A wet and windy weekend in Wales

“You have got some wetsuits for us, haven’t you?” I enquired nervously. Earlier that morning it was looking a bit wild and windy as I had a brief wander around the head of the lake, and I’d been glad of a waterproof jacket. “Err, no, we usually just provide cagoules and buoyancy aids…” our instructor replied.

 (Chiz Dakin)Oops. I don’t get many chances to go kayaking so grab those that come my way with alacrity. And being one of the options on the OWPG annual weekend (this time held at Plas Y Brenin) it couldn’t be resisted. But packing for this weekend was in rather a hurry and I’d worked on the basis of “we had wetsuits the last time the OWPG did kayaking” (on the sea in Jersey) so packed accordingly. ie I was going to be very wet and very bare legged if a wetsuit didn’t materialise, and the wetsuit boots and gloves I had were going to look a bit incongruous…

Fortunately wetsuits did indeed materialise after a couple of minutes discussion with the helpful equipment stores folks, and reasonable warmth (and lack of offence to eyes of other participants from my legs!) was assured. Although it was intended as a taster session, the strong winds funnelling down the lake provided great entertainment to those of us that wanted to play with the waves (hmm, I was in a minority of two there, perhaps other words could also be used to describe my enthusiasm for potentially rolling the kayak and getting very wet with hard paddling in the process!). And I’m no expert by any means, but perhaps a bit of Kiwi coastal kayaking stood me in good stead there, or perhaps it was former years spent playing with waves on a windsurfing board? Anyhow, the shape of the shore provided greater shelter to those who were less sure about the enjoyment factor of facefuls of water gained at each crash of the waves as the front of the kayak sliced down into them!

We eventually all made it up to the narrows, between the two large lakes. There the winds, narrowness of the channel and submerged rocks made things sufficiently hard that among the group it was time to return. Time to see how well a paddle can act as a sail. (It can, but it tends to drag the kayak to one side, so an easier option was to sit back and allow the current to drift us quite quickly back to the boathouse). Or to keep paddling up down, backwards and even test out some useful sideways moves our instructor Brandon showed us.

All too soon it was time to return the kayaks, get warm and dry and find some hot coffee. Catching up with some friends over lunch, then onto one of the professional development workshops.

Carey Davies presenting his part of the "Brave New World" workshop/discussion session. (Chiz Dakin)The one I went to was entitled “Brave New World” and was more of a discussion panel than a formal workshop. Some interesting thoughts from all the panel (Jonathan Williams (Cicerone Press), Jon Sparks (photographer and writer), Andrew White (film-maker, writer and social media expert) and Carey Davies (BMC, but formerly TGO)) and from the floor as well. Too much to fit into a post about the whole weekend, but I ended up with a feeling that things were more positive for the future than a couple of years ago, that “we’re not all doomed”, and there are lots of ways to move forward in the digital world, even if some of them require some different ways of working in the future. Words and images are still important!

John Grimshaw receives the OWPG Golden Eagle award (Chiz Dakin)An AGM and Annual Dinner followed, I’m not one to wax lyrical about the more formal aspects of the weekend, save that it was a good opportunity to catch up with yet more old friends and new acquaintances.

The following day was still wild and windy. Some of us were struggling with waking up as too many thoughts from so many conversations were rushing around our heads instead of letting us sleep, but a walk on Moel Siabod beckoned. The weather would clear the head and help me sleep the following night anyhow!

 (Chiz Dakin)We had a debate about which way we were going, and how many of us were actually going from those that had originally said they were interested. As always a few looked at the weather outside and decided that perhaps they weren’t feeling quite such a hardy walker… this day… Though of course they would normally be up for a wild walk! And so it was a smaller but still smiling group set off around the hill to the NE end of the hill. It was slippery going on the rocky and muddy sections of the woodland trail, but we were well sheltered from the wind, and folks naturally formed and reformed twos and threes as they caught up on conversations.

In fact it was so sheltered that we were all lulled into a false sense of warmth and dryness as we started up the hill from the riverside. Everyone was glad of the chance to lose the hot waterproof layers on the short tarmac access track, only to rapidly re-discover their use again once above habitation and in the breeze that was bringing rather too many drops of rain down to us!

 (Chiz Dakin)And then it was time to argue geology. I’d not been able to find any information out as to the reason behind the striking parallel rocky lines in the hillside ahead. But as Ronald, as our most knowledgeable person on geological issues, wasn’t 100% sure either, I didn’t feel too bad at not having been able to discover their cause earlier. It seems they’re most likely to be bedding planes where softer rock layers between have been eroded away although they could also mark a fault line.

But we veered away from them almost as quickly as they had arrived in view. Apparently our objective of the day was not going to be diminished by poor weather… we were aiming for the E ridge, which makes a fine scrambling option on a fine day. Having slipped off several greasy rocks on the woodland section (with remarkable abilty to land upright!) I was less convinced this was a fine day for such adventures. But I’m told the rock is micro-gabbro, and far less subject to grease than the slatey/sandstoney stuff below.

 (Chiz Dakin)We stopped briefly at the first lake to gather breath and take a few photos. But the conditions made it hard to get a good shot of several of us jumping up and down – too much water blowing onto the lens! A debate followed as to whether or not to continue in the weather – the wind and rain was definitely picking up and some fo the rock had been quite slippery. Five of us decided to continue, but it was time to say farewell to two who needed to be back early – so this was a good a place as any to break the walk short.

We convinced ourselves that we weren’t necessarily going up the scrambly section, but there was another lake to visit, so that had to be the next objective. A wet and boggy section provided some entertainment in the form of bog hopping, then a sheltered rock provided us with perhaps the only sheltered spot for a bite to eat.

 (Chiz Dakin)Should we continue? Of course we were going to. Was there ever any real doubt? Oh, OK, well, the rock was proving rather less greasy already and the info we had on the scramble said it was all very escapable should the rock become unfriendly in the grease department, so it seemed worth a try.

And fun it was – the rock was lovely, surprisingly grippy and full of knobbly and juggy bits for handholds. And a wide variety of options of varying difficulty. There weren’t too many bits we backed off, although part-way up this slab, Reu decided it was a tad harder than it had looked at the bottom. OK, more than a tad harder!

 (Chiz Dakin)We weaved in and out of knee high to human sized and larger bouldery scrambly bits and up and across a few tenuous steps.

 (Chiz Dakin)I was feeling slightly worried we were leading Cassandra and Jim astray into terrain that they weren’t quite sure about, especially knowing that the rest of us had at some point or another taken a line of string up crags (ie could lead – or at least follow – easier rock climbs) and suspecting that this was a delight that they had yet to encounter.

But they seemed to cope well and once I discovered they’d previously done the North Face of Tryfan, well, no need to worry about leading them into unknown scrambling territory 😉 They knew what scrambling was about and although they may not have done a lot previously, appeared to be thoroughly enjoying this one. Meanwhile I was just being glad that the effort I’d put into fitness training over the past few months appeared to be paying off!

The summit was further than it appeared – with so many knobbly outcrops on the way appearing out of the mist and trying to convince us we were nearly there. But soon it arrived, and with it some much stronger gusts.

 (Chiz Dakin)Ronald wisely sussed out the compass bearing in shelter before the summit – a good move as once on the summit it’s not that easy to work out the correct direction in clag. We gain a stone shelter nearby, then we made our way along and down to the grassy slopes leading back to Plas y Brenin.

Not too quick though – first of all we hear a shout. We’re not sure what or who it was, but the one of us who heard it was concerned that it could have sounded like someone was in trouble. We’re not far from the summit so we retrace our steps.

And very soon meet up with a large group ascending from the PyB direction. Was it them? They say not, but they’re a large group. Easily could have been. As they’re still ascending we pass on that we thought we heard someone near the summit shout. Could they check while they’re on the summit in case anyone is in trouble there. We hope we’ve done the right thing, the wind was so gusty it could easily have just been a louder than intended bit of conversation – or surprise at being nearly blown over by the wind. But they’re going that way, no point us adding to a large group.

 (Chiz Dakin)We soon reach the rocky edge of the main ridge, and realise in the clag we’ve gone bit far. Another consultation of map and compass required. More left and downhill. Soon we reach easy going terrain – and a brief downhill race over steep grass provides entertainment. I look back and am surprised just how far I’ve descended in a few seconds, with Jim not far behind. The others are being far too sensible and not getting involved – but it was fun!

The large group catch us up and overtake us as we begin to natter in earnest on the way down. We hear that no-one appeared to be in trouble on the summit – a relief – and then learn a new word – apparently we’re blethering… But it’s the last chance to really catch up before we’re on our way back home and we’re not going to get any wetter so why not?

Most folks have already gone by the time we arrive back at PyB – just in time for coffee and cake. It seems the mountain bikers had a good time too and even managed to put some miles in before they stopped at a cafe. A good weekend, as always, and once again it’s going to be a hard one for our tireless awards weekend organiser (Dennis Kelsall) to top next year!