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Climbing my highest mountain to date (Foel Grach) with @FlintyRich

“I don’t mind, just don’t kill me!”.  That was my response to Rich (@FlintyRich) when asked what I wanted to do for a planned weekend together in Snowdonia. It seemed important – Rich, who is a self confessed addict of bagging peaks on Social Hiking (411 to date this year), spends most weekends up in the mountains, whereas I am lucky to see a mountain more than a handful of times a year (let alone climb one) and recently work commitments and my health had combined to restrict my outdoors time (and therefore my fitness). “How about Northern Carneddau? It’s quite gentle” he suggested….

So early the Saturday morning, Rich arrived at Social Hiking HQ (my house) to pick me up. The original aim of the trip was to record the next episode of the Social Hiking podcast, but, with a forecast of showers (with sunny intervals) and wind, we decided instead to just enjoy a weekend out in Snowdonia. The planned route was to park at the free car park at Abergwyngregyn, head up Foel-ganol, follow the line of peaks to Foel-fras, then find somewhere to camp around Garnedd Uchaf. As if on cue, the heavens opened on our arrival at Abergwyngregyn as we were preparing to leave, and we hastily donned waterproofs.

The route started gentle enough (or at least my energy levels where high) following a road as it climbed up through the trees, ending at a car park at the edge of Snowdonia National Park. The showers were indeed intermittent, but as we climbed up Foel-ganol we had some lovely views across to Anglesea. After Yr Orsedd, I began to start struggling – the route followed a track up to Drum, the wind started biting, the rain became more persistent, and I started to get leg fatique (a combination of poor fitness and MS fatique), but with a little coaxing from Rich (who discovered I moan ‘a bit’ when I am enjoying myself – it’s when I go quiet you have to worry!), we made it to the summit. Sheltering in the cairn we had some great views across into England (who had sunshine).

Suitably recovered, we began the ascent of Foel-fras – at 942m it is Wales’ 11th highest peak and one of the Welsh 3000s…. and getting up it nearly killed me! Ok so I exaggerate – it was maybe 2 out of 10 on the being killed scale, but I had to take it a step at a time up the seemingly infinite climb up the steep grass incline. The summit has a trig point surrounded by strewn boulders and was quite exposed, so we sheltered behind the nearby wall as the rain returned. I was wet, cold, fatiqued and exhausted, but happy and feeling on top of the world! We headed down (relatively, there was still a bit more up) to Garnedd Uchaf, before finding somewhere flat(ish) to pitch just off the summit.

Rich kindly headed out into the wind and rain to find some water for our Sawyer water filters (there was no running water nearby, but there was a rain water pool) and, after some hot food, we settled in for the night. From my tent door I could see the lights of Conwy and Liverpool in the distance! Despite the rain and constant wind I had a surprisingly good night’s sleep – my Vango Banshee 200 held up well (I felt quite smug when Rich told me he had to get up in the middle of the night to re-peg his posh backpacking tent!). The morning was cloudier, but with less threat of rain – after breakfast, we packed up, refilled our Sawyer filters and headed up Foel Grach (seeing the first people since we entered Snowdonia ahead of us! ).

Foel Grach, at 977m, is Wales’ 8th highest peak – and now officially the highest mountain I have climbed!! The planned route involved a trip to Carnedd Llewelyn and back – although I felt ok I did not want to push it, so I decided to leave Rich to it whilst I enjoyed a second breakfast in the mountain refuge just below the summit. I was disappointed to discover the group ahead of us had left discarded cigarette butts and dog mess outside the refuge :(.  Rich returned an hour later with the rain, and we were joined in the refuge by two other hikers sheltering from the downpour.

After some enjoyable hiker banter, we parted ways and headed back around to Yr-aryg.  Bera Mawr and Bera Bach, are both rocky pinnacles that need a bit of clambering to get to the top. Bera Bach especially looked amazing, like a natural castle, as we approached. The rain stayed away, but the cloud dropped, so views were intermittent.

One of the benefits of walking with someone else (especially someone more experienced than you) is the sharing of knowledge – amongst other things I discovered how good squeezy cheese on oak cakes is as a lunchtime snack sitting on a rock looking out over the landscape below you! The final peak of the weekend was Drosgl – the planned route also included nearby Gyrn and Moel Wnion but as it was getting late (and quite frankly I was knackered) we decided to drop down the valley and back to the car. As we joined the North Wales Path (after attempting to find a non insistent parallel footpath), we were treated to lovely views back to Aber Falls with Bera Mawr towering above it.

Before heading home, we stopped for a quick ‘end of walk’ drink at The Aber Falls – actually a motel rather than a pub, but still serving bottled beer! I was exhausted and stiff (but still cheerful) – perhaps 3 out of 10 on the being killed scale!? The next day however the fatique and soreness kicked in, and for weeks afterwards any flight of steps felt like Foel-fras all over again! Would I do it again? Damn right I would. Walking with Rich pushed me beyond my usual personal boundaries and you just cannot beat that feeling of standing on top of a peak, feeling the wind and rain against your skin, surveying the world below you – Rich did not kill me, he help me feel alive! My MS is a limiting factor, but not nearly as much as I let it become in my head, and sometimes I need a bit of a push to be reminded of that and what I can still achieve.

A massive thank you to Rich for putting up with me over the weekend – he has foolishly agreed to join me for a countryside pub crawl (less peaks, more beer) in Northamptonshire soon, and this time we will record the next Social Hiking podcast!

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