Even by this winter’s standards the weather today proved variable in the extreme. It all kicked off in the early hours as gale force winds started battering the house before a heavy band of rain added its own percussive soundtrack. By the time I was woken at six to deal with a work related issue things hadn’t let up and we were soon being treated to snow, hail and yet more rain. The fact that it was glorious sunshine as I finally left for the office was therefore considered par for the course and it’s been just as unpredictable ever since. That brief sight of some of the white stuff did however serve as a timely reminder that I’d yet to share our most recent walk up Pen y Fan, a windy and snow filled expedition that ranks as probably one of the most enjoyable days I’ve yet spent in the Brecon Beacons. Initially conditions looked bleak on the morning of the 14th but we decided to persevere and arrived at Storey Arms to find an almost full car park. This I think confirms that with its increased popularity there is now officially no such thing as a quiet day on Pen y Fan. At this altitude the ground was clear of snow but temperatures were only just hovering above freezing and of the peaks above us, there was no sign. A thick bank of low cloud looked threatening but given that we’d come this far and had all the kit we thought what the hell, lets take our chances.
It didn’t take long to reach the snow line and with each metre climbed it only got thicker and the landscape more dramatic. Rapid cloud movements overhead hinted that although we were sheltered for now it was likely to get a whole lot more blowy up on the ridge so we were quite happy to amble along with the hope that the forecast was right and that things would start to clear up. It was probably that leisurely pace which meant that I caught an unexpected movement out of the corner of my eye, closer inspection of which revealed a Red Grouse! Now regular readers will know from my visits north that I’m a big fan of Grouse yet strangely I had never, until now that is, been lucky enough to see one in the Brecon Beacons. What’s more it wasn’t alone and we counted at least another three individuals flying around before they were lost from sight. An epic start by anyone’s standards.
Pushing onwards and upwards the cloud base continued to rise and by the time we’d reached Tommy Jones’ memorial the lower slopes of Corn Du were finally starting to emerge from their wintry cloak. Although it doesn’t look it in these photos conditions were by now pretty extreme as we were being battered from one side by very strong winds which whipped the light, powdery snow high into the air. Combine all that with the first beams of sunlight and a pair of sunglasses would have come in very useful indeed. Perhaps my winter kit isn’t quite as complete as I thought.
As ever the climb up to the summit of Corn Du was slightly arduous though it was clear that the exercise we’ve been squeezing in at every opportunity is definitely making a difference to our overall fitness levels. In fact recovery times were almost instant, undoubtedly helped by the appearance of blue sky and sun, so much sun! Everyone up there with us seemed to have a smile on their faces yet with temperatures well below freezing we only had a few minutes to enjoy the views before making the short hop across to Pen y Fan itself.
If anything there were even more people up here and we couldn’t get near to the summit cairn through a mass of selfies and camera phones. Not to worry as we’ve been on the other side of the lens plenty of times before so instead I turned my attention to some of my favourite views in Wales. Cribyn, Fan y Big and Upper Neuadd Reservoir were spread out before us and all looked resplendent in their white coats. Another attempt at the Pen y Fan horseshoe is definitely on the cards once longer days arrive.
Views absorbed and spirits lifted it was time to head back down. If you know the area well then you may have noticed that my upwards route is a little off the beaten track and in my opinion is the best approach to Pen y Fan. It’s normally completely deserted and is a far cry from the constant stream of people using the main paths. The one consolation of joining the masses is that there’s always some fools to laugh at who are climbing completely under-equipped. From trainers and ankle socks through to no coats and cropped trousers, we saw it all. No wonder our mountain rescue teams are so busy.
Back at the car it was off with the boots and heaters on full blast to warm up. If only we’d had a few more opportunities this winter to spend time amongst the hills. This trip does though serve as good motivation to choose my targets for the Trail Seven Summit Challenge. Pen y Fan obviously counts as my first but with so much choice for the rest, it’s going to be a tough decision and a very busy year ahead.