My first hiking challenge (and Bear’s!). A note here to mention that our South Wales Three Peaks challenge took place over the course of a few months, rather than the twenty four hours the real trial requires.
Bear, my Alaskan Malamute, loves jumping in the car boot on a Saturday morning after backpacks have been filled and layers have been carefully considered. Having a dog in my life has definitely made me more adventurous in taking on hikes and mountain climbs, especially when I consider the fact that I didn’t even own a waterproof coat or appropriate hiking footwear before we adopted him (I wrote about how important that change has been to me in On Dogs and Mosses). My boyfriend, Adam, had already discovered his love of ascending peaks with a group of walking friends and weekend trips to Scafell Pike, Ben Nevis, Kinder Scout, and lots more, and that made him excited to have a canine hiking partner. Looking at my dog, who was overweight and unable to climb stairs when he came into our lives, I knew it would be good for us to take on a little challenge together. And if he could climb to the top, then so could I.
Our first trip was to Sugar Loaf Mountain (1955ft), near Abergavenny, nearly a year ago. “It’s easy,” said Adam. “We’ll be able to do it really quickly.” Hm. Adam has never really blinked an eye at steepness or ten mile walks, and frequently overestimates my sporting ability. I found the repetition of this ascent quite challenging, even though I have lived in Bristol for a few years and have become accustomed to the city’s incredibly steep residential streets. I do have strong legs to carry me, but when this ascent became more of a climb rather than a hilly walk, I realized I was not accustomed to that particular kind of movement. But that hardship meant reaching the top felt like an achievement. I like to think Bear felt the same way as he sat on the mountaintop and surveyed the surrounding area, an aggressive wind ruffling his fluffy mane. He definitely enjoyed sheep-spotting on the way down.
Our most recent venture, a New Year’s Day trip up Blorenge (1841ft), was my least favourite of the three. Boggy terrain underfoot, no cover from the January wind, and an overexcited dog pulling Adam far ahead of me made for an unhappy journey upwards. The winds were so bad we found our own way back down rather than following a ridge or path, hoping for more cover from the bracken. We encountered strange craters in the mountainside before our bog-soaked boots found road again and the late afternoon sun emerged over nearby hills. The last ten minutes back to the car were much more enjoyable thanks to that. Perhaps this is one to take on again when the weather doesn’t freeze us into an unhappy grumbling state.
That leaves Skirrid, or Ysgyryd Fawr (1594ft), the second peak we chose and undoubtedly my favourite of the three. This was the most varied terrain which attests to why I loved it so much. Beginning on dusty field paths before moving into mossy, sun-dappled, and autumnal woodland, then up an incredibly muddy and challenging hill and out of the trees again. A rocky mountain path led us up another twisting hill before we reached the ridge, which seemed to stretch far out ahead of us with views either side towards hills and over green fields. We stopped a few times along Skirrid’s blustery spine, chatting with other dog walkers whilst Bear followed their dogs around, watching and sniffing and not needing the rest he would have taken a few months prior. The views from the Skirrid peak are exceptional: as is the profile of the mountain which we would see from Blorenge a few months later. The peak juts out due to a landslip. Here, I enjoyed the descent’s unique challenges too. The muddy hill downwards required some careful foot placement so as to not fall down, though even with a four-legged friend pulling him downwards Adam managed not to slip or hesitate. I lack that kind of confidence when it comes to descending slippy terrain, owing to some kind of mild vertigo and a tendency to overthink every step (which also contributes to my baffling inability to use a stile properly). But, with the aid of a helpful and stable tree, I got down in the end and re-entered the woods. I’d be excited to return to Skirrid in sunny weather and revisit those views, which completely encircle you when walking along that stony ridge.
Next, I’m keen to challenge myself a little bit more by climbing some of the wonderful hills in Snowdonia National Park. We recently watched Iolo’s Snowdonia, a series on the park throughout the seasons which highlighted the landscape’s amazing variations over the year and the incredible biodiversity of the area. Gone are the days when outerwear or hikes in the pouring rain are unfamiliar to me, but it would be nice to visit in the summer when the freezing winds and boggy ground of Blorenge in January are a little less likely to accompany our climb.
Bear has masses more energy now when he jumps out of the car boot on a Saturday. He adores climbing hills. His Malamute pulling instinct means he is good motivation: all I have to do is keep up with Bear.