Sunday 23 February 2014

Weekend Report : Brecon Beacons Social Ultra #2

This weekend was the 2nd Social Ultra since it's inception; this time the location was the Brecon Beacons with 3 runs planned over the weekend.  

Friday evening saw 4 members (Anna, Jenn, Rich and myself) of the group head off for a 6 mile canal run.  Paul and Andrew missed the run due to traffic issues, I'd forgotten it was a home international weekend which caused some tailbacks at the bridge.   The run turned out to be a lot wetter than anticipated and with the odd tree to clamber over we amassed a huge 400ft of climb (although I'm not sure how).

After a refreshing pint in the local pub, I said my goodbyes to the group and after dropping Rich off at the campsite, I went home for some dinner (and to watch the rugby), oh and prep my kit for Saturdays long outing.

I'd planned a circular route taking in the major peaks on a few well trodden footpaths, along with some less well used ones.  That meant sorting out the logistics of where people would be and at what time was going to be tough.  I decided with Nikki we'd have a brief stop about mile 7, where we could easily get a car to and top up peoples water, before heading off on to the hills proper.  The 2nd (and final) aid station would be a car parked at Storey Arms, around mile 14....the only downside was I had the keys to this car and so would have to be there first.

On Saturday morning we grabbed our final bits of kits, dropped off the car at Storey Arms and then headed over to Talybont-on-Usk to meet the rest of the group around 0930.  We found Rich, Anna & Jenn finishing up a hearty breakfast in the White Hart, then the others arrived and decided we better get started whilst the weather looked favourable.  We quickly discussed the route and made sure everybody knew the rules & regulations of these social outings (more on this later) before we started up the hill.

We arrived quite quickly at the 1st aid station and Nikki was there waiting for us with a big smile and 3 black labradors who gazed out of the boot at everybody probably wondering what mad event was taking place this time!  With bottles topped up and everybody itching to get in to some proper climbing, we continued our trek heading off the Taff Trail and up the Roman Road, before turning downwards and across the front of [Lower] Neuadd Reservoir.  The route goes up, up, up and on to the ridge line that's a little exposed to the winds, which were certainly starting to pick up.  

I jogged along this ridge with Paul and we chatted as we passed large numbers of people. Obviously the sun was out and everybody has decided to hit the trails and they turned what is normally quite a quiet place into an Oxford Street pavement on Christmas Eve (well that's what it felt like to me).  After running the ridge line we turned down the well paved "motorway" back to the car park south of Storey Arms where we met up with the two other locals running, Andi and Sean, who were tucking into warm drinks after showing everybody else how you are supposed to run over the hills.

The home cooked muffins were passed around and then Andi & Sean headed off up the hill again, followed by Zoe and Paul, while I sat in the car awaiting the arrival of Dave, Heather, Jenn, Rich and Andrew.  Hindsight being a wonderful thing, I will ensure I change my sweat soaked clothes if I do this the time the others had arrived I was a little cold and needed to get going again.

To everybody's dismay, Jenn decided to call it a day as the weather was turning (for the worse) and we had 11 miles over the highest peaks to complete still.  It was a good decision as Rich and I took off to try and get back in time for the rugby, to be beaten, stung and generally whipped into shape by some particularly high winds and hailstones as we climbed to Corn Du.  Visibility wasn't terrible but it certainly wasn't the clear day we'd set off in, so we slowed our pace a little until we'd descended Jacob's Ladder and were in the [tolerable] shelter of Cribyn.  

We ascended Fan y Big, took our tourist photo standing out on the rock edge, which was slightly dodgy with the high winds but luckily enough my big breakfast held me steadfast to the granite.  With the England match kickoff looking less and less likely we set a new target of half time back at base and continued to push as we headed around the ridge line, across the bog to Carn Pica and the first sight of the finish line.  With renewed vigour (oh and some sugar) we pushed onwards down the hill, with only one small sliding event where I slid down a grassy section on one knee, it was quite a sight I'm told.  

Across the reservoir we met up with Zoe and we continued the final mile back to the start point, with the distance clocking just over 25 miles and 2000 metres of ascent in a time (by my watch) of 5 hours 29 minutes (excluding my waiting time at the aid station of course). Time to get in the warm, get some food, beer oh and watch the rugby, arriving 5-10 minutes before half time; result!

As the rugby came to a close (well done England!) I started to worry a little about the 4 people still out on the hill.  Darkness was still a little way off but I knew that with the bad weather it would not be easy work getting down, especially without head torches and knowing the route inside out.  I headed up the hill in search of people and shortly bumped into Dave, Heather and Anna, they'd taken the sensible option on reaching the summits to head off the peaks and return to lower ground.  The visibility was dropping and the cold, wind and rain would have taken it out of them if they'd stayed up high, so they returned to Talybont via the Taff Trail, sneaking in a few extra miles making their outing about 28 miles.

With just Andrew left on the hill, I was initially less concerned as I knew he had a map, compass and GPS navigation of the entire route on this watch.  As time ticked away I got more concerned which only increased with darkness and so we called and text his mobile, ensuring we left the current time and asking him to report in if possible.  We also checked his B&B to make sure he hadn't got back and fallen asleep in his room, which would have been embarrassing to explain had we had to call out mountain rescue.  

It was not long after this I saw the flash of a head torch up the hill and so I set off up the trail in the hope it would be him....and it was.  I'm sure my relief was obvious to Andrew as I wasn't looking forward to making a call to get people to help us search for him.  Of course Andrew was fine, he'd been taking his time walking it back in and my worry now seemed a little over the top, although I think it's natural to be concerned.  

It does raise some questions about mandatory kit people need to take when hitting the hills, even more so in areas that are new to them.  My kit list isn't complete but I think cover most things and I'd highly recommend people consider GPS and/or Spot Trackers (especially if they aren't the most confident navigator).  I'd like to point out Andrew had with him all of the items I'd consider mandatory for this type of event, he knew what he was doing and was more than capable of getting back to base and my worry was unfounded (luckily).

Saturday was topped off as we all enjoyed a nice meal (although service was unusually slow) and a few pints in the Star Inn.  In hindsight we perhaps should have organised food a little earlier as I think some of the group were ready to eat the flower table decorations, although luckily this was narrowly avoided with some large plates of well cooked food.

Sunday's run was planned as a short recovery run, which I'd intended would include a summit of one of the Western peaks but the gale force winds and rain forecast put pay to that. So we decided to stay a little lower and run around some of the forestry tracks, keeping exposure to a minimum.  This route was little off the cuff and so the actual distance ended up being slightly more than expected but was really enjoyable and everybody shook out the strains and stresses of the long run.

I hope everybody enjoyed themselves as much as Nikki and I did, it's nice when a group of strangers can together and get along so well.  The plan for this event was to have some company of the trails and to show people the beauty of Brecon Beacons; both of these goals were achieved in my eyes and only made better with gaining new friendships. Thank you everybody!