On our second day in Wales and the last day before a three-day conference, we wanted to see some of the stunning Welsh nature.
Ultimately, going to Snowdonia National Park up north is the dream, but since it’s a four hour drive each way, it wasn’t realistic with the limited daylight hours in December. Instead, we opted for Brecon Beacons National Park, which was just as much of a gem.
Unfortunately, the beautiful weather that we’d had the day before didn’t stay, instead it was rainy, windy and misty. Still, we only had this day to explore more of Wales, as the next three days were spent at an archaeological conference in Cardiff, and then we were off to England to visit my family. So we decided to go, and we set out for the ultimate challenge – climbing Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in South Wales.
We set off at 10:30 AM to Merthyr Tydfil, where we caught the only bus that day going to the national park. At 12.20 PM, we arrived at Storey Arms, an outdoor education centre located right in the heart of Brecon Beacons.
The hike to the top of Pen y Fan and the nearby Corn Du peak begins from the Storey Arms building, and we set off pretty much as soon as we arrived, as we had to make it back before 5 PM for the only bus that day going back to Merthyr Tydfil.
Pen y Fan stands at 886 metres and Corn Du at 873 metres. Unfortunately, we had really underestimated the height of the mountains and the cold weather in December, so we were wearing sneakers that day – and really thin ones as well with no grip whatsoever. Climbing a mountain with those shoes wouldn’t be an easy job, but we had to give it a go now that we were there!
The first part of the ascend was very steep. It took well over an hour until we came to a point, where it started going down again. It always feels so annoying to descend just after ascending a really steep part and not having reached your destination. Also, going down was even worse in our slippery, thin sneakers. Oh well, we kept on walking and soon we came to a height, where the gound was covered in thick, solid snow.
At one point, we came to a river crossing, which was overflown with water as the mountain had been covered in snow just a week before, and it was now melting away. It wasn’t easy to get over for me with my short legs, but I managed to with Amanda’s help.
Steadily, we started going further up again, this time not as steep, but with much more snow. Ascending was taking forever as we took short steps and had to concentrate on not slipping all the time. We met several hikers coming up the mountain, and quite a few commented on our (stupid) choice of footwear.
One guy, Hubert, who is Polish but has lived in Wales for many years and has climbed this mountain countless times, decided to slow down and hike with us, as he felt it was too dangerous for us to go to the top on our own wearing those thin and slippery sneakers. I think he was right, as it only got worse the further up we got.
The first peak, Corn Du, was not that far away, but it felt like forever. With babysteps, we managed to get up there, frozen and wet all through our shoes and clothes. Hubert was kind enough to lend us his extra gloves and jacket, which definitely helped.
Once we finally got to the top, we were freezing but oh so happy! We couldn’t see any view of the national park, but we did get to see something really cool – a Bronze Age cairn! The piles of stones on both peaks are actually the remains of Bronze Age cairns! How cool is it that they built grave chambers right on top of mountains!?
We were considering whether or not to continue on to Pen y Fan, but it seemed like such a shame to give up now after coming so far! Also, Hubert told us that it was only 15 minutes away (there’s only 13 metres difference in height between the two peaks), so of course we decided to stick out the pain and head for the highest peak in South Wales.
At around 2 PM, two hours after we had left Storey Arms, we were standing on top of Pen y Fan! We climbed on top of the Bronze Age cairn for pictures and then rushed to get down from the heights and into some shelter, as it was so extremely windy on the top!
Luckily, Hubert knew another way down, which meant that we wouldn’t have to do any more climbing, but just steady downhill hiking instead. What wonderful news that was! Getting down wasn’t nearly as hard as going up, and after just an hour, we were all cozying up in Huberts car, happy to have made it back down safely with our toes and fingers still intact, and happy to have accomplished such an impossible climb. At 3 PM, two hours before we thought we would be down, we were done with the worst hike I’ve ever done (although it was pretty fun despite the cold, wind and rain!).
Hubert offered to drive us all the way back to Cardiff, so we wouldn’t have to freeze in the cold while waiting for the train. On the way, he drove through the village of Caerphilly to Caerphilly Castle, the biggest castle in Wales and the second biggest in the United Kingdom (after Windsor Castle)!
At 4 PM, we were finally back at our warm hostel in Cardiff. With Sammy the Cat on my bed, dry clothes and some food, I soon got warm again. I was glad to finally chuck my dead sneakers in the bin!
To finish off this post, I would like to just point out that my stupid choice of footwear is NOT because I’m a rookie at hiking, I’ve actually climbed over 30 mountains worldwide, including Mount Kinabalu at 4.095 metres. I’m just a bit silly sometimes, that’s all.