The recent spate of good* winter weather (good* meaning some decent snow falls) had me salivating at the prospect of getting out and doing some serious walking. Squeaky brakes and a dodgy battery meant that I had to take the car to the garage for a quick bit of TLC. Whilst waiting for the car, I planned in a walk from the garage at Abergavenny up to Sugar Loaf and back. The snow appeared confined to 400m+ so I decided to plan in a longish walk taking in a riverside walk along the Usk before tackling the main objective
As I walked along the river, it was cold but not unpleasant with wisps of mist hanging off the sides of the valley. My immediate destination was Glangrwyney before cutting through to Llangenny and then up the western approach to Sugar Loaf. Its not a walk I often do but it was a welcome change and a chance to stretch my legs before attempting any steep climbs.
Passing through the very pretty hamlet of Llangenny, I started the long snaking climb towards Sugar Loaf mountain. The countryside around this area is wonderful indeed. Deep river valleys with towering ridge lines and mountains in all directions. The very start of the Black Mountains…..
As I climbed up the western approaches, pastoral fields started to give way to upland remoteness and the first signs of snow. Seeing the sheep reminded me that farming in upland areas is not an easy job.
Finally breaching the last drystone wall boundary and onto the open moorland covering the flanks of Sugar Loaf, the temperature dropped and the snow deepened. I glanced back towards the valley and the gathering gloom on the opposite ridgeline across the River Usk. The air was crisp and the contrast of snow and dark clouds giving the scene a feel of real winter.
A quick scan to the east towards the plateau of the Sugar Loaf ridge, showed that mist was clinging to the top most reaches. At this stage it didnt appear too daunting, visibility was reasonable and there was little wind or falling snow. I was looking forward to reaching the summit and possibly having a good view all around but I was to be mistaken…
That didnt last however, and I soon found myself in very wintery conditions indeed. In fact I was still 100metres below the summit of Sugar loaf when I experienced a white out. The wind was swirling and blowing hard, snow was falling and visibility was down to 10metres. I literally had to resort to map and compass to keep me on track for the summit. As the ground rose up for the final ascent, I found myself reaching for my ice axe to help me scramble up over the boulders that make up the western edge of Sugar Loaf. It was just a little hairy at times……
After spending a quick 10minutes by the summits trig point, I decided to push on. It was just too inhospitable to hang around for longer. Other walkers appeared suddenly out of the swirling whiteness. I had the sudden sensation of being in one of those films set in the Arctic. A few muffled words of hello, the stamping of feet and then they were gone again.
Coming off the wintery Sugar Loaf I followed the track thats runs southeast from the summit. This track takes in a pleasant mini ridgewalk and as I descended, the snow lessened and the visibility improved. It felt good to emerge from the harsh but transient conditions of the summit and back to a more normal winter setting.
A short sharp descent from the ridge took me through country lanes on the outskirts of Abergavenny. I recounted my steps along the riverbank and back to the garage to pick up my car. All in all it was a full winters day walking with some full on winter conditions on the summit. I must admit to not having experienced many whiteouts but it was good practice for my navigational skills.
Time to go home and plan the next walk with winter conditions hopefully still around. Oh, and the car didnt cost a fortune either….