What a difference a day makes....
A day of training had been pencilled in my diary and it was going to be different types of training for everyone involved. For me it was the first real chance to lead a group of people that I didn't have any prior knowledge of over 2 days, on 2 routes that I planned out; for Donna it was a chance to test the fitness that she'd been building up in prep for the Samsung 3 Peaks Walk on May 11th and for Anna it was her first real taste of "the mountains" - again in preparation for the 3 Peaks. Colin had just come along for the ride really (or walk) and to support Anna!
The Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains had been selected as the place to walk and the route for Day 1 was a fairly standard yomp around the Pen-y-Fan horseshoe (Crybin - Pen-y-Fan - Corn Du) and then I'd planned out a 9mile circular route for Day 2 which took in the peak of Waun Fach (811m).
2 walks, over 2 days and I'd planned as thoroughly as possible - the only thing I couldn't plan for was the weather, and as they say "What a difference a day makes"
(The detail below is from my Garmin Edge 605 - I have to admit that I forgot to reset between walks hence the continuation of the two - but you get the idea!)
Day 1 - Saturday 14th April 2012
After a slightly faltering start and a very wet drive up to the foot of Pen-y-Fan we arrived in the car park at the end of the track leading to the Upper Neuadd Reservoir and met up with Anna and Colin and started to kit up - paying particular attention to the snow flakes that were blowing around us; if it was like this in the car park the summit walk was definitely going to be interesting!
We headed off along the main path the bisects the flanks of Cribyn and Fan-y-big avoiding the soggier patches and discussing the route that we'd be taking - it's worth pointing out that Anna and Colin really had no idea what we'd be walking up or around as the low hill fog had put pay to any form of view that should have been available!
By the time we reached the base of Cribyn the snow had set in and was falling steadily and being blown by wind that was starting to gust as we climbed up the claggy, wet slopes up to the summit of Cribyn.
On reaching the top we didn't really hang around and headed off back down and then up again to the summit of Pen-y-Fan.
By now the wind was blowing in earnest so a quick "summit snap" was taken by Colin and Anna and we pressed on around the path leading to Corn Du and along the ridge.
Strong wind and snow is a horrible combination (in my book anyway!); your not getting wet as such so the feeling of cold takes a little longer to creep up on you but when it does its hard to shake off. So Anna found as here gloves were not proving as good as she'd expected. Luckily (despite earlier mocking by Donna) I'd packed my emergency pair of Montane Extreme mitts so Anna was able to put these on and warm up.
**the more I walk and experience the outdoors the more I've got to understand and appreciate the harshness that can so easily accompany the beauty of any mountainous or exposed area and the importance of packing that extra clothing (waterproof, gloves, hat, hot drink etc) "just in case". Disaster can so easily be born out of being ill prepared and so easily averted by thinking ahead**
We pressed on along the ridge towards the flat plateau of Corn Du where the wind was flinging the snow up the side of the ridge (to our left), straight over our heads, and hitting snow blown by wind coming from the right of us - causing each snow flurry to crash into the other in a way that I've not seen before but was spectacular to watch until the angle changed slightly and it started to hit you in the face again! Then on towards the gently sloping descent before the steep drop down one of the gullies towards the flat fields leading back to the reservoir and the warmth of the car!
Throughout the day my Paramo Aspira performed amazingly; warm and dry and in its element in the conditions that we experienced throughout the day. My Paramo base layer (mountain vent) was the ideal accompaniment to the Aspira and due to the wonderful ability to vent (or close up) both layers I didn't suffer from being too hot or cold even when we stopped on the summit for photos - highly recommended in winter conditions!
After changing into dry, warm clothes (which has to be the best feeling in the world after a long walk) and eating the lunch that we hadn't bothered stop for on the way round due to the cold, Donna and I headed off to find a campsite for the night and Anna and Colin (sensibly) went off to their pre-booked rooms at a B&B near Brecon.
Day 2 - Sunday 15th April 2012
We had arranged (over a chinese and a few pints in Brecon) to meet the next day at the campsite Donna and I had found on our way towards Brecon the evening before; and then to head up towards the starting point for the day's walk - Castell Dinas which is located in Pengeffordd on the A479, a few miles before Talgarth - about 15 minutes drive away.
I'd planned out a circular route of around 8miles from, and returning to, Castell Dinas, that would take us past the old castle ruins and then up onto the summit plateau of Waun Fach (810m) before descending down the flanks of Y Grib (which means "The Comb" or "The Ridge").
The walk was fairly straight forward and the weather was totally different from the snow and wind the day before which was a welcome change for all of us.
We headed up on to the slightly windier summit plateau of Waun Fach, which gave us wonderful views out across the rolling hills of the Black Mountains, before heading back along the well trodden path to Pen y Manllwyn.
Here the plan was to continue following the path downwards which eventually dog-legged back on itself before heading back along, at a lower level, to the main path which would take us back to the car, but just before the stream head of Cwm y Nant a much more interesting, and direct, path could be seen heading almost straight down the hillside and then following the ridge of Y Grib which would ultimately take us back on the same path we had originally been aiming for - this was just going to be much more fun!
So dropping down on the ridge path we followed this path until we reached a series of small drops which then levelled out to an easy path back across the fields and then, around the old castle ruins, joined back up with the main footpath which lead us back to the car.
Unfortunately all that was left then was for us to pack up and head back home - hopefully Anna and Colin's first experience of the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains was as enjoyable as I found it. Even thought the weather on the first day was challenging the 2nd day's weather more than made up for it and the ridge walk descent was an added bonus!