Winter walk on Pen-y-Fan

Back again! Pen-y-Fan summit
Somehow it's taken me nearly 3 months to write this walk up so, for those who were with me on the walk, please excuse any bits that I've missed and put them down to poor memory, nothing else!

In preparation for a more arduous walk in the summer (a Triathlon of sorts on Ben Nevis to be precise) and as a "intro" to the mountains for Gareth, who'd be part of the Ben Nevis team and who had no real mountain walking experience, I'd planned a trip to Pen-y-Fan and a slight variation on a mountain I've walked up numerous times.

The plan was to head up to Wales fairly early and start walking before 9am ideally - mainly so that we'd encounter fewer people on the hill and also to make the most of the snow that would hopefully still be on the mountain after a few days of rain and warmer weather.

As mentioned earlier I'd planned a slightly different route for this walk as all of my previous walks on Pen-y-Fan have started from the car park at the edge of the Taf Fechan forest, to the SW of Pen-y-Fan, and walked the horseshoe circular route that takes in Crybin, PyF and Corn Du.
So, as we weren't sure of the conditions on the small road up to the "usual" car pack (swapping a 4-wheel drive Audi for a rear wheel drive Mercedes doesn't fill me with confidence in the snow!) I thought we'd give the more direct route from the A470 a crack - not from the Storey Arms car park but from the car park just before it near to the end of the Beacons reservoir - from there the plan was a circular route via Corn Du, PyF, Crybin and then down, past the Neuadd Reserviors and back up onto the Corn Du plateau and return to the car via the walk in.

Walk stats
Walk date - 31st Jan 2015
Distance - 6.26 miles
Time - 4hr 14min
Average Speed - 1.48mp/h
Altitude Gain - 2574ft

You can download the gpx track log and PDF route cards of the walk here;

Download PDF route card - via ViewRanger - here
Download .gpx track log (for GPS devices) - here

The start of the walk - looking up towards Corn Du
All started well.  Another guy from work, Harvie, decided to join us and the drive up from nr Southampton was easy and traffic free, the clouds crossing the Severn Bridge gave way to snow capped peaks as we traveled along the A470 prompting more than a few "whoops" of joy as we'd get to "play in the snow" again.

We arrived, before 9am and parked in the snow covered car park just off the A470 (which was already starting to get busy) and kitted up for the walk ahead, looking longingly at the snowy path and cloud capped peak of Corn Du in the near distance.

Aside from insisting that GT wear my wife Donna's boots due to their B3 crampon rating we kitted up fairly quickly and headed out onto the path towards the base of Corn Du, over the small bridge, and then onto the snow crusted path of the Beacons Way that follows the flanks of the mountain towards the plateau at just over 820m.

The kit taken and worn/used is, at this point, worth a quick mention;
As the conditions were "full winter" ice axes and crampons were packed in all bags as were first aid kits and GPS (Garmin GPS Map 62S) just to be on the safe side.
I delighted in being able to wear my Sportiva Nepal's (still a wonderfully comfortable pair of boots despite being fully B3 rated and stiff as hell), I also took and wore my Paramo Aspira Smock and Trousers - the combination of these items makes for a warm, comfortable and pretty much bombproof winter kit with the only possible addition being my Montane Prism jacket that was packed into a stuff sack inside my rucksack in case we stopped or the temp dropped.

I'd also bought some new winter gloves for the trip after seeing a deal on Rock and Run - Rab Alpine gloves.
The combination of leather and soft shell worked fantastically and the only slight downside was that, due to snow melt, the red leather of the glove fingers ran a lot and stained my hands - but it washed off so no harm done!!

"GT" suited up and ready to go
The walk up was an experience for GT, having never really walked up any form of mountain before this would be challenge enough without the conditions to contend with, and a punch of realisation for Harvie, who having done a lot of winter mountaineering and ice climbing rapidly started to feel out of breath and in need of more and more frequent rest stops.
We slowed the pace and plodded up to around 600m or so, pausing both for Harvie and to admire the stunning views back across to Fan Fawr.

Looking back towards our start point and out over Fan Fawr
It was at about 700m or so that Harvie and I decided he'd rest for a while and either take a slow walk to the plateau or return back to the car and wait for us - not a decision taken lightly on either part as Harvie had been as excited about the trip as us and splitting the party up is never something to be taken lightly.
Had Harvie not have been so experienced and had there not been so many other people on the hill we'd not have made this decision, instead we'd have all headed back to the car to try again another day.

But as it was GT and I pushed on, to the plateau and then up onto Corn Du itself, a good workout for GT's legs that by now were starting to burn with the effort of stomping through the snow in full winter boots.

A perfect view of Fan Fawr

GT at the top of Corn Du
We reached the top of Corn Du and after a few quick snaps for GT's benefit we headed on the double hop to the summits of Pen-y-Fan and Cribyn.

GT on Pen-y-Fan
The path to Pen-y-Fan was less travelled and the deeper snow coupled with the increasing wind made for much harder going.  We stopped briefly on Pen-y-Fan for GT to "look around" although with the wind increasing there wasn't a huge amount to be seen, so leaving the view to the imagination we pressed on down and then back up again to Cribyn.

A break in the weather - looking across to Cribyn
After tacking the ice and snow encrusted rocks just off the top of the Pen-y-Fan summit we took advantage of a break in the clouds to stop and take a picture of the beautiful flanks of Cribyn and attempt a quick bite to eat and drink.

For some reason I decided to give my new MSR Windboiler stove a go, for the first time since buying it only a few weeks before - in hindsight this was a bad choice of location for a first test and after much swearing at the lack of automatic ignition (the JetBoil has one!) and my inability to pack a lighter only matches that didn't stand a chance in the wind and spindrift I gave up!

It's worth pointing out here that on returning home I gave the stove a better test and found that the perfect way to light it is with a flint and steel - using this the stove lights pretty much instantly and every time - in most winds.
I'll give a full run down of the stove and a better test write up in another post but it's fair to say that I, not the stove, failed on that attempt and that one should always read the manual!!

The Neuadd reservoir, bathed in light and ice
The path from Pen-y-Fan to Cribyn is, as those of you reading this who've walked it before will know, brutal at the best of times so when covered in knee deep snow makes for a fairly torturous walk that GT found tough as hell - but we persevered and got up there eventually and paused for 5 minutes or so to catch our breaths and plan the next leg of the route.

The initial plan had been the full circuit so from here we were going to head down on to the main track, head back to the head of the Neaudd reservior and then up onto Graig Fan Ddu before returning along the top to Corn Du so we headed down off Cribyn towards the track....

About halfway down Cribyn I decided that we'd change our route plan due to the increasing wind speed and incoming cloud and the fact that Harvie was out of mobile signal and hopefully back at the car waiting for us - being able to assess the situation in situ and adapt to changing conditions is really important and one of the big take-away items from my ML, winter mountaineering and Bushcraft courses.

Clouds closing in over Cribyn
If I'm honest we pratted about in the snow for a bit while circling back to the lower path that skirted Cribyn and Pen-y-Fan while avoiding the summit peaks so took a meandering course back to the Corn Du saddle before heading back down the path towards the car and, hopefully, Harvie.

About two thirds of the way down we met up with Harvie who told us that he'd rested and then pressed on to the saddle before picking up with another hiker who was less experienced and wanted to get to Corn Du and Pen-y-Fan so they walked together and then headed back down - it's nice to see that despite all of the terrible things happening in the world today something as simple as a walk on a mountain and a shared interest can bring total strangers together and allow trust to be placed in one another for a period of time, however short.

Route details and map recorded via ViewRanger on my GS5;
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