Voiceless for Viva: Day 1
Day 1: Pen y Fan and back again
I [Guy] set my alarm for about 8.00am so that I had ample time to research what route I wanted to take up Pen y Fan mountain (886 metres- South Wales’ tallest peak) and then go on and climb it. It became clear there were a number of different trails that I could take to get to the summit. Naturally I scrolled to the bottom of the particular page I was on and opted for the most difficult. ‘The Brecon Beacons Horseshoe Ridge Walk’ is described as a “challenging upland mountain walk” for which “a map and compass, waterproofs, and a whistle and torch are all essential”. Having pretty much glazed straight over this advice, I printed a map and some instructions and off I went on the 9 mile, 4-5 hour hike.
It took about 45 minutes or so to get to the car park where I was to begin my adventure. At this stage I’d like to set the scene slightly more; I am wearing some pretty old and non-substantial running trainers with minimal grip, some cotton trackies, a t-shirt, fleece, hoodie and waterproof(ish). I stood at the foot of the first ascent, which actually just disappeared into clouds. It was quite windy and cold, but at least it wasn’t raining for now. Having briefly entertained the idea of turning back and preparing properly, I decided to just go for it. The climb to the Craig Fan Ddu ridge is as steep as a flight of stairs, which would have been okay if there was a recognisable path. After initially trying to keep my trainers as clean as possible it became apparent this was going to be impossible and at times they were fully submerged in boggy mud. Walking in the opposite direction about 20 or so army personal holding rifles looked over in a ‘what on earth is he doing’ kind of way. Fortunately for the last third of the climb there was a path to lighten my mood. When I reached the top I had a drink of water, a snack and put my hoodie and waterproof in my bag (this is important). The ridge had a very steep drop off to one side, and the instructions I had with me were suggesting I took in the view. Of course I chose a day where visibility was limited to about ten metres in any direction, which is actually quite a claustrophobic feeling. This was actually a real shame because apparently some of the views are very beautiful.
As I ascended towards Corn Du the wind picked up dramatically and so I went into my bag to retrieve my hoodie and waterproof. At the top of my bag was an empty water bottle. The contents of which had been fully absorbed by my hoodie. Not good. I trudged on to Corn Du and headed for Pen y Fan. Along the way I noticed a rock sticking out over the edge of a cliff so thought “what better place to do a headstand?”. I set up a video and carefully rolled back the years to gymnastics classes in school.
When I eventually made it to the top of Pen y Fan, I went over to a couple to mime the action of taking a photograph of me next to the 886 metres mark. After some confused looks they understood, and were perhaps slightly disappointed I wasn’t proposing a game of charades. I gave them a business card and left them with that action sumo wrestlers do before a fight, because for some reason in my head that meant thank you? In all seriousness, it was a great feeling to reach the top and I took a moment to stand there and appreciate my surroundings. The descent I was taking from the summit was a very steep one followed by some boggy and slippery flat land. It was about at this point I twisted my ankle having slipped on a rock which wasn’t ideal. This was the ‘stub your toe’ moment that people have been asking me about. And no, I did not accidentally let slip a curse word or two. After this trauma I stopped at quite a cool lunch spot; there were rocks formed in such a way to mimic an igloo. Igloo or no igloo my falafel and hummus wrap was delicious and spurred me on.
Spurred me on in the wrong direction. I was walking for about two miles in the wrong direction. I was following a gorgeous view of open land. It was only when I ended up being surrounded by sheep and enclosed by a fence I thought it would be a good idea to look at the compass on my phone. Sure enough I was going completely the wrong way. I had taken the wrong descent path from the Pen y Fan summit. I did a 180 and started climbing again what I had already come down. Of course the timing of the pathetic fallacy could not have been better. Just as I started to comprehend quite the significance of my error the heavens opened and the wind was still howling. Two hikers were walking nearby so I went over to them pointed at my map and made some odd gestures. They could see on the map the route I was intending on making and responded, “crikey mate, you’re not even on your map anymore”. Not exactly what I wanted to hear. More bad news: “you have to go all the way back to the top of Pen y Fan to go the route you are planning”. On a more positive note they took a business card and said they would donate!
The top of Pen y Fan wasn’t quite as exciting as my first visit and the weather at this point really was gruelling. Off I went down another side of the mountain crossing paths with some more army people who asked if I was alright, to which I gave them the thumbs up. At least I was going in the correct direction. My waterproof(ish) really earned its name at this point as it became saturated and began allowing water through to my t-shirt. The cotton trackies were of course next, completing the head-to-toe feeling of cold and wetness. I actually had a bit of a jog at various stages just to try and stimulate some blood flow in my hands so that I could move them again. Reaching the Craig Cwm Oergwm ridge was a big morale booster as I knew the path back from there was fairly simple.
Having made it back to the car all in one piece I stripped off down to my boxers and sat in my car with the heating on full. I reflected on the last 5 or so hours and about 13 miles. It was a real test of character at some stages. It sounds dramatic but at times I did feel like I wanted to give up and that it all wasn’t worth the hassle. However there’s nothing that beats achieving something you set out to do. It can’t be underestimated the power of setting oneself a target and really working hard to achieve it. It is empowering and liberating. I am extremely glad I took on the challenge and am better for it. I have learned that even though a peak of 886 metres might not sound too high, weather conditions at altitude really can’t be underestimated. My planning was poor, and thanks to those hikers I met, this didn’t hinder me too much this time. This was also a scenario where I had the idea to do a task and I haven’t put it off. Literally not a day, I thought to do it last night and now I have done it. This is a wonderful feeling.
Upon returning home I went to bed for a half hour nap and then made mushroom risotto for dinner. Then I watched Barcelona put on a clinic against Atletico Madrid including two wonderful goals from Suarez and Messi. Off to bed with my first voiceless day complete!
By Guy Harper