Wednesday, June 20, 2018

the pen is heightier than the sward

Mountain hiking, Paul, is very much like making love to a beautiful woman. As exciting as it is to conquer a new one every week, there is also something to be said for approaching a familiar one from an unfamiliar angle - you may find some interesting nooks and crannies you were previously unaware of, and although much of the terrain will inevitably be well-trodden - including, indeed, by other people - the new approach will hopefully make it fresh and interesting nonetheless.

And so it was that when a weekend away with some friends involving a couple of overnight stays in Cardiff was mooted, and it was furthermore mooted that we might have a crack at Pen y Fan on the Saturday, I took it upon myself to scope out a route. Just as with many other well-frequented mountains (Snowdon is the classic example) there are a number of "standard" routes up Pen y Fan.

I ruled out the quick route up from Storey Arms on a few grounds: firstly it'd have been almost impossible to park (or at least not legally) on a Saturday in June, and secondly it's just not that interesting a route. It's the shortest route up, involves the smallest height gain (since the car park is at the crest of a hill on the A470 so you get a head start) and there's no scrambling, but that is as a result of being on the more featureless side of the mountain. Also, crucially for a misanthrope like me, there are hordes of people trekking up and down this route who I have no desire to interact with or even see for longer than necessary.

Other routes can be had from the south, including from the car park in the Taf Fechan forest where we parked for the walk documented here and also from the car park a bit further up the road near the Blaen y Glyn waterfalls where we parked for the snowy walk documented here. Both are good, the second route somewhat longer than the first. Both still don't really approach Pen y Fan itself from its best side, though; to do that you need to come at it from the north. I have been up from the car park at Cwmgwdi on the Brecon side a couple of times before, as documented in the two photo galleries linked to here (plus bonus paella recipe). On both of those two walks we went straight up the ridge at the back of the car park, took in the summits of Pen y Fan and Cribyn and then came back down via the old Roman road that runs along the east side of Cribyn's north ridge.

Now according to my current set of rules for optimum walk enjoyment (as explained at length here and here) we should really have done those last two walks in reverse, i.e. with the boring on-road flat bit between the bottom end of the Bryn Teg ridge and the Cwmgwdi car park first, and then dropping off the ridge straight back into the car park at the end. So I decided we'd adhere to the rules this time, which means doing the walk marked on the map below anti-clockwise, thereby getting the walk along the road from the car park to the car park at Nant Cwm Llwch out of the way early doors while we were still all banterous and enthusiastic rather than have to do it at the end when we were all dead-eyed and monosyllabic. One could of course park here instead and then do the walk in reverse, but this way round enables you to traverse Corn Du and Pen y Fan in that order, thus adhering more closely to another of my arbitrary rules, i.e. that ideally the main objective of the day should be around two-thirds of the way into the route.

This is probably a more satisfactory walk overall then the other one starting from the same place, as it includes a close encounter with the pretty lake of Llyn Cwm Llwch just before the steep ascent up onto the main ridge, and provides the best angle for appreciating the steep northern face of the two main peaks. As with any walk, it was enhanced by having nice sunny weather (occasional wispy cloud on the tops aside) all day, and by excellent company including a couple of victims of my stag weekend walk who volunteered for further punishment. I'm very keen on solo walking, but it's nice to have a big group sometimes to keep each other entertained and motivated. It was pretty quiet on the ridges, but the two peaks were very busy with people who'd come up the other way, and there was something of a scrum to get the obligatory summit selfies.

There are still routes up that I haven't tried - I've never gone straight up either of the ridges which lead directly to the summits of Cribyn or Fan y Big, and there is a fantastic high-level traverse you could do starting in the vicinity of the Talybont reservoir dam, ascending via the Twyn Du ridge, and then ticking off all the peaks before dropping off via Pen Milan into Libanus. You'd probably need two cars for that one, though.

A small selection of photos can be found here. The gurning shot at the end of us in a restaurant is taken in Wahaca in Cardiff city centre, which is a sort of Mexican tapas/street food place which I recommend highly.

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