Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Hiking Adventure

So, I survived the hike. It was fairly eventful, and a great two days.

Our walk kicked off at 0930 Monday morning, when Tom's dad dropped us of in a lay-by about 5km south of Hay-on-Wye. It was about -1oC, so we wrapped up well, faces covered from the wind, slung our packs on our backs and headed off. Within 15 minutes or so we had warmed up and the slops were getting steeper. We took it all at a good pace, but took time to mess about a bit, stop and look at the gorgeous views and play on the ice. We were like kids, challenging each other to walk over patches of ice without cracking them (this we only over mud patches, not bodies of water!) A few times the ice cracked, as is shown by the picture below, where Tom when through and ended up ankle deep in mud. He almost lost his boot, as the mud didn't seem to want to give his foot back!

 At about 1100 we reached the first ridge, so we stopped to get some photos. A breeze picked up, the route card slipped from my hand and sailed off over the edge. Luckily it wasn't too steep a drop and Tom managed to recover it. But it worked out well as we found a beautiful little rocky overhang where we took the opportunity to shelter from the wind, crack out the stove and have a cuppa (black with no sugar).
Tom brewing up.

We carried on to the next checkpoint on our route, a Trig point about 2 miles from our overnight stop. After some quick pictures we headed to a cairn a few hundred metres away for another brew, though my hexi-stock didn't seem to want to light as the wind keep putting it out. I think I need to invest in a windproof lighter.
Me at the Trig Point
 It was a fairly steep decent down to the Bothy at the north tip of Grwyne Fawr Reservoir, and it slope was a sea of grassy mounds that slowed the pace right down to avoided twisted ankles.  But the view was worth it, when we caught the first glimpse of the Reservoir.

Tom looking down to Grwyne Fawr Reservoir. (Note the grassy mounds)
We got to the Bothy at about 1400. It was a little smaller than I was expecting, only about 10' by 6'. There was a cast iron stove, three chairs and a table. In one corner was a ladder that went through a loft hatch sized hole to the 'bedroom', a bare wooden floor.

We dropped out packs off and headed across the steam to the slope the other side to gather some firewood. An hour or so later we have a big pile, which we had chopped up into useable lengths and set about lighting the fire. Now, my old scout group will tell you that fire lighting was a skill I naturally had. My first morning on scout camp (about 11 years ago) saw me use a whole box of matches and still have no fire. I have improved a lot since then, but we struggled with this stove. About an hour into our attempt we were getting fed up, most the kindling was gone and the flames just kept dying unless we were blowing on them. At that moment there was a knock on the door and in came a fellow hiker. Jay was about our age and was on a three day hike. He brought in a whole lot of wood, stuff some in the stove, opened a little drawer at the bottom and closed the stove door. Within minutes the was a nice blazing fire. He was a real God-send, and Tom and I now know how to use a stove.

So once the stove had warmed up we set about cooking. I had Rice and peas, Tom had beans, rice and ham. We sat around chatting, discussing our routes and the like. By 1900 it was pitch black, (we had a candle as the sole source of light, it was freezing and we were quite tired, as we headed up the ladder to bed. It was at this point that Tom realised that he had brought a summer sleeping bag! So he got little sleep, even in all his layers, sleeping bad and bivvy bag. I was quite warm in my 4 season sleeping bag.

Tom and I rose a 0730 Tuesday morning for a breakfast of porridge and mashed up chocolate Kendal Mint cake (as we had forgotten sugar), which was very tasty. The Sun rising over the ridge at the far end of the reservoir was stunning.

We started walking at 8.45, starting off along the extremely narrow sheep path along the side of the water, and then followed a footpath and road through a wooded area. We were setting a good pace and looking forward to our final assault up the steep north face of Sugarloaf. But at about 11.45, after about 6 miles, Tom pulled up to sort his feet out. (An important note, on Sunday evening Tom had realised he had donated his hiking boots to a guy when he was working in Fiji before Christmas, so had borrowed my dad's pair... mistake!) On removing his sock he found a blister running the length of his right foot. 

Running Repairs
After strapping it up we set off again, but within quarter of a mile we decided that we would stop short of Sugarloaf and get a lift home from Forest Coalpit. There was no mobile signal, but luckily we found a payphone that still worked. After a bit of fuss trying to work out how to use it (you had to ring a number to give debit card details) we got hold of Tom's parents who told us to wait there until his mum finished work at 4, and she would pick us up. We thought we would head to the Post Office half a mile away, hopefully buy a drink and wait somewhere warm. Well, what Forest Coalpit calls a Post Office was a lean-to against someone's house, which closed at 1300 on Tuesdays (we got there at 1345). So we headed back to the phone box to wait it out. After a few rounds of I-Spy and a helping of boil-in-a-bag chocolate pudding it was starting to get dark. We were expecting our lift to turn up at around 1715.

At 1730, the phone box rang, and it was Tom's Dad saying that that our lift was lost and had no idea where we were. So we decided that we would get a taxi to Crickhowell (a small town 5 miles away) to meet our lift there. So we went to a nearby house to ask for a taxi number. The extremely kind couple living there leant us their phone, and after three different companies said they didn't take calls that far out, offer to run us in themselves. This was the second time that someone had come to our rescue.

So we piled our stuff into their car and drove into Crickhowell. We were dropped of outside a pub, so went inside for a pint of cider and as we finished it our lift turned up and we headed back home.
As you can see it was a great adventure, and we have vowed to do it again. But Tom will make sure he has his own boots next time!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My Kit for a Two Day Hike.

Tomorrow, a friend and I are going for a two day hike in the Brecon Beacons. Yes, in January. Yes, it's going to be cold. But we have both been wanting to do something like this for a while, blow the cobwebs off out kit and get outdoors. So I have been collecting all my kit together, and thought I'd let you know what I'm taking. This isn't an exhaustive list, as Tom and I have shared a lot of the stuff between us, but I'll try and note down as much of that as possible. The picture below shows most of my stuff.

1.       Pitta Bread. This is for lunch on Day 2, along with some cheese. Simple and easy, but it'll keep us going.

2.       Boil-in-the-bag Chocolate Cake. Desert for our evening meal. Sugary, hot and tasty, a great way to end the day.

3.       Tent. although we are planning to stay in a Bothy (a basic mountain hut), it's better to be safe than sorry. This is my three-man hike tent.

4.       Hiking Pole. I usually don't use this, but sometimes if the going is tough it helps. It's also useful as a walking stick if you go over on your ankle, or as a depth gauge if you need to cross a stream.

5.       Mess tins. I have two mess tins, and inside is a pouch of rice, my hexi-stove and hexi-fuel, and a folding knife/fork/spoon set. There I will do all of my cooking. 

6.       Towel and wash kit. Because every good traveller knows where his towel is.

7.       Fire Kit. In the Altoids tin is a cheap lighter, a box of strike anywhere matches and a flint and steel. Triple-redundant fire system, because getting warm is essential to happiness, and survival (hopefully it won't come to that). In the pouch is a small bag of hay for tinder. In the blue mint tin are about 20 cotton balls covered in Vaseline. These catch a spark very easily, burn for 5 minutes and help get a fire going. This kit will be on my left hip for the hike.

8.       Kindling. Just so small sticks in a waterproof bag. This will make lighting a fire easier if it rains and wood is wet.

9.       Snacks . I have some cheap Mars Bars, Cereal Bars and Kendal Mint Cake. A lot of sugar for that all important burst of energy. I've also unwrapped them all; two reasons for this, if it is freezing and my fingers are numb I can still get to them easily, and it means less rubbish to carry out.

10.   Trowel. This folding trowel is for when... nature calls... or if Tom really annoys me and I need to bury the body (hopefully this won't happen.)

11.   Wallet. though there won't be any shops, I hate being without some cash. It also has my ID in. It'll be wrapped in a plastic bag to keep water out.

12.   Tissues. Cleanliness is next to Godliness. And they burn well.

13.   Survival Kara. This karabiner has a whistle, led light and 7 foot of paracord. This will be on my belt in case I ever need it. I'll expand this over time. The idea of the stuff I'll have on me (rather than in my bag) is that if, God forbid, I get separated from my bag, I'll have a few essentials to even the odds in the fight with nature and help get found. 

14.   Compass. A Given. Tom is bringing the 1:25000 OS Map. Never go on a long hike without these, even if you have a GPS device. It's just common sense. 

15.   Torch. And spare batteries.

16.   Mobile. With a full battery. I'm not really expecting to have much signal, but it if I do, I'll know that Mountain Rescue are only a phone call away. 

17.   Alcoholic Hand Wash.  Illness is bad. It Also can help in fire lighting.

18.   Bits and Bobs. In this box I have a few bits. A wire saw (for cutting wood), tealight, safety pins, cotton wool and a button compass. Again this stuff is to give some things should I need them.

19.   Bivvy bag. A large plastic bag to help keep warm if you get trapped outside. Also the bright orange is good for getting attention.

20.   Multi-tool. Like a Swiss-army knife, but with pliers. This will be on my right hip.

21.   Jelly. Again, just there for the sugar. 

22.   Water Bottle. The Bothy is very unlikely to be plumbed, so we are carrying all the water we'll need for drinking and cooking. We'll be carrying3 litres each. If necessary we can gather some fast running stream water to boil and purify. (Obviously, if you go in warmer weather, expect to need more water.)

23.   Buff. A tubular scarf type thing. Great for keeping the face and neck warm in the possibly sub-zero temperatures.

24.   Gloves. To keep my hands warm, I will also have me hat for my head.

So other than plenty of layers of clothes, and a nice study pair of boots, that is all my kit. Notable in its absence are the things that Tom is carrying, which include the Map and route cards, small butane stove, first aid kit and tea making kit. But between the two of us, we should have all the kit we need. It may seem a lot, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. Be Prepared for the worst. If you decide to go hiking, make sure you are well equipped. But all the kit is useless if you don't know how to use it. There are plenty of books about bush craft and survival skills, and then practice. You never know when the ability to start a fire with just some hay and a flint and steel could save your life. Be sensible.

So there we go, tomorrow we will head off into the cold. In a few days I'll blog about our adventures. Pray for good weather! And I'd better go and pack all this now.