Well, another year is nearly over and with it, it’s time to take a look back at everything that’s happened over the last twelve months, both on a mountain and non-mountain level.
Before I get to that though, I’d like to draw your attention to my ‘State of the Challenge’ page, where you can keep track of what I’ve been up to in the hills in 2017 and see how far along I am in my quest to bag every mountain in Wales. With that said, on to the review of the year that was 2017!
I started 2017 in a fairly gloomy state of mind, and mountain wise it has to be said it got off to a slow start. It wasn’t until July of this year that I mooched out to bag some new hills as part of the challenge to do all the summits of Wales, though I made up for this by snagging both of the remaining peaks of the Cwmdaudwr Hills in spectacular weather in a grand, though tiring, day out. This start to the hill bagging year completed the Elan Valley area and left only a few peaks on the English border to do before I could tick the whole of Mid Wales off the list.
Although I’d got off to a slow start I was determined to maintain forward progress from that point forward, with a hike of Tarrenhendre in August followed by another hike of Tarrenhendre with Tarren y Gesail two weeks later. These ascents later in August coincided with my new fitness programme which I started as part of an overall drive to improve my hiking capability, a drive that forms part of an ongoing programme of measures including skills training that I will be continuing as time goes on. One of the aims of this fitness drive was to get myself in better shape generally in time to undertake a winter skills course, something I’d wanted to do for years, the aim being to make sure that I could be certain I had the skills and knowledge available to safely prowl the hills whatever the season. This aim had the secondary benefit of making it easier for me to bag more summits for the challenge, since it obviated my usual pattern of knocking off the hillwalking game once winter set in and then finding I had a slow start (with consequent lack of hill fitness) the following year.
September saw me visiting a stomping ground from 2016 when I tackled two subsidiary outliers of Aran Fawddwy, in a hike which took in Gwaun Lydan and Pen yr Allt Uchaf. Throughout September and October I was at pains to continue hiking whenever I could, and although I didn’t tackle much in the way of new summits for the challenge, I spent most weekends hiking up at Bwlch Nant yr Arian, as well as joining old friends and new in hikes with my old university hiking club.
November continued this trend, with me spending plenty of time up at the Bwlch, before heading out on the 12th to tackle Plynlimon again, just for fun. I have no idea at this point how many times I’ve bagged Plynlimon as it’s been a ‘go to’ peak for years whenever I’ve been in the need for a quick mountain fix, but I must have been up there on at least ten occasions, and probably more, over the last few years. The 29th November saw me breaking new ground as I bagged my first peak in the Rhinogs, Diffwys, with a friend from the hiking club. This was a superb hike, with Diffwys covered in snow from around the 600 metre mark, and I used the hike as an opportunity to test my winter gear prior to undertaking my long-awaited Welsh Winter Skills course at Plas Y Brenin, which occurred over the weekend of 2-3 December.
So, December began in fine style, with me spending a weekend learning the ins and outs of safe and proper use of ice axes and crampons, movement over snow and winter navigation and planning. As expected, it provided something of a learning curve, and while it left me determined to do more in the winter hills and certainly feeling far more capable and sure of myself in winter conditions, it also underlined to me just how much thought and meticulous planning has to go in to any big hill day in winter, and the consequences of underestimating the conditions, or overestimating your own skills and ability. As such the course very much marked a first step, but one which I’m determined to follow up on by doing as much as I can in the snow in the months and years ahead. The course also had the happy bonus of allowing me to break new ground as I finally stepped foot in earnest in the Carneddau, summiting both Pen yr Ole Wen and Carnedd Dafydd, both Welsh 3,000 footers, in full winter conditions, with deep snow and ice underfoot.
Throughout December we’ve had intermittent snow coverage in Wales, and I’ve taken advantage of it by hitting the hills whenever possible, spending more time up at the Bwlch and bimbling around the area generally. My mountain year has been rounded out with my ascent yesterday of Waun Oer, a subsidiary of Cadair Idris, at the end of the long ridge running from Maesglase near Dinas Mawddwy to Mynydd Ceiswyn near the Tal-y-Llyn Pass. I had originally thought that this was my 30th peak, but it turns out I was mistaken, as I realised when updating this website that the Evernote list I’ve been using to keep track of things had been corrupted earlier in the year and I’d lost three peaks I’ve done from my completion list. Waun Oer, therefore, was my 33rd Welsh summit, leaving me at a little over 20% of the peaks of Wales done, with 127 still to do by the close of the year. Perhaps 2018 will see me knocking those 27 off to leave me with a nice round figure of mountains still to bag? We’ll see!
So that’s been the year, more or less, in mountain terms, but how about in wider terms in general? Well, looking back on the year that has passed, I have to say overall it’s been a year of steady forward progress on all fronts, and I’m in a far better place now than I was when the year opened. For that, I’m extremely grateful. When the year began I was still in a place of relative uncertainty, with plenty of upheaval and, due to circumstances beyond my control, plenty that left me in a tricky position personally. As 2017 closes I’m in a far more certain position in my life. 2017 has seen the beginning and consolidation of a vast array of friendships; over this year I’ve met people from places as far flung as Sweden, Norway, Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, the U.S. and Canada, and the intensive effort I’ve made to get to know as many people as possible in my home town has meant that this place feels morel ike home now than it has done for many years. Wherever I go when I wander around town I run into someone I know, and this feeling of being rooted in a place after a decade of legging it all around the country moving house every six months is absolutely superb.
I’ve made efforts, particularly over the last three months or so, to really calm everything down in terms of my outgoing commitments, and my expectations of myself, and I have to say that doing so has worked wonders. The simple sense of joy and peace of mind I have on a daily basis now is something I wouldn’t trade for the world, and I finally feel as though everything is, in its own way, coming together. It’s a funny thing really but in the Western world I think we’re often conditioned to constantly question whether we’re ‘good enough’; it underpins so much of how we approach life, from careers, education, relationships, etc etc. It’s the underlying message of much of the marketing and advertising, the ceaseless drive to consume that bombards us in our daily lives; ‘buy x product and you’ll finally measure up in such and such a way’. I’ve started to realise this year that the unhappiness that many people feel stems from the fact that in whatever way, and for whatever reason, they really don’t believe they are ‘good enough’, either for themselves, or for others around them.
There’s no simple solution to that underlying problem other than to try to find a space within yourself where you just accept yourself for who you are and then, in whatever way you need to, tell the rest of the world to bugger off if it objects, and deal with it accordingly. The truth is, in a sense none of us are ‘good enough’ because none of us are perfect. In the end, that means that we are in fact all perfectly good enough for the world around us, and anybody who is pouring an extra special effort into trying to convince you that you are in fact a somehow uniquely useless person in some way is almost certainly a fundamentally damaged individual, whose opinion and basis for it can be safely ignored. Since the end of September, I’ve found a peace of mind and sense of inner confidence and purpose unlike anything I’ve ever known, and I note with interest that it’s been achieved on my own terms while keeping everything simple and straightforward. I’m glad to finally be living life on my own terms and in my own way again.
So, with 2017 all but over, a new year beckons. My outline plan for the new year is to largely carry on as I finished 2017. On the mountain skills side of things I’d like to tackle a mountain first aid course, which I’m looking at doing in February, and I’m seriously considering putting in for ML Award training towards June. I have tentative plans to undertaken the Fjällraven Classic in August, and if things go according to plan, I hope to make a postponed trip to Norway, too. 2017 confirmed beyond any doubt that I need more camping in my life, and I have a few ridge walks in mind, including a multi-day epic in the Carneddau, that I think its time I finally did. Wildcard entries for 2018 include the potential for a trip to Morocco to do Mount Toubkal, and making a sudden trip over to France, because high quality cheese and wine!
To all my readers and to all of my friends, especially those who’ve been there through thick and thin this year, thank you, and I hope you have a wonderful 2018!