November 2016: Brecon Beacons 5 peaks

The idea: Hike 21km through the Brecon Beacons summiting 5 peaks over 750m
Location: The Brecon Beacons
Distance: 21km
Ascent: 1600m
Essential kit: Walking boots, gloves, heavy packs
Kit we wished we had: Less heavy packs
Cost per person: Approx £30 (Petrol between 2 people) +optional £8 for Indian food..

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Unfortunately it’s not always easy to get our schedules to line up in order to get out on an adventure together. As the last weekend of November loomed ever closer, it seemed as though the month might just pass us by unless we took action soon. Matt and Nick both had suitably adventurous excuses not to be able to join this weekend – a date with a five year old Goddaughter for Matthew and a surprise luxury trip to Mauritius for Nick for his mum’s 60th – and with Callum still suffering with PTSD following his last trip to the Brecon Beacons, it seemed as thought it would just be me and Joe heading for the hills.

The plan was simple, we’d wake up early Saturday morning, drive three hours to the mountains, walk in a 21km loop carrying camping gear encompassing five peaks (all over 750m), sleep at some point along the way and return to the car to be back home in time for Sunday lunch. I’ve planned some mountaineering in the Alps with Nick next year and saw this as the perfect opportunity to practise walking up slopes with a heavy pack, loading extra water and food alongside our cold weather camping gear and my camera. In the end I was left with a pack weighing just shy of 14kg – much more than I would normally carry over this kind of distance.

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The weather was on our side. Recent snowfall coated the tops of the peaks (making these relatively meager hills feel and look much more dramatic than they do in summer) and beautiful bright skies reflected against the misty valleys below as we reached 600m and started to walk above the clouds. We kept at a pretty steady pace for our first two peaks, stopping only to shoot photos, check our route or appreciate the views. But as we started our descent from Pen-Y-Fan heading towards Fan-Y-Big (winner of the 2016 ‘Funniest Mountain Name’ award) the weight of our packs started to cause problems. The steep 200m descent put strain on our knees with each step and the only way to find relief was to head up to the next peak.

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Despite the slow pace on the descents, we quickly arrived at the point in the route where we had planned to spend the night – a valley between our fourth and fifth peak. It was a perfect spot, the curved wall of the mountain in front of us blocked the wind and we had a great view lined up for sunrise across the reservoir. We patted ourselves on the back for our exemplary Google Maps camp spot finding skills and then quickly agreed that 3pm was a little too early to set up camp. We decided to push on to see if we could find an equally good spot on top of peak five at the end of the near vertical looking path that led up there.

We were on top before long, with the sun setting around us and the clouds still floating in the valley far below. The view was incredible. It didn’t take long, however, to come to the realisation that 3:30pm was also still too early to settle down. A quick calculation led us to the fact that there would be close to 15 hours before the sun would come up again and, despite Joe needing all the sleep he can get after recently becoming a father, neither of us were thrilled by the idea of any more time than was essential in a tent at -3. So we made the choice any rugged adventurers would make. We donned our head torches, finished the walk, and drove to Merthyr Tydfil to get an Indian, using the restaurant’s wifi to find a suitable waterfall to camp by.

Although this wasn’t the most physically challenging or exciting adventure, there is no doubt in my mind that forcing ourselves to get out of bed a few hours earlier on a Saturday morning to walk around, and camp in, the Welsh mountains was one of the best decisions we made this November. ▲

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