I stepped out of my lovely warm car and immediately started to wonder what I had let myself in for. The cold wind whipped around my legs as I greeted Russ, donned my boots and gaiters, and picked up my rucksack. I shivered slightly as we set off.
'It's OK, Julia, you've got this!' My mantra came in handy yet again.
The path wound around and through the bog between the road and the steep slopes of Fan Brycheiniog, the highest of the Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacons National Park. We chatted as we walked, with conversations ranging from wild camping to mental health issues.
A rainbow rose above the hills to the north. My heart lifted, as it always does at such a sublime sight. Then logic kicked in. It was raining somewhere between us and that rainbow. Which way was the wind blowing?
Sure enough, fat lazy drops soon started to hit us. We quickly covered our packs and pulled on waterproof trousers before the rain became more determined. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to be out - and on a Monday afternoon, no less - doing something I had never done before.
If it wasn't for Russ @amountainbivvy, I would never have considered camping out in the Welsh mountains in November. He is writing a column for Trail magazine, camping on each of the Trail 100's - the 100 peaks they suggest every hillwalker should climb at least once. When he put a call out for people to join him, I thought, 'Why not?', although there was an obvious answer:
Russ has wild camped on all the Wainwrights in all seasons, so I knew I'd be in good hands. He has learnt from experience about good places to camp. The first place we explored was the land around the lake at the bottom of the steep slope. It did not take long to reject - although the ground was flat, it was also waterlogged.
It looked like we were going to have to haul our packs and camping kit up the slope.
'This looks like a great spot to camp!' announced Russ as we neared the top. A few paces further on, the wind hit us both at full force. We laughed.
The wind moves around mountains in mysterious ways, and just a short distance further was the ideal spot - flat(ish), grassy, in a col with what promised to be fantastic views on a clearer day, and sheltered from the wind.
Once our tents were pitched, I was ready to settle down for a chat. It was far too damp and cold to be comfortable sitting outside, so it would have to be a conversation through the canvas.
'Are you ready to find the top?'
Ah, I'd forgotten about that. Fantasies of relaxing in a warm and dry tent were put to one side for now, as we walked up into the cloud to hunt for the trig point. It was murky but still light when we spotted it.
After the obligatory selfies at the summit, it was time to bring that fantasy of being warm and dry to life!
And for a while, I was. Occasional squalls and rain hit the tents, but nothing they couldn't cope with. We chatted from tent to tent, and took turns diving outside to put on a brew or check whether there were any stars yet. My fingers froze almost instantly when I took my final turn around the tent, tightening guy ropes and cleaning my teeth before retiring.
The tent was cool overnight, but as I was layered up like a Victoria sandwich, I was warm enough. For a night in a tent, I slept well. This is great news - I can camp on a mountain in November and be relatively comfortable. I am astonished - and delighted!
The small amount of discomfort endured during the night was made up for entirely at daybreak. It started with a golden pre-dawn promise, reflected by the clouds above. By the time the sun was peeking over the horizon, it was a deep orange. The clouds above glowed like molten lava. The whale-back ridge of Fan Gyhirych loomed out of the clouds in the valley below. What a marvellous sight!
I now have an answer to the question, 'Why on earth would you want to do something like that?' Because every ounce of effort and every minor discomfort encountered along the way is well worth it for the opportunity of good company and a view like this in the morning!
Now, where should I head out in December? Ideas (or even challenges) in the comments below, please!
You can pick up Russ's books about camping on the Wainwrights here.
I met Russ because we are both members of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild. If you are an outdoor content creator and would like to know more about the guild, please shout. I have found my membership immensely useful in developing my writing career - and having fun!
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