Rucksack packed for two nights wild camping and Oakley’s panniers were also loaded with his food, first aid kit and micro fibre dog towel. The 6th July 2016 I was dropped off on the edge of Keswick, looking north across the A66 Skiddaw dominated the horizon. The start of the route crossed fields towards Applethwaite and Millbeck. The first ascent was up Carl Side (746m). To add to my Wainwright list we headed over Longside Edge (733m) and Ullock Pike (680m).
The first nights camp was planned for Carl Side Tarn in the col between Skiddaw and Carl Side. This was my first time wild camping with Oakley and he is a big labrador. I opted to take out the inner tent and just use the outer of the Ringstind 2, this would give us more room. Oakley was brilliant and soon settled down to his first night on the fells. The wind and rain got up through the night but we were fine in our tent. I brought a selection of meals on this trip and thought I would try them all out over the duration. My favourites would be used on future overnighters.
The next morning, in the low cloud and light drizzle we topped out on Skiddaw (931m) and turned in a Northerly direction and dropped off the back of the fell to knock off a wainwright I hadn’t done before, Bakestall (673m). Leaving paths we navigated on to Great Calva ((690m) then down the north side towards Great Cockup (526m).
The conditions improved as the day progressed and the low cloud lifted, it turned out to be a nice afternoon and it continued into the evening. Stopping off on the route I cooked up some lunch. After the noodles and snacks we added some more fells to our count, Meal Fell (550m) and onto Little Sca Fell. During our walks in the Lakes, Oakley and I are slowly accumulating the list of Wainwrights so to add Brae Fell (586m) and Longlands (482m) we had to take a detour north to snag these two. We set off first for Brae Fell then around the small reentrant to tag Longlands. While dropping off Longlands two RAF Typhoon jets crossed the col in front of me, the pilots level with my position. It was an amazing site as they peeled away and followed the contours and undulations of the northern fells into the distance.
The route I had picked then took me back onto Great Sca Fell (650m) and on towards Knott (710m). I picked out a place to pitch the tent and gave Oakley his tea. I collected water and put it through the Sawyer filter-water then boiled some water and made a brew and my own evening meal. The rest of the water went in the water bottle for the next day. While the hydrated meal was sat for the 5 to 8 minutes I cleaned my feet up and talked them and put on my crocs. Once I was rested and camp was sorted we went up to the bench on the summit of High Pike (658m) and watched the sun slowly drop towards the horizon. Once back in the tent we made an evening drink and settled down, the forecast for the next day would be drizzle.
As forecast the weather had come in the next morning. You get into a routine on multi day trips, how your kit packs and where it goes in the rucksack. It all becomes second nature and efficient so it wasn’t long until the tent was down and packed away. I was heading for Carrock Fell (663m) and descended down towards the road. The cloud was down and visibility was poor. It was good navigation practice, I took a bearing but then just used the map and the contours to fix my position on the route. Distance and timing also used to confirm my location. I had arranged to be picked up at the pub in Mungrisedale. I was there a little earlier than planned but it allowed for a good brew and dry out. It was a great few days in the northern fells and it completed all of Book 5.
On the 2nd September 16, I travelled up to Glen Coe in Scotland for a few days walking. The weather was not great, but that wasn’t to dampen the spirits as this is beautiful area with stunning scenery. I slept in the roof tent at Red Squirrel camp site on the edge of the village of Glen Coe and a short walk to the Clachaig Inn. The weather was set in for the night so once I had eaten I took myself off to bed ready for a big day on the hill.
Day 1 – Buachaille etive mor
A short drive up the valley to a road side car park and my day would begin. I walked into the Coire na ulaich and up on to Stob Dearg, the clag was really in now. Up on a flat area I practiced some micro navigation while visibility was poor, always good to keep these skills fresh. Following the summits I finished on the last munro for today of Stob na Broige. The descent took me back along the path a little way and I dropped down back into the valley with a river crossing I was soon back and in the Clachaig for a post walk pint.
Day 2 – Ben Nevis
I decided to do Ben Nevis as I hadn’t ever been up it before. To make it a challenging day I wanted to make my own route up from the south side rather than the tourist route. Parking at Glen Nevis I took a steep gully up onto Meall Cumhan then travelled north west to where the CMD Arête meets the slopes of the Ben. Stepping over the rocky ascent to the summit there was no view due to the low cloud but still a great atmosphere with so many people coming up the other way. My descent was off the south side off the paths and into a big coire. Here I followed a steep mountain stream down waterfalls and back into the car park. Then a long drive home.
All the team had eaten breakfast, washed and packed their duffle bags and gathered in the snow outside the tea house in Deboche. The fatality over night had put a new angle on the trek and altitude was now if not already recognised as a killer. The trek today would take us up the valley to Dingboche and here we would stay for two nights and spend another day acclimatising to the altitude.
The trail headed north east following a tributary to the Dudh Koshi River, crossing several bridges along the way. The path took us through Pangboche, from here we were treated to spectacular views of Ama Dablam. After today this mountain would no longer dominate our horizon we would leave it behind and walk through the Khumbu Valley in the shadow of giants.
During todays trekking we would climb from 3820m above 4000m. A critical milestone in the trek, an altitude that would start to effect people with headaches and for some a frightening experience. By late afternoon the group was very well spread out along the trail and everyone arrived into Dingboche at their own pace. The porters are unbelievable, each morning when we departed camp to make our way further up towards base camp they would be striking camp. The kitchen porters washed all the pots and pans used for making our breakfast, others would be taking down tents and packing the large baskets to be carried to the next nights camp. I am sure they welcomed acclimatisation days so they could stay in one place for a day. The porters and staff in the region make these trips happen without them I am sure we would not reach our goal. While we trek during the morning they run past us and set up for lunch while other race on ahead so that when we finally stroll into camp our tents are up waiting….. they are remarkable people.
My tent partner opted for the tea house this evening, Joe was starting to feel the effects of the altitude. I enjoy camping so I wanted to stay in the tent. Boots on and day packs filled with water and snacks we set off towards Island Peak for more acclimatisation. The weather today was gorgeous, there was probably no were else on earth I wanted to be.
With no more acclimatisation days planned we had two more days trekking to Gorak Shep from where we would climb Kala Pattar. The next two days though would bring more spectacular views and experiences before we could get the best view of Everest. It would also bring an end to some of the trip for some.
This long route took in seven Wainwrights during a beautiful sunny afternoon and early evening in mid July. I parked up on the western shores of Thirlmere NY315 140 and set off into the woodland towards Harrop Tarn. The ghyll that leaves the tarn cascades past the path through the woodland as you climb steeply past large boulders. The route was broken with a great view of the waterfall. The tarn was crystal clear and the lake shore was surrounded with coniferous trees, it reminded me a lot of Canada, a moose stood in the water would not look out of place here.
Leaving the managed woodland you step through a gate onto a fell side covered in bracken. The path continues to climb westerly and you have options here to stay high or drop down to Blea Tarn.
On this day out I dropped down to Blea Tarn to give Oakley a chance to cool off in the water. Once you reach the north end of the tarn you can see down into Watendlath, my journey today would take me on a detour before I could get refreshments down by Watendlath Tarn. I took a bearining across the open expanse of Watendlath Fell and picked a distinctive feature on the far side. My detour was to take in the two Wainwrights Great Crag and Grange Fell.
Before setting off across the fell I was treated to a beautiful sight of a herd of Red Deer Hinds running past me and down into the valley and up the other side.
Great Crag lay just beyond the horizon overlooking the Borrowdale Valley. Crossing the valley in July means that wild flowers are out in bloom or just coming out. The area was awash in yellow, Tormental and Bog Asphodel were showing well. A snipe was flushed out from the area as I crossed near Blea Tarn Gill.
As you reach the rim of the valley (Green Coombe) below Lords How my first fell came into view. Great Crag was just across the isolated Dock Tarn, I dropped down to the crystal clear water and around the shore. A nice place to stop for a snack and watch damsel flies protect thier territory, Oakley also enjoyed the water.
On Great Crag I could see Grange Fell and way across to High Tove and the other fells on today’s walk such as High Seat and Bleaberry Fell. Dropping off Great Crag your soon crossing the path from Rosthwaite to Watendlath and up to the many rocky summits of Grange Fell.
At Watendlath Tarn the path climbs steeply from the National Trust car park to High Tove. The summit is a large plateaue marked with a cairn. Armbroth is a one Km across the open fell to a rocky outcrop. Today the visibility was good but on an other day with low cloud navigation would have to be good to hit Armbroth and back towards High Seat.
After the heavy rains in recent weeks the open fells were soaking, and we had to avoid areas of wet ground to reach High Seat. The route across to Bleaberry Fell was better under foot, a sheep farmer was up on the fells working his dogs with whistles to move his sheep to a presume better grazing. The view from Bleaberry Fell looks across the northern fells like Skiddaw, west to Catbells and beyond. The Helvelyn range completes the view to the east.
The final part of the day’s walk took me off the path and down to the base of Raven Crag. Negotiating the steep decent I joined a forest road and followed it south and up through the managed forest. Recent storms had devasted this area, a lot of work has been done to restore the paths. The final ascent was a new stair case and board walk to the summit of Raven Crag.
The low cloud from yesterday had cleared, sun broke through the curtains that didn’t fill the window of my room. When your view from the tea house bedroom is the highest mountain range on earth I didn’t want a curtain anyway. The mornings ritual of breakfast, a wash and sorting your water and kit for the day was now routine. Today was slightly different, as we were to do an acclimatization day and condition our bodies for the higher altitudes to come. Stepping out into the cool fresh air of Namche we followed our guides to a small outpost used by the army, from where we would get our first view of Everest and Ama Dablam.
The path wound itself around the plateau’s and terraces out of Namche. Climbing higher and sleeping lower allows our bodies to adapt to the thinner air, the blood can carry more oxygen around our bodies allowing us to perform later on in the trek. Ascending slowly also reduces the risk of High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). HACE appears in patients with acute mountain sickness which causes the trekker to become disorientated, nauseous among the symptoms. The brain swells with fluid and the patient must be taken to lower altitudes quickly with supplemented oxygen or death can occur. HAPE is brought on due to a shortage of oxygen caused by lower air pressure at high altitudes. It is life threatening as the lungs fill with fluid and the patient struggles to breathe and the chest becomes tight. Evacuating the patient to lower altitudes must be immediate for any chance of saving the person’s life. Altitude sickness was a topic that was frequently talked about on the trek, the teams doctor regularly checked all of us on a daily basis. Unbeknown to me at this point the reality of altitude would affect the gentlemen I was sharing a tent with and the consequences of not acclimatizing would be very real in a few days time.
Following the day acclimatizing to the altitude we would leave Namche Bazar out through the plateaus and onto Kunde at 3840m. The snow was deep on the trail and it was exhausting at the higher altitude. We crossed over the pass and into Kunde, the temperature really dropped during the afternoon and the drawn out line of trekkers dropped into Khumjumg for todays overnight stop. The tea house was a stunning building, but cold! We all huddled around the wood burner in the centre of the room and like penguins in a large group we rotated to let the outside trekkers in to the middle to warm up. After a game of cards we all went to our rooms to get a good nights sleep.
The trail followed the valley towards Ama Dablam, it left Khumjung towards Deboche the next overnight stop where we would be back in tents. On our way we would stop off at Tengboche Monastery. It is situated in the Khumbu region and was built-in 1916 by Lama Gulu for the Buddhist monks of the Sherpa community. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1934 and rebuilt before being destroyed by a fire in 1989. Climbers stop off here to be blessed and pray for safe passage to the summit of Everest and the surrounding peaks.
Just a short walk from the monastery is Deboche, our porters and guides had spent the afternoon clearing snow and erecting our tents for tonight’s camp. We all had a choice here of either our tents or a room in the tea house. My tent was calling me, I missed being in the tent. The gentleman I shared with was now struggling and opted for the tea house.
The following morning we woke to up to a very quite sombre atmosphere in the camp. Snow had fallen overnight and the space between each tent was full to a point that opening the tent door was difficult. Anyone who has camped in snow knows that silence that snow brings to a camp, sound seems muffled, this added to the atmosphere. News soon spread that three backpackers from Germany had made camp next to us and had trekked up from Lukla very quickly without guides as they had a short time window to get to base camp. Unfortunately overnight one of the group had passed away overnight with altitude sickness.
A bowl of warm water for a wash and some tea was brought to our tents, we packed our day packs and all slowly made our way over to the tea house for breakfast. Ama Dablam stood tall above our camp and our thoughts were with the backpackers as camp was struck, the prayer flags fluttered and we set off on another days trek with the effects of altitude resonating in our heads.
An early start on Saturday 23rd April for a two and half hour drive to the Brecon Beacons. Straight down the M4 towards Wales from where we currently live in Berkshire. It was an unusual drive to the mountains, I mean this in a way that you don’t see mountains on your journey and even when your only miles away you wonder if you have taken a wrong turn and missed them. I am used to driving to the Lake District or Snowdonia where the mountains stand proud on the horizon when your fifty miles away.
I approached the horseshoe via the little village of Pontsticill and drove up the western edge of the reservoir. I stopped on the small bridge dividing Pontsticill reservoir and Pentwyn Resevoir to catch my first glimpse of Pen y Fan. The forecast was to stay dry, but the wind direction was from the North bringing cold air with it. After all it’s still April so having the correct clothing and layers was still important. I originally planned to do an overnighter, but I decided to do a single day hike in the end. Taf Fechan Forest was to be the start of the trail.
Owl Grove was the trail head and it followed the Taf Fechan river north through the forest. The Taf Trail also came through this area, but I was to take another route through the forest towards the fells. The river was crystal clear and as I followed it for the first section of the trail a Dipper stayed just ahead of me, flying up stream to another rock as I got closer. A highlight during the forest section of the route was watching a Redstart flit from tree to tree, the colours really stood out in the morning sun. As I reached the end of the coniferous woodland the view opens up allowing you the first view of the horseshoe around the col that was shaped by the ice age. To the left was a steep sand stone cliff and your eye followed the ridge towards the highest point of the route Pen y Fan (886M).
A steep climb along the tree line brings you out on the summit trig point of Twyn Mwyachod (642m). The northerly wind hit you here and I slipped on my Marmot Nano to keep the cool breeze off. The Brecon Beacons are synonymous with the SAS, selection for the regiment take place on these fells and you are reminded of this on the trig point.
My journey would go north from here crossing the red quartzite of Graig FanDdu, Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog and Craig Gwaun Taf towards Bwich Duwynt.
As you approach Corn Du (873m) the summit west of today’s main peak the view south is stunning, the col sweeps out towards the forest I had come through earlier and you get a view of the dam on the Upper Neuadd Resevoir. You already get the feeling of space and openness as the surrounding fells spread out around you and look west towards the Black Mountains.
It’s at this point you realise you won’t enjoy a private view from the summit of Pen y Fan. On a Saturday afternoon I shared the view from the highest peak in the Brecons with around two hundred people who had all made their way up the tourist route from The Storey Arms on the A470. People of all ages had trudged up the route in all kinds of footware to queue for a selfie on the summit cairn.
The view of the summit plateau of Pen y Fan is very clear from Corn Du, the cliffs south of here are impressive which flank your route so far. Looking towards the summit you glance the next stage of the horseshoe. The route drops off Pen y Fan to the east and climbs steeply up the south face of Cribyn, from here another descent before another climb up Fan y Big. First though, join the centipede of people to the summit.
Descending off Pen y Fan the path drops steeply with a very rocky fall to your left into Cwm Sere. Starting my climb up Cribyn, I took on some water and a few Jaffa cakes to give me the energy to climb the steep stair case to the top. In my opinion the best view of Pen y Fan is from here.
Once down of Cribyn on the col where the paths crossed I stopped and made some lunch. Pasta and some flapjack went down well and I could then contemplate my route from here. Several options lay ahead, one path heads straight down the Cwm towards the forest and reservoirs or stay high and take in some more peaks.
Zig Zagging up the path to Fan y Big I went past bags full of stone dropped off for path renovation work by the National Trust. Watching the wild horses gallop down the fell side was a wonderful sight. I followed the path edge Craig Cwareli past large peat bogs, to my left a steep drop off where I watched a Peregrine Falcon swoop down and land somewhere on the crags below my feet. The path split and I took the path south joining the Beacon Way and dropped down to a mountain stream with some waterfalls. The trail merged with the road that was only one kilometre from the car park.
The Brecon Beacon Horseshoe was a great walk, navigation was easy on a day with good visibility. If you want to miss the crowds you may want to head up there during the week. Despite a few steep climbs, once you are up there you enjoy some great views over southern Wales.