It doesn't get much better than this - Pen-y-Fan Horseshoe

The stunning Pen-y-Fan horseshoe
Pen-y-Fan Horseshoe walk - 13th Jan 2013

For someone who drives as many miles a year (50k plus) it's surprising how little traffic you see on the roads on a Sunday morning at a time when most sensible people are still asleep and dreaming about their forthcoming Sunday roast.  But none of that for us; heading along the M4 towards Wales the sky was clear and as the sun started to come through the clouds we were all hoping that the Met Office mountain forecast for the Brecon Beacons would be accurate - clear, cold and crisp with chance of snow.

This was something of an impromptu outing for me as Donna had planned to walk with her friend, Anna, on the Saturday but due to the poor forecast they'd decided to move this a day later to Sunday which promised much better weather and as it turned out Anna's husband, Malcome, her friend, Colin, and I were also free so we all decided to join them!

The route I picked for the was the full Pen-y-Fan horseshoe (12 miles approx.), starting from the car park near the Allt Forgan waterfalls in the Talybont Forest (GR SO:056,174) then following path and road back to the main Pen-y-Fan car park (GR SO:037,169) before heading past the filter house and small lake behind the Neuadd reservoir to follow the path/stream to the cairn (GR SO:019,182) near Graig Fan Ddu.

From here we'd follow the path to Corn Du (873m), Pen-y-Fan (886m), Cribyn (795m) and then finally to the summit of Fan y Big (719m) before heading south to join the Beacon's Way  for the last few hundred meters to back to the car.

Clear blue sky and great views of Corn Du and Pen-y-Fan

There is a fair bit of ascent and descent on this walk which was ideal for us as Anna and Malcome are off to Annapurna base camp in March and our trip to the Atlas mountains is getting closer by the day so every bit of ascent we can get in between now and then is worth it!

The first part of the walk is (and was) fairly uneventful and I'd decided to do things this way round purely so we'd have the "boring" bit out of the way at the start, could finish back at the car without a 2 mile road/track walk and so that the potentially boggy section up to the cairn before the Corn Du plateau would still be (hopefully) frozen underfoot.

Ice on the gully - the last few meters to the top of the plateau
Luckily the path skirts around this!
We walked across the frozen ground and started the climb up to the cairn at the top of the plateau which is really the start of the stream the snakes down to the valley below before joining with numerous other small streams and heading into the lake and Taf Fechan river.

I've climbed up and down this route many times but have never seen it covered in ice as it was today - it looked like something from the Snow Queen's palace in Narnia!

Frost and clear sky - a magical mix
We carried on walking, marvelling at how clear the Brecon Beacons were - you could see for miles and miles in every direction and you don't get many days like that on the hills in January.

The path takes you round, and up, to the summit plateau of Corn Du and then on to Pen-y-Fan where we stopped for a bite to eat and a cup of coffee courtesy of the Jet Boil.

A note on lightweight stoves;
Now there are many backpacking/lightweight stoves on the market so much so that you're spoilt for choice when choosing one and for most people it comes down the review in the latest trail (or similar!) magazine.

I bought a Jet Boil Sol back in 2012 and have been using it on most (if not all) hiking trips as its light easy to use, reliable and packs into itself - it was a godsend in Canada where we used it for both hot drinks and hot food during our longer walks.

The Primus (Eta Solo) that Donna uses was actually a "free gift" for a Trail magazine subscription and we've only used it a few times.

In my opinion, although the Primus looks slightly nicer and the system for removing the burner from the mug is easier (especially when hot) the Jet Boil has the edge on both flame control and, most importantly for me, it pack easily into itself for carrying in your bag.  Whilst you are able to store the gas and burner inside the Primus you cant fit the gas bottle stand into the container as well which seems daft to me.

Looking back towards Pen-y-Fan
Anyway, back to the walk....
As the light fades

After a hot drink (and maybe a nip of Cherry Brandy) we headed off again, down the path from the Pen-y-Fan summit and then back up to the summit of Cribyn - then back down again to cross the bridleway at "Bwlch ar y fan" - this is the path that leads you back to the main Pen-y-Fan car park, past the Neuadd reservoir but today we'd be heading back up into the hills again, following the path to the summit of the slightly amusingly names Fan y Big!

Looking away from Fan y Big
On top of the world? Standing on the summit of Fan y Big

Once up on the summit of Fan y Big the navigation side of things began.  Rather than follow the path all around the edge of the cirque we (ok I!) decided to take a slightly more direct route back to the car so once we reached the small tarn (GR SO:040,196) we headed off on a southeasterly course that would take us across the open ground and, if all went according to plan (which it did) hit the edge of the forest and Beacons Way path at GR SO:054,179.

By now the snow had started to fall and the light was starting to fade but we still had a few hours until sunset and were in no danger of being caught out but at the same time I didn't want to hang around as people were starting to feel tired now and walking across open, sometimes wet and broken, ground is hard going - especially when its cold and you've had a full day of walking.
A moment's pause before heading home

We hit the Brecon Way path just at the edge of the forest and then followed the path down past the waterfall and back to the car park - 17.6km in all (slightly shorter than originally planned as we'd taken a more direct route) and a great day in the Brecon Beacons.

Using the ViewRanger app on my Galaxy S3 we recorded the route (almost all of it as the battery ran out so the last few hundred meters are missing) and you can see this below;


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