We had decided to climb a mountain on New Year’s Eve and as Sugar Loaf was only about 30 minutes drive from where we were staying, we did not even have to get up very early to do it, although as it turned out we probably timed it perfectly.
Once again I was treating this walk as part of my training programme towards a number of events I would be taking part in through 2016 and 2017, culminating in The 100 Peaks Challenge. Those of you who read my blog should know by now that I have got into ‘tabbing’ in a big way. Just to remind you, ‘tabbing’ is a military term (‘tactical advance to battle’) which essentially means moving quickly while carrying weight. Of course, I do not travel as quickly or with as much weight as the military, but the events I am currently drawn to are worked on this basis. So I decided to go out today with my Karrimor SF Sabre 45 bergen carrying my essential safety kit, which consisted of my sleeping bag inside my bivi bag and stuffed to the bottom of the bergen; a headtorch, spare laces, paracord, gaffer tape and a couple of utility tools in one waterproof bag; wooly hat, ruff, and a pair of gloves in another; mountain first aid kit, and a towel and talcum powder in their own bags; a hexamine stove with a Zippo lighter, spork, tea bags and bags of porridge inside a metal pot and cup, all bagged and secured so it would not rattle; a cut down rollmat, and in another waterproof bag my change of clothing, being a short-sleeved zipped base layer, a fleece, a pair of hiking trousers, and socks, and once all that had been gathered together my bergen was weighing 25lbs. I had a couple of sausage rolls in the top of my bergen, and I also had 2 litres of water in bottles. My pacing beads were attached to one of the shoulder straps on the bergen. I was wearing long North Face hiking trousers, Paramo boxer shorts, Bridgedale socks, a Rab long-sleeved base layer, my The 100 Peaks Challenge technical tshirt, with my Mountain Equipment Fitzroy jacket on top, and my AKU Pilgrim GTX boots. I had my compass attached to one of the outside pockets of the Fitzroy jacket, and my notebook and pencil in the other, and a couple of Chia Charge bars in my trouser pockets. I was also wearing my Garmin Fenix 2 watch, so I had absolutely everything I could ever need to survive in the wilds of the Black Mountains. I was also wearing a hi vis vest from Walking With The Wounded as part of their Walking Home For Christmas campaign, even if I was a few days late coming to the party.
The drive over started off well until we hit the lanes, which were narrow and not in a great state in places, but there was no other route in so it had to be done. After all that the access road seemed to be going on forever and I parked up early before deciding that we did need to continue to reach the proper National Trust car park, from where I now know I can see Rich Harding’s house !
The weather was dry and clear with the sun peeking through as we changed into our boots, although we could already feel the strong wind, even down here at the bottom of the mountain. And it really is a mountain, its height approaching 2000ft. We left the car park along the path slanting left uphill from the information board.
It was an obvious path, but, not for the only time on this walk, it was not the only path, and sure enough as we reached the corner of a wall we took the left fork, before branching right at the next junction, but as we climbed higher and got a better view of the land it looked like all paths led to the top of Sugar Loaf. The sun was out now, it was a very pleasant day for walking, and I was enjoying the views, not just of the mountain itself, but also of where we had come from and of other places I had been to before.
Yes, I definitely got a lift as I saw the looming and very distinctive shapes of the Brecon Beacons off to west. We descended a little before beginning to climb again, giving us a wonderful view down a valley to the east, then went left before curving right, and now we were on a line towards the summit.
We began to see more people on the route, although we remained outnumbered by the sheep. We continued steadily upwards on a grassy path which was a little soft due to the recent heavy rainfall and sometimes slippery in places, but overall as good a surface as you could wish for to tackle such a climb, even if one walker did manage to slide and fall as we passed her coming down. She was immediately up and continued her descent to the sound of the rest of her group laughing at her misfortune.
The path soon became more stoney, which probably helped with the climbing, to be honest, but the route never became a scramble of any sort. In fact, there were now proper tracks along the edge of the path, making it even easier to navigate to the summit, even if the wind made walking on the edge feel a little treacherous. The wind had steadily picked up as we had climbed and now it was blowing up a gale as we made our final push for the summit.
The track we were on almost became a set of steps right at the very end, and then we were up, at the summit of Sugar Loaf at 596m. The top was a ridge which allowed a walk from one end to the other, and on a clear day like this we had wonderful views all round and were able to take in the lush valleys below, Abergavenny, and, of course, the Brecon Beacons.
Although we were not going to be following the route from the guidebook to come back down, we did want to recreate the photograph from its pages, but sadly the Trig Point was just too busy to allow that before Debbie had had enough of the blowing wind and set off down again.
I stayed behind to get a couple of selfies, one for the Walking Home For Christmas campaign, and another for The 100 Peaks Challenge. Then we headed back down the mountain, being careful not to slip over, following almost exactly the same route as we had taken to get up, and covering 3.5 miles in under 2 hours.
We had gone from the car park at 320m up to the summit at 596m. The rain began to fall as we reached the car, and it got heavier both as we drove away and while we were sat in the Kilpeck Inn eating roast pork sandwiches and the most delicious onion rings. I also found out later that some friends had been unable to summit Pen-y-Fan because of the weather. It really did feel like we had gone up the right side of the Black Mountains at just the right time.
You can see more photographs from the walk here.