Monday, February 9, 2009

Rambling Amongst The Beacons


The last month has been a hectic one and as a result my blog has been neglected. This was recently brought to my attention by Cuzza and as a result I have decided that this blog entry will be an epic. I intend to document the Brecon Beacons training weekend in
detail, although it may take me some time to do so. I hope you have the patience and interest to read the story in its entirety in order to appreciate what a fantastic weekend it was.


Chapter 1 - The Storm Before the Calm

In October last year I was sitting at my desk reading the weather forecast in preperation for Team Tenzings attempt att he 3 Peaks Challenge. As the severe weather warnings rolled in concern mounted, but we were committed to giving it a crack. Full of anticipation we boarded our flight to Glasgow and touched down determined to see it through. What followed was to be one of the most challenging and frightening experiences of my life, and not one I am likely to forget.

After a week of the worst weather to hit the UK in over a decade there were understandable concerns circulating amongst the group planning to head to Wales for a weekend walking in the Brecon Beacons. More bad weather was forecast and Severe Weather warnings dented the confidence of the most hardy among the group. the forcats was for temperatuires of -5 with 30Mph winds and heavy snow at higher altitudes. Those that had spent 'that night on the Ben' knew what the weather could do and many people voiced their concerns for our safety. As emails flew around it seemed less and less likely that the weekend would go ahead.

The major concern was just getting to Wales - once we were there we were happy we could adjust the weekends schedule to take acount of the weather. That morning, the Severn crossings had been closed as huge chunks of ice had been falling from the bridges and smashing car windscreens. Snow was forcast and this would make the drive slow and dangerous and increased the risk of road closures. After much discussion and deliberation at 5pm the decision was made that we would go ahead as planned.

Chapter 2 - 3 Men in a Clio

As 5.30 arrived I found my self turning down yet another offer of free beer and ehaded out the door. I was due to meet Glen and Jamo at West Kengsington at 6 and had a couple of stops to make on the way. The first stop was at the local camping store where I picked up a last minute pair of waterproof trousers for the bargain price of £19.95. I then made a quick stop in Evan's cycle shop to grab some power bars and energy gels before plowing through the crowds at Waterloo and on to the tube. True to form, the District line was poked and it took me about 40 minutes to get to the meeting point at West Kensington. Running from the station in a foul mood I spotted the Clio parked up in a layby. My mood soured as threw my pack into the back seat of the car and squeezed myself in to a space that would have been a tight fit for a midget whose growth had been stunted by smoking from the age of 7. As Jamo slid the seat back to accomodate his unfeasibly large frame my legs drew in towards my chest and my head touched the ceiling. I knew this was going to be a long trip.

The benefit of meeting in West London was that we were soon onto the M4 without too much trouble. The roads were reasonably quiet and we had a felling that things may not have been as bad as the news was making out. We made good prrgress and when we stopped for something to eat at about 7.45 we had already covered almost half the distance. Back on the road after a ridiculously expensive and decidedly average meal at Burger King things wree still looking good. The bad weather that was forecast had not materialised and apart from the closure of the Severn crossing on the M4 we made it into Wales without any incident.

Chapter 3 - Onwards into Wales

David Kirtley had done a fantastic job organising the weekend for us. Our digs for the weekend were the Cardiff Cricket Club changing rooms and we were all given clear directions on how to get there. As we left the M4 we followed the instructions and just before 9.30pm we found ourselves in the carpark overlooking the pavillion. They place looked fairly deserted as we wandered across the ground and it turned out that we were the first to arrive and DK was nowhere in sight. After a quick a call we were told to head down the road to the bar in the Rugby Club rooms where Dave would met us.

The trip from London had been a good one and Glen and Jamo rewarded themselves with a pint, while I stuck to the coke. After about 10 minutes Dave arrived and we finished up then headed back across to open the Cricket Club. After the grand tour Dave turned on the kettle and we settled down with a hot chocolate and a bit of 'Have I Got News For You!' while we waited for the rest of the group to arrive.

After the second hot chocolate we made a couple of calls to check where the rest of the crew were. Dave had spoken with Kirt earlier in the night and had expected his lot to arrive first. Toovey and Butler were also on the road, as were the girls in Isla's tank of a car. It turned out that BJ, Curry and Kirt had neglected to read the instructions Dave had produced and had headed into the centre of Cardiff looking for Millenium Stadium. When we told them their mistake, they fumed and swore and were then directed back to the correct location. Tooves and Butler meanwhile had managed to miss the diversion off the M4 to avoid the closed Severn crossing. They looped back on themselves only to once again miss the diversion as Butler was heavily ingrossed in the telling of some rather mundane anecdote. Once again they looped back and eventually managed to find the correct exit.

By about 11pm the girls had arrived and rooms were allocated. Originally 20 people were expected, however due to the severe weather warnings and, quite frankly, some severe lack of balls, only 12 people made the trip. Although dissappointing, this meant that the sleeping space was slightly more generous than would have been the case had everyone arrived. With every heater in the pavillion blasting out as much warmth as pssible we settled down for our first nights sleep, with Glen, Jamo, Bj, Tooves and I sharing the Home changing room.

Chapter 4 - Preparations

I awoke Saturday morning after a surprisingly good nights sleep despite sharing an inflatable bed with Glen. It had been quite cold during the night, but my sleeping bag was relatively warm and with base layers and a beanie I was quite comfortable. We all started to drag ourselves out of bed and prepare for our first day in the Beacons. After we dressed, we headed across the field to the Rugby Club for breakfast. And what a breakfast it was. Bacon, sausages, beans, black pudding, hash browns, mushrooms and toast, along with several cups of coffee had me raring to go.

After breakfast we headed back across to pack our bags for the days walk. We planned to do a loop of about 25Km up and over Pen y Fan and Dave and BJ armed themsleves with maps, guide books and compasses. We packed our lunches, and some of the keener among us ( Glen, Dave, BJ and myself) loaded our bags with about 8kg of sand.

The plan was to meet Kinsey on the outskirts of Brecon and then head to the start of our walk. The organisation was taking a little longer than expected and by the time the 3 vehicles pulled away we were already running late.

It seemed a fairly simple exercise in theory, but somehow coordinating a convoy of 3 vehicles to the meeting point turned out to be a nightmare. As we entered Brecon, the girls took a wrong turn and the other two vehicles were forced to follow them in order to stay together. Realising they were lost, the girls pulled over in a hidden carpark while the other cars drove by. By this stage we were about 45 minutes late to meet Kinsey and frustration was mounting. Eventually, after several calls trying to determine exactly where they were we managed to meet up with the girls and the convoy snaked its way abck out of Brecon towards the meeting point.*

With Kinsey in tow and Kirt manning the maps in the lead car we made our way towards the planned start point of our walk. As we left the main roads, the snow and ice became more evident as we weaved through narrow country lanes towards the car park. As we approached the car park, the traffic mounted up and we pulled up behind a Range Rover. We were told that the road up to the carpark was unpassable - the Range Rover hadn't made it up so there was no way our cars would.

As Dave tried to turn the car around we lost traction and started sliding sideways. All the passengers got out and helped push to try and keep the car in a straight line. Using this technique, we slowly reversed the cars back to a point where we could turn around. We then headed back down the lane looking for a parking space until we hit a farm. The cars pulled up and our resident faremer Kinsey popped in to have a chat with the farmer. a few quid later we had a parking space in the farmers yard and we popped on our packs and set off on our walk, albeit over an hour and a half later than expected.

Chapter 5 - The First Hill

As we walked back up the lane towards the car park, snowballs were flying and spirits were high. The outside air was cold and everyone was rugged up, with many sporting new technical kit. As we made our way throguht he car park we were glad to have parked on the flat - an audi had slid backwarsds on the ice and had smashed into the car behind it which had knocked over a tree as a result. As we leftt he carpack we got our first taste of th esnow as we crossed a field heading towards the hills. The snow was up to 2 foot deep in places and we made slow progress as we trudged towards the slope. After about 125 minutes we stopped to shed a few layers as the heat of the day was taking its toll. Depsite the crisp air we all had a sweat on. I removed my fleece and was down to an icebreaker and my Goretex jacket which kept me comfortable for most of the day.

As we approached the first slope BJ and Dave checked the maps and decided on an appropriate route which took us straght up the side of a large hill. After a couple of minutes of trudging throught he snow up a 45 degree slope I began to breather quite heavily. At first I was a bit concerned - I'm pretty fit by now and this shouldn't have been the struggle it was. I was reassured however to see most of the group looking a little worse for wear. Those that were armed with trekking poles seemd to be at an advantage, and even Paola who must have been waist deep in snow at times, was powering up the slope.

The added weight of the sand in my pack put me off my balance and on several occasions I found myself heading face first into the snow. After a few tumbles Glen decided that it was 5 push ups for anyone that stacked so by the end of the first hill I was knackered.

After a stop for a drink and some chocolate dished out by dave we carried on up towards the ridge led to Pen y Fan. As we climbed onto the ridge we were greeted with an amazing view that made the climb worthwhile.

Chapter 6 - Up and Down

As we moved up on the the exposed ridge that led to the summit of Pen y Fan, the wind picked up significantly. Although this was nothing compared the gales we faced on the Ben, the icy winds still had me reaching for my merino balaclava and tightening the hood on my jacket. As we moved up the ridge we could see people already on the summit and I had the feeling we had left our run too late. Up ahead we could see a Mountain Rescue helicoptor flying around the summit and for a minute I thought somehting had gone wrong. It turned out to be a training exercise and a short while later we saw the chopper touch down not far from us as it picked up a couple of passengers. We stopped for a minute to watch the chopper land and take off and by the time we set off again, the summit was becoming enveloped in cloud. It was amazing how fast the cloud descended and in a matter of minutes the peak was no longer visible.

At this stage Kirt decided it was time to head back so we turned our backs on the summit and started heading back down the ridge. It was dissapointing not to have made it, but given how quickly the cloud had come in, it was the only decision that could be made.

We headed back down the ridge in good spirits, making short work of the gentle downward slopes. As we reached the steeper lower slopes it was time to have a bit more fun. What had been such a chore coming up was brilliant fun going down. It was hilarious to see grown men and women charging down the powedered slopes like school children, BJ rolling himself into a ball and attempting to roll down and glen testing out his penguin technique were highlights. In this manner we quickly reached the flat once again and followed our noses back towards the cars.

Chapter 7 - Fed and Watered

After a few more snowballs we set off back to Cardiff CC HQ for a quick shower before heading to the rugby club to watch the 6 Nations. The drive back was relatively straightforward although the efforts of the day were catching up on us. Kirt was fast asleep in the front seat and Glena nd I were both drifting in and out of conciousness, much to the amusement of our ever alert driver Dave. On arriving at HQ we quickly changed out of wet hiking gear and lined our boots up in front of the heaters to dry as the deep snow had left most people with soaking feet.

As I removed my soaking kit I discovered I had made a school-boy error and had forgotten to pack a towel and so I was forced to wait for a second hand one. As a result I was spared the Toovey-Butler 'watersports' incident and the subsequent 'assault' that was to become a talking point of the the rest of the weekend.

Once clean and dry we headed off to the rugby club for the game. As we entered our private room we were met with sandwiches, sausage rolls and cakes which greatly assisted in replacing the calories burned during the day. As we sat and watched England put in a dismal performance agans Italy I decided to break my drought and have a beer. This was a big decision for me as it was my first beer of the year and I had originally intended to go through to April without a drink, but I felt I had earned it and sitting in the rugby club with the Everest crew it seemed wrong not to celebrate a fantastic day. Plus, Guinness doesn't really count as beer... Guinness is good for you.

Throughout the afternoon we had the pleasure of Cuzza getting more and more enfuriated as reports of Englands collapse against the Windies came through. This did nothing but add to an already outstanding day. At the end of the rugby we had time for a few overs of the cricket before we headed off for a curry.

Piling in to a taxi, Glen, Kinsey, Butler and I sparked up a conversation with the cabbie. We somehow got on to the topic of soiling charges and Kinsey jokingly asked what the charge would be for carrying a dead body in the back. Disturbingly the cabbie responded with a straight face, that that would be 65 quid. On reaching the curry house we jumped out of the taxi, glad to have made it in one piece and headed inside.

Before too long the table was chirping with various innapropriate conversations, although we did well to save the most offensive material to towards the end of the night when everyone was boozed and speaking a lot more loudly than normal.

An hour and a half later, stuffed full of curry and beer, we headed back to the rugby club. Toovey and BJ couldn't wait to get back there to check out the talent at the 21st that was being held in the club. On arrival, we headed through the crowd of large, battered Welshmen and slipped in to our private room. I was back on the water at this stage as I hadn't particularly enjoyed the third beer I had. We sat round for about half an hour while Butler again broached the subject of the assault and Jamo fell asleep. Before too long the day caught up with me and I headed back to HQ to sleep.

Chapter 7 - I Give Up

This is boring even me so I give up...

For a more condensed version of events check out Toovey's Blog.

The GPS track of our walk is available on Select the workouts on the 7th and 8th of Feb and be patient. One of these days I will get some time to improve the speed of this but until then....

* The detail of this section of the story has recently come under fire. For an alternative version of events please refer to Lucy Brooks' blog...


White-Pages said...

oh, I can't wait to hear more. great craic blinks!!

Curry said...

This really I an epic!!