Every so often, life brings on experiences that put you back in touch with the world and help shape your future. It all started when we realised we had a free evening and I said “hey, we should camp in the snow”.
Two days later, we were enduring one of the hardest walks we’ve done. I had 25Kg on my back – that’s 4 stone in old money! I won’t lie, I could barely lift it! Anneka, my partner, had slightly less in her pack. We pulled into Pont ar Daf car park around 7pm and saw Mountain Rescue were there – an omen perhaps?. We put our boots on, lifted our packs onto our backs and set off up the path in the dark with head torches to show us the way. As we trudged on and on, the conditions soon deteriorated with spindrift and snow whipping around us and the path turned into knee deep snow drifts!
Normally, it takes me an hour or less to get to the ridge by Corn Du. Two hours after setting off, we finally reached it – that’s how hard the conditions were! On our way up we had seen torches on the ridge and when we got there, we reached a group from Brecon Mountain Rescue. They had been looking for someone who was lost and had thankfully found them. They stopped to make sure we were OK and knew where we were going – they must have thought we were mad! The forecast was 30-40mph winds but they told us they had measured 50-60mph gusts! Oh dear… We found a small hollow on the ridge and cleared it of snow. Between gusts of wind, we put the tent up and packed snow around the base.
We got our Thermarests and sleeping bags set up in the tent, put our down jackets on and made sure we were warm. Every so often, the wind would gust and the tent shape distort. It was now 10pm! Time to eat. We opened a vent to allow carbon monoxide to escape, set the burner up and heated water to warm our Wayfarer food – we had treated ourselves earlier in Go Outdoors to a chicken curry each and an afters of sticky toffee pudding and chocolate cake. Lush!
In September last year, we’d had an amazing visit to Prague in the Czech Republic and had bought back a small bottle of their liqueur. We’d taken it with us and thought it a very appropriate time to drink it. It certainly warmed our insides!
Shortly after food, we snuggled into our sleeping bags, fully clothed and still wearing our down jackets! Suddenly, I spotted a torch light! I peaked out of the vent to see and it was another tent! Gareth Johns had turned up – we’d talked about meeting up on Facebook, but I was so snug that I stayed in my sleeping bag and decided to say hello in the morning instead.
Around 4am the wind really picked up and the tent took quite a battering, but being a 4 season tent it was fine. We got up at 6am, quickly put on waterproofs for the extra layer to keep warm and got out of the tent. Fortunately the wind had dropped but it was very, very cold! So cold, in fact, that the inside of the tent had ice on it and my hat was frosty!
We both worked quickly, moving around to keep warm and also find different viewpoints to photograph – wherever we looked, we were in awe of what we saw. The photo at the top of this blog is one of the first I took, the rest are still to be looked at at the time of writing this blog… All the photos shown here, with the exception of the first one, were taken with my mobile phone.
Slowly but surely the sun rose and brought with it some welcomed warmth. The landscape changed and the subtle colours were replaced with harsher light.
By 9am the light was too harsh and we were hungry so it was time for breakfast. Before we’d left, I had mixed up some eggs and milk and put them in a plastic container (taking care to double wrap it in a plastic bag so if it leaked I didn’t end up with an eggy camera!) We set the JetBoil burner up and cooked eggs for what must have been 20 minutes as it was so cold. At least I’d had the forethought to put them in the tent with me the night before so they didn’t freeze!
How may other people can say they’ve had scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with that view?! I should point out that I never drink that early in the morning but we’d carried the bottle of Gower ale up the night before so definitely didn’t want to carry it back down. As soon as we opened it, the froth froze! But do you know what? It’s the best ale I’ve ever tasted and the food was nothing short of amazing. It’s true that everything tastes better outdoors.
After we’d finished, Andy Johnston came to say hi as he’d walked up in the morning – I’d not met him before, but we follow each other on Twitter. It was with heavy hearts that we packed away our tent – we’d had such an amazing time and didn’t want to go home, but unfortunately everyday life beckoned.
Walking downhill is never easy and is even worse in snow. The path was so icy that we had to walk to one side once we were out of the snow drifts. We’d walked up alone in the dark in some of the worst conditions we’d ever been in and walked down in bright, warm sunshine with hoards of people around – if only they knew what we had seen last night and this morning……
A word of caution
What we did by camping over night at height in such bad conditions carried risks and no-one else should ever attempt it unless they are properly equipped and experienced. Our tent was a Macpac Minaret, a lightweight 4 season tent designed for severe conditions – it takes just 2 poles and 4 pegs to put it up, ready to get into. We were both wearing Icebreaker 260 thermal trousers and tops, fleece-lined winter trousers, two microfleeces and waterproof jackets whilst walking. We both had 850 fill Rab goose down jackets to put on as soon as we stopped. We also had merino wool socks, glove liners and thick socks and thick gloves, plus hats and buffs. We took spare gloves, fleeces and socks. I have an in-depth knowledge of the area where we were and knew several escape routes to lower ground should we need it. We also made sure people knew where we were going. At no point did I feel panicked, worried or unsafe about where we were and I was in complete control of the situation at all times. We did discuss turning around and going back to the car a couple of times as the conditions were so tough going up, but we unanimously decided it was safe to continue. There was no ‘point of no return’ and we could have returned to the car at any point. We both had an amazing time and whilst it has highlighted a few weaknesses in our equipment (which we will rectify), we would do it all again tonight.