Our original intention was to 'bag' two Munros - Cruach Ardrain, Beinn Tuilaichean - and a Munro Top - Stob Garbh - with our good friend Maria acting as guide and mentor. Weather forecast was light cloud cover with sunny intervals - yeah, right!
We had a nice sunny start from the convenient Forestry Commission car park situated just off the main road. We crunched our way along the vehicle access roads past monster-machines and an occasional forestry worker.
After a short boggy trek along tree-break paths (forest 'rides'), we exited the plantation over a high stile and emerged onto the ‘bare’ mountainside. We headed up the ridge to the Grey Height (686 m) and took in some beautiful views to the north. However, an ominous bank of cloud created a ceiling above the vista. To the south, our destination was shrouded in a smoky, white mist.
We continued our ascent to our next stop, Meall Dhamh (814 m), passing some precariously balanced ‘erratics’ (boulders deposited by glaciers). Despite the body heat generated by our efforts, there was a noticeable temperature drop as we moved closer to the mist ceiling.
With no invitation, the mist descended. However, we pressed on for a while along the well-trodden path before feeling the need to add an extra layer in order to ward off the chill. Waterproofs were required for our final ascent to the summit, as the wind-driven mist was now depositing a significant layer of moisture upon us.
We passed the ‘false summit’ cairns and, with a degree of satisfaction, reached the cairn on the ‘true’ summit (1046m). Not only were our clothes and hair dampened by the mist but also, slightly, our sense of achievement. There was no view whatsoever. Visibility was 25 - 50m maximum. We were here…but where?!?
A quick lunch and time to move on…but which way? It was decided that, all things considered, Beinn Tulaichean would have to wait for another day. We would take the most direct route to Stob Garbh (the Munro Top). Our first challenge was to negotiate the ‘intimidating’ descent of the north-east face of Cruach Ardrain. In some blogs, the path has been described as a ‘goat track’ and a ‘hard scramble’… in good weather! Nevertheless, after some initial slow (but sure) progress - including some ‘crab’ impressions from Lynne - we reached the bealach between Cruach Ardrain and Stob Garbh.
We knew where we were. We checked the map and also checked Maria’s GPS locator. The problem we were now faced with was the lack of an obvious path and no visible landmarks except the occasional, amorphous, looming shadow in the mist. Thanks to Maria’s navigating skills - using a combination of altitude readings on her watch, GPS data and her trusty Silva compass - we climbed to a point where a path finally presented itself. We won't mention Lynne's imaginary path! Oops! Too late!
The short trek to Stob Garbh was eerie. It was like moving through a science fiction landscape, as weird shapes emerged from the swirling mists and suddenly disappeared. The summit (959 m) was graced with dark pools and a pavement of metamorphic rocks. A quick photo opportunity at the summit cairn and it was time to head off the mountain.
It was a fairly uneventful trek back along the ridge (apart from two sheep which, bizarrely, looked three times bigger through the mist). The path led through occasional boggy patches and rocky rises. Visibility was still limited, until we began our descent of Stob Coire Buidhe (857 m) and passed below the cloud roof. The finish line was not quite in sight but was definitely nearer.
We climbed over the deer fence on the edge of the forestry land, using a partially constructed (?) stile and prepared for the final descent to another forestry track. There was no obvious path and, in spite of checking and re-checking, we could not find the stream that our guidebook suggested we follow as the easiest route. The gradient was steep. The grass was thick and long. The spongy moss hid slippery rocks and deep holes. This was hard going on knees and ankles joints, thighs and back muscles. We reached the edge of the forestry but this was dense and impenetrable. Eventually a stream became apparent and we followed it down to the track with much trepidation..
Thigh muscles quivering, we plodded (yes, plodded) back to the car along the muddy track, which had been churned by the tyres of huge vehicles, until we heard the welcome crunch of compacted gravel. An unforgettable nine and a half hours! For us, an unparalleled achievement.
Learned and Affirmed:
Our initial intention was to complete an 8 mile circuit, with Fan y Big as the only summit involved. However, the sight of Cribyn, Pen y fan and Corn Du was just too much to resist. Looking at the map, we calculated it would probably add another 5 or 6 miles to our original plan, but if we left out Cribyn, it would seem more sensible!
Fan y Big, according to wikipedia, "is a subsidiary summit of Waun Rydd in the Brecon Beacons National Park, in southern Powys, Wales. It is 719 m (2,359 ft) high and is often hiked as part of the Horseshoe Walk, a traverse of the four main peaks in the Brecon Beacons."
Free parking at the Blaen y Glyn Forestry Car Park - always a welcome start. In the eventual 13 mile circuit, there were only two really strenuous sections. The first was at the beginning. After ascending a well made path along side some beautiful waterfalls, you encounter a long steep gradient to the top of Craig y Fan Ddu. Despite the fact it was a very overcast morning, it was a lot more humid than we had anticipated, so halfway up this climb we had to remove layers and take on water to avoid overheating.
Once we had reached the top, we continued on the long ridge walk around the head of three glacial valleys - Cwm Caerfanell, Cwm Cwareli and Cwm Oergwm. The impressive vistas changing every few hundred metres. It is worth remembering to look back every now and again so that you don't miss the spectacular views of where you have been! The scattered peat haggs creating a landscape from a science fiction movie.
While Fan y Big itself is a gentle incline, it affords an impressive aligned view of Cribyn, Pen y Fan and Corn Du. There is a small overhanging outcrop of sandstone (allegedly called 'The Diving Board') where, if you have a head for heights, there is a fantastic photo-opportunity.
After a quick lunch, we descended Fan y Big and skirted around Cribyn - which, in hindsight, was a wise decision. We made the now familiar ascent of Pen y Fan and Corn Du, then began our trek along the western ridges of the Taf Fechan valley. Different sections of the ridge have different names - Craig Gwaun Taf, Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog and Graig Fan Ddu. In places, there are sheer drops near the edge of the path. However, if you are anxious about heights, there is lots of grass/heather alongside the well-worn path.
We paid a quick visit (due to swarms of flying ants) to the trig point on Twyn Mwyalchod before a tricky descent - the second strenuous section mentioned earlier. A steep, deep cut track with lots of loose stones and slippery surfaces, which, from a distance, looks like a red, bloody scar. Lots of care needed. This is when walking-poles are probably advantageous but as we don't yet possess them, we took our time and selected our route with care.
We finally reached the Neuadd Reservoir without injury and after a few photos of the abandoned buildings, we walked bag to the car along two miles of forestry road. We would have enjoyed the sudden appearance of the sun except for the now ubiquitous swarms of flying ants and crane flies. We would have taken some more photos of the waterfalls but at this point we had had our fill of insects and did not want to brave the clouds of midges that we could see around the waters edge...maybe we will return in the snow!
Learned and Affirmed:
Slowly, but surely, we are bagging local Marilyns but not quite as many as the man who climbed all 1,556 of them. Well...not yet!
Today, we were joined by our good friend, Tim. An experienced walker and great company! Fan Gyhirych and Fan Nedd are situated in the Brecon Beacons and seemingly far less popular with walkers and tourists when compared to Pen y fan and Corn Du. However, there were definitely more inquisitive cows around and some bravery on Lynne's part was required to walk past by them...twice.
Predicting that the overnight rain had increased the boggy conditions hinted at in our guide book, waterproof boots and gaiters seemed like a wise choice. Following the recommended route had several moments confusion whilst attempting to find landmarks that had disappeared or degenerated since publication. e.g. a wire fence now reduced to rotting posts, barely visible above the vegetation. It added to the fun.
We crossed the northern face of Fan Nedd with beautiful views of the Senni valley below us. However, glancing at the view while you are walking risks an ankle injury! The path is very stony/rocky and needs full attention. Ankles intact, we reached the col joining our two peaks to be greeted by forceful winds and light drizzle. Hoods up and heads bowed we pressed on and began our ascent of Fan Gyhirych's curved northern ridge. Due to the ferocity of the wind, we opted for the constructed path rather than the route along the cliff edge. On reaching the trig point, we had some great views of the Black Mountain escarpment and Llyn Y Fan Fawr in the west, with Pen y Fan and its neighbours in the east.
On finding some shelter, we ate a quick lunch as the sun struggled to make an appearance. Refuelled, we retraced our steps back to the col (and the cows) and ascended the well-worn path up Fan Nedd. We reached the cairn and, once again, it was increasingly challenging to remain upright as the wind seemed to blast us from several directions. After a brief photo-opportunity at the trig point we spent a few minutes behind a thoughtfully constructed dry-stone wind-break before descending the eastern (wind-sheltered!) face back to the car.
Learned and Affirmed:
We are Lynne and Andrew from Single Steps Learning. Our love of learning and exploring has inspired us to take up 'hill-walking'. We hope to progress from novice to expert! This is our journey.