“You never climb the same mountain twice”

“You never climb the same mountain twice, not even in memory. Memory rebuilds the mountain, changes the weather, retells the jokes, remakes all the moves.”

Flores’s beautiful quote always captured my imagination and it also fits well with the stance long maintained by the Directing Staff that no two Fan Dances are ever the same, especially when quizzed on the fastest winter and summer times recorded in the events history.

Since our inaugural winter edition in 2013, we’ve experienced just about every extreme in the British weather and every variation between, with a range of underfoot conditions to match that demand a going status similar to that of horse racing, even though one still wouldn’t do justice to the rigours of this famous march. To be surprised though would be to ignore a sixty-year history of SAS Selection and why the Brecon Beacons has long been its staging ground, as much for the volatile and fast changing weather conditions as for its demanding terrain. What we experienced in the winter Fan Dance 2017 defied the forecasts and duped all those amateur meteorologists among our Fan Dancers and staff alike.

The opening day in the series gave us crisp and clear blue sunny skies that encouraged Load Bearers and Clean Fatigue runners alike to cover most of the course in tee shirts or a thin base layer only, although a small number of the less seasoned mistook windburn for sunburn at the end of it. Weekend two gifted every Fan Dancer with what they all always really wanted even if they didn’t realise it until it was over: soft, heavy flakes of snow that made for a white and wintry adventure in the high hills in true Special Forces Selection style. In contrast to the weekend before, images captured on the mountain summit could easily be mistaken for an Arctic survey, giving a special, other worldly atmosphere and a magical layer of silence, save the crunch of snow under foot, as though the summit RV point and surrounding area had been soundproofed. The prospect of snow always adds appeal to the hardy souls that are the Fan Dance faithful, but the lure of these alp-like conditions seemingly drew every skier, snowboarder and toboggan rider in the county onto the slopes of Pen y Fan. It must be an odd experience for our Fan Dancers en route to the summit, to watch skiers setting off the side of Pen y Fan, moving with ease and smiling. Incredible that within a few metres existed people with very different mind-sets and experiences.

In the case of the Fan Dance, the mountain is actually the one constant, no more than a canvas. It is the volatile and variable weather that provides the colours that help paint out so many great experiences brought down off the high hills, eventually shared as photographs or stories regaled in written or verbal form. Our recent Fan Dance was no exception and we are now in possession of even more memories that we can always refer back to in pictures and words. Nikki Bradshaw, diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer and permanently on crutches, battled through the snow on specially adapted crutches in aid of Fighting Fit for Ewings, to complete the Fan Dance in a single day, defying even her own expectations of completing half of the route over two days. Almost as remarkably, Mr. Mike Doyle celebrated his 80th birthday on the hills with us as he attempted to become the oldest Fan Dancer ever, an effort ultimately thwarted in a selfless act as he returned his injured walking partner to the nearest checkpoint. History was revisited as John Hunter, one of the most well known and loved Fan Dance veterans, a former World Coal Carrying Champion, winner of our inaugural winter edition, and star of the BBC’s ‘Ultimate Hell Week’ took the Masters Load Bearing title again,  proving that there was indeed life in the old dog yet. Our most competitive ladies Clean Fatigue category yet unfolded on the hills over weekend 1, with Páramo’s/Nikwax’s very own Emily Warren taking first place on the open day and finishing with the fastest cumulative time over the Trident Series, two Fan Dances in as many days with Exercise High Moon night march/run in-between. Nikwax /Páramo team colleague Luke Elliot also delivered an incredible performance in the Trident series, finishing within the top ten in the fiercely contested men’s Clean Fatigue category in all three events, mostly against fresh athletes. Congratulations, Luke and Emily, we hope to see you return to the mountain as Load Bearers for the summer edition.

First onto the mountain and last off, it’s always the Directing Staff and their Mountain Safety Team that feel the harsh effects of prolonged exposure to the elements the most, but at the same time are so privileged in being exposed to some of the best characteristics in human nature; displays of kindness, courage, determination, sacrifice, perseverance, grit and fortitude.  The Fan Dance is a place where friends are made for life and on the personal level, this beautiful and historic march has allowed me to meet as many amazing people over the last 4 years as I have done through 35 years of my life.
The DS at AEE once again extend their thanks to Páramo for keeping us dry in the foulest of conditions and for their generosity and considered support for the Fan Dance Series while maintaining respect for the SAS ethos of humility and excellence, which is the bedrock of our organisation and so dear to us.

March Director: Ken Jones, Avalanche Endurance Events

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