Hiking Up Pen Y Fan in the The Brecon Beacons

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The Pen Y Fan Summit Plaque

(Saturday 26th August 2017)

The summer has been a wash out, and as I sit at home on this, yet another groggy morning, coffee beside me, laptop open in front of me, I reflect at how fortunate we were to have been blessed with such fantastic weather for the past four days, the August bank holiday weekend. A window of fine weather wedged into a seemingly endless abyss of grey, a fortunate window of blue skies and calm weather as Nath and myself ventured up onto the mountain tops of Southern Wales. We lucked out, as I had informed Nathan that we would. Well of course we would, we took my wife Donnah along with us, and whenever she books a holiday the weather is always fine.

It all started in the weeks following our Lake District outing, when Nath and I were rejoicing in the success of that trip, and the extra views and subscribers that it had bought in. We chatted happily on the phone and both decided that we wanted to squeeze in one more trip away before the summer (ha!) dissipated completely – if it hadn’t already.  

“I’ve got the bank holiday weekend booked off work,” Nath informed me. “But I think that Jemma would flip out if I ran off to the hills.” Of course, she wanted to spend some quality time with him. That was when I could physically hear the cogs of cunning begin to click away. “We could suggest that we take the ladies and the kids too.” Nath suggested. “They can have some time to themselves, and we can go on another Summit or Nothing expedition.”

Nath starting the climb up Pen Y Fan from Cwm Gwdi Carpark

Well, I had discussed this with Donnah previously, and as I mentioned it to her whilst still on the phone to Nath, she poised herself over the laptop, ready to start planning a long weekend (Don-Don loves planning a weekend even more than she loves a holiday, I’m sure). So within a week it was planned. We were ALL going camping, something that up until a year ago I had always refused to do, especially with kids in tow, but now Don had bought a brand new six man tent (a steal for £100 from Halfords), multiple blow up mattresses, fold out tables, gas stoves, fairy lights, solar lights… Well by the time it came to loading up the car there was only enough room for me to take my rucksack and one small carrier bag of clothes.

I had packed my Vango Banshee onto my ruck sack as well, in case we fancied doing a spot of wild camping, I know Nath had recently acquired a new DD hammocks Superlight tarp for his birthday that he wanted to set up, but I had already voiced my concerns about carrying the tent and all that goes with it on my back as we climb another mountain. We hiked up Scafell with the intention of camping, and didn’t. The same with our journey to Cranmere Pool, Dartmoor’s most remote location and the week prior I walked the cliffs of Tintagel with every intention of camping, but didn’t. I really didn’t fancy carrying all that shit on my back again, so I suggested we do the walk and look for somewhere else to camp afterwards, closer to the car. We agreed to suck it and see.

The sun was out, and warm on the morning that we set off for Pen Y Fan. We were following a route that I had picked up on ViewRanger, a freebie that someone else had shared, which turned out to be the designated National Trust route anyway, actually. We started to the North of the mountain, in a national trust just East of Libanus. As we travelled up the A470 on the way there, we passed what we assume is the Pilgrims route, and hundreds of cars parked all the way along the side of the road, and a stream of people winding up a path. Thoughts of Snowdon on the very same bank holiday weekend last year sprang to mind. As it turned out, our route wasn’t half as busy. Yes there was a handful of people climbing up with us, but no where near the scale of the route we passed.

I was drinking water like no bodies business, as, dressed in Summit or Nothing T-shirts we journeyed up the side of this mountain. Sweat was pouring out of me, and we were being attacked by midges all over. Nath pointed out how they were sticking to his head and drowning in the sweat that covered his glistening dome, and when I was close enough, I could see hundreds of the tiny creatures stuck all over his head. We also noted how the circular logo’s on our T-shirts were obviously not breathable as we both had an inch thick border of sweat around them.  

The Summit of Crybyn as viewed from the climb up Pen Y Fan

The valley to the left of us opened up as we made it higher and higher, and we could see the neighbouring Crybyn looming above us, a daunting prospect as we were aware that the mountain was a good 90m shorter than Pen-Y-Fan. It looked sheer, its narrow ridge reaching down to the opposite side of the woodland where we had taken off from. As far as we could tell, that was our descent path later.

Although these big ups are why we are here, it always seems a daunting prospect looking up at them, and I know that these are only tiddlers really, but for a novice like me, its always a ‘gulp’ moment when you start to work out the scale of what you are looking at.

It took us a little shy of 2 hours to climb the mountain, the views were incredible, which of course is why we stopped at plenty of intervals. I know I still had a fairly considerable weight on my back, even with out the tent (well, we are training for bigger things, as Nath keeps assuring me), but it made me question my stamina when a mother and father strolled passed me as I battled for breath and their two young children bumble easily along as though they are strolling in a park.

The last 1km was by far the steepest, and although it looked demoralisingly steep, there was a lot of scrambling involved, which made for a more enjoyable ascent. It always seems easier to practically crawl up a rocky face than to plod along with one foot in front of the other. We burst out onto the summit, and saw the large flat area scattered with individuals. There were two or three people forming a queue for the summit, and taking photos in front of the plaque. We got it over and done with, giving our signature “SUMMIIIIITTTT OOOORRRR NOOOOTTHHHHIIIIINNNNGGG!!!” and then decided to take in Corn Du and have our lunch there.  

A Popular pasttime -The crowds accumulating on Pen Y Fan

The midges were not as densely populated up here as they had been on the way up the mountain, thank goodness. No, up here there were more hideous cray fly that swarmed around us. Bit fat things, that incessantly crawled all over us as we tried to eat. We took in the views from the top, noting how the path up from the A470 looked rammed with people, almost as swarmy as the insects up here, and soon all of these people were all filtering onto the summit of Corn Du with us. By the time we left, and began to make our way over to Cribyn via Pen y Fan, the queue for the summit’s plaque had grown to at least twenty people.

The dip between Pen Y Fan and Cribyn looked vast, but once at the bottom looking up at the climb to the summit of Cribyn, it almost looked achievable. As Nath plodded on ahead of me, I convinced myself that I would go up it in one, pushing past that pain barrier as I had done on the Old Man of Coniston, back in the Lake District. I think Nath had decided the same, and as far as I could tell he had successfully scaled the climb with out stopping, I made it two thirds the way up before giving in. Not a fail, as such, considering I wanted to stop at about a third the way up and forced myself along further.

I had been desperately needing a piss since we left the Pen Y Fan, but the constant stream of people along our route was obviously an issue. When we got to the top of Cribyn, we sat down and set up our cameras to record a time- lapse. Nath’s new Sony Handycam had a time-lapse feature built into it, so he decided to try that out, and then lay back and caught some zed’s as I took a stroll around the top of this mountain, looking off at alternative routes other than the ridge decent we were designed to take on Viewranger – although we both decided that this alternative route would have taken in a massive amount of extra mileage and as it was 3pm already, we wouldn’t bother.

There were several people up with us, but when they finally disappeared, I saw this as the ideal opportunity to grab Nath and do our war cry from the top of the mountain. No sooner had we finished as some more hikers ventured up to the top with us, and then I realised that I really should have taken that opportunity to piss, as opposed to shout our heads off into the valley!

Panoramic photo from on top of Cribyn

There were several people up with us, but when they finally disappeared, I saw this as the ideal opportunity to grab Nath and do our war cry from the top of the mountain. No sooner had we finished as some more hikers ventured up to the top with us, and then I realised that I really should have taken that opportunity to piss, as opposed to shout our heads off into the valley!

The climb down the ridge of Crybyn was not as hairy as it had seemed, in fact, it looked scarier from across the valley this morning, besides, I hardly noticed the descent as I was having a rant about YouTube into the camera as I scaled down. We were very soon off the mountain, and back out onto the road for the final quarter of our hike. This was for me the hardest part of the day, as for me there is nothing so hard going as walking up a road, with no real ups, or no real views either to be honest.

Summit or Nothing, in matching T’s, on top of Crybyn, with conquered Pen Y Fan in back ground

The first day was over, and it had been good, although we both felt it beginning to cease us as we stopped at the car for our sign off and customary Summit or Nothing handshake. A quick pint was definitely in order, and no sooner had we left the car to enter the pub in Brecon, when Nath’s sole of his hiking boot fell of. Shame really as he had really thought that they would hold up all weekend, hence why he hadn’t bought another pair with him. So, much like me losing my sole on Ling Mell, we now had to find Nathan a new set of boots too, before we could get out again tomorrow. Unfortunately, there was nothing open now, and so we would have to wait until 10am tomorrow morning.

So, until then….



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