These 3 were so excited to be climbing their first ever mountain and I can’t find the words to tell you how happy I was, just to be in the mountains with the kids at long last. It didn’t matter if we made it to the summit or not (we did) we just wanted to expose the children to the adventure of it all. 3 Years ago but it feels like a lot longer and just yesterday at the same time.
We were on our way up the South East side of Pen y Fan when we stumbled upon this lovely spot. While the kids tried their hardest to get wet, we cooked tea and brewed up and considered making camp. It was the perfect spot really but by the time the last dog walkers had disappeared from view, the sun had dipped behind the mountain and the midgies were out in force so we pressed onto higher ground and made camp near the the summit of Fan Y Big. Still, it wasn’t a bad spot for supper.
We managed to pinch an afternoon from my Dads 60th Birthday celebrations in the shire and we crossed the border to one of our favourite spots, Rhayader and the Elan Valley. We had been up here for a recce back in February and coupled with some research from UK Climbing decided that it was worth another visit for our first outdoor climb on real rock.
It had been wet in the morning but a combination of a strong breeze and intermittent sunshine dried the rock so we could climb. I set up a top rope on an easier route and away we went, the kids first then Hazel and I. It was so so different to climbing indoors, the holds weren’t obvious and bright red or green, the wind buffeted us and the rock wasn’t plumb vertical. It was also so much more fun and personally, it felt really instinctive, rather than going for the hold because its the right colour it was more like “this feels right”.
Evan had a bit of a moment at the top when he wanted to climb onto the top of the crag and walk back around but I insisted he get lowered for practice and the next time he might be able to just top out and walk down the back way. He managed to come down ok in the end though and we all had a really good time. Unfortunately didn’t move onto other routes as the weather turned against us but we all left rather pleased with ourselves and vowed to return soon.
On a dreary, damp Saturday morning, the last day of March, we headed off from Knighton, Powys, the clock tower in the middle of town marking the start of the 133 miles national trail that runs through mid wales to Machynlleth and back out towards Welshpool a mere 30 miles further north of our starting point.
We left in good spirits and as we headed out of town, taking a wrong turn and having to turn around, we slowly started to climb into the hills and had our first encounter with what was to become a constant companion on the trail. Mud.
Our morale took a nosedive as the drizzle continued and the mud got thicker but we stopped for lunch and cheered up as the rain relented in the afternoon.
We pushed on through the afternoon but the going was slow, we had to divert slightly to avoid a pond of liquid mud and a group of rather frisky cows, which would have been fine if another group of hikers hadn’t just made them even more jittery, but we were making our customary 2 mph average that we do on most walks. We stopped again in Llangullo for a warm up in the pub and then headed up into the hills. After a short section on tarmac we got back into open country and it really started to feel like we were on a long trail again.
About 6pm fatigue started to hit the kids so we started looking for somewhere to camp. We were short of our planned goal of 12.5 miles but had covered over 10 that day, and with the usual first day late start and tough trail conditions we were happy and confident of making the distance up over the next few days. We headed up onto the moorland around Beacon Hill and after negotiating a wobbly gate, we snuck into a small forestry plantation, where we pitched the tents and tucked into some minestrone cup a soup before settling down for the night.
We woke to a frosty morning and blue skies, had a quick biscuity breakfast and headed off down the trail, through open hill country which felt higher than its 350m elevation and stopped for second breakfast just after the point we were aiming to end the previous days hiking. That was a good thing really, the boggy ground would have made pitching up quite a task, so after some porridge and coffee (not the kids) we carried on through yet more ankle deep mud. The kids were enjoying breaking the ice on the abundant puddles but by lunchtime they were all suffering with wet feet and cold hands. We stopped for lunch above a farm in Felindre and tried to dry boots and feet and change socks.
Possibly the best trail conditions we encountered!
The afternoon was really tough going, it got colder and greyer and the trail conditions were at best, awful. A hard wet winter had really taken its toll and I was beginning to think that maybe we were a month too early. We pressed on and on and were getting really tired and fed up of the mud but then, and this really lifted our spirits, we walked almost through a windfarm. This was also an ideal spot to camp for the night but we were again short of our target and if we were going to have time to finish the trail we would have to press on at least for a couple more miles.
We had a long, very hard day on the trail and although we had made up some lost mileage from the previous day we were still 3 or 4 miles from where we had planned to camp but after consulting the map we decided to jump into a field a little way of trail for the night. We had just got the tent up when it started to rain so we had oatcakes and squirty cheese for tea and an early night.
I started knocking the snow off the tent at about 10.30pm and had to pull a sleeping Evan away from the edge of the tent as the snow started to build up. It was quite exciting because we hadn’t woken up to snow while camping before. I was sure it would turn to rain and be gone by the morning.
The world was white when we woke up so we quickly packed away the tent and headed through the snow to the village of Llanbadarn-Fynydd and a little shop where we had hot coffee and a sausage roll for breakfast. We spoke at length about the conditions and while Nana, (My Mum who had joined us for the first few days) decided to leave the trail and head home, we resolved to press on, after all it was raining lightly now so the snow will be gone by lunchtime!.
As we headed up the hill we realised we were heading for hiking like we had never encountered with the kids before. The combination of snow on the ground, mud under the snow and zero visibility meant that the going was extremely slow and navigation was difficult. We were cold, wet and tired and we had all slipped over multiple times. I quietly checked the tent which was soaking from the previous night and packing quickly meant the inner was now also soaked. We had about 5 miles to go to a very basic campsite and 20 until a real opportunity to dry out at Llanidloes which at this rate was another 2 and half days and the forecast showed no let up in the rain. As I turned to Hazel to talk about giving up, I slipped, bent my knee the wrong the way and burst into tears. Our hike was over.
We had made an escape plan which was put in motion by a text message but it was with heavy hearts we left the trail to the safety of a roadside resting spot and sat in the rain waiting for our lift. I was really down and wished we could have carried on. I know deep down we made the right decision, hiking is supposed to be a fun thing for us to do as a family, we embrace the challenges and suffer the hardships together as a family and while this trip had been a bit of a slog from the start, it had ultimately turned dangerous and while we will always look for adventures that challenge us we will never cross that line. The trail will be there for next time.
Back in February my brother got married (Congratulations Jacko!) so we headed back to the shire for what was a lovely family occasion. We did however manage to steal away for a few hours in the hills.
We popped over the border into Wales and headed up to Rhayader Dams, or the Elan Valley if you prefer. It’s lovely up there and I had spent quite a bit of time exploring that area when I was still living in Leominster (I left about 14 years ago) and have found memories, especially the trips I took with my Grandparents when they came to visit.
Anyway, we parked up at the visitor centre, crossed the stream under the dam, got soaked from the spray as the water was gushing over the top of the dam, and headed to a few crags to investigate the potential for a days climbing later in the summer.
I was very pleased to find some shiny new bolts on some of the routes and looking at the UKC website there’s a couple I should be able to manage to do. There’s also a couple of half decent anchor points so I set up a top rope for the kids to play on if it turns out I can’t lead any of them. Afterwards we headed out in the car to see the other dams and managed a little hike along the lake before heading back to the wedding preparations.
Alright, it wasn’t the most adventurous day we’ve had but any day in the hills count. Right? We’ve come away with a plan to go back and climb and, if time allows, there’s definitely a hike of a couple days possible if we start in the town and make a loop taking in all three dams, wild camping for the night, or we could make a route to Aberwystwyth over 4 or 5 days. The possibilities are numerable.
I was abruptly woken from slumber, at 6.30 am by my 3 kids jumping on me with nothing but excitement in their eyes. No it wasn’t Christmas but it was the morning of my 38th birthday, we were in the little blue tent and for me, the day couldn’t have started better. The following day was to be Isaac’s 6th birthday and when we asked him what he wanted to do for his special day I couldn’t have been prouder.
“I want to go mountain climbing for my birthday!”
So that was decided. We threw bits in the car, jumped on a ferry and headed for Snowdonia. Isaac had said he really wanted to go up Snowdon again but on a different trail so that was easy to plan for but for my special day I wanted to head back to Moel Siabod and spend a couple of hours scrambling up and down Daer Ddu. The weather forecast had other ideas though. Saturday promised to a lovely sunny day with light breezes but Sunday, Isaac’s Birthday looked like a wash out. So on my birthday, so as not to disappoint the little man, we headed back to the scene of our first mountain ascent a few years ago. Snowdon.
We headed out of our quiet camping spot in Beddgelert Forest and headed for the Rhyd-Ddu station and the trail of the same name. It was a great route up, plenty of boulders for the kids to play on, a giant hole in the ground and a precipitous drop as we headed up to the slightly exposed Bwlch main. It was fairly quiet for the last Saturday of the school holidays until we reached the summit.
A scene reminiscent of a festival greeted us. I don’t mean just busy, it was like a small town had established itself on the summit or someone was handing out free money from the summit cairn, frankly it was horrible. I knew it was going to be busy up there but the quiet approach had fooled me. There was some kind of organised race up the mountain from Llanberis and lots of people like ourselves just out for the day. I did experience a first though. I got sworn at for stopping to look out at the view so the person behind had to break stride. I know, how selfish of me!.
We didn’t bother to queue for the cairn and headed down via the PYG track which was a delight apart from an idiot leaving the trail to take a selfie and kicking a load rocks down onto us below. He didn’t come back our way, which is probably good because I would have shouted at him. Anyway, apart from that we had great fun coming down the track, the views are outstanding and there are plenty of rocky bits for the kids to play on, we spent our time chatting about our previous visit and what we might do in the rain tomorrow. We jumped on the bus at Pen y pass back to Beddgelert and went for drive to Caernarfon and a stroll around the old town before heading on for a Birthday Big Mac.
(Click on the photo which should take you to flickr for more photos of our Snowdon Traverse)
Previously posted separately from my phone in the little blue tent but now all parts together plus some thoughts on the trip as a whole.
After a quick visit to see the grandparents in the shire, we’ve crossed the border and are camping in the Brecon Beacons National Park.
We left around noon and headed for Brecon where the canal and a pair of Canadian Canoes waited for us. Now, I’ve not really paddled before apart from a little mess around at the beach but Hazel was pretty proficient in her youth so for once, she was our leader in this new adventure.
With Evan and I in one boat and Lil and Isa with their mum in the other we headed out along the water. It didn’t take long to get the hang of it but a brief lapse in concentration would often see the boat not quite facing the right way.
After picking blackberries from the bank and possibly scrumping a few early apples we finished the afternoon racing through the last few bridges back to the canal basin. Shoulders aching we headed for the play park and some doughnuts.
As I write (for the first time from the phone) we’re settling down in the famous old blue tent, at a lovely campsite in the national park. We’ve had noodles for tea and tomorrow we’re heading for Pen y fan and later on we’ll go looking for the bat cave. Apparently the Dark Knight was filmed nearby so I expect we’ll be chasing the Joker around the Brecon Beacons most of the evening.
Oh the rain! It was dry when we woke up, we had a porridge breakfast and headed into the mountains for Pen y Fan, Corn Du and Cribyn. However by the time we pulled into the car park at the bottom of the hill it was bloody awful. Now we’re not usually fair weather hikers but today we made an exception.
We headed off for the Four Falls Trail nearby, a nearly 6 mile loop which at times turned into some light scrambling (for us at least) and takes in, as suggested, four waterfalls. The weather improved for a moment as we hiked but then got steadily wetter and wetter but not as damp as we got when we managed to go behind the curtain of one of the falls, a first for the children and Hazel.
Later on we found another little hike to the waterfall which was in Batman Begins or the Dark Knight. Isaac was especially excited to find the entrance to the Bat Cave but he’s made me promise not to reveal the location incase the Joker reads Just up the trail.
Back at the campsite we’re the only ones left. I think everyone else has gone somewhere drier but we’re warm and cosy in our little blue tent.
It’s quiet up here. I’m sat on top of Pen Allt-mawr just above Cwmdu. It’s 8:45am and occasionally the sun is peaking through and lighting the valley below and its innumerable shades of green.
I’ve been selfish and come out on my own and left everyone else sleeping. Some of our family joined us yesterday and it’ll be great for the kids to play with their cousins later and for Hazel to spend time with her brother but sometimes I just need to climb a big hill.
I left camp and followed a footpath for a bit before jumping onto some sheep tracks. It was hard going but after an hour I’m here and very pleased with myself. A 700+m hill before breakfast can only be good for the soul. If I head back down now I might get some porridge, or I could just sit for 10 more minutes.
After getting back down to camp I found that there was no porridge. There was however, bacon and sausages so that was quickly devoured. As our companions were recovering from an epic charity hike in the Cotswolds the previous weekend we just went down to Crickhowell for a wander along the river and the canal. It was a nice gentle stroll which included a stop in the pub which was a real treat. We’re not really ones for pub stops, neither of us really drink and the kids aren’t fussed so I was slightly surprised to be called back after walking past the place without evening noticing its existence. The kids played nicely with their cousins and we managed about 6 miles of gentle riverside walking.
I feel we have unfinished business in the Beacons, we didn’t get up any sizeable hills together but hey, there’s always next time. We did go kayaking for the first time and the waterfalls were a real treat so we can’t complain. Considering the weather I think we made a really good fist of 3 days in the National Park.
“That was pretty rad what with that drop and the scrambling and the wind, pretty scary in parts, you know cos of the kids and that sheer drop and….. That was ****ing amazing!”
We had just got back to the camp and we were all tired and exhilarated and hungry and well, just buzzing really. It was another of our 9 or 10 hour days on the hill but this one just felt different.
We had broke camp at around 6 am and the kids were excited. We had planned the whole trip around today and Isaac had been constantly telling his teachers at preschool that he was going to climb Moel Siabod during the summer. So off we went, across the stream at the end of the campsite and then upwards and onwards.
The kids ran ahead of us once we had done the little bit of roadwork and were on the mountainside, stopping a the occasional stile or fork in the trail. We headed up through the old quarry towards Daer Ddu.
Daer Ddu was the reason for such an early start, although I’d done some reading and studied the map I wanted to get “eyes on” before committing to it. We hadn’t really done any scrambling before so we were looking for a nice introduction.
All I can say is WOW. For the most part it was easy going, there were one or two places where I felt a bit exposed and while the kids were happy to go anyway, I did backtrack and find an alternative route that just felt a bit, well, less droppy!
I think something clicked on Moel Siabod and we went from parents taking their children up a mountain to a real team. The kids could lead the way when appropriate and when someone had to take charge, they would follow instructions without any complaints. We made sure we stayed together, the bigger kids helped the smaller ones and we got to the top together.
Those were the words of the farmer and campsite owner the previous evening when we mentioned we were planning on walking the ridge on the opposite site of the valley but looking at the OS map and the hill itself there was clearly a route up and along which would offer some great views down onto Tall-y-llyn lake and across the valley to Cadar Idris. We had seen the view from the Cadar side of the valley the year before from the Minffordd Path and according to the map we go up Mynydd Cedris, along to Graig Goch topping out at 586m and down Mynydd Rugog at the top of the lake.
The going was really quite tough but we had such a great day, we were out for about 8 hours and didn’t see another soul, apart from the odd fighter plane which buzzed us while we had lunch. The sun shone all day and we felt like real explorers in an untamed wilderness and that is always a great feeling.
The guy in the car park looked at us like we were mad and to be fair to him there was a little bit of crazy that had brought us to this point. The clocks had changed over the previous weekend so wanting to make the most of the now limited daylight hours we had arrived at an empty Pen y pass car park at first light on a chill but sunny late October morning. Up the PYG and down the Miners, a well trod route offering enough interest without being too taxing. Probably four hours up and three down all being well. Just as I tightened my backpack straps and prepared to set off I was reminded of the “crazy” element of our little band of summit seekers.
“Dad, Mum said can you do my laces?”
Was it crazy to bring the kids along? Part of me was sure it was but we were ready with extra snacks, plenty of additional breaks factored in and naturally a preparedness to do some carrying. We were also, and this was important to us, happy to bail at any stage if it got too much for them, after all it was supposed to be fun, so a day IN the mountains was favorable to half an hour on top of one.
I checked my watch as we set off and it was 7.45 am. We chatted to countless people passing us as they charged by and again a couple of hours later on their way down while we were still stubbornly heading upwards. The kids were in great spirits and they pretty much ran and skipped up although our youngest, Isaac who had just turned 4 in September was determined to find the hardest route to the top. If the track went around a rock he had to scramble over it. Evan (8) plodded on in his own little world with a quiet determination and Lil (6) chatted all the way. With plenty of stops we reached the rather busy summit by just after 2 pm.
We headed back down after another snack break, and had a little paddle in the lake alongside the Miners Track. No one complained about sore feet or legs but I’m surprised the children’s hands weren’t sore from all the high fives and fist bumps they received from fellow hikers. Even when the rain set in about 4.30 there were no complaints. We got back to the car park about 5.45 pm, a full ten hours on the hill, in the dark and with only our car left parked up. Within 5 minutes, two out of three were asleep in the back while we made our way back to our lodge.
I think back on that day now, more than a year and several other hill days and summits later, to the guy who thought we were mad to take three young kids up Snowdon and to how proud I was with their efforts, I mean WE DID IT, no one cried, no one complained, no one carried anyone else and EVERYONE wanted to do it again the next day.