Tuesday, February 20, 2018

get in the bach of the fan

It was my birthday at the weekend. No need for congratulation or commiseration, particularly, although if you really want to make some sort of donation I'm sure we can come to some arrangement. No, I mention it because among the splendid array of presents I received was an item that cannot be grasped in the hand, still less worn or drunk or inserted into any bodily orifices, but is nonetheless of inestimable value to the busy father-of-three: a day with no obligations and positive encouragement to get myself out and get up some mountains.

But where to go? I decided I didn't want to go anywhere I'd been before, which actually didn't leave a large number of decent-sized peaks in the Brecon Beacons area, because I've been up most of them at one time or another, But I remembered looking over to the west while trudging up Fan Llia on this previous walk almost exactly two years ago and noticing an interesting bulky mountain just across the valley. This turned out to be Fan Nedd, so I devised the walk below to bag it.

A couple of points to note: Fan Nedd isn't actually the high point of the walk; that's Fan Gyhirych (725 metres, 2379 feet) a couple of miles to the west, which is a more stereotypical Beacons peak: relatively gentle slope on the south side (i.e. the side you walk up, unless you're a nutter) and a big steep gouged-out glacial cliff on the north side. The Pen y Fan range to the east and the Black Mountain to the west (of which the summit of Fan Gyhirych provides spectacular views on a good day) are the same.

This is probably a better walk than the Fan Fawr one, for reasons related to the ones explored here. The crucial factor is that you do it clockwise: this gives you a nice long 4-5 mile walk in along sections of the old Sarn Helen Roman road and the Beacons Way before you hop over a stone wall near the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave network (watch out for sinkholes) and join a vehicle track that takes you most of the way to the summit of Fan Gyhirych. From there you cross over a col to the north-west ridge of Fan Nedd and the steepest bit of ascent of the day before traversing the length of the summit ridge and dropping down steeply back to the Blaen Llia car park. My GPS track log says it was 11.8 miles in total. The altitude profile tells the story, although you need to ignore the height info as that seems to be on the fritz - the high point of the day is 725 metres, not 405 metres. Think of it as height relative to the start point, I suppose.

These are remote hills and nowhere near as frequented as, say, Pen y Fan - we saw, if my recollection is correct, seven other people all day, all near the summit of Fan Gyhirych, and passed near enough for a greeting to three of them. It'd be pretty bleak in bad weather, but as it happened barring a couple of brief flurries of light rain and snow we had dry conditions and good visibility all day. Cloud height is the single most important factor on these walks - it doesn't really matter if it's raining, as long as you've got appropriate clothing, but if you can't see where you're aiming for then you can easily get into trouble.

Going back to what I was saying above, the things that make this a good walk clockwise - a relatively gentle walk in, all the high-altitude excitement concentrated into the second half of the walk, a quick no-messing-about descent off the final summit back to the car park - would make it a bad one anti-clockwise. You'd have a brutal initial ascent straight up the south side of Fan Nedd, and then once you'd got off Fan Gyhirych a long and energy-sapping walk out without the prospect of further excitement to keep you going.

Trig point news: there's one on top of each of the main summits. The one on Fan Nedd has been given a lick of white paint and a dragon stencil, the same as Fan Fawr and Hay Bluff and a few others; the one on Fan Gyhirych hasn't, possibly because it was deemed to be outside of the painting crew's jurisdiction but maybe because it's got a chunk missing at one of the bottom corners and is sitting in a mini-lake and therefore may not have long left before it falls over and goes the way of the one on top of Waun Fach in the Black Mountains.

I took a few photos, which can be found here.

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