Forest of Dean – Highmeadow Trail & River Wye (solo)

As I drew the curtains this morning I was greeted with cloudless skies and the sun still below the horizon, a deep glow gradually brightening in the east. It was a good day for a walk and recce of the route for a group walk taking place in a few days.

IMG_1111Rucksack packed, I was off by 8.00am heading for the Forest of Dean where I was looking forward to a display of autumn colours enhanced by the blues skies and bright sunshine above.  By the time I arrived at the Forestry Commission car park above Symonds Yat East it was still early for all those enjoying a half term break in the Forest of Dean, as the car park was deserted. Booted up, I headed south from the car park until I picked up the Wysis Way, a trail that links the Wye with the Thames. While most of the tracks through the forest were good, the Wysis Way does not necessarily follow them, but breaks from the main trails on narrow tracks that pick their way through the majestic mixed deciduous trees. Above the canopy, planes deposited their vapour trails, which expanded with time,  as they headed west across the atlantic to unknown destinations.

Many of the trees were still surprisingly green, despite the fact that I was walking on a carpet of copper brown leaves. The canopy, the part of trees exposed to sunlight were beginning to turn various shades of yellow and orange, while the leaves below the canopy and therefore protected were still green.

Beautiful light and colours

Beautiful light and colours

As I walked I began to think that this was not too unlike trekking through the jungles of the Chitwan in Nepal. There were trees and leaf debris on the ground. What it lacked was elephants, rhino, black bears, tigers, leopards and wild boar. Apart from the lack of wild life it was very similar. Suddenly there was a rustling of leaves, the snapping of twigs. As I looked down the slope, through the trees, I spotted three stags running. It was only a fleeting glimpse but enough to excite and get the heart beating a little faster. More rustling above me drew my attention, and a dog, I’m not sure what breed it was but it was the size of a dalmatian, came running out of the trees in front of me. Seeing me it hesitated, eyed me up, and decided that it would be more fun chasing stags that me. It had an extremely thick collar on it, as if its neck might be vulnerable. In the distance an owner was shouting, either calling for it or sending out instructions. I could not make up my mind whether this was a rogue dog doing what it should not, or a working dog following instructions.

The most beautiful patches of wood were those where beech trees were more prevalent than any other species. Here the ground cover was really a good copper colour, the leaves on the trees were more spectacular and underfoot the husks of beech nuts crunched under my feet. Occasionally squirrels skitted around on the branches among the thinning foliage, still making the most of the autumn harvest of nuts.

The view from Near Hearkening Rock

The view from Near Hearkening Rock

Eventually, having navigated myself through the forest without too much difficulty but with regular reference to the map, I reached Near Harkening Rock, an outcrop of rocks with panoramic views of tree covered hillsides  beyond. It was an ideal spot to stop for coffee, enjoying the view and the warmth of the sun. Had it been raining it was still a good place for coffee as the cliffs were overhanging and it was only a short distance to seek their shelter.

Descending from the rocks I reached a wide forest track. All that accompanied me were the sounds of birds, rarely seen but clearly heard. Shrill robins hopped around in shrubs and on lower branches while buzzards mewed as they circled high above the canopy. Suddenly another sound drifted through the trees, that of excited children, getting louder as we got closer. The birds were quiet, shocked into silence by the children, four of them on a half term stroll with their mother. As they drifted into the distance exploring minutely  everything they came across, another sound drifted through the trees, that of traffic on the A4136. The trees, rather than muffling the sound, seemed to amplify it and it was a long time before I could see any traffic, a lot of it heavy aggregate lorries. Having crossed the road there was just a little more woodland before the descent into Monmouth.

From Biblins Bridge

From Biblins Bridge

Having crossed the Wye via the main bridge I then dropped down to the riverside path on the Monmouth side of the river. I was now walking parallel to the busy A40, which shattered the peacefulness of the river bank. It is a good path and therefore I was able to cover some distance quite quickly. It is 5.5km from Monmouth Bridge to Biblins and had I not stopped for lunch and a mooch around the delightful St Peter’s Church, it would probably have only taken me an hour to cover the distance. But why rush? Despite a build-up of cloud, it was still a very pleasant day and there was plenty of bird life on the river to distract me from forward progress. Every-so-often fishermen sat at the water’s edge whiling away a few lazy hours. The lack of keep nets draped into the water suggested that they were not having very much luck. The river had lost the clarity that we associate with it in summer and had the appearance of thin gravy . It was moving quite quickly and occasionally there was the hint a rapids but nothing of significance. As I neared Biblins Bridge there were a few Canadian canoes with young families enjoying the river experience.

A much photographed view of the Wye from the viewpoint

A much photographed view of the Wye from the viewpoint

Having crossed Biblins Bridge the riverside path became significantly busier with casual walkers reaching this far from Symonds Yat, taking one of the many walks available from there. Just before the riverside village, about the spot where there are some more active rapids, I took the steadily climbing path up to the cafe and car park. Here it was really quite busy so, following a visit to the viewpoint and a cup of tea, I headed home having had a very enjoyable walk.

 

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Nepal – Climbing and Trekking Disasters

2014 has been a bad year for Nepal as far as climbing and trekking is concerned. First, on the 18th of April, a devastating avalanche fell into the Western Combe near the top of the Khumbu icefall, which wiped out the lives of sixteen Sherpas and affected the lives of many more. Now, on the 14th October, a severe storm, the result of cyclone Hudhud, dumped copious amounts of snow in the Annapurna region, triggering avalanches on to trekkers caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the time of writing the death toll stands at 39 and there are still people unaccounted for. It is no longer a case of searching for survivors but looking for more bodies that the melting snows will eventually reveal.

As sad as these two incidents are, I am not surprised that they have occurred. Both accidents are the result of over-commercialisation of Everest and of the most popular trekking routes in Nepal.

EverestLet us consider Everest first. Everest has become a high altitude playground for people who have the money to climb the mountain, even if they don’t have the skill. Without the skill they rely very heavily on the Sherpas and commercial leaders to get them to the top. There is a belief among many of the climbers on Everest that because they have paid a lot of money they expect success. The result is that, because the weather window is so brief, a long queue of people can be seen heading up the Lhotse face to the South Col. Having reached the South Col they all head off for the summit together, jostling for position to get up the Hillary Step. Some find themselves waiting a long time at this bottleneck, risking frostbite, running out of oxygen, running out of time, possibly dying. Even if you manage to get up the step and on to the summit, you then have to wait for the opportunity to get down the step; it is a 29,000ft. single track road.

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a debate at the Royal Geographical Society entitled ‘Everest’s Deadliest Day’. The evening was hosted by Ben Ayers with Doug Scott, Dawa Steven Sherpa, Rebecca Stephens, Simon Lowe and Ed Douglas on the panel. They all have different perspectives of the Himalaya from commercial interests to philanthropic concern. They all gave valuable contribution but those of us in the audience wanted to know how a similar tragedy could be avoided in the future. Of course, nothing can be guaranteed in the mountains, mountains are very fickle when it comes to human life. However measures can be taken if there is a universal will among the climbing community, mountaineering associations, governments even. Doug Scott has a simple solution to prevent the cash rich from venturing on the mountain with little or no experience. Each climber must have a climbing CV, which includes ascents of 6000m and 7000m peaks, before they can even apply for an Everest permit. If they are genuine in their desire to climb Everest it should not put them off, but should excite them. It won’t diminish the income the Sherpas can make out of climbing as there will be just as many climbers in a season, hopefully not all in the same place. Everest will become safer with fewer climbers and the opportunity to summit must improve without bottlenecks. It does not guarantee Everest will be accident free but if it avoids disasters like this year’s it will be worth something.

There will be many, particularly those who make a good living out of Everest, who will disagree with Doug. There is speculation that helicopters will be used to ferry climbers from Base Camp to Camp 1, thus avoiding the particularly dangerous Khumbu Icefall.  Helicopters are increasingly being used to fly equipment up to Base Camp, putting many a yak man or porter out of business. To fly higher seriously increases the risk of accident, as they will be flying right on the edge of capability. Air accidents already happen all too often in Nepal. Finally there is speculation that commercial organisations will erect permanent ladders up the Hillary Step making passage both up and down the obstacle that much easier. Everest is a World Heritage Site and should be protected from such vandalism. As it is, its status is abused with the amount of rubbish left on its slopes. How many other World Heritage Sites allow people to defecate all over them and leave it for others to see. There are some expeditions that take everything off the mountain when they leave. Why can’t all expeditions operate to the highest levels of expectation?

The legacy of this year’s disaster will be felt for many years to come. Left behind are thirty-one children without a father. The Himalayan Trusts of New Zealand and the UK, with the Australian Himalayan Foundation have committed to looking after the education of the sixteen children not already being cared for or beyond education. This is a financial commitment through to 2031, long after the events of this year are forgotten, or have been superseded by another senseless loss.

Approaching the Thorong La from PhediTurning to last week’s on-going tragedy, it too is no surprise. October is supposed to be a perfect time to go trekking with blue and crystal clear skies, all dust from the Indian deserts having been washed away by the monsoon rains. The weather, presumably because of global warming, is not reliable; patterns are changing, abnormalities are increasingly becoming normalities. I was leading a group trekking in Mustang last October. Mustang is an area behind the Himalaya and therefore in the rain shadow. While we had good weather we were aware that it was not the same for everybody. A cyclone in the Bay of Bengal was having a similar effect on the Himalaya as this year’s cyclone. The Annapurna region was under heavy cloud and rain and we met trekkers who had not seen a mountain top until they reached Jomsom on the western side of the circuit. Last year the storm had more devastating effect in eastern Nepal, where nine feet of snow fell in one night!

Back in 1996 I was trekking up the Gokyo Valley when we came to Pangka, a camping ground with two or three huts. The previous November, after a significant snowfall, an avalanche swept down the hillside above the camp and buried it. Twenty-six Japanese trekkers and Nepali crew were killed. As we walked through the campsite, newly revealed now that the snow had melted, we came across flattened tents and an area strewn with personal kit, camp pots and pans. The force of the avalanche was visible as the roofs had been ripped off the huts and carried to a new resting place.

I have led twenty-nine trekking expeditions to the Himalaya. It is an incredibly spectacular part of the world and I consider myself very lucky to have been able to go there so many times. I went initially for the mountains but I return for the people. They are wonderful and those I have worked with are so thoughtful, willing and helpful. It is within the nature of Nepalese people to look after their guests come what may, and I am not surprised that so many perished or were injured doing just that.

It has to be remembered these are mountains, very big mountains, and the weather, just as  in Snowdonia, the Lake District or Scotland, can change with devastating effect.  I was in Ladakh in 2010 when a cloudburst triggered off landslides, one which swept through Leh, while others engulfed whole villages. Over 1200 people died that night.

On another occasion, while climbing Menthok Peak (6250m), we had heavy snow at high camp, forcing us to delay our nighttime departure for the summit. Delaying further, so that we could see the route ahead, my guide and I decided the conditions were not favourable, there was too much risk involved. I was responsible for the welfare of twenty-seven group members, most of them pupils from a school. Naturally, they were disappointed, but as we left high camp to go down, there was a loud crack and a cornice that had been overhanging the gully we would have been climbing up collapsed into it. We would all have perished and suddenly the decision was appreciated.

It is inevitable, that from time to time, trekkers will be caught out by bad weather but there are steps that can be taken to avoid it.

So many trekkers in Nepal arrive with no specific plan. They arrive in Kathmandu and decide they would like to do a trek. There are 1600 trekking agencies in Kathmandu alone. How do you know, when you sign up, that you are signing up to go with a reputable agency? You don’t. In a country that has no industry to speak of, that has no natural resources to speak of, that has an ineffective government, that has a level of corruption that we in the west find hard to believe, let alone understand, it is easy for people with little or no experience of the mountains to set up an agency. Regulation is ineffective and can always be bypassed with a bribe. And why not? Every year, with thousands of rich trekkers coming to their country, it is understandable that they want some of the pickings. As discerning westerners, we should be more careful about how we organize our treks. I always work with a UK based adventure travel company, Classic Journeys, who, in turn, work with a reputable Nepali trekking company, Karnali Excursions.  It may cost a little more but you can be sure that when decisions have to be made that concern the safety of the group they will be taken. We also guarantee that all trekkers are properly equipped, that the crew are properly equipped and that the porters, especially, have warm weather and wet weather clothing, that they have appropriate footwear and are suitably housed at night. This, all too commonly, is not always the case.

Many trekkers, particularly those traveling for many months where Nepal is only part of a much bigger picture, tend to minimize on kit. They are dressed inappropriately for the mountains, certainly mountains as high as these. They don’t have enough warm clothing, wet weather clothing, and often their footwear is inadequate. Nepalis might be able to trek in flip-flops but that does not mean we can, or should.

Descending towards MuktinathThere is no excuse for being caught out by last week’s bad weather. Mobile service is readily available throughout most of Nepal and it is possible to get weather warnings in advance and act appropriately. Reputable trekking agencies send their guides out with satellite phones so that contact with the outside world is guaranteed. Those who work and live in the mountains would have seen it coming simply by looking at the sky, reading cloud formation, the light on the mountains and the direction of the wind.

Out of all of the events of the last week, I feel greatest sorrow for the porters who lost their lives, and the families they leave behind. They had no choice in the matter. If they did not do as they were told, they would not have been paid.  There is no insurance cover for them and no welfare state for families to fall back on. It is sad that trekkers lost their lives or were injured; they have a voice and can make their own decisions. So too the guides to a certain extent, although they are likely to have felt under pressure. Porters have few rights in the unequal world of Nepal. Now their families are bereft of their breadwinners, children of their fathers, wives of their husbands. Who is going to look after them now?

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The Long Mynd

There are mornings when you draw the curtains back to reveal a foggy world outside. Instincts tell you not to venture out but it is the opposite you should do.

A number of the students and staff involved in the ‘Share the Vision’ Iceland group met at NCW and drove through the fog to the Carding Mill Valley at Church Stretton. By the time we arrived the fog had cleared to reveal clear blue skies and warm sunshine. Yet, below us the lower lying areas were still shrouded in fog.

Ridges rising above the cloud

Ridges rising above the cloud

Climbing steeply we climbed up one of the narrow valleys, fanning out from the main valley, and reached the summit in good time. Despite the fact that some of the students were visually impaired, it did not slow them down very much on the easy paths which crisscross their way over the Long Mynd. Below, temperature inversion meant that the fog lingered while we basked in glorious sunshine. Away in the distance, the summit of the Wrekin seemed to hover above the earth as it rose above the clouds. Elsewhere tree-lined ridges poked their heads out and enjoyed the sunshine. It was a glorious day.

Dappled light through the trees

Dappled light through the trees

Following sections of the Shropshire and Jack Mytton Ways we traversed the northern reaches of the Long Mynd to descend via Golden Valley and the Darnford Brook, through some beautiful stretches of mixed woodland, to Bridges, where, had we not had a group of young people to look after, we would have spent a happy half hour. As it was we began the gentle climb back up to the summit plateau in order to return to the Carding Mill Valley.

Today was one of those days when first impressions are not necessarily the best, when natural instincts are to be ignored and where you should make the most of every opportunity that comes along.

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The Gower Peninsular

On a sultry Friday evening in late September, eleven of us gathered at the Ship Inn in Port Eynon at the start of a Gower Peninsular walking weekend. It was remarkably warm and we were able to sit outside and enjoy the fine food and ale on offer. During the evening we watched many new arrivals having journeyed from afar at the end of the working week. There was excitement in the air as, on Saturday, it was the Port Eynon triathlon and many of those arriving were lean looking. I seem to be following these events – last weekend it was Snowdon, this Port Eynon!

Looking across Port Eynon Bay from the youth hostel

Looking across Port Eynon Bay from the youth hostel

We were staying in Port Eynon youth hostel, a converted former lifeboat station, understandably right on the edge of the shore. The old boat house is now the dining room with wonderful views down the ramp and out across Port Eynon Bay. The ladies in the group had the room above giving a slightly elevated outlook. Although the morning dawned cloudy and grey, it was warm and dry. The forecast looked good but it was likely to stay overcast for the majority of the day.

During breakfast at the hostel there was much activity on the beach and in the bay. Canoeists were positioned in a line along the course to two large, orange buoys, where the swim was to take place, and swimmers were gathering at the water’s edge. The sound of a horn heralded the start and, maybe, up to 200 competitors, surged forward turning the still water into turbulent action. My admiration for the spectacle soon turned to concern when it occurred to me that the transition from swim to bike was at the end of the lane leading from the hostel and we might have difficulty getting out.

I wandered down to have a chat with a steward to see what were the prospects of escaping. By now the quickest of the swimmers were emerging from the water and transferring to their bikes. The steward, who seemed to have most control, was the one ensuring the cyclists did not mount before a red line across the road. It was worth being there just to listen to her words of encouragement. All competitors were treated to,”Come on my lovely!” in that delightful Welsh accent, which assured you that she meant it every time. The outcome of my conversation was that it would be best if we could delay until after the fancy dress swimmers had gone through the transition by 9.30 at the latest. This was going to delay us but not really cause us any inconvenience.

Pwlldu Bay

Pwlldu Bay

Having escaped in three cars we drove east, towards Swansea, turning off to Caswell Bay, a pretty inlet to the west of Mumbles Head and right on the edge of the sprawling suburbs of Swansea. There is a whole network of paths criss-crossing their way along the cliff edge and it was sometimes difficult to determine which was the right path to take but we generally got it right and made steady progress towards our designated coffee stop at West Cliff. The path had so far taken us along the cliff edge, through coastal woodland, which I always find unique among woodlands. The trees are rarely huge and the on-shore winds have shaped them and moulded them into, often, life-like creatures with flailing arms that come to life at night. Between the trees we had vistas of hidden coves, sandy beaches and blue sea, still blue despite the greyness of the day.

Three Cliffs Bay

Three Cliffs Bay

Following coffee, we were heading to what I consider to be one of the most beautiful parts of the Gower Peninsular, Three Cliffs Bay. Half an hour walking along the cliff top brought us to a sandy descent to the beach, quite extensive now as the tide was nearing its lowest point. When the tide is in it covers virtually the whole of the beach, so the sand is firm, golden and clean. Perched on barnacled rocks at the foot of the cliffs and adjacent to the dramatic arch cutting through to another section of beach, we had lunch. It never ceases to amaze me how quiet this beautiful beach is. A few families were dotted about and some climbers were tackling the cliffs. It is a large expanse, which takes a little effort to get to and thus tends to be fairly quiet.

Chris framed by the arch in the three cliffs

Chris framed by the arch in the three cliffs

Low tide meant that we could take a short cut across the much wider sands of Oxwich Bay towards Oxwich Point, to emerge on to the land at the Oxwich Bay Hotel, a distance of about 4km. It was a perfect opportunity to de-boot and walk in the still warm waters. Not many took this opportunity, fearing sand chaffing the feet on the latter stages of the day’s walk. Towards the western end of the beach we came across a group of young Chinese armed with spades and buckets, not for making sandcastles, but hunting for razor clams. They disturbed the surface with the spades and watched for bubbles rising out of the wet sand. Whenever they spotted any they became excited and, probing further, pulled out large razor clams, which would end up on a dinner plate that evening.

Climbing up from Oxwich Bay

Climbing up from Oxwich Bay

On reaching the Oxwich Bay Hotel it was time for a cup of tea before the steep climb up through the woods to Oxwich Point. Whilst the climb is not particularly long, it is steep, and in the balmy conditions we were experiencing, it was hot work with sweat pouring freely. Emerging from the trees and rounding the point we could see Port Eynon, the end was in sight. Below us, on the rocks exposed by low tide, a lone fisherman was walking back to Oxwich with a large fish in his hand; clearly his supper for the evening.

The path now was wide, grassy and relatively flat, following the line between two cliffs, an ancient higher one and a geologically much younger one between us and the sea. The youth of this cliff was clearly apparent in places as there were fresh landslides, one of which we had to make a significant detour for. The path eventually emerged on to the beach at Horton and we were able to take a direct line across it to the youth hostel. Our late start meant that we finished rather later than I had intended but it did not matter as our only plan, after retrieving the cars, was to eat at the Ship Inn again.

The pub was heaving, not with lean triathletes (they had all gone home), but with locals. Our food took some time to come but it was worth the wait. The Ship Inn is a goldmine; it has all the ingredients for success, a good menu, a variety of quality drinks, space to accommodate a lot of people, and very little local competition. I highly recommend it if you are in the area.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny. Instead of staying in the hostel I had camped in the field next door and the clearing overnight skies allowed the dew to settle. On saturday morning my tent, the grass and my car were bone dry.

Today, we had no excuses to delay our start so we shuffled some vehicles and the group to Llanmadoc, only to find that, it too, was busy as it was the Llanmadoc Run. Cars were queuing to get into the small car park and inside it was full of activity. The participants weren’t as lean, or mean, as the triathletes of yesterday but there was an air of amateurish enthusiasm, apart from the cool chap parked next to me who sat on the tail gate of his pick-up drinking a cup of coffee.

Looking towards Rhossili Down and Worm's head from Llanmadoc Hill

Looking towards Rhossili Down and Worm’s head from Llanmadoc Hill

Leaving the beautiful village of Llanmadoc behind we climbed immediately up the bracken covered slopes of Llanmadoc Hill. Through the bracken a narrow path led the way but there were many others criss-crossing the hillside. The sun glistened on the dewy cobwebs straddling the path and it was a shame that I had to undo all the hard work the spiders had done to build their traps. Crane flies disturbed by our passage fluttered about our legs. It was a stunning morning, the view from the summit down to the mud flats of the River Loughor with Llanelli beyond was stunning. A layer of non-threatening cloud hung over the shore to the north and was reflected in the flat waters of the sea, giving the appearance of a shimmering mist. There was no need to rush as we enjoyed the warmth and the views in all directions.

Clouds reflecting in the calm waters

Clouds reflecting in the calm waters

Descending to Llangenith, we picked our way through fields to the foot of the northern end of Rhossili Down. As we climbed the steep slope the splendour of Rhossili Beach and bay came into view, the outgoing tide leaving behind a pristine beach of smooth, golden sand. The view was only blighted by the regimented rows of static caravans at the northern end. This more accessible end was busier with surfers riding the waves, while the southern end was virtually deserted.

A foal sticking close to its mother

A foal sticking close to its mother

Once up on the downs it was an undulating path along the ridge, now with views inland as well as those out to sea. The inland views are not unattractive but they lack the grandeur of the coastal views. There are very few trees inland, farmers making the most out of the land they have. The concrete remains of a radar station sit in a hollow just below the ridge, built to track potential German bombers and shipping heading for Milford Haven during the war. Having fulfilled its purpose, it was dismantled in 1946, leaving just the concrete foundations. Wild horses populate the hillsides today.

Worm's Head

Worm’s Head

Rhossili is only a small village but it attracts a significant number of tourists, many of who do not venture down to the beach but frequent the Worm’s Head Hotel, offering fabulous views as well as food and drink. Many walk the short distance to the information point overlooking the interestingly shaped Worm’s Head jutting out to sea. We didn’t have time to venture out on to the headland despite the tide being in favour of doing so.

The Knave in the foreground with Horse Cliff beyond

The Knave in the foreground with Horse Cliff beyond

Rounding the point, we now had a few miles of fairly flat cliff top walking to do to take us back to Port Eynon. Every-so-often we would cross the head of a small bay or inlet with a path enticing us down to the water, but we resisted on this occasion. It may well be worth returning to give these deserted coves and inlets more attention in future. Some of them have very evocative names, conjuring up images of smugglers; names like ‘Deborah’s Hole’, ‘Blackhole Gut’, ‘The Knave’ and ‘Horse Cliff’ to name four. These are all accessible on the internet but it might be best just to let the imagination take control and not look too deeply into their meanings.

Group photo at Port Eynon Point

Group photo at Port Eynon Point

Soon we rounded the headland of Port Eynon Point and the youth hostel came into view. We finished on a still balmy late September day. We had not only been very lucky with the weather but the youth hostel provided perfect accommodation and Port Eynon was perfectly placed for our activities of the weekend. We left with every reason to return one day for more exploration of the Gower Peninsular.

 

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Share the Vision training weekend – Snowdonia

After a superb Indian summer, it was with a little disappointment that Caz and I set out  from Worcester, on Friday morning, in the rain. We were the advance party heading to Snowdonia, preparing camp for sixteen students, some of whom were visually impaired, and who were due to arrive in the evening. However, our fears of a wet weekend were unfounded, for, as we approached Snowdonia, the skies cleared and we were bathed in warm sunshine. The campsite at Llyn Gwynant is superbly placed on the lake shore, surrounded by mountains. Unusually, the ground was dry and firm. It took us about three hours to set up camp and make ready for the arrival of the group.

This gave us time to enjoy a pizza from Jones’ Pizza Co., a mobile pizza oven on site and only open at weekends this late in the season. With many weekend campers arriving, they did a roaring trade, and certainly filled an ever increasing hole in my stomach.

At 8.30 the NCW group arrived with Phil, and the King’s group arrived half an hour later with Russ. Sitting in the mess tent, drinking hot chocolate, broke the ice for the two groups who have, so far, had limited experience of each other. Eventually, the group drifted off to their tents, to sleep under a star filled sky and high hopes for good weather in the morning.

Perhaps it was too much to hope that Snowdonia would display herself in all her glory for us. We woke to cloud shrouding the summits of the hills but the forecast assured us that it would clear during the course of the day. At least it was dry.

Resting at the side of the pavement above the second lake

Resting at the side of the pavement above the second lake

Fortified with bacon butties, we travelled the short distance to Pen-y-pass where I was to lead the group up the Miner’s Track while the rest of the staff shuffled vehicles down to Llanberis where we were finishing, and then catching up. The students, despite some of them having a disability, set off at a good pace, making good time over the well manufactured path. It is some years since I had walked this route and I was saddened to see such a well maintained path. While it makes the walking a lot easier, it degrades the mountain. There were a lot of people walking the route but nothing like the numbers we would encounter later in the day.

Guiding in the mists of Snowdon

Guiding in the mists of Snowdon

Caz, Phil and Russ eventually caught up between the second and third lake and we continued as a group. Phil now took the lead while I became the back marker, particularly useful on the steep section leading up to the Pig Track, where there was greater need for care and attention. We were now entering the cloud and it was important that we maintained ourselves as a group. It was not always easy when other walkers, not realising we were a unique group, mixed in with us. The cloud, while not really producing rain, gave a moist hew on our clothing. By the time we reached the Pig Track there was a constant stream of walkers heading for the summit, while others were already on the way down. Many were representing a variety of charities as they toiled up to raise money. Some were even rattling buckets.

The crowded summit of Snowdon

The crowded summit of Snowdon

By the time we reached the obalisk and more paths converged for the final pull to the summit, the numbers were unbelievable. We now encountered fancy dress costumes, Spider Man and the like. Others were clearly not properly equipped for mountain walking, and into the melee came triathletes running to and from the summit. While most were good natured and politely asked for clear passage there were a few who were aggressive and bullying, thinking that they had absolute right to the mountain. Visually impaired people cannot see as well as the rest of us, particularly in murky conditions, and, because of their uncertainty with their surroundings, they do not always react as quickly as others. They have as much right, perhaps more so, than triathletes. Whatever your activity on the mountain you should always be aware of the need to share the space. Perhaps, the organisers should have had a lesser used route closed to the general public so that there was not a clash of interests.

High achievers!

High achievers!

Having lunched close to the summit while avoiding the crowds queueing in the cafe, we took the straight forward descending route to Llanberis finishing at 3.30. The Snowdon traverse had taken us six hours, an hour quicker than we anticipated and gave credit to the fitness and skills of both groups of students. The NCW students stuck to the task and never once complained about the pace or the murky conditions. The King’s students readily accepted the challenge and their responsibilities to look after their partners, maintaining high spirits throughout. They all thoroughly deserved the reward of a hot drink at Pete’s Eats, a Mecca for all climbing and walking enthusiasts.

Back at camp we ate well before the students gathered round a camp fire under the starlit sky and exchanged stories, getting to know each other and to appreciate each other’s company.

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny, although the clear skies forced the temperatures to dip quite severely during the night. At least one boy discovered that his sleeping bag was not up to the task as he shivered the night away.

Having provided them with sausage butties for breakfast, I waved goodbye to the group as they headed out for their second day of walking. I was remaining in camp to take the tents down, dry them and pack them and all the kit away, in the hope that by the time they were finished it would be simply a matter of heading back to Worcester.

Negotiating difficult terrain

Negotiating difficult terrain

Driving over to Llanberis, they headed out to climb Moel Eilio and following a circular route over Foel Goch and around Llyn Dwythwch. Although they were not going as high as they did on Snowdon, they were still gaining about the same height and it was going to be a challenging walk, but at least without the crowds. In places the path was narrow and it gave the visually impaired, who are often fiercely independent, an understanding of the need for support, and the guides the importance of making sure that the journey was achieved in the safest manner possible.

By the time they returned to camp, it was struck and packed away, and they were buzzing with excitement for all they had achieved over the weekend.

I bet they were tired by the time they got home but I am also sure that they are looking forward to our next outing on the Long Myndd next month.

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