Just a 3 hour drive from London, lies the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales. With Mount Snowdon in North Wales, Pen-Y-Fan is the highest peak south and its neighbours Corn Du, Cribyn and Fan-Y-Big make all for a great day hike.
We headed over for a wintry weekend in January, excited for the snow and all prepped with our arctic gear (lots of layers, boots and ski gloves). As always, I had done lots of planning of our route (Plan A outlined below) and we felt pretty confident heading up into the hills.
Pont ar Daf car park provided us with an easy start point, and we followed the signposted path up into the hills. On the way up we hit snowfall which wasn’t too much of an obstacle on the gentle incline.
After 20mins of steady walking (faces were wrapped up in a buffer & hat by now) we reached the first peak of Corn Du. The wind was crazy strong at the top, with a few other hikers turning back before their dogs were blown off the summit. Staying low to the ground we shifted along the path until sheltered by the other side of the peak.
At this point, despite wearing my heavy duty boots, the icy path got the better of me (face splat) and we managed to slip & slide o to the grass verge. TIP: If you go in snowy conditions, stick to the grass next to the path to avoid ice falls!
Eventually we reached the summit of Pen-Y-Fan, the Everest of South Wales, taking in all the views we headed south before the wind blew us completely over.
Now this path down was a total game changer, in summer it would only be slightly technically challenging, but winter + snow + ice + gusts of wind = somewhat deadly. Attempting on foot at first, didn’t end too well so I opted for the bum shuffle down the path and made my way (like a crab) to the grassy verge and descended the rest on foot.
We then found ourselves in a mountain bowl with 3 options:
1. Continue up to the next peak Cribyn & then summit Fan-y-Big in gale force winds,
2. By pass Cribyn, sheltering from the winds along the grass path,
3. Turn around and call it a day.
Option 2 won so we ditched the mini hurricane in an attempt to complete our loop by just missing the final two peaks.
The path slowly wound its way down towards a reservoir, with epic views of the peaks behind we found a snowy rock for a lunch break. After an hour-ish walking through the snowy moors, simultaneously being blown over by ice wind, we made it to the reservoir.
Plan A had been to cross the reservoir, climb up the opposite ridge line and loop back around Pen-y-Fan and towards the car park HOWEVER after quick deliberation it was agreed the winds on the ridge would be way too strong for us, and we weren’t sure how icy the path was up there. This meant evaluating the map and coming up with another route back to the car. Dun, dun, dun.
Plan B: continue along the reservoir path until reaching the second reservoir then take a sharp turn right, through the forest and back to the car (the long way round). Then snow hit. Not like the light snow on the summit, but heavy in your face, clogging up your eye lids snow, the kind of snow that blinds you so you miss your turning.
Plan C: upon realising we missed the turning we could either battle our way back through the snowfall trying to find the next turning OR continue along the path to what we thought was a village and find a cosy pub to rescue us.
And so we found ourselves in the cosy Red Cow Inn of Pontsicill, with a roaring fire and toasty feet we warmed up and defrosted our fingers. After a short nap, we hailed a local to drop us back at the car park (which turned out to be A LOT further than anticipated and would have taken a good 4 hour walk in the dark). Not all hikes turn out as planned and this certainly provided us with an entertaining day of adventuring through snow. But don’t be put off by Wales in the winter, on a good day it’s a winter wonderland and on a bad day it can still be Narnia (just a little windier).