Like the rest of Southern Britain I got pretty excited about the prospect of snow last weekend. Even better than snow being forecast sun was too. It was more encouragement than I needed to book a last minute bunk at YHA Brecon Beacons and head off into the mountains.
I hurriedly packed what I remembered from last year as my winter kit and set of straight from work on Friday. Driving up into the hills snow slowed traffic on the roads but I didn’t care I knew snow at night meant even better chances of waking up in a winter wonderland the following day.
Overnight I was kept awake by the pounding of rain on the skylight – probably the first sign that the weather wasn’t quite following the forecast. Undeterred I set off on a wet morning to the area known simply as The Black Mountain. It was an area of the Brecons I hadn’t visited before and was keen to explore. I’d set my sights on Fan Foel the highest peak in the area at 802m. Still waiting for the emergence of anything approaching dry, sunny weather I decided I could wait in the car no longer and set off. It was raining heavily and the early route was incredibly muddy. There were a couple of tantalizing sun beams intermittently but as the route went on and I climbed higher the rain, then snow became more persistent, the wind picked up and my waterproofs became less and less effective.
The route I had chosen climbed steadily to a lake at around 650m with a final push up onto the ridge for the summit. I persisted to the lake but was getting colder, the conditions were getting worse rather than better, I was on my own and there was some pretty remote, steep, snowy ground to the ridge. I made the decision to turn back. I was disappointing but had learnt some really valuable lessons which I share with you now:
- Read the forecast but plan for what you know the default mountain weather is in the UK – wet, cold and windy!
- Check your kit list carefully – I had forgotten compass, dry bags and flask – all essential for a winter day
- Winter conditions mean winter kit (ice axe and crampons) even in areas you wouldn’t necessarily associated with winter routes
- Constantly assess the route and don’t be afraid to modify it or retrace your steps
- So important I’m going to put it again – don’t forget your compass! The paths aren’t there so in poor conditions a bit of compass work is essential to get your home.
Lessons learnt and waterproofs re-waterproofed I’m looking forwards to another crack at winter walking in Scotland in February (fingers crossed the snow returns!)
I leave you with this video. Never trust the forecast!