so I made my plans, did my kit list, arranged a meeting point with the 4 other guys going and then merrily set off on Friday….destination? The Western Brecon Beacons. Well, let me just say that we were warned to a certain degree. About the weather that is…… Um, well, it rained, it blew mightily and it was misty. Classic beacons really and I should have known better…..
It all started off well enough. A group of likeminded thrill seekers arranging to meet at a wildcamp destination at the western end of the brecon beacons. We plotted, we schemed, we may have even let out the odd silent “woo hoo” in the build up to the day. As the day approached we cast an eye on the weather that we were going to have. We checked the BBC, Metcheck and the Beacons NP weather service. OK, so apparently we could expect lots of rain and a little bit of wind OR not so much rain and a lot of wind OR a bit of rain, a bit of wind and a bit of mist. In the end we had all three in full measure. Anyway up until the Friday morning we were all prepared, travel plans in place and unseen, collective, virtual hi-5’s being performed. I packed a reasonable kit list for the meet. Gas or meths? (meths). Golite quilt or PHD Minimus? (quilt). Paramo Velez or Montane DT Atomic? (Montane). OMM 32classic or Golite Jam2? (Jam2). Snickers or Yorkie? (sod it…both). Ok, so tooled up, time to hit the road.
The drive to the Western end of the Brecon Beacons takes longer than you think if coming from the east. Thats why normally I just go to the Eastern Beacons…..its ‘cos I’m lazy. The drive was lovely as ever and on the way to Abergavenny, Blorenge and Sugar Loaf rise up ahead on either side, sentinels to the start of the BBNP. Driving on through Abergavenny on the road to Brecon I just HAD to stop at my favourite little gear shop, Crickhowell Adventure in …er…Crickhowell funnily enough. Crickhowell is a lovely little place often overlooked by those eager to get to Brecon and the central massif that includes Pen-y-Fan. It is also the starting point for one of the best walks in the Beacons and that is up to Table Mountain and beyond which I will cover another time. Anyway, the shop is tiny but it has absolutely loads stocked in it, a kind of gear Tardis if you like. I browsed, I mouched and I bought a few bits and bobs including a new peaked cap that not only fits my head (no mean feat) but is lightweight and waterproof. I have been looking for one for ages and ages and where do I find it? My favourite little gear shop, thats where. Driving on, I approach Brecon and the central peaks hove into view and very lovely they are too….if a little congested at times. I dont tarry long and make my way onwards to Trecastle and down a small single lane track/road so often encountered in national parks. Passing the folorn remnants of a Roman marching camp adjoining the track, I make my way to the point where I leave the car. OK, so far so good. I have had a great drive, stunning views, a bit of gear fondling and all the while being kept company by my favourite person in the world, Sarah Mclachlan (well her voice anyway). I park the car, pick up the rucksack (which is a reasonable 5kilos) and head off to my rendevous point.
The walk in consists of a twilight hike up to Llyn-y-Fan-Fach and then a hook around Fan Brecheiniog and on to the sister lake of Llyn-y-Fan-Fawr. It was getting dark and the wind was swirling but I never fail to be impressed by the sheer size and towering presence of Fan Brecheiniog. In fact in the gloom it appears larger and more melancholy than normal. A really atmospheric place, especially if you take into account that Fan-Fach, the slightly smaller of the twin lakes, is steeped in legend. It is said to be where the original Lady of the Lake of Welsh legend is to be found (well one version anyway). As I pick out my way in almost complete darkness, I spot a will o’ the wisp light in the distance by the far shore of fan-fawr. Either I am being haunted or one of my companions for the weekend has arrived before me and pitched up.
It is of course the latter….. We make introductions as we have never met. We inspect each others kit. Tents, clothing, cookware, the list is endless. We chat and discuss the finer points of what kit to get next, what we like and what we dont. The time passes well. However, the time passes and the other 3 companions have yet to make an appearance. It is starting to ge late. They said they would be here by 5, it is now nearly 9. The rain picks up a bit as does the wind, and the mist. The lake and mountain backdrop disappear from view. Do I hear a voice, see a light? Yes. Relief, satisfaction, slight irritation play across my mind. The missing three swirl into view, headtorches bobbing. We shake hands and I greet them with a friendly “Where the f**k have you been?”
Now the wind has picked up a bit more, rain is starting in squalls. We do a quick survey of ground to find 3 decent pitches for the newcomers. Its hard work, the ground is sodden and they are forced to go up a slight rise exposing them to a little more wind. Still, working together we manage to get the tents put up in reasonable time. Two of the tents are 5 season bullet proof types which look good and secure against the increasingly hostile conditions. I glance back to my tent. A frown creases my face. I picked the Laser Comp over the Soulo. I’ve saved 1Kg in weight but gone from a 5 season tent to a 3+ season tent. Still, if the worst happens, I know I can dive into one of the other tents. We enjoy a social drink or two in the largest of the tents and chat about gear, walking, mountains, the route tomorrow, the weather and who said what to whom on Outdoors Magic. Its now midnight, the wind is gusting 40mph, its time to turn in and so we each leave for our temporary homes. I rummage around in my rucksack and produce 4 extra dyneema guylines an some heavy duty Y-pegs. I know I am going to need them. I beef up the LC, so that I now have twin guylines coming from the sides and ends of the tent. I look at the tent critically, it’ll have to do I tell myself. There is nothing for it but to encase myself in down and sleep.
Wind….. (Blimey)….. Wind! Its 3am. The wind has picked up. The fly is periodically pushing in on my face. I look around, no loose lines, no missing pegs. The tent is steady but the fly is pushing in now and again. I feel like a pee but cant be bothered to get up. I drift off. Its now 3.30am and for the next 30minutes my nerves are tested. The wind is now screaming. I grope in the dark for my anenometer, find it and shove a hand outside the fly. The anemometer is nearly ripped from my hand. I pull it back in. 67mph. I look again. The numbers dont lie. 67mph. Oh shit, I’m going to die. The fly is repeatedly “bounced” into my face as I lie there. I decide there is nothing to do, the guylines are holding, the main pole is steady, its just the side of fly quite rightly decides that it has to bow to 67mph. I make the decision to stay put. I am warm. I am comfy. I can’t be arsed to get up, get dressed and go crawl into someone else’s tent at stupid oclock in the morning. I pull the hood of my bivvy bag over my face and do what all self respecting campers do in such circumstances. I went soundly to sleep.
The morning arrives for me just before 8am. My tent is intact. I have lost no pegs, no guylines, the pole is in place and the tent is upright and taut. Did I dream or at least overplay the conditions of the night in my mind? Nope. The looks of my fellow campers in the morning light confirm it had been a bad night. They all complain of a lack of sleep. One tent looks a bit sorry for itself but all are upright and all shellshocked occupants safe and sound. They ask how I got on. Apprently the sweepstake had my tent as favourite to be smeared all over the hillside in the morning. They are genuinely impressed it is still there and rock solid. A loss of a little bit of sleep is instantly compensated for by the koudos I gain for my tent and my exploits and also the bragging rights for months to come. I check my anenometer again to confirm the windspeed. 67mph. The numbers havent changed. I guess that the gusts would have exceeded 70mph and also the 5 season tents further upslope will have taken a bit more wind than my tent. Still, I feel happy and relieved. I had packed the extra lines and pegs. Well done me. Phew…
It had been a hell of a night….