The Route: Pen y Fan | Distance: 8km | Time: 3 Hours | Height gain: 604m | Max Altitude: 897m Start: SN982203 Finish: Same as start | Map: OS Explorer OL12 | Date: 06/04/2012
Pen y Fan is not a tough climb at least not when taking the tourist route up from the Storey Arms on the A470. But throw in some unexpected winter conditions with snow drifts several feet deep plus frozen water and ice and the whole scenario changes somewhat. On our first full day in Wales those conditions were exactly what we came across.
Originally the plan had been to ascend the mountain via the northern ridges climbing up the steepest ridge to attain the summit of Cribyn before hiking along the ridge top and scrambling up onto Pen Y Fan, but the weather had dramatically changed all that.
From our vantage point back in the valley the snow-covered peaks looked very inviting and full of adventure but not possessing either crampons or an ice axe, or indeed having any experience in winter conditions at all, I decided to err on the side of caution and opt for a less ambitious mountain day instead.
The result of my thinking being instead the easy route to the summit from The Storey Arms Outdoor Pursuits Centre, less exciting and indeed more of a trudge, but it did mean at least that my girlfriend would reach the summit and would be able to enjoy a good winters day out with me in the mountains and join me in savouring the great views on offer from the top.
So this is how we set about with all the masses from the car park on the A470 to climb Pen y Fan. The climb is initially fairly steep up the mettled path and to be honest a tad boring, but soon you get up onto the open moorland and with the sun making an appearance the whole place lit up like a winter wonderland more akin to the alps or northern Scotland than South Wales in April.
We pressed on slipping and occasionally falling in the unseasonal ice and snow. Dogs I decided (after much thought) are definitely more suited to these conditions than mere human beings as the proliferation of all types of canine out and about in the mountains today was proving, perfectly at home on four legs in these conditions, whereas humans such as myself looked more akin to being a fish out of water!
The snow was amazingly deep and concentrated considering this was the result of a single days white out from two days earlier. As we neared the start of the steep escarpment on the sides of Corn Du our attempts to continue in an upward motion had become comical as feet slipped and bums whacked the ground with much regularity.
The summit appeared resplendent in the snow and sunshine taking on an almost alpine appearance and the challenging conditions actually became a joy to tackle. What had started out in my mind as a rather mundane day in the hills had now taken on a whole new perspective.
The last short scramble to the summit of Corn Du gave way to beautiful wintry vistas out and over The Brecon Beacons National Park. Now seeing for the first time the back conditions on the mountain I needed no convincing that I had made the correct call in only attempting a lesser route to the tops today.
A short stop for breath and then we turned our gaze toward Pen y Fan the real objective of the day. It’s an easy slap along the ridge to the peak from Corn Du and we almost galloped along in the now pristine winter day conditions.
The summit was as always the case awash with people and dogs all clambering for their piece of the view on this Good Friday morning. Like all the others on the summit we soaked up the views had a spot of lunch and then reluctantly had to start the trudge back down to the road. Descending is always such an anti-climax in my book! I definitely fall into the ascent rather than descent camp!
At this point my ViewRanger GPS app on my iPhone decided to stop working that coupled with a critical sub 10% of battery power left on it I reluctantly decided to halt my tracking of this route, subsequently resulting in only half a route map appearing on my Social Hiking Profile page online, but you live and learn eh!
As a footnote the descent path back down is a fairly uneventful route but the snow was still deep and care had to be taken with every step!
As we neared the end of our own little journey and todays outing there were still masses of the general public embarking on their quest to attain Pen y Fan’s summit, some in trainers, some in high heels and some even in their Sunday best fur-coats, all eager to see the top of a mountain.
I promised myself there and then that I simply must return and have a crack at doing the more hard-core and challenging routes to the summits of these wonderful mountains as although the day had been good fun it was really not the challenge I was looking for! Too many people doing the same as me on the day gave the game away somewhat and it irked me, (I must be becoming a hill snob)………..anyway I’m booked to return in less than four weeks time for another crack at it! (update – the planned second trip did not occur due to awful weather conditions throughout that year, rain and yet more rain!)