Chelmsford YHA Group


The Monthly Newsletter of Chelmsford YHA Local Group

October 2017

A Hill Too Far?

Pen y Fan

When we first started planning our trip to the Brecon Beacons for August Bank Holiday weekend, Dave had this crazy idea of walking the whole thing in a day. As a circular walk it would have been very nearly a marathon, so we started to think about the possibility of a linear walk from one end to the other. It would still be quite a challenge, but then what are Bank Holidays for? The best weather was forecast for the Sunday, so, after an early breakfast, we drove out to Pencelli for the start of our walk. Somehow we had managed to persuade four others to join us (Mike, Dave J, Nigel, & Tae). The walk started with a steady climb, pausing at the first shoulder to bag Bryn, then onwards and upwards to the ridge proper. Here another quick out-and-back took us to the beehive cairn on the edge of Waun Rydd. This might have seemed like an unnecessary couple of miles to add, but the views over the Talybont valley were fantastic.

Back on the main ridge our next target was the summit of Fan y Big. By this point we were starting to see a few more walkers, but curiously the summit was people-free. We eagerly approached the top only to find the reason it was empty was a plague of flies – well, flying ants. It made posing for the summit selfie something of a feat of endurance. Picking the flies from our teeth, it was at this point we got a call from the B team.

The B team had taken one look at our planned route and, quite sensibly, decided to do something else. They had parked up at the head of Beacons reservoir and were doing just the central peaks of the range. Arguably just the best (& busiest!) bits. At the time of the phone call they were on the summit of Pen y Fan, so the race was on to see which team would bag Cribyn first. Team B had already done the biggest peak, but then Team A had come further. It would be a close run thing.

The perfect blue skies and sunshine seemed to have brought everyone and their dog out onto the fells. The central peaks of the range were very busy. There were a lot of families, which was nice to see, a few fitness fanatics, a few wannabe fitness fanatics. I wouldn’t say we sped past them, but there was some quite alarming wheezing from at least one we over took.

Cribyn is another very nice summit: a stiff climb to a little plateau with gorgeous views both ways along the ridge. As Tae and I reached the top we had the additional satisfaction of seeing Lily from the B Team still on her way up – we’d beaten them by about 100 yds. The flying ants had also made this top home, so we descended a short way to pleasant patch of sunny grass to wait for both teams and crack open some lunch. It is particularly satisfying when a plan like this comes together.

After lunch the B Team were essentially heading down to the tea rooms, but we in the A Team still had about 5 miles and two peaks (including the biggest) to do. After some cheery goodbyes, we set off down to the pass and then up to the summit of Pen y Fan. I think there must be some sort of local challenge walk for this one, because it was by far the busiest. After out initial ascent at the start of the ridge, this was the stiffest bit of climbing. However this didn’t stop Tae breaking into a run at one point – some people have way too much energy! At the top the National Trust had placed a stone with the name of the mountain on top of the summit cairn, so naturally there was a long queue to have your photo taken next to it. We didn’t have time for this, so we pressed on to the next (and last) peak.

Corn Du is another beautifully formed summit. The path up is a dog-leg from the main route up Pen y Fan, so most of the challenge walkers gave it a miss. That was their loss. Only a few metres lower than its neighbour, you get all the same views but less than half the crowds. The afternoon light was starting to pick out all the layers and folds in the landscape, and it was beautiful. However, we still had our descent to complete, preferably before dinner! This last bit of the walk was always going to be the hardest. Sustained descent will bring out all those achy knee and foot pains you’d been able to ignore on the more glamorous ascent. The path contoured along the top of the valley head before descending to a miner’s access track, which was a little more forgiving on our tired legs.

Back at the bunkhouse, with our boots off and a mug of tea in our hands, we could reflect on a great walk (14 miles and approx 4000ft ascent). Nigel likened it to surviving an SAS training march.


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