Vertigo on Pen y Fan

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I’m back safely home, feeling a huge sense of achievement having climbed not just my first mountain, but actually two at once

I had arranged to meet Andrew and his nephew Isaac in Merthyr Tydfil at 9am, and then from there, we were going to drive the 15 minutes to the car park, where the walk starts. That was the plan.  However, I had been driving for about 30 minutes, when I was blocked by a road closed sign on the main road to Merthyr Tydfil. I dutifully followed the 2 road diversion signs I came across, which sent me confusingly back on the road I came from.  Either a sign was missing, or someone had mischievously put it in the wrong place, in the manner of Wacky Races.  Anyway, I must have wasted at least 40 minutes, driving around trying to find alternative routes, without any success. The only problem with living so close to mountains-as beautiful as they are, is you never have any mobile phone signal, so I couldn’t even ring up Andrew. I was beginning to see that the mountain climb wasn’t even going to happen. All that way, for nothing.

With much frustration, I sent a text message to Andrew explaining the problem, figuring sooner or later, even with poor reception, he would eventually receive the message if he was driving along. To my surprise, after about 10 minutes, I got a detailed list of towns in reply that I could aim for which would keep me on the B roads and get me to the destination. Hurrah!

We finally met up at about 10:15am, and followed each other to the car park. Andrew took a couple of wrong turns which made me feel a whole lot better about my poor sense of direction, since he had climbed this mountain fours times before! We arrived at the car park just before 11am, nearly 2 hours later then we intended. Not a good start.

After a short walk, we could see all four mountains in a horseshoe pattern facing us. The first mountain was Corn Du on the left so we headed for that. There are two main approaches. Andrew decided we were going to take the harder approach, because taking the easier route would have meant we might get our feet wet crossing a shallow stream.

We made steady progress. Occasionally, my foot would slip, or the rocks under my feet would move, but it was all going quite well, until we got to about 50 metres from the top. Near the top, on this particular approach, it becomes so steep, it’s almost vertical. I’m not kidding! No longer can you put one foot in front of the other, you have to use all four limbs, grabbing hold of clumps of grass, while taking even more care where you put your feet. With my higher centre of gravity ( 6 foot) I seemed to be finding this more difficult then the others. Both Andrew and Isaac are probably a bit over 5 foot.

Then something happened. I suddenly felt more dizzy then I’d ever felt. The whole World started spinning, and I really felt like being sick. My heart began racing. It was seriously pounding away-not just mildly increased.  I took off my waterproofs, and the camera round my neck and rested against a rock. Not that I could actually sit down. I just leant back, while still standing. At the time, I literally couldn’t go any further.

I used to be quite good with heights, but as you get older I’ve been told vertigo can develop.
Not realising I had a problem with heights-it had never happened before, I had repeatedly looked down below. We were over 700 metres high, at that point, so there were amazing views. Who wouldn’t have?

I know my racing heart wasn’t through lack of fitness. I know this from my running, and knowing how long it takes for my breathing to return to normal, and it’s only about 5 minutes. My heart was still pounding worryingly fast even after 10 minutes, despite not moving. It just wasn’t slowing down which was really alarming, no matter how long I rested. I couldn’t see any way out of this. Andrew kept me talking. He redeemed himself from choosing the harder route by staying with me, until I felt well enough to move on.

Then, suddenly, my giddiness went as quickly as it arrived, and within a minute my heart rate was back to normal and we got moving again.

After getting to the top of Corn Du (the second highest mountain in South Wales), the rest of the walk remained relatively incident free. The next summit was easy to get to, since you’ve done most of the hard work anyway. Corn Du leads directly up to Pen Y Fan.

When we got to the summit of Pen Y Fan which is the highest point in South Wales, the weather which had been switching between the sun and rain every few minutes, throughout the walk, became a sustained, horizontal monsoon, with ice cold hail smashing into our faces. Andrew was brave just getting his expensive camera out of his bag, which is the only reason I’ve even got a photograph of me on the summit. I certainly wasn’t going to attempt it.

Coming down off the two peaks was a little hard on my knees. Although, I fared better then Andrew which surprised me-given all the walking I’ve done in my life, who took the descent a lot slower. Isaac, of course, being so much younger always seemed about half a mile ahead.

Anyway, it was quite an adventure!

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