Monday, January 08, 2018

a mountain sense of excitement

It's always nice to at least make a start on fulfilling a New Year's resolution early doors, less than a week after New Year's Day in this particular case. The resolution was the pretty bland one made by approximately a gazillion people across the country: get a bit more exercise. In my own case one of the ways I wanted to do this was by getting back into some regular mountain expeditions, and as it happened I had a free day yesterday (Hazel and her sister Paula having cooked up some childcare activities not specifically requiring my assistance) and, moreover, the weather forecast was for it to be cold, but clear and sunny.

That sounded like perfect walking weather, so I quickly came up with a route incorporating some terrain I'd walked before (and some I hadn't) and which involved not too long a drive to get to the start point. What I ended up with was parking in the free car park at Llanthony Priory and setting off up the steep path up the side of Loxidge Tump that eventually brings you out on the top of the ridge which carries a section of the Offa's Dyke Path. Once I'd joined that it was a long and fairly flat ridge walk all the way to the trig point at the top of Hay Bluff. Then (replicating a section of this walk from March 2011 in slightly different weather conditions) I dropped down across the Gospel Pass road, up onto Lord Hereford's Knob (fnarr, etc) and then down the Daren Lwyd ridge back into the Vale of Ewyas and back along the road to the car park.

Route map (created here) and altitude profile (via GPS Visualizer) are below; as always do the right-click/open in new tab thing for a better view (same goes for the photos above).

Since physical geography doesn't arrange itself expressly for the convenience of the walker there are always ways in which a walk could be improved (see this one for instance). Here's a few thoughts on this one:
  • as you can see from the altitude profile, the initial mile-and-a-half or so involves quite a steep ascent. It's nowhere near as steep as the graph makes it look, as the vertical scale is exaggerated somewhat, but it certainly gets the lungs going early doors. This is pretty much inevitable when you want to join a ridge halfway along; the only way to avoid this would be to do the whole ridge in a giant horseshoe walk (a bit like this one) starting somewhere near Pandy, but that would be a long walk and in January there probably wouldn't be enough daylight to do it;
  • it would be nice if there were a definite summit to attain, ideally at the highest point of the day. The highest point of the day was actually the top of the Black Mountain at 703 metres, but this is almost impossible to pinpoint as it's only fractionally higher than the ridge on either side and isn't marked by anything useful like a trig point or even a cairn;
  • once you come off the Daren Lwyd ridge at Capel-y-ffin the walk back along the road is longer than you'd ideally like - you don't mind a mile or so just to warm down and loosen up the legs, but this is around three miles, which gets to be a bit of a slog by the end;
  • given the amount of exercise I've had in the past year or so (very little, mainly owing to being preoccupied with a baby boy with some medical and feeding challenges) I probably should have eased back into hill-walking with something about half the length (the track log says it was 15.3 miles) and not attacked it at quite the berserk speed that I'm inclined to adopt when I'm off the leash and out on my own. 24 hours later I'm in the early stages of what I expect to be a fairly crippling bout of DOMS; all my own fault of course.
Nonetheless it was great to be out for the day, and the weather was about as perfect as you could expect in early January: crisp, cold and sunny, no cloud on the tops at all (but plenty of snow), pretty much exactly as forecast. It did start to get rather windy once I got to Hay Bluff and continued to blow until I dropped off the steep end of the Daren Lwyd ridge and got out of it. A ridge walk in the Black Mountains? Hey, more like a FRIDGE walk in the WHITE Mountains, amirite?

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