Rainy bank-holidays are the norm in the UK, so if you are going to get wet then why not get wet on top of a spectacular mountain!
With this thought in the back of my mind I set off for the rain drenched Brecon Beacons on a dull Friday morning. The planned departure time of 5.00 a.m. was optimistic in the extreme and a belated 7 a.m. start instead was the real world equivalent.
The campsite in Wales I know – having stayed in this neck of the woods before – so no surprises in store there. The village pub is less than 100 metres from the site and it sells good ale, has a wood burning fire and serves great grub, in other words the setting is near perfect.
So despite the rough weather conditions I was on a personal high while driving across the Severn Bridge and onward into a very wet Wales.
Upon arrival we had the tent pitched in a matter of minutes and it was off to climb up Fan Frynych a subsidiary summit of Fan Fawr. To reach this summit you have to pass through the beautiful Craig Cerrig-gleisiad.
The summit is confirmed by a trig point from which you can see for miles and miles across the Fan Frynych National Nature Reserve, at least you could see for miles and miles if it were not for the hail stones, gale force winds and torrential rain battering us in our faces as we peered from beneath our jacket hoods.
Having made the trig point we embarked upon a rapid descent back down into the heart of the Nature Reserve and inadvertently tramped headlong into the protected bog area at the foot of the glacial cirque. Quickly correcting this error we positively powered back at break neck speed to our parked car waiting patiently in the lay by on the A470.
Sitting soaked and cold in a rapidly steaming up car we returned via Brecon to the campsite and onward to the above mentioned village pub for some much-needed warmth and refueling via 2 pints of Cribyn Ale.
The function of this exercise was to access whether this small peak would work as a proving ground for a trip later in the year where I am taking 4 work colleagues on an outdoors adventure hiking trip deep into the National Park. Fan Fawr ticked all the required boxes as it is perfect for a spot of introductory map reading, some challenging ascent to get the old legs working, a peak with a trig point to aim for and some incredible scenery thrown in for good measure.
The weather forecasts were not positive again so I decided on a low-level hike along Cwm Oergwm in the shadows of Fan y Big. The hike was pleasant and varied following a path hugging the stream all the way up to some delightful small waterfalls which we crossed to start the return leg of the hike back down the valley side.
At this point, although I know it goes against all good advice, and I know you should stick to plan A etc, but, … the weather cleared and the summit of Fan y Big revealed itself to me from high above and an irresistable urge to try to summit it came at once all over me. Summit fever, call it what you like, but the next 15 minutes were spent altering our plans and our route to make a hopeful dash directly up the steep contours of the valley to find the ridge path running all the way up to Fan y Big’s summit.
It was probably going to add a fair few miles to the overall distance but the urge was too great so on we marched. The weather having teased me so mercilessly decided to tease some more and so on came the rain again in unrelenting waves.
I was too near to turn around though, and the summit was made in a final quick dash up the steep grassy sides of this vast amusingly named peak.
With the summit reached, an accompanying Tweet posted from my iPhone together with a hastily taken photo, then a quick altitude reading having been taken and it was back down almost as quickly as I had come up.
The rain drenched us as we traversed the spur that descends all the way back to the fields surrounding the village of Llanfrynach, it is very long and very steep. In the wet it is also amazingly treacherous and slippery. We almost slid down the final third of the hill on our backsides and trudged back to the village tired and exhausted from our extended route.
As we made for the centre of the village, (identified by the large graveyard surrounding the church), the heavens unleashed their worst at us with thunder and lightning and more sheets of rain. Once again the steamed up car became our sanctuary.
This was to be the pay off day for me, having waited for a break in the weather I was going to be rewarded with the best hike of the trip. Craig y Fan Ddu escarpment followed by Graig Fan Las then round onto Bwlch y Ddwyallt teetering high above Cwm Oergwm via Craig Cwareliand Craig Cwmoergwm finally reaching Fan y Big from the south-east. Having made the summit for the second time in as many days the route back would drop down to Bwlch ar y Fan and then take the gentle Tor Glas route back through Taf Fechan Forest arriving eventually at the start point at Torpantau.
For some this would be a major hike in itself, but for me, (this time at least), it was part of a route finding mission to gauge whether the majority of the hike could be incorporated into the Hike-fest I am due to undertake in June of this year.
The route did not disappoint with steep uphill climbs, some scary exposure along narrow rim hugging tracks, spectacular views and some barren moorland to be negotiated along the way. We hitched up with 3 guys up for the weekend from North Devon who were also attempting the route at the same time as us and spent most of the morning leap-frogging each other along the paths and tracks.
Having trail-blazed for the majority of the route now that we were nearing Fan y Big we found ourselves behind the lads from Devon and at some distance to boot. We watched in vain as their map reading skills let them down and they missed the peak completely, having taken the lower route off Craig Cwmoergwm.
Some time later having thankfully made the summit ourselves, and now on our own descent, we watched as the trio retraced their steps uphill and re-aligned themselves for another crack at the peak. We all met up on the Tor Glas on the way back and laughed about how we have all been navigation-ally challenged from time to time over the years.
The hike ended with a grueling slap up the tarmacked road to Torpantau car park where we said our farewells and all went our separate ways.
The day was rounded off with a few pints in the village pub and a winning raffle ticket courtesy of the local cricket team ending a very successful long weekend used for a bit of a recce and hands on sampling of what the Welsh Mountains will have to offer up in June.