Pen-Y-Fan, Wales

Trip Start Mar 10, 1980
1
Trip End Mar 15, 1984


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Where I stayed
Pen-Y-Fan summit
What I did
Rain, sheep, and even more rain, a few more sheep

Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Monday, March 12, 1984

This isnt a new blog, in fact this date's back to 1984, March

I was coming to the end of my time in the forces, and you could say this was my swan song

I had come back from op's, I wasnt fit as I should have been, a thing like this shouldnt be entered into lightly

This was to be a test, could I still do 'long drag' 60km in 20 hours, I hadnt done this for years, I didnt even think it was still done any more, no one pushes you, you are on your own (well if you dont count the shgeep)


We got to the Storey arms about 7am, and got our kit sorted, after a briefing we set off with 20 minutes intervals, we had out map reference on a scrap of paper, bergan on our backs and our boots on, it had started

I was 4th in line to set off, the walk was quite brisk, just to get the blood flowing and circulating and to combat the wind, it cut right through your clothes

In front of us, Pen-Y-Fan stretched upwards, there wasn't many other walkers out on this Saturday morning and certainly not using the way we were going, we couldn't use foot paths, it was blaze your own way, up

After an hour or so, I saw the next guy in front of me, about a k in front, either I was making good time or he had slowed down,

I couldn't see anyone behind me, checked my compass,
I was still on the right heading,
I stepped up a gear, after a half hour or so,
I caught him up, he had trouble with his bergen, the strap had come loose and he wouldn't stop to sort it (silly really, it had slowed him down, drastically,) so we stopped and sorted him out, it had just come unclipped, took about 30 seconds to fix, he said he felt pretty daft, seeing how easy it was to fix, we set off,
I didn't stick with him,
I had distance to make up, in the distance I saw another guy, on his own and next to a pup tent, as I approached,
I was given another scrap of paper, had my bergen weighed, a quick slurp of water, and set off, again, nothing was said

I had no idea how much I had covered, but I think or rather hoped I had covered 10-12 k, I had been going about 2 hours, now, I was warmed up, and feeling good, not blowing

I checked my map and new reference point, I was still heading up, but had to skirt around a bit, I was worried about the 'babies heads' (clumps of grass) and was hoping I would twist an ankle or trip over, there were dozens of sheep, looking at me, a few decided to tag along,

I came to a stream, it was flowing quite fast and looked cold,

I had a quick look around for somewhere to cross, there were a few rocks, but not exactly a crossing, I watched the sheep to see what they did, sure enough, they found a place shallow enough to cross, I used that, the last thing I wanted was soggy and water logged boots

I dug about and got out a chocolate bar and a bottle of water, checked compass and my heading, I had to go up again, there were a couple of wire fences I had to get over, no problem,
I headed up, the grass was slippery and my bergen made me bend over, it was hands and feet all the way up, there was only 25 kg in my bergen (lighter than some of the others, I had too many years on them)

I got to the rise, the wind nearly knocked me off, it was blowing a gale there and cut like a knife (no wonder the sheep stayed on the other side)

I was harder going down, what with the wind and slippery grass and the 'babies heads', but at least it wasn't raining,
I checked my watch, compass heading and map,
I had wandered off course and had to correct,
I had lost time climbing the rise now, but I couldn't see anyone behind me or in front,
I hoped they had a different route than me,
I had been on the go now for a little over 4 hours, the wind was blowing so hard now, I had tears in my eyes,
I put on my glasses, they helped, at least I could read my compass now

I looked back, I hadn't covered as much as I hoped, the climb was hard, but didn't really cover much ground along with the descent, must be about a k and a half

I hoped I was on course, the ground looked very green and wet,
I walked along the ridge for a while, in the distance I saw another check point (or what I hoped was a check point), lots of deep breathing, move up a gear,
I didn't want him to see I was blowing or finding it hard going, he was paired up in a land rover, that was good,
I knew the going had to be getting better or he would have never got it up there, he gave me another scrap of paper, asked my name and address, weighed my bergen again, and told me that there were 4 in front,
I had no idea where the 4th guy had come from, and they were about 20 minutes ahead,
I wouldn't see them, I was on a different heading, I had covered about 15k, not bad time, but it threw my estimate out of the window, 45k to go

I shrugged my bergen into place and set off again, the ground was flat but did slope upwards slightly, it was one of those long, slow hills, that really drain you and hurt the leg muscles,
I wondered how the others were getting on, they were down the set off line up, I don't think I would see them until the end, the next day

I just plodded on, my calves were starting to ache, my bergen was pulling me down,
I pulled on the shoulder straps to try and get in a higher position,
I dug out a ration pack (beef and dumplings)
I didn't want to stop and heat it up, so ate it cold on the walk,
I didn't have the time to heat it up, but needed the calories to keep me going,
I washed it down with water and a few more bits of chocolate

Ahead of me was another 'mountain' I was headed up again, but the going looked easier, there was a track, I would be using that, which would make life easier for me,
I hoped I would make up a bit of time on it

I saw no one on the track, just sheep and droppings and more sheep, they just watched me as I went by,
I got to the top, it looked like a car park, but there were no cars and the wind blew from all sides, I sat on a bench and took 5, I took off my boots to sort out my socks and any creases in them, that had taken a bit out of me and I was blowing quite hard,
I replaced my boots and took a drink, it looked like I would be needing more water at the next check point,
I had no idea how far that was away they, I just had to follow the heading I had been given, and going by my map, I would be heading down and into the wind again

I had got my breath back and got my bergen back on, my shoulders ached with the continual drag on it, but most of it was on my hips, so that was a help, I climbed over the wire fence and set off down, I was glad I had my goggles, it stopped the wind in my eyes and my scarf stopped my face from freezing, but it was a really bright day, even though the sun was finding it hard to get through

It was just a case of one foot in front of the other and stopping from them from slipping on the grass or tripping over

I eventually got to another check point, filled my water bottle, ate a mars bar and got another scrap of paper, he asked how I was and if I wanted a lift back (if I had taken a lift, that would have been me finished and just hanging about waiting for the rest to finish,) nope, I'm okay, he laughed and called me a name and I left him to wait for the others, I hoped he would freeze there

I seemed to be heading slightly back the way I had come, just a few degrees off though, that would be good,
I would have the wind blowing from my right now, instead of my front, my scarf was wet now from the water vapor in my breath, I tucked it in my shirt to dry off, it was cold against my skin, but it would dry off, it was 3.40 now, I had been going for over 7.5 hours now, I had no idea how far I had covered, HE never gave me any indication of how far or how many were in front, it was just a case of getting stuck in and plodding on, I hoped I was doing well

As I was walking up, there were rocks and grass clumps all the way as far as I could see, it looked like someone had just thrown them haphazdly around, they were all sizes, and of course sheep, they used the rock out croppings to shelter from the wind, they were lucky, I just had to keep moving

It started to get dark now, I dug out another ration pack, corned beef has and my chili sauce, I sat down to eat it, cold, but the tabasco would give it a bit of a bite, even though it was cold, I couldn't be bothered to get out my cooker to heat it up, for dessert, I had a Twix, they were rock hard, all washed down with cold coffee, I had stashed away in my pack (that didn't go in my begen, nothing was coming out of that, it got weighed and each check point, just to make sure we hadn't binned anything and finished with the same weight were started with

I got my mag light out and checked my heading, it would have to be spot on in the dark, or I would miss my check point and they wouldn't have any lights on, it would make the going harder, not seeing where I was going

I just checked my heading and tramped on, my legs ached, my shoulders had gone from an ache to a dull pain, the small of my back was just aching, I had just gone past the half way mark in time, but didn't have any idea of distance, I was hoping it was past the 30 k mark, halfway

I knew I was going to be a mass of pain, if I ever finished, but the good news was I had no blisters and my feet were dry

Hey the moon had come out, that was good, I could at least see where I was going now, it was a cold light and the sheep showed up along with the white rocks, which was a real boon for me, and if it stayed out, it would help my seeing the checkpoint, if I was a little off in my map reading,

I checked my watch, it was 10.30ish, 14 hours so far

I stumbled on the next check point, no lights, just a one man tent, he was snuggled up in his sleeping bag, he wasn't happy getting out and weighing my bergen and giving me my bit of paper, he said, there are 6 in front of you, (dam, how had that happened, had I slowed down that much ? did they have a different route than me, I had seen no one)
He gave me a mug of what assumed was soup ands a lump of bread, it was hot, I burnt my mouth on the tin mug, but it tasted great, something hot inside me at last, I had another mug while I was there

I checked my scrap of paper and map, I was going back the way I had come, it seemed to me, I was just doing a circular route, hey I didn't mind, I would have the moon shining over my shoulder, it would make my going a lot easier, I would see where I was going, I was hoping I would be able to get a move on (come on legs, don't fail me now, I could cope with my shoulders and back)

I moved out, he got back in his tent and sleeping bag to await the next arrival, I had no idea how many others there were, we all set off at different times and never saw how many there was, maybe there was just us 7 and I was bringing up the rear, tail end charlie, the last man, I hoped I wasn't, I didn't want to be the last man to finish, I tried a shuffling run, that never helped my back or shoulders, I just tried stretching my stride a bit, it felt good on my thighs and calves though

I felt as if I had been walking forever, the wind had dropped, it was still chilly, but I felt okay, not marvelous, but okay, I still had ration packs, I had a full water bottle now, I could see where I was going, what more did I need, I hadn't ditched any thing from my bergen, so that was a bonus (I had know people to bin every thing and turn up with an empty bergen, they were binned and disqualified (hence the weigh in at each check point)

I recognized where I was, I had passed this way hours ago, I checked my map and compass, I was heading fine, and assuming the check point would be in the same place, I should come across it in about 45, an hours time, I stepped up a gear

I got to where the check point was, there were tire tracks, but he had gone, I just kept moving, it was about another 45 minutes before I came across it, same as before, beregen off, weighed, back on, another scrap of paper, move out, nothing was said, he wasn't the world best talker, he just didn't seem really interested in a muppet (me) wandering around the hills at a silly time of the night, I guess he had seen it too many times before

I was going down now and I knew it wouldn't be long before I would be going up again, it was 1am and so quite, not even the sheep were making any noise, all there was my breathing the sound of my boots on the grass and mud, I was on my own, no one could hear me, I started singing (well trying to) to my self, all the old rugby songs and Army songs I could remember, I daresay, some of the verses got mixed up and I definitely know it wasn't in tune, but the sheep didn't complain

I came across the rocks and started going up again, the bergen pulled me down, I used the rocks to help me scramble up, it seemed to go up an awfully long way, I half expected to me St Peter, I hoped he would have oxygen with him, I was blowing hard, my thighs ached, my calves were killing me

I was at the dam car park again, there was someone at the bench I had used earlier,
I just unslung my bergen and flopped down (maybe this was St Peter, but he looked as knackered as I was, but he had a hexy going, looked like there was a ration pack and a drink on the go here, I got out my brew kit,
I estimated we had about 4 hours till sunrise and no idea how far I had travelled, it felt like a thousand miles, his name was Steve, he said he was hoping to find the check point, he had had enough, JEEZ I had come all this way to meet up with a loser, all this hard work, next to no time left and to talk about quitting, I didn't get it, okay, there are no medals, no crowds, no bands, no flag waving at the end of it, just the satisfaction you had completed the course

I ate my ration pack (Irish stew, with syrup pudding to follow) got my coffee down my neck,
I tried to talk him into continuing, but he just weren't up to it,
I shouldered my bergen and left him, I suppose he was hoping they would come looking for him, I just wanted to get to the next check point, I'd tell them where he was, maybe they would go and get him, I felt good, I had a hot drink and hot food inside of me, I knew I had 1 less to worry about, I didn't know if he was in front or behind me, he was just one less

I came across the next check point about an hour and half later, bergen off, weighed, back on, told the guy at the check point where the other bloke was was and checked compass and map and set off up hill again (why does everything in Wales have to always top seem to go up???)

I just seemed to be one big ache now, my shoulders and back just ached, my knees hurt, I had been on the go for about 16 hours now, I was hoping I had about 10-12k to go, but I had no idea, all I could do was keep moving, but I was tired, I ached, it was just one more step, then another, I started asking my self, WHY ? I was getting nothing from this, just aches and pains, I knew I would be paying for it for the next few days afterwards, I tried to put them thoughts out of my head and just kept moving

It was getting light, the sky was lighting up, I couldn't see any sign of the sun though, I checked my watch, it was 7ish, not long to go, a few more K and I would be done

I came across another check point, the bugger was cooking bacon, I smelt it before I saw the pup tent, god, it made my mouth water, just the thought of it, but it was just another weigh in and another scrap of paper, there were still 6 in front of me, I had either slowed down or they had different routes than me, I didn't know, I didn't care, I just wanted to finish and see the end of this, crawl into a sleeping bag and rest

There it was in front of me, Pe-Y-Fan and it was just going up, I knew if I ever got over it, the finish was just over there, I moved out, upwards, it seemed forever upwards, I climbed over the usual single strasnd of wire (how many of these had I climbed over during the night?)more sheep, I seemed to have set them off, maybe they knew me from my last walk, I don't know, they all looked the same to me, I crossed over a stream, got my boots full this time though, I didn't care any more, I was aching and tired, a couple even tagged along, I envied them with their big woolen coats, my nose was running continuously now, my cheeks were numb, I couldn't feel my lips, I got out my scarf and wrapped it round my face, the stinging in my cheeks hurt as they warmed up

A mist had started, maybe it was fog, I don't know, it looked like I had a cloud moving towards me, it looked wet and cold, it made the grass glisten, I fell over, (not for the first time) my gloves were getting really wet, but my hands were warm, I felt my bergen pulling me down, I felt like a snail with my housie on my back, I moved up wards in a cloud of for or mist, I could see about 20 feet in front of me, it was clammy and cold

Checked map and compass again, we were still on course and going up,
I was blowing hard, my gasses were fogging up,
I was getting wet from the mist or for,
I could feel it running from my hat and down my neck, a breeze blew up, the mist started clearing, I was still climbing,
I was cold,
I went round an out crop of rock, there was a checkpoint, at last, it was in the car park,,
I went over, he was there, a big grin on his face, last one son he said, he called me SON! christ, he looked old enough to be my son, he weighed me in,
I grabbed his mug, it went down and didn't even touch the sides, black coffee, no milk, no sugar, nothing tasted better, not far he said, there's a wagon waiting for you,at the 'Arms' 
I went off, it was 8am,
I was late,
I was supposed to have finished hours ago to be on time,
I didn't know who was in front of me or behind me,
I didn't care any more,
I went down the path, the white Storey Arms was in sight, there was the wagon,
I quickened my pace, the ache in my joints forgotten, the wind and cold forgotten, the sheep the fences forgotten, even my cold wet feet, my bergen felt lighter,

I was overtaken by a jogger, he just looked at me and kept going, as I watched him I saw the wagon outside the Storey Arms 
I got there, there were smiles all round, there was hot food, steaming drinks, there was a bench at the side,
I just dropped my bergen and collapsed on to the bench, someone asked my name and number,
I had finished, they checked off my name, weighed my bergen,
I got a pat on the back, a pasty and a drink, it was scalding,
I dropped it, when I had finished they said get on the wagon, I didn't have the strength to get my bergen on the wagon, it had doubled in weight,
I scrapped my shins getting on the wagon,
I didn't care,
I had finished,
I just wanted to sleep, (how can you get so tired in 24 hours?)
The wagon headed off back to Hereford
The others were already fast asleep,
I joined them

(I had covered the 60k in 23 hours, three hours late, BUT I wasn't last, others had taken longer,I was pleased with my time, not overjoyed, I was hoping for a better time, there were others who hadn't completed the course)

There were no bands, there was no applause, there were no crowds cheering you at the finish, no certificates, there was a pat on the shoulder, there was a well done, there were plenty of 'why?'

I daresay, some will ask, WHY ?

I can't tell you that, its just something to be done, I think some soldiers who have done it maybe be able to tell you, I did it because I could, I proved to myself I still have the strength and fitness to do it, okay I was late, my time wasn't as good as others, BUT I wasn't last and I completed it and I wouldnt have to do it EVER again


A few weeks later I walked out, I was to be a civilian in the big wide world, it scared the hell out of me

I had a wife, 2 kids, I was leaving the comforts of Army life behind me, now



.........................................................................................................................................








This isnt a new blog, its quite old now, but its an insight into the sort of life I used to have, its a lot different now


I hope you read it, I hope you enjoy it, I have tried to take you with me on this trip, I hope you felt the wind, the rain, the pain, the exhilaration of the end

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Comments

greekcypriot
greekcypriot on

I did enjoy it, and it was as if I was coming behind you struggling with you to reach the end. It was amazing, and yes, you did it for yourself. Thanks for sharing it out with us Derrick. No wonder you are still so tough and you choose to have this kind of trips....trips that they take you back (in a way) to the good old days. Because don't tell me...I believe if you were younger you would surely dare to do it a second time or third again.
I enjoyed every bit of it. Thank you.

Belgian_Hiker on

Nice one Derrick ! An interesting read and a good show of getting the head down and get on with it !

Michael on

Great story Derrick.
It felt like I was with you all the way.
It also brought back memories
I know exactly the conditions you had to battle through.

derrick241
derrick241 on

Popi, BH, Michael

I did this again, in 2010, it was run by a civilian company, the rules were the same, the route the same, the check points nearly the same, but manned by civilians, the weather hadnt improved over the intervening years

There was even less incentive for 2010,

I had to pay to enter,

I had to pay to get there,
I had to get all my own kit and rations together, no one cared if I completed it (heck, people didnt even know I was there and what I was doing)

There was a lot more people in 2010 than when I first did it, they were of various ages, 18-60 years old

I think there was about 45 people there,

I did the course just to see if I could still complete it,

I did complete it, but I was told because of H&S rules it would be my last time over this course

I did finish it, I was 15th, over 20 people dropped out, I was well outside of the time of 20 hours, but I still completed the course

The course is still run by the British army and is still part of SAS selection, it has claimed a few lives, it is run at any time of the year, ireespective of weather conditions, ANYONE who has completed this final leg of selection under the time scale deserves respect (they have mine)

It is a beautiful place to visit in the summer, but the weather can really change, fast

I would recommend anyone to visit Pen-Y-Fan and think of the PBS who have traveled up there, you may even see someone trying their best to complete it

greekcypriot
greekcypriot on

I decided to post the link below a second time as the first time it was deleted.
I believe people might be interested to know more about the Pen-Y-Fan of South Wales. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pen_y_Fan

travelmonster
travelmonster on

Great stuff, what a tough experience!

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