It’s dark, foggy and uncharacteristically mild for January. There is a crowd surrounding the infamous red telephone box at the Storey Arms as they listen in to final orders. Everybody is champing at the bit to give the High Moon Fan Dance a crack. A night time endurance event of approximately 24km and following the route of one of the gruelling Special Forces selection tests.
Pen Y Fan the highest of the Brecon Beacons summits at 886 m. The ascent is unforgiving, and relentless, it tests the body and mind. Looking up the stoned path lulls you into believing this will be a gentle climb. It is not. The legs burn and the lungs blow within the first 5 minutes. It is a punchy start and sets the tone for the next few hours.
Avalanche Endurance Events take the weapons out of the SAS selection process and gives civvies a taster of what soldiers endure to become part of the elite fighting force that is the Special Air Service or Special Boat Service. Adding to the authenticity of the fan dance the DS (directing staff) are military and former Special Forces soldiers themselves.
Pen Y Fan the mountain whose outline is said to be engraved onto the heart of every SAS man’
Sir Peter de la Billiere
As a newish member of the Twitter brigade, I follow military sorts and charities and through chatting with some of these chaps I was introduced to this event and signed up immediately. As a veteran my entry fee was donated to Combat Stress.
We receive our brief for the High Moon Fan Dance well in advance over email. Comprehensive kit lists are issued for both clean fatigue and fully loaded entrants. Safety cards and route cards are issued a couple of days prior to the event indicating positions of all RV’s and MST’s. Participants are well informed and should be well prepared.
Mountain safety is at the fore front of the DS’s mind. This may not be the highest summit but if a former SAS officer can die of exposure on these very hills, then so can we. These mountains, as all, are to be treated with respect, especially at night.
Packing my bergen took me back to 2007. I would watch Chris Terrill’s Commandos on the Frontline while getting ready for my recruits course with the Honourable Artillery Company. I was studying law and hoping to join the Army Legal Service on qualification. A devoted weekend warrior whose ambition was cut short after a badly broken back in 2010.
This event, the staff running it and the people taking part gave me a little of what I have been missing in the last few years. AEE are cultivating a special community and have many regular attenders.
For me, it embraces many elements that I cherish and miss about serving in the military. The camaraderie and special bonds that are formed when we endure hardships. The satisfaction of sharing physical and mental achievements coupled with the dry wit and humour renowned within our forces.
To ensure I really got the most authentic experience out of this fan dance I added extra load. If the boys were carrying 35 lbs then so was I and my two dogs were a good substitute for the awkwardness of carrying a rifle.
Sid the Whippet and Winston the Jug were by my side and they outdid themselves. Only in the last km Winston started to dig his paws in but with some gentle encouragement he, Sid and I earned our badges and we will back for more in the summer.
I look forward to the challenge of a loaded Trident, 3 back to back ascents, and meeting everyone again in the light of the day.