Much like the previous activation at Pen Y Fan a few days previously, I drove out to the site the day before to take a look and identify the start point. Although the summit was cloud covered it was evident that the easterly approach was going to be steep and that the southwesterly approach would be longer but easier. I favored the most direct easterly approach for the ascent and then I could review my options for the return journey.
So the next day (and now kitted out with gloves, a walking pole and wearing contacts not glasses!) we started the climb from the lay-by at just after 10.00am – the first ridge we got to gave an opportunity to rest as it was clear even at this early stage that this was a whole different ball game to the Pen Y Fan ascent – this was “proper” climbing!
Despite the map indicating a trail, there is none! If you can see the summit then head for it - if you can’t, then rely on the map/compass/GPS. Every step taken was either into loose grass or heather, or into hidden water draining down or onto a rock outcrop that was hidden underneath vegetation. Consequently it was nigh on impossible to traverse in one continuous direction and the steep gradient was another contributory factor in throwing us off track.
The plus sides though are the spectacular views down into the valley when the cloud had rolled away and the fact that we could more or less pick and choose our route up. The easterly approach involves quite a few ridges followed by some more gentle plains ahead of the next climb to a ridge. We were soon at the base of what appeared to be the final climb to the summit; the mist was swirling around our feet and the summit was likewise wreathed in cloud although we could make out some large boulders at the top of the climb and this seemed to indicate the top.
The incline here was really steep in comparison to the preceding climb. I thought the best way of approaching this bit was to aim for a particular feature, maybe a rock outcrop or something and then head for it. This was not as easy as I had hoped as the steepness of the climb meant that I was “tacking” (like a boat) in order to progress. I was only using the outside of the sole of my leading boot and inside of the trailing one as I tried to dig into the vegetation to gain a foothold and the ground was wet with a lot of drainage running down, making it quite difficult.
The summit came much faster that I was anticipating and we were suddenly peering through the gloom at the outline of the trig point to which we initially headed for. Pausing only for a few photographs and a check on the GPS, the next problem was finding somewhere dry enough to set up. Virtually the whole summit was covered in at least two inches of water, the trig point itself was an island in a mini-lake! During the set-up, the cloud opened up for less than a minute to provide a spectacular view down into the valley, I managed to get a couple of pictures but then it rolled back in and that was the last we saw of anything other than cloud!
This time we had a mini-tent with us and that proved to be a great asset. The SOTA beam went up next and with 10 or so minutes to go before noon, we settled in for some coffee and a review of the climb – we agreed that it was far too dangerous to try and retrace our route and that the SW approach (now being the NE return) would be better and safer.
At 12.00pm I started calling CQ and immediately heard G0VMZ (Alistair) and then G4DHK – then it all went quiet and I wondered if I was going to get my required four Q’s. I needn’t have worried as within half an hour I had seven in the log and no further calls – time to pack up!
It became very clear that once we were underway, the cloud base had shifted considerably. On the way up the cloud had started at the base of the final climb to the summit, on the way back the cloud was just about everywhere. I am glad that we chose to return in the NE direction as visibility was just about zero. I wanted to keep us as close as possible to a return to the same point as we started from and had to rely heavily on the GPS whilst picking each footstep out very carefully. In the end we arrived back at the roadside within 150 yards of where we started so I was quite pleased with that. I wasn’t pleased with the fact that after all that climbing I managed to fall over within 10 feet of the boundary fence on the return journey – ironic!
When we got back to the car, a fast food/burger van had set up and the proprietor said that he had seen us set out and that he would have given us another hour before calling out Mountain Rescue as the conditions were now classed as a “White Out” (his words, not mine)
In summary, this was a great activation for me – more challenging than the previous one (SW-001) and well worth the effort!