Rhiannon in the Brecons Beacons abseiling down the waterfall

UK EXPEDITIONS

get dirty in Wales

Written by Jocelyn Broad

What’s your name, where’d you come from? What’s your previous travel experience?

I’m Rhiannon and I’m from Sydney, Australia (as opposed to the 4 other countries with a city named Sydney – fun fact!). Although I have been travelling for many years, I think of myself as a newcomer to trekking. I completed my first trek 4 years ago in Papua New Guinea and have been hooked ever since completing 1 or 2 every year.

My first expedition with Secret Compass was in August of this year in Kamchatka, Russia. It was amazing, so amazing in fact that when I got back to my hotel room in St Petersburg I jumped straight onto the Secret Compass website to see what I could do next. It was just my luck that there was a weekend expedition in the UK starting 16 September, just a few days after I finished the Kamchatka expedition. As I packed for the UK expedition, still feeling super tired and unnaturally hungry from Kamchatka (I never knew I could eat so much!) – I wondered if I wasn’t a little crazy for booking another expedition so soon, a thought that was seconded by my Kamchatka trekking mates which did not give me with the confidence I was after. Little was I to know at this point that such an amazing weekend was ahead of me.

Abseiling down a water fall on UK adventure academy expedition in Wales

How were the mornings?

Now, I’m generally a morning person so the somewhat early wake up calls were nice. With a 7am wake up call, stretch, yawn and crawl to the camp fire we got the first pot of water boiled. From this point, with some breakfast and tea and coffee under our belts (or some concoction involving instant coffee, instant milk and hot chocolate – you know who you are!), we packed up our sleeping gear, packs and filled up our water for 8am starts.

 

How did the day go from there?

Each day brought something entirely different on this expedition. We either had canals to paddle down in our one-man rafts, forests to trek through, hills to climb (and I had no idea Wales had such steep hills!), mountains to summit and waterfalls to repel down. No day was alike. We set out at a good pace on both days. At the end of the day, the slower you are, the later you get to camp. There were times on both days where I think we were getting behind ‘schedule’ and that meant the breaks were a little bit shorter and the pace needed to be picked up. No one wants to be setting up their sleeping gear in the dark.

Fail to prepare; prepare to fail.

There are plenty of stops to rest or to keep your sugar and energy levels high, however, you don’t need to rely just on these stops to eat. If I was hungry, I would be sure something was easy to get my hands on-There were plenty of jealous eyes as I pulled out a protein bar from my pocket whilst we were rafting down the canal! Have your camelback/bladder filled up so that you don’t need to stop for a drink of water too. Some of the hill climbs were harder than others and for those that were a little less prepared, or fit and ready for the expedition, there were more stops.

The expedition can be done by most fitness levels – however make it easier and more enjoyable by being as fit and prepared as possible (the Secret Compass team have suggested training plans if you’re not sure what you should be doing).

 

How was the toilet situation?

Our toilet was the great outdoors, so yes, you will be digging your own loo, but in my experience this is far better than many public toilets I’ve come across. Plus, the outdoor toilet generally comes with a much better view.

Food on route

A typical lunch will give you the energy you need to finish the rest of the day. We had wraps, cheeses (for those that ate dairy), hummus (for those that didn’t), dried fruit and nuts and muesli / energy bars.

How the days panned out…

I think we fell a bit behind both days of trekking so we had to make up a bit of time in the afternoons. Paul stopped the team at points when we needed to catch our breath or have a snack. These spots were generally after we had just climbed up or down something steep or when there was a waterfall to repel down.

 

Canoeing down a river on UK adventure academy expedition in Wales
Trekking across Wales on UK Adventure Academy with Secret Compass

Expedition Teammates

A Secret Compass expedition is a team effort. Everyone helps each other out whether it’s getting a pot of water boiled, helping someone up a steep incline or helping that person that didn’t bring toilet paper… Our expedition leader Paul was a wealth of knowledge and could help us with our gear, the terrain and talk us through the areas we were hiking through.

Setting up camp

Once you reach camp, priority is getting your sleeping gear up and ready for use. We slept in Hennessy hammocks. I’d never heard of these before, and when I had read that we would be sleeping in hammocks… well, I had imagined something slightly more Rastafarian than the Hennessy hammock. I’m so glad I was wrong. These hammocks are more like a one-man tent that you string up between trees, they keep the rain and bugs out and are extremely comfortable – in fact, I bought one when I got back home. With all the sleeping gear up and ready to go, it was time to get the water boiling for tea, coffee and dinner.

Dinner was dehydrated camping meals and as someone that doesn’t eat meat or dairy, I was pleasantly surprised with the variety, quality and taste of these meals!

 

Sleep came first

When camping, I think you have two kinds of people, the first – those that are happy to stay up late and swap stories, the second – those that are tucked up in their sleeping bag asleep before someone can say ‘Did Rhiannon go to bed already!?’. It’s safe to say I am the latter so I cannot talk much about what happens past about 730pm around the campfire…

And how was your sleep?

Brilliant! Outside in the hammock where I could see the stars and listen to the musical farts of all my teammates – I in fact slept like a baby. It was only the rather large spider on the inside of my hammock that ensured I got up and out of the hammock at record speed. Other than the man-eating spider, the hammock felt very secure. My sleeping bag kept me warm and my sleeping mat gave the hammock some much needed structure, warmth and was a very handy wind break too.

Two teammates take a break to admire the view over the Welsh mountains whilst on the Adventure Academy trip to Wales with Secret Compass
Canoeing with the Secret Compass team leading the way on the Adventure Academy trip in Wales

How fit or prepared do you need to be to enjoy this expedition?

Fitness for a trek is a subjective point to talk to. The fitter you are the more you will enjoy any trek. For Wales, even though this is ‘just’ a weekend, a good degree of fitness was still very important. Good to Very Good cardio fitness, endurance and strength to climb up those hills with your pack on will ensure you will enjoy your trek that much more. Rule of thumb is if you can run 5km comfortably and squat your weight you should be fine. I actually can’t do either of those things but I’m told they are a good measure of fitness! (I had just completed the Secret Compass Kamchatka trek so I think I had a bit of an advantage in the training department).

Rhiannon’s top kit tip

Top kit tip right here: have amazing sleeping gear! You will NEVER be disappointed! Invest in a super warm sleeping bag (if you don’t already have one) and take a sleeping mat. I can’t stress the sleeping mat enough; a few people went without their sleeping mat to save on weight and space and they regretted it. (see above my reason for sleeping so well)

 

The importance of the handbook

The Secret Compass team put a lot of information in the expedition handbook – read this thoroughly. The gear list is a wealth of information and the team absolutely know what they are talking about. I can’t stress enough to follow the gear list. There were a couple of people that didn’t have the best time because of the gear they chose to take and didn’t take (didn’t follow the gear list).

Be open minded and armed with your sense of humour – it’s an expedition, anything can and will happen (like being chased down a hill by a very angry sheep or stepping into a deep hole filled with sheep poo…. Yes, both things happened to me and no there aren’t any photos)

What was the best thing about this expedition for you?

The highlight of this expedition, aside from it being in Wales, was our expedition leader Paul, and the team. I’ve walked away with future travel partners and travel plans (I’ll be joining Paul on his Gabon expedition with Secret Compass)

What surprised you the most about this expedition?

How much Secret Compass can pack into one weekend! I wouldn’t have seen as much of Wales as I did in this weekend any other way.

The reality of Wales

Everything I’ve heard about Wales is true; it is a mighty beautiful country to see, the people are lovely, the countryside is so green and frankly, there’s no better way to see a country than on foot.

Trekking across Wales on UK Adventure Academy with Secret Compass

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