3rd TRAINING HIKE – BRECON BEACONS – 4th JULY 2012
It was an early rise with the alarm buzzing in my ear at 3:45am, another unearthly start made worse by the dull, grey & drizzly day that faced me when I opened my curtains. You can tell I am not a morning person!
After a quick breakfast I loaded up the car with all my gear and drove 1.5 hours to Worcester where I met my friends and the four of us drove a further 2 hours to our meeting point in the Brecon Beacons where Paul and his trusty dog Hercules were waiting for us. Since our last trek on the 29th of May, Paul & Hercules had done several more hikes in the hills (they even run 26 mile marathons together) so this trek, especially at my relatively slow speed was like a walk in the park for them.
The Brecon Beacons in Wales is part of the National Trust and is very well known for its scenic beauty of which we saw absolutely nothing. The weather could not have been more different since our last trek. This time it rained all the way to the Brecon Beacons and pretty much all during our hike too. Although Wales is renowned for its wet weather, June 2012 was quite an exception. The Junes of 2012 and 1860 were the equal-wettest in England/Wales since records began in 1766 (info from the Met office website). Judging by today’s weather we can expect a very wet July too.
We put on our wet weather gear and started walking at 8:15am. Within a very short time we were into the low cloud with visibility down to between 50 & 100m. The visibility stayed low virtually all day with constant rain which got heavier as the day progressed. As we climbed higher the wind picked up and at times we struggled through 40mph winds, with even stronger gusts, and horizontal rain which stung our eyes and battered a tattoo on our hoods. Thankfully the temperatures stayed around 12-16C so the wind-chill was bearable.
Paul took us on another challenging route but we kept to the beaten track for most of the trek due to the lack of visibility. This time there were much longer climbs, parts of which were quite steep.
There were no rest breaks because we were too exposed to the elements; the constant rain and wind made it impossible to sit down anywhere. The only exception was 10 minutes for lunch which was eaten inside an emergency shelter which Paul provided. It was basically a small tent like structure with no poles and no ground sheet. We simply pulled it over our heads and sat on the edges to stop it from flying away. It was surprising how quickly it “warmed up” inside and it kept most of the wind out too.
CLIMBING JACOBS LADDER:
The original route had planned to cover a distance of 20km (12.5 miles) but during our hurried and uncomfortable lunch break Paul decided to shorten the trek to 16km (10 miles) due to the atrocious weather conditions. However he still made us climb “Jacob’s ladder” which is a very long and arduous climb and is much used by the military during their training exercises. While we slogged slowly up the hill panting for breath, Paul ran up to the top so that he could take pictures of us as we climbed into view. The man is seriously fit!!!
We did today’s trek in around 5 hours, climbing around 1500m (approx 5000 ft) over the distance with the highest peak being 886m (2906ft) above sea level
We got back to our cars just after 1pm, changed out of our wet clothes and then drove 2 hours back to Bruce’s house in Worcester. It took a further 1.5 hours for me to get home, tired but surprisingly less so than on the previous hike.
There are no aching muscles as I write this the next day, and I even went to the gym for a short 3 mile walk on the treadmill to loosen everything up.
My knees do not hurt this time but once again walking downhill, especially on the steepest sections, was far more difficult on my knees than the uphill sections. My boots are starting to wear in and although I felt the start of a few blisters I did not need to stop to tape them up.
It was another really worthwhile “training” day. I would not call it enjoyable but it was an excellent test of my clothing (which kept me warm & dry) and equipment in fairly extreme conditions.
Most importantly, Paul’s tips and advice are proving invaluable in our preparations for the big climb and we are all very grateful to him for this.