Updated 28 September 2018 - New blog post - The #PeoplesWalkforWildlife

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Fan Frynych in the snow - 31/1/2015

It had been a week since we climbed Pen y Fan but we were still craving the delights of the Brecon Beacons. Throughout the week I had been checking the weather uipdates and each day heavy snow had been forecast on the mountains. Our time in the Beacons was not yet finished and we decided to venture to the other side of the A470 and head up to the summit of Fan Frynych

Once again our journey took us over the Black Mountain and, like every other trip over this stretch of road, we had to pull over to get some photos of the amazing scenery. There was still a lot of snow on the ground and the wild ponies were grazing near the edge of the road - two of them came right up to us looking for food. Unfortunately we didn't have anything suitable for them but we did manage to get some lovely pics of them.

One of the beautiful wild ponies
There was still a lot of snow over the Black Mountain
We drove past the Pen-y-Pant car park where we had stopped the week before and were amazed at the amount of cars parked both there and on the road. We glanced up at the path to Pen y Fan and saw people walking up like an army of ants...hence its nickname, the Pen Y Fan Motorway! It was so busy and part of us was relieved that we were going to a much quieter part of the National Park.

Our hike began from a layby  on the A470 (grid ref: SN956227) - a few miles north of the Storey Arms. It is quite a large layby with a picnic bench and information boards - but no toilet or refreshment facilities. We made our way through a wooden gate and into Craig Cerrig-gleisiad nature reserve. 

A cheerful robin greets us
The beginning of the nature reserve
We continued walking up a well laid path which was surrounded by deciduous trees and snow on the ground. It's a fairly steep climb, a little uneven in places and unfortunately not really suitable for wheelchairs or pushchairs. We reached another gate and as we walked through we were presented with the most beautiful winter wonderland.

The path from the layby
Going through the main gate into the reserve
A winter wonderland with very icy paths
Walking through the reserve we were dwarfed by the overpowering steep crags of Craig Cerrig-gleisiad. This fascinating landscape is the result of the Ice Age 20,000 years ago and over time the ice carved the 150m cliffs we see today.

We made our way along the icy paths which kept disappearing under the thick snow. The reserve is in continuous shade in the winter due to the massive cliffs creating almost an amphirheater and this meant that the paths were getting icier and there was no sign of the snow melting. This shaded area creates perfect conditions for some rare arctic plants that can only be found in this part of the Beacons. The cliffs are also a favoured nesting place for peregrine falcons.

As we climbed we turned around and were starting to get fantastic glimpse of Pen y Fan and Corn Du - they were both covered in snow and you could see the dark wintry clouds surrounding the summits.

Corn Du and Pen y Fan in the distance
The weather was starting to change quite dramatically and as we ventured uphill we were caught in several spin drifts. The sky was turning black in parts and it started snowing off and on, but we continued on the path.

We inadvertently went off path a couple of times due to the snow cover, but luckily we knew the area and managed to get back on track. We could just about see the path in the distance and we followed it, passing the bare hawthorn and rowen trees on the way.

We got to our usual point where we would have a rest and a cup of tea…but the rock we would usually sit down on was completely covered in snow. We didn't mind though - we needed a rest and the views of Pen y Fan were beautiful.

The stormy sky
You can just about make out the path with rowen and hawthorn trees scattered across the landscape
Our rest point - with an awesome view of Pen Y Fan
After warming up with a flask of tea and a Mars bar we continued up the mountain. The snow was getting extremely thick in parts, almost knee deep! In the near distance we could see a cairn and ventured towards it.

Dan battling against the thick snow
The snow was almost knee deep!
The cairn in the distance
When we got to the cairn we once again had awesome views of Pen y Fan and Corn Du in the distance. At this point you have an option to go one of two ways to the summit of Fan Frynych: To the left of the cairn is a ridge which we tried to walk, but the snow was far too thick to see the path, so instead we went straight on (with the cairn behind us). 

The sun begins to set
The ridge path was impossible to do due to it being so steep and full of thick snow
The route we took to Fan Frynych didn’t appear to have been touched by hikers for a while, which gave us great satisfaction by making footprints in the unspoiled snow. With the path covered in snow we had to rely on memories of previous visits to navigate to the stile that takes you out of the reserve and onto Fan Frynych.

When we eventually reached the stile the snow was coming down thick and fast with the wind blowing a gale - it was the start of a blizzard!

Walking in untouched snow
The stile that leads out of the nature reserve and onto Fan Frynych
The two of us caught in a blizzard
It wasn't long before we could see the trig point of Fan Frynych. The mountain is 629m above sea level and part of the Forest Fawr section of the Beacons. There is usually a well worn path that leads to the trig point, but due to the snow we couldn't see it. So with the summit straight ahead of us and watching where we were walking we headed straight for it.

I filmed the walk to the trig point… it was freezing, windy and visibility was poor -  it wasn't very pleasant but definitely an experience! On top of the blizzard we had to be aware that there were deep pools of water in this area, so each step on the snow was risky.

Where did the path go? The trig point in the distance
Dan in the blizzard to the trig point
When we finally got to the trig point the blizzard was in full force - it was so cold and the wind was very strong. We got our obligatory trig point photos and then, within ten minutes, the blizzard had ended and the sun came out which brought blue sky and amazing 360 degree views. Please watch the video above to see what we experienced on the summit.

The video of the walk to the summit

Me with the trig point
Dan in the Antarctic...errr actually Mid Wales :)
The Awesome Welsh Dragon trig point of Fan Frynych
We spent a good few minutes up on the summit and as we were loosing light fast it was time to make our way back down the mountain. The footprints we had left whilst walking to the summit were now completely covered over due to the recent snowfall, but eventually we got back to the icy path and then found the stile to get back into the nature reserve.

Going down was both fun and scary. When we have climbed this mountain previously the path up is rocky, sometimes steep and very close to the edge - now it was completely covered with snow. We just had to go for it and spent most of the incline sliding, falling and just hoping for pot luck!  We did however have a lot of fun too... snowball fights, snowmen building and endless falls...the snow in the Beacons was awesome!

Snowball fight anyone?
The sun started setting whilst we descended creating a beautiful pink and purple sky, it was also joined by a full moon. 

We always have a fantastic time when we visit the quieter side of the Beacons and it was extra special in the snow. I would certainly recommend this area if you are fed up with the large numbers of people on Pen y Fan - the walk is challenging but you are rewarded with magnificent views of the National Park…and solitude. 

The sun sets with the moon

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Pen y Fan in the snow - 24/1/2015

I have climbed Pen y Fan a number of times over the years but never in the winter months. A friend of ours had been up the week before and showed us some amazing pics of the mountain covered in snow - it looked beautiful. Seeing that we hadn't really ventured out in 2015 we though Pen y Fan was the perfect hike to kick off 2015!

The drive from home takes us into the Brecon Beacons National Park and over the Black Mountain, where the sun was beginning to rise - we couldn't resist stopping a few times to get some pics of the fantastic landscape and a kestrel hovering at the side of the road. The Black Mountain pass (A4069) has a number of places you can pull in to park and take in the scenery. It's always hard to drive though without stopping to take photos.

A kestrel hovering near the car. Unfortunately I could only get a silhouette
because the sun was rising behind it
The beautiful warm colours of the sunrise as it hits the mountains
As you drive through this part of the Brecon Beacons you are guaranteed to see Welsh mountain ponies. We managed to stop and take a pic of them grazing in the sunrise. They have been free to roam the uplands of the Brecon Beacons since Roman times and through harsh climate and poor grazing they have developed into one of the strongest and intelligent breeds on the planet. They are now classed as a rare breed and many farms are helping to ensure their survival.

Wild ponies grazing at sunrise
One of the lay-bys you can park in - It was rather icy that morning!
The sun rises in the Brecon Beacons
For us, the drive only takes around 45 minutes and we parked in the National Trust's Pont-ar-Daf car park just off the A470. The first thing you notice when you arrive at the car park is the large amount of felled trees - what was once a conifer plantation is now an empty piece of land with only a handful of trees left. This is due to it being mostly occupied by larch trees which are one of the species that has been hit by the deadly fungus disease Phytophthora Ramorum - the Forestry Commission ordered them to be felled and now they are planting new trees in the area to create a brighter, more open and wildlife-friendly woods.

The felled trees in the woodland by Pont-ar-Daf car park
This was the first time we have climbed Pen y Fan from this starting point, our previous hikes have always been from the Neuadd Reservoir. There was already a few cars parked there and it wasn't yet 9am, but apparently weekends are very busy on this path, hence the nickname 'The Pen y Fan Motorway'.

You begin the trek by walking through a kissing gate and then over a wooden bridge, with the Blaen Taf Fawr running underneath. An extremely pretty start to the walk and we were already getting glimpses of the remaining snow that was on the higher peaks. There are well laid paths from the start which are looked after by the National Trust, who continue to fix and prevent erosion to them.

The kissing gate and information plaques at the start of the trek
The footbridge crosses over the Blaen Taf Fawr - this flows all the way to Cardiff
The paths are well laid and clear to see
We had literally walked only a few metres before we got a glimpse of another kestrel, once again it was hovering over the ground looking for prey - what a delight to see another one of these beautiful birds on the same morning. Near where we saw the kestrel there is a National Trust plaque on the ground which reads "The Brecon Beacons were given to the National Trust by the Eagle Star insurance company in 1965" - Many commons are owned by companies and since 1965 the National Trust have acquired other parts of the Beacons in order to protect it and keep it wild.

A kestrel is silhouetted by the snow encrusted ground
The National Trust plaque 
Up until now everything was going reasonably well...until we reached the ice! It seemed that the whole path just transformed into an ice rink and even though we had hiking boots on we soon realised that we should have worn crampons. So the decision was either turn back or persevere...we noticed a few people walking just off the path, so that's what we decided to do and we continued our climb up the mountain.

Hey, when did the path turn into an ice rink?
Walking made easier on the snow covered banks
The snow was getting deeper the higher we climbed. As a result the icy path was less treacherous but we still had to go off onto the snowy banks every now and again. It was fantastic walking in the snow and it was hard to believe that this amount of snow existed so relatively close to home. We came across an untouched section of snow and the child it me just had to attempt a snow angel (or maybe I just needed an excuse to lay down lol)...it was a pathetic attempt as the snow was a lot harder than I anticipated! :)

The snow got a lot thicker the higher we climbed and you can just see the
top of Corn Du in this photo
A useless attempt at a snow angel!
Not only was the snow getting deeper, but the hill fog was appearing thick and fast and Corn Du was disappearing in front of us. We knew at this point that the views up there wouldn't be great - but today we were here for the snow!

The snowy path with Corn Du getting closer with every step
We finally made it to Bwlch Duwynt (which means 'windy pass' in Welsh) - and boy was it windy (check out the video below).

To the left of us was the slope of Corn Du, which looked treacherous covered in ice. We saw so many people slipping and falling down that we decided to head straight over to Pen y Fan. We saw a number of ravens at this point and even they were struggling to keep their balance in the windy conditions.

A very icy Corn Du
Corn Du with Pen y Fan behind and Cribyn in the distance
A raven battles against the elements on Bwlch Duwynt
The walk over to Pen y Fan was somewhat hazardous. It started snowing again and the snow was so thick in parts you couldn't really see the path. As you approach the saddle between Corn Du and Pen y Fan the views of the Neuadd Valley are beautiful.

The snowy path on the ridge to Pen y Fan 
The view of the snow covered Neuadd Valley
Brecon Beacons ninjas pose for a selfie!
The final climb up to Pen y Fan was very tricky with lots of ice on the ground and limited visibility owing to the hill fog. Eventually we made it to the top where we got the obligatory photo at the summit. The cairn on the summit is a Bronze Age burial chamber. In 1997 it was excavated and a bronze brooch and spearhead was found inside the chamber. On a good day the views are amazing, you can see the summit of Cadair Idris and even the Bristol Channel at Porthcawl. However the view on the day was somewhat limited!

The final climb up to Pen y Fan was extremely slippery and visibility was getting worse
The frozen summit of the highest mountain in Southern Britain
The obligatory photo opportunity (thanks to the kind chap who took it)
This was a good time to have a sit down and enjoy something to eat. The view was non-existent but it was so comforting to have a nice warm tea and a frozen Mars Bar. A quick glance to the summit and the queue for a photograph was building - it's testament to the lure of Pen y Fan that it is so popular even in such adverse conditions.

It was so cold on the summit that even my Mars bar was frozen! (other confectionery available)
Even though it was freezing up there the queue to the summit was as busy as ever!
We stayed on the summit for about fifteen minutes before deciding it was time to descend. The path down from Pen y Fan seemed to have frozen over even more and the hill fog was thickening by the minute. It was difficult in places to see where the ridge ended and the clouds began but, holding onto each other, we made our way down and could just about see which path to take when we got to the saddle in between Corn Du and Pen y Fan.

The treacherous snowy ridge
The saddle between Corn Du and Pen y Fan: at least we could see what path to take
We had lots of fun on the way down and even had a competition to see who would fall down the most - the final count was Dan twice and myself three times. We also built a snowman, made friends with numerous dogs and watched a man paragliding off the side of the mountain. There was a relaxed and party atmosphere on the path, many people were laughing and joking due to them slipping and sliding all over the place!

The beautiful descent from Bwlch Duwynt
Our own Brecon Beacons snowman (eyes & smile added in Photoshop lol)
Lots of dogs on the hike and this one looks right at home
A paraglider taking full advantage of the windy Beacons
When we got to the bottom we were surprised by the amount of people making their way up and the car park was choc-a-block. This route is without doubt the busiest one we have ever walked and I feel it is probably the easiest way up Pen y Fan.

I was so pleased that we decided to venture up Pen y Fan in the snow - it was a wonderful experience and the scenery was so beautiful. No doubt we will return to this neck of the woods soon whilst the snow remains.

A quick glance back up the path and they are still loads of people attempting the hike.
Back to the car and the whole car park was full
The return journey over the Black Mountain pass was once again not without stops as I just had to get a photo of a beautiful white pony.

Wild pony on the Black Mountain