Seven Peaks

A long, beautiful, sobering walk yesterday. A stupid walk. I’d tried to plan for it but my anxiety made me flipflop at lightning speed a thousand times about doing it. In the end the only way I walked at all was by taking the dogs out and then getting K. to bring me my rucksack once I was already out. Because of that I was walking up to the Roman road, instead of up the Dulyn valley as I’d meant to, so I ended up going up Drum, Foel Fras, Carnedd Gwenllïan and Foel Grach before heading up Carnedd Llewelyn as I’d meant to. Then on to Carnedd Dafydd and Pen yr Ole Wen. So, seven peaks instead of the three I’d meant to do.

Going up Drum I didn’t think I’d got enough fitness back after being ill. I had to keep stopping and sitting to get my energy back. I missed out the secondary peak of Drum and just made for the top. There were people there, in the cairn, so I sat on the outside and ate a little lunch.

On the way up Drum

Then I pushed on up Foel Fras, which is the most dragging, punishing slope; just a constant slog up and up and up over the smooth, rounded side of the hill. At the top it turns into a moon landscape – maybe more a Mars landscape – of chaotic, tumbled stones. There were people there too, some British, some American, one man in a Royal Mail baseball cap. I had a bit more lunch and carried on, down to the little stony crown at the top of Carnedd Gwenllïan, then up to Foel Grach. Somehow I’d forgotten about Foel Grach. It’s not the same slog as Foel Fras, but just enough.

The slog of Foel Fras

Then up Carnedd Llewelyn, second highest mountain in Wales, another minor slog over mountain grass and through more tumbled stone, onto another Mars-scape, a big flat top with views of everywhere; the mountains spreading away south, rain coming down in little veils over the Llŷn, the curve of Yr Elen. Gorse fires, the scar of industrial quarrying to the west, towns and villages sparkling in the sun. A mountain rescue helicopter was buzzing around.

The helicopter below

So then I carried on along new ground, down and along the ridge to Carnedd Dafydd. There was a river in the valley that looked like a dropped ribbon of silver. On the other side, Ffynnon Llugwy, a bottomless blot like black ink. Up to the shelter on Carnedd Dafydd, again with people in it. Getting tired now. I was scared of descending Pen yr Ole Wen, but the only other option would be to backtrack up Carnedd Llewelyn and down the Melynllyn track. Maybe that would have been sensible.

Pen yr Ole Wen is a flat, featureless top with no real summit. I knew there were two options down, one with shale and one with scrambling. I wasn’t confident in my ability to scramble, at the end of a long walk, so I took the other.

On the edge of Pen yr Ole Wen

It was awful. What felt like a sheer slope, picking my way down a trodden path between loose rocks and heather. My thighs and knees giving out, using walking poles all the way. All I could see was how high and precipitous it was, how far the lake was below. It seemed a long, long way to fall. I wasn’t on the path on the map but it seemed to be the only path, so it was all I had to trust. I was afraid of leaving it to track sideways and finding myself in a position I couldn’t get out of. So I kept on downwards, grateful for every foot lower. I did a lot of it sitting, sliding very carefully. Then the path disappeared.

I could see the awful loose rock dying out not far below. I needed to get down to that. But what if the smooth areas ended in cliffs? I felt sick with exhaustion. My legs barely worked. I ate half a granola bar but I felt too sick to eat the rest. I was trying very consciously to make good decisions but I didn’t know if I could trust myself.

There was a lot of bottom sliding over heather and bilberries. A lot of wobbling and easing myself down over stone. I deliberately didn’t look at my watch because I knew that K. was waiting at the bottom and I didn’t want to feel hurried. I knew I had to take it as slowly as I could.

Still a long way down

I got out onto a spongy flatness. I was grateful for it – but what if there were cliffs at the other side? A sheep felt like a friendly presence. There weren’t cliffs, just another section of heather and shale, which I slid down, hardly able to stand.

The lake was suddenly very close. I saw K. pacing on the road. The land was flat and it was easier to walk. My legs didn’t work for going down but they seemed to work for the flat. I’d had visions of having to crawl to the car. So I walked, leaning on the poles, until I found K., white faced, filled with worry. A final struggle along a rocky path, a moment of anxiety crossing the road, where cars and bikes rush along at 60mph, and I was in the car. Sick. Broken. Full of guilt and self loathing for all the worry I’d caused. But I hadn’t had to call out Mountain Rescue and I had got myself down.

On safe ground

I never want to climb that mountain again, up or down. But at least I’ve done it.

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Ice

Grass is frozen under a pane of ice, still looking as if it’s caught in the flow of water.

We walked out from the house up around the end of Tal y Fan on the edge of the Carneddau, on a frozen day. Ice stood in sheets on the fields, built up layer by layer like a shell over the softer ground. It was a delicate, beautiful day.

Carneddau ponies grazed on thin grass, coats the blazing colour of winter bracken under strong sun. Their hair is thick and soft this time of year, their sides swollen with growing foals inside, while last year’s foals tag along, old enough, but still too young to stray far from their mothers’ sides.

A widening pool in a mountain stream has grown milky as the ice forms.

By the time we were at 500 metres the air was cold enough to make our skin scream. Time for balaclavas and steamed up spectacles. We passed the prehistoric hill fort of Caer Bach, and ancient cairns. We crossed the end of Tal y Fan where it starts to slump down and break up into little hills, harsh upthrusts of rock with their own names. We cut left of the mediaeval Llangelynin Old Church and passed other signs of humanity instead. Stone peat stores falling into ruin, the old abandoned quarry, roofless huts with their walls half gone. The standing stone of Maen Penddu, thrust up near the crossing of hikers’ paths. Someone has scrawled a crucifix on its side, but the stone is far older than Christianity and will probably outlast its churches. This place is a jumble of marks made by humans on a landscape which is indifferent to the tiny blink of our existence.

Days of freezing has left contour lines in the ice around an unfrozen central core.

More Carneddau ponies, a whole herd this time, curious and wary and apparently unconscious of the cold. Streams of water turned to ice. The paths frozen underfoot. We walked along the side of Cefn Maen Amor to the little ruin of Tyddyn Grasod, a crog loft cottage which used to house farmers, quarrymen, setts makers, and paupers. The wind was too strong and the air too cold to stop for lunch, but people still live here, up on the fringes where farmland becomes mountain.

We tracked along the back of Tal y Fan, seeing the delicate hoof prints of the unshod ponies in the frost, and the great marks of domesticated horses alongside. This is a favourite place for riding. We picked our way along the sides of a path slick with ice, and finally stopped to eat at about 550 metres, huddled in the shelter of a rock.

A central line of unfrozen water has contour lines of ice along its sides, where the stream has flowed across the path.

My phone warned me that it was too cold to charge properly. My body was too cold to work properly, and I wanted to be home, with the fire and hot tea. We struggled through a little bog, suddenly off the path, stepping lightly on weather flattened, frosted rushes before suddenly breaking through to peaty water. We reached the pass at the west end of Tal y Fan and stood, looking over to Ynys Môn in the north west, and Dyffryn Conwy in the south east, on the spine between our land and elsewhere. Then we turned for home.

Bubbles of air move under a clear pane of ice, with rushes and snow either side.