Up in the Hills

Weekends are never long enough. Anyone who works will agree. But that does not mean they should be forgotten, quite the contrary in fact. The particular weekend in question was a promising one in late September. The weather was set fair, cool but dry, and myself and a good friend decided to go on an adventure.

The plans were simple, drive to the foothills of the Brecon Beacons and hike up into the park. We would wild camp a distance from the highest peak, summit Pen y Fan the following day, wild camp that night near the top before descending the following morning in time for a brew and a hearty breakfast.

We only had a few hours of light on the first night and so the hike was a short one. Camping near a swift-flowing stream, we sat yarning under the sunlit sky until the last light faded. The sky cleared, and we were treated to an amazing view from our spot as the stars freckled the sky with flickering light. The wind died, the night cooled, and the midges became feverish at the calm conditions as we retired to the tent for refuge; we had to be up early anyway.

Rising at sunrise, we had a hell of a walk ahead. We were some 10 miles from the summit of Pen y Fan and a significant height below, so as we set of for a long day of hiking we knew we had to get our heads down. By no means a technical climb, there is nothing to write home about Pen y Fan itself. The views are pretty, and so was the hike, but having risen to the top sooner than expected we decided to head down out of the crowds to a deserted lake. Riding over a sister peak, we dropped down the steepening scree path before washing off in the pool, cold but refreshing in equal measure.

The weather was unexpectedly calm, and we began to scope out a spot to sleep for the night. We settled on a spot very high up, exposed to some extend but in the lee of the prevailing winds, and as we expected them to pick up by morning we ensured the tent was well fastened as we contemplated our supper. From then on there was nothing ordinary or ‘pretty’ about Pen y Fan. It was spectacular. The sunset that followed is so hard to describe, the two of us sitting shivering on the summit for over an hour watching the light descend to illuminate a distant world over the horizon. It was just us two, alone, and as the sky gradually cleared in the coolness of the evening air deepest oranges blended into indigo and blacks and craning my neck backwards, I could see everything from daylight through to the starry night in one view. The sky was enormous. Maybe it was our elevation, the lack of foreground giving the perception of an all encompassing space, but there was something unusual about the view, something different.

We didn’t speak that entire time, it wasn’t necessary. It was one of those moments on this planet where you cannot help but question if what we were witnessing was by design? Was it a reward for our toils and efforts? Was there some higher power defining what it is we were seeing, or is it purely by fortuitous events over millions of years of science and evolution that enable humans to not only witness the changing of a night sky, but also understand and admire its beauty? At that moment whatever had created our view must have been proud. As the peaks in the distance began to merge with the horizon they became difficult to define and my attention switched to the scurrying of cars on the highway below. Pale white lights rampaged through the scenic bypass in complete silence, our distance above great enough that the engines and roads of normal life were completely in audible. A wry smile crept over my face as the magnitude of our environment, the vastness of our scene became apparent, and I shut my eyes in the night and dreamt of warmth and space and calm as the last light descended over the horizon, rendering all vision futile.

Opening my eyes up the Milky Way had started to become visible, just another indication of the sheer limitless space above us. It is humbling don’t you think? How is it that one can lie back on any clear evening and view millions of miles into the abyss? It never fails to render me without words, after all it is such a difficult concept to comprehend. As the faintest shooting star caught the bottom left corner of my vision, the floating breeze sent a shiver through my person and I rose up to take a final view of our environment before my cramping legs shouted at me to get some rest. I almost laughed. How had we just seen what we had? With no one else around? It just shows that although weekends may be short and conditions may not always allow, you can still find an environment, a unique situation, an adventure that will surprise you and leave you completely in awe of our natural world. I am hesitant to return to this place, for it could never repeat that night. That is the beauty of these trips however, it is never the same. You could stand in exactly the same place, at exactly the same time and some other aspect of the view or situation would be as mesmerising as before. Nothing is ever in equilibrium. It makes these trips everlastingly rewarding, and as my stiff legs stumbled through the morning fog on our journey back home I knew we’d be back before long.



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