This January saw HSX hit the road again, kick starting the year in style, with a weekend of hillwalking in the Brecon Beacons. After the rain that has been lashing down hard on the hills over the last few weeks, there surely couldn’t have been any more left in the clouds… right?
Buoyed by our eternal optimism eight members of HSX convened at Ferny Crofts and headed for the hills! Our first challenge of the weekend was to locate the hut we would be staying in, situated on the outskirts of Caehopkin. Not normally a problem the navigational skills of Mr TomTom, however the dense Welsh hill fog resulted in us overshooting the hut first time round! Take two was much successful, however we were presented with our second issue of the evening… a padlocked gate!
As event director Chris had organised the hut for the Friday night and had been liaising with the local group about gaining access. Many e-mails had gone back a forth between Chris and the key holder and it had eventually been agreed to have the key left out for us in a safe location. However there was never any mention of a secure gate or a 4-digit combination lock! After trying to ring the scout leader several times (she didn’t pick up), as well as trying many different combinations (we didn’t have time or patience to try all 10,000), we eventually settled on hopping over the gate, carrying most the kit into the hut.
Key located, we were in! This left us just about time for a quick brew and weekend briefing, before dividing kit, packing bags and getting some shut eye.
Waking up early on Saturday morning we had a hearty breakfast of Bacon sandwiches, before putting the final preparations together for our wildcamp. Leaving the van round the corner from the scout hut we departed for the hills.
The day started off well with a gentle wind keeping everyone nice and cool, and we slowly made our way uphill through the woods, which slow going with heavy packs and muddy tracks underfoot. Getting traction was difficult in places, with several members deciding to ‘check gravity was still working’, getting themselves coated in mud in the process, much to the hilarity of everyone else.
The higher uphill we got and the worse the visibility got, and the group was soon enveloped in ‘pea soup’, not being able to see more then 100m in front of us in places. This turned out to be an excellent opportunity for some of the more experienced members to really teach the others about the importance of micro-navigation. We used several different strategies over the next couple of hours, picking our way across the open hillside, hand-railing boundaries and watercourses, as well as navigating to distinctive features, counting our paces and timings.
We soon found the footpath we were aiming for, a motorway in comparison to what we’d just been walking along, and made good progress. At this point to weather took a slight turn for the worse and we were soon forced to stop and Gore-Tex up. The winds picked up, and what started off as a light drizzle, soon developed into a full on hail storm, with ice being whipped horizontally across our path.
As quickly as the weather closed in, it was gone again, leaving the group with a blustery, but bright, walk down to our wildcamp spot at Llyn Y Fan Fach. Upon our arrival we sorted the tents out, pitching them into the wind for extra stability, before diving into the survival shelter to prepare our gourmet diner of soup, couscous and chorizo.
After dark we headed out for an hour of night navigation practice, before popping back into the hut for a quick hot chocolate and Kit Kat, followed by bed.
During the course of the night the winds decided to strengthen significantly, which combined with a change direction, caused havoc with the tents. For much of the night the winds battered the tents, with the fabric of the tent enveloping the unlucky individual who was sleeping on the windward side, and was only a couple of inches above the person in the middle of the tent! As a result every time you’d drift off to sleep you’d get rudely woken by the tent, or a pole, to the face! Around 3am the porch poles decided that they’d had enough of holding the porch in place, and two of the three tents poles broke, resulting in the front of the tents flapping around for the rest of the night, even after being pegged out and weighted down.
Eventually 7am rolled round and we quickly developed a method of taking the tents down in +50mph gusts. This involved two people venturing outside, while a third person, plus kit, stayed in the tent to act as a weight. The brave souls outside would take the outer of the tent off, running it into the hut, before coming back to take the poles and pegs off the inners, at which point the person being used as ballast would dive out. They would then run the inners into the hut to start sorting kit out.
Tents down, kit sorted, the group warmed up with a hot chocolate, porridge and brioche and soon got ready to set off for home. Given the strengths of the winds, it was decided that the best course of action would be to use the pre-planned escape route, dropping height by heading down the main track from the reservoir to the Red Lion Youth Hostel, Llandeusant.
Upon arriving at the hostel we met with a group of walkers who were heading off for a walk to see the waterfalls along the Nant Llech at Coelbren, approximately 3km from the hut where we left the van. Fortune was in our favour and the guys had one seat left in their car, a luxury Jaguar XF, so Chris was chauffeur driven in style on the 30 minute journey back to the bus. Collecting the bus, Chris headed back to get the others, who had been killing time playing board games in the hostel.
We had a quick stop off at the hut we stayed in on Friday, to get into dry clothes and sort group kit out, before hitting the trail back to Hampshire.
We all had a great, if not slight wet, weekend, which certainly blew the cobwebs away!