"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Table Mountain - December 31st - 2021 - Crickhowell
Although I've spent a lot of time over the years in the Black Mountains - sometimes hiking but mostly cycling and hill-running - I had never set out with the intention of climing Table Mountain. It's one of the most recognisable hills in the area and it catches the eye from Crickhowell the same way Sugarloaf does from Abergavenny just down the road. Kokila was joining me for this one and my knee was still in the slow but encouraging recovery phase from the injury I'd sustained 10 weeks before on the Mendip Muddle - so a 3 hour hike with 1000 feet of ascent looked about right.
The weather this New Year weekend was record-breakingly mild, so it was set to hit 13 degrees in Wales and 15 degrees elsewhere, but with more chance of rain than sun. I'd chosen a route that came up online as a good circuit with the climb sheltered in a wooded valley and an option to return over open country to get the best views over the valley of the Usk. Cwm Cumbeth gave us an easy ascent, first through a field with massive highland cattle and a pair of friendly donkeys who came over and nudged us for some attention, then into the deep cleft of a roaring stream in dense woodland. The path was good and it was simple underfoot until the trail came out at the head of the gulley close to the intake wall - here there was some wading of the stream to negotiate, so as Kokila was in trail shoes rather than boots, I gave her the walking poles and she soon became expert in using them to get through the wild but shallow water. In all there must have been well over a dozen fords to negotiate, but luckily my knee was not protesting at all at the climbing and that meant Kokila could keep the poles and get through the water with the aid of three points of contact and the stepping stones placed there by others who knows how long ago?
Back down from the head of Cwm Cumbeth the views were amazing - out to Sugarloaf, the ridges of the Black Mountains and northward to the hills around Llangorse. The wind got stronger as we ascended but only got dramatic as we approached the exposed summit. Here you could shelter in totally calm hollows among the ramparts of the hill fort, but as soon as you stepped out it was a really ripping wind. Kokila stayed in the lee of the gale just below the highest point but I nipped up to bag the official peak and grab a selfie with Sugarloaf for company.
The descent was steady and soon took us out of the gale and into the mists again with more expansive views and no sounds of civilisation to interrupt the calls of the wind and the birds. It really was a sanctuary in nature and felt a world away from Bristol even though it's a 59 minute drive on google. The Black Mountains are so close to home for us but somehow that's easy to forget and we don't make the trip often enough. This hike got us out of the everyday and into that elemental world that is so nourishing to the spirits. Even a mostly dull day didn't detract as the views were, if anything, enhanced by the swirling mist and rain. Despite that wintry greyness there were vibrant colours everywhere, the vivid greens of the hillside and the deep russet tones of the bracken and darker shades of the gorse.
Although if was amazing to have a day out hiking and soak up the sounds and sensations of the mountains, as well as the mountain consciousness, the really encouraging thing for me was that my knee stayed strong the whole way, including on the descent. Daily single-leg squats with a backpack on filled with kettlebells and hand weights seems to be paying off! I have until the end of the month to get the weights up to 32kg (approx half my body weight) and then start some pliometrics - with a view to re-starting running in the Spring. Cycling should come sooner as I'm already up to 2 hours steady on the bike. 2021 was a great year of sport for me - I got PBs at both middle and long triathlon and had some encouraging runs over 5k and the flat and at longer distances on the hills. I thought the injury was going to set me right back to square one, but it feels less serious than I thought and the UWE physios have been great. Here's hoping 2022 is another good year!
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