a snorkelling mask he’s wearing. He’s from Yorkshire and genetically programmed not to spend money. Clever idea to re-use old stuff from the house. Tiny flaw in the plan, a completely sealed unit clamped to a hot sweaty face with a freezing cold outer surface has an obvious outcome. He took it off a few seconds later. It gave us probably the biggest laugh of the weekend.

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Days like these are some of the best. Showers tend to be violent but short lived but as they clear the light effects are dramatic and mesmerising.

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Peaks slowly emerge from the clouds bathed in the sunlight that you know is coming your way. The views here across the South Glencoe peaks and the Glen Etive mountains were amazing.

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There was enough snow to make the final walk to the summit both interesting and easier. Nothing finer than a winter walk high on a mountain on hard snow under sunny skies.

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This section of ridge was a sheer delight.

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The summit was windy and brutally cold so we didn’t linger long. The views across the expanse of Rannoch Moor were great as always.

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The two Matts enjoying claiming the summit.

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We headed down looking for a sheltered lunch spot and across the narrow but short ridge of the Aonach Eagach. Not as dramatic or difficult as its more famous counterpart a few miles away in Glencoe but it added some interest. Had it been under a full blanket of winter snow it would have been a more challenging proposition.

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Looking back to the summit of Stob Ghabhar and Coirein Lochain.

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And along the Aonach Eagach.

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After a brief and cold lunch the others set off to do the second munro in the group, Stob a Choire Odhair. I was feeling a little out of sorts and TJS didn’t like the look of the steep descent to the col so we took our leave and headed down. The weather turned a little greyer and showery so not many photos from here on in. Just a last look at the Beinn Dorain group across the valley as we reached the car and sat and waited for the others.

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A long, tough and tiring day, for me anyway, but one with great memories that I can share with TJS who now has four munros to his name, four more than I had at his age!

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