Archive for the ‘Bannau Sir Gaer’ Tag

Night Out in the Black Mountains   16 comments

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I’ve been trying to get out more to wild camp this year and TJS was keen for a last trip before heading off to university. Forecast wasn’t too bad so we gave it a go on a Friday after work.

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It was past 7 when we set off from the car, windy and cold. We had less than an hour of light left. We returned to the same point by Llyn y Fan Fawr where we camped earlier in the summer. The wind made it difficult to put both tents up at the same time so it took a while to get set up. Pitch dark by the time we’d done so a lazy evening drinking tea and chatting.

Next morning was much better. Brighter with wisps of blue sky

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Breakfast in the tent (too windy and cold for an al fresco affair)

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Its a cracking spot though

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TBF readies herself for a day in the mountains

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We left the tents pitched and went for the classic circuit of the Black Mountain range. Same circuit as in the summer but in reverse. I figured as the wind was so strong we’d want it behind us on the higher section

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A view down over Llyn y Fan Fawr

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TJS on the high level traverse under the cliffs

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The old water leat that supplies Llyn y Fan Fach

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One of my favourite south Wales views over Llyn y Fan Fach and Bannau Sir Gaer

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As we walked along the edge we were engulfed in a heavy shower of rain. Luckily it didn’t last long and we had some nice wispy cloud effects

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View from the highest point over Llyn Fan Fawr. Our campsite is in the top left hand corner of the lake

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A view down the prominent gully that splits the crags above the lake

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Time for lunch at the tent. We had to hide behind the tent for shelter such was the force of the wind

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Forecast for the afternoon and next day was very poor so time to get the hell out of there. We packed up and headed down

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The views across to Fforest Fawr were excellent

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Fan Gyhirych looking dark and moody

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There was a lot more water flowing than earlier in the summer

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The sunshine on the small waterfalls was very fetching but the water looked cold. Those hot summer days of wild swimming seem a long time ago

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Chances to sneak away for a wild camp will be limited as winter closes in although it is my intention to get out and do some winter summit overnights if we get some cold frosty weather.

Having been reading and enjoying Ken Browns new music inspired blog I thought I might add some tunes to my post to broaden the scope a little. I used to create a music tracked slideshow but I’ve lost interest in that of late so I’ll just add a tune that I like to each post. I just happened to be listening to this while I finished this post and as its a sublime and chilled track, one of my favourites I’ve discovered in the past 12 months I thought I’d share it. I like the lyric “Didn’t I take you to, higher places you can’t reach without me”

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Bank Holiday Backpack in the Black Mountain   25 comments

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My good friend the Hard Man and his two kids came to pay us a visit over the recent BH weekend. They were spending the week in South Wales doing touristy stuff and seeing relatives and took a chance to come see us and try to convince me to go walking in the rain. The Hard Man seems to have taken over the mantle of blind weather optimism from my friend EWO and always sees good weather prospects in the worst of forecasts. On this occasion we were faced with a forecast of heavy thundery showers, not exactly ideal weather to be sitting in a small tent. He even tried to convince that the tent poles would act as some sort of Faraday Cage if we got struck. Deluded!

Anyway as the weekend progressed the forecast improved and seemed to indicate we might get a dry evening on the Sunday and a dry albeit cloudy Monday. Against my better judgement we decided go for it. Packing up on Sunday morning it seemed like a very bad idea. We had the lot. Torrential rain, thunder, lightning, hail. We set off in an almighty downpour that had us dodging several pretty serious floods. Most of us looked out of the window with severe trepidation. The Hard Man simply looked happy that he’d at least got us in the car. We shopped like aristocrats in Waitrose and it had stopped raining by the time we were done. Shortly afterwards the sun came out. It didn’t rain again for the rest of the weekend.

Before the backpacking festivities we took a short stroll to Henrhyd Falls. I’ve never been to these (this corner of South Wales has loads of waterfalls) and very fine they were too.

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Like all the very best waterfalls you can walk behind them

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It’s a popular spot and there were plenty of people about so we didn’t linger

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There were mountains to be climbed and wild campsites to be occupied

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Our route was a local classic. A camp by the wonderful Llyn y Fan Fawr and a walk along the edges the next day. The summits looked dark and gloomy as we set off (after a monumental faff by the family Hard Man).

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It’s a relatively easy walk up to the tarn now I’ve finally discovered a way through the boggiest bits

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As we climbed up the clouds parted and there was sunshine aplenty. It’s a really fine spot for a night in the hills

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After a little deliberation we found a great spot by a small beach on the Lake. We set up camp and basked in sunshine. The pointing is showing TJS that the sun was shining as he’d mocked us when we left about how wet we were going to get. I even managed a very quick and very cold swim to wash away the grime of the walk in

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The Hard Man returns from a water gathering exercise

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The wind had dropped and the water was stunningly calm and mirror-like

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The downside of warm weather, no wind and clouds is obvious. Midges! That’s the reason TBF has her hood up by way of protection. They were not even close to the scale and numbers of a Scottish midge attack but there was enough to be irritating while trying to cook

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As evening drew in and the temperature dropped they went back to their evil lair for the night and we enjoyed a pleasant late evening stroll to collect some fresh running water to save having to filter the lake water

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The moon was dazzlingly bright. Not a bad picture with a handheld zoom

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The next morning we were shrouded in cloud when we woke. It was a still a nice peaceful spot so I still got up and cooked my breakfast early and alone before the midges came out. As everyone else stirred and came to life the cloud began to break and we saw the first tentative rays of sunshine (and the first of the midges)

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It soon turned into a quite amazing morning with expansive and clear blue skies interspersed with mist. Stunning. Way better than anything forecast had us believing.

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Nice that the Hard Man purchased a tent that blends so well into the landscape you can barely see it!

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We set off for a walk and the views were amazing. It’s rare to walk in the UK without so much as a breath of wind and see such a mirror like calm on a lake surface

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It was quite mesmerizing. Our pitch is at the far end of the lake towards the right

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As we crested the top there was a welcome puff of breeze – it was exceptionally hot for May. The fickleness of British weather never fails to amaze me. We camped by the lake a few years back in July and it was too cold to eat outside the tent!

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Whilst we weren’t above the cloud there was a bank of it seemingly all around that gave a similar vibe

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The highest point of the Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog

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It’s a classic walk and the first time for the Hard Man for many a year (he spent a good part of his youth in these parts)

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Heading off for Bannau Sir Gaer

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We hoped to have a first lunch somewhere on the summit but as always seems to be the case it was overrun with flies despite the wind which seemed to be blowing them in. The walk along the edges, normally so wonderful was an unpleasant affair as we picked flies from every facial orifice. We did manage to find a windy spot to keep them at bay for a while until it dropped, the midges came out in force and we ran for cover

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The walk back to the tents along the base of the cliffs is one of my favourites and in baking sunshine it was a joy

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We returned to base camp for more food and to think about packing up. It had been a hot walk and all that I’d been thinking about was a swim.

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It was fabulous if very cold but so refreshing after a hot and sweaty hike. Yours truly enjoying the cold clear water

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TBF joined in as well

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As we packed up the clouds started to bubble and we heard a few rumbles of thunder. Time to get the hell out of there

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As we followed the stream back to the car we turned and saw that the clouds had completely enveloped the summits again and all looked very threatening. It appeared we caught the weather window perfectly. The sun shines on the righteous and all that

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Luckily the mindless and delusional optimism of the Hard Man had worked wonders and we had a cracking little trip out. Another weekend out planned in a couple of weeks time so more of the same will be in order

My classic local walk   12 comments

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I have a handful of walks that I would say are classics of South Wales and this is one of them. The Black Mountain has all the grandeur of the Beacons yet sees almost none of its busy summits. On this day we saw probably no more than 10 people for the whole walk on a wild, windy and spectacular day. I’m claiming this walk as my own as I’ve never seen this walk in a guide-book or anyone even mention the path under the edges. I found it, therefore its my walk! 🙂

I devised this walk by accident (albeit in the other direction) not long after I moved down here. I was on a supposedly short walk to one of the lakes looking for a wild camp and I just carried on across the tops, discovering the paths below the cliffs on my way back

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As with the previous walk it was a laze in bed late start and as before a gloomy start developed into a cracker of day.

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I think my iPhone camera had moved itself into some kind of vivid mode for these first couple of shots as we headed up to Llyn y Fan Fawr

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As we climbed the dark clouds started to dissipate and the views to the east opened out to the sky

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The clouds were still shrouding the summits but I was confident it would clear. Thinking it might take an hour or so I decided to follow the lower route under the edges first to give it some time. Not a day for dallying. It was bitterly cold and there had been some light snow cover the past couple of days

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It’s a beautiful lake and one of my favourites

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There were dark clouds and storms all around but we seemed to miss them all

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The walk under the cliffs is always a delight but on a winter’s day under brooding clouds its pretty dark for decent photos

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We found a sheltered spot behind a wall by Llyn y Fan Fach for some lunch before pushing on.

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It’s quite a long walk for a short winter day with a late start but the going is so easy and the views so superb that you cover the ground swiftly

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Once up on the edges the wind was ferocious but the sky and the air stunningly clear. Pin sharp clarity

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I was in my element, an even better day than the last outing. Much colder and windier but that’s no bad thing

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The sun was perfect for catching the edges

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Looking east

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And West

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The sun was already low and we still had a way to go but at least the wind was behind us, another good reason to walk this way around

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On top of Bannau sir Gaer we decided not to risk coming down the last boggy slopes to the car in the dark and cut the corner off direct to Fan Brycheiniog. It misses a couple of airy summits but saves a couple of miles

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Time to head down and another of those afternoons where its hard to drag yourself away. The views were immense and once you drop down you know that’s the end of the sunshine for the day

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We lingered as long as we dared and could stand the cold before leaving this lonely wonderland behind

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The skies then took over as the centre of attention.

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Pale blues and sheets and streaks of pink as the sun receded and night drew in

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After the last outing and its dark end this one was perfectly planned and we finished in the last of the afternoon light

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Black Mountain

8 miles and 2,400 feet of ascent and pure wind-blown, sun-soaked joy

Black Mountain Revisited   12 comments

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August Bank Holiday and sunshine forecast, who’d have thought! Me and TJS took off for the hills and my classic Black Mountain circuit. I’ve posted this walk many times so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking

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Rather than waste time at home we had breakfast a short walk from the car. Bacon sandwiches in the open air is taste much better than in the kitchen

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The larger of the two jewelled lakes of this walk, Llyn y Fan Fawr

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The high point at Bannau Sir Gaer

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And the second lake of Llyn y Fan Fach

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We stopped for a second lunch by the tarn. Despite this being a sunny Bank Holiday these hills are always relatively quiet. Dread to think how many people would have been on Pen y Fan

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I liked the clouds in this photo

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A decent welcome back to the UK

Lakes and Vanishing Rivers in the Black Mountain   6 comments

The annual summer backpacking trip for me, TBF and TJS is now a firm fixture in the calendar. We’ve done a couple of trips to the Moelwyns and one to fight with the tussocks in the Elan Valley. I had grand plans this year for a high level tour of the Carneddau but a poor weather forecast for Saturday night put pay to that idea. As Friday evening and Saturday sounded ok it seemed prudent to make good use of that rather than spend hours driving. To that end and with TJF safely in the care of my Mum and Dad we were to be found packing up just before 8pm on the lonely mountain road to the east of the Black Mountain. Our plan was to camp up at Llyn y Fan Fawr a short walk from the car and then take things from there

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

There were dark stormy clouds scudding across the summits fringed and illuminated by low shafts of sunlight, as we hurried up the boggy slopes to the tarn.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

It’s a stunning lake nestled beneath the cliffs of Fan Brycheiniog.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

There are plenty of reasonable pitches around the lake but I had my on a particular spot. In an idle few minutes before we left home, I’d done a You Tube search for wild camping spots in the Black Mountain and found a rather charming video of a young family camping on a small elevated grassy terrace just above the lakes NW corner. It was a perfect spot, flat and dry with a stunning view across the Lake. We had time to pitch up and take in the scene with a cuppa before turning in.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

Next morning was pretty much unchanged weather-wise, dark clouds with occasional shafts of blue sky and sunshine. I tried to pretend that it was summer and that it was warm enough to breakfast outside the tent. I was alone. I took the sociable and sensible decision to fry up indoors and admire the view from the tent window.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

The only downside of the lake is that it lacks a reliable source of running water. Time to try out a new investment, my Sawyer Mini-Works Water Filter. What an outstanding piece of kit. A filter about the size of a box of smarties and a small water pouch. Fill the pouch with water, screw in the filter, squeeze and you have clean clear water. It weighs next to nothing and the screw top fits most plastic drinks bottles and it also has a straw for sucking water out of manky pools. To be honest I had no issue with drinking the water straight from the lake – it’s large, deep and clear but no sense in having toys and not playing with them. I’ve seen several glowing reviews including a couple of wins in a “gear of the year” type of thing when up against more glamorous and expensive bits of kit. Its well deserved at only £20. It lives in my rucksack now so I can always get a drink as long as there is standing water somewhere which in the UK is not hard. Apart from the fact it takes a while to filter water for 3 people I can’t fault it. Well worth a purchase and carrying one around in the mountains if you’re out of water or have worries about your water source

Back to the main order of the day. TBF was keen to stay and certainly it was a fine spot. However both TJS and me wanted a proper backpack so we packed up and pressed on. With a forecast of improving weather later in the day we took the path that skirts under the cliffs of Fan Brycheiniog, Fan Foel and Bannau Sir Gaer around to Lyn y Fan Fach.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

It’s one of my favourite walks, easy-going grassy paths with expansive views to the east and north, looming grassy crags above and glimpses of these two jewelled tarns at either end. Blue sky became more prevalent and despite having a mammoth breakfast TJS insisted we needed a lunch stop at the lake despite having not climbed anything and only been walking for a little over an hour.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

Still plentiful stops on a walk is a good thing and despite the occasional spots of rain the weather seemed set fair. The short steep climb up to the edges seemed a breeze as both me and TJS savoured the light packs – light when compared to the outsize packs we hauled into Lochaber over Easter anyway

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

The walk along the edges and back to the summit of Bannau Sir Gaer is a delight, Lyn y Fan Fach glistening below. It was windy – as it seems to have been all year – but the sun was warm but the effort to reach the summit seemed minimal.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

From there we decided that rather than take in the rest of the edges we’d head south to find a spot to camp. Relaxation in fine surroundings is as important as clocking up miles and summits after all. When I explored this area a couple of years back with TJS we’d passed through the limestone area around Pwll y Cig. Not only did it look fascinating there also seemed to be littered with great wild camping spots albeit with limited water as the stream disappears into the limestone holes beneath. We carved a route across Carnau Gwys and down to the Afon Gledd.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

I’d also thought that we might pitch up by the river before it vanished. This seemed unlikely as most of the ground by the water had been claimed by tussocks. Then as if by magic we came to one spot with level lush grass and wild flowers and we’d found our home.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

Wraps and tea energised us for making the place home, this time with cold running water.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

To work up an appetite for tea we took a stroll downstream to explore Pwll y Cig and the surrounding hills. Right on cue the water slowly runs to a trickle and then disappears into a chaos of stones. The valley beyond twists and turns through a shallow limestone gorge, a perfect dry valley. The grassy patches between the bends are all perfect for wild camping except for the fact that there is just a river of stones instead of a river of water. It’s really quite surreal.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

I’d say that water was flowing through here relatively recently (in geological terms anyway). As you reach the end you realise the valley is blind with nowhere for the water to have gone. Except underground that is. You can clearly see the hole where the water would have gone. You tend to forget until you walk these hills that there is a very significant swathe of limestone upland in South Wales, home to very significant cave systems.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

We then walked through a land pocked with sink holes on the climb towards Disgwylfa. It looks like the whole area is about to collapse and reveal some huge hidden cavern just below the surface. Luckily not today and we arrived at the summit without further incident.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

The views from the top were magnificent revealing an expanse of wild, untamed land that must see few footprints. It’s superb and well worth a wander if you like your walks quiet with a sense of space rather than epic grandeur.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

Back to the tent for a lazy meal and the general pottering about that I love about a camping spot in the mountains. There is a peace and simplicity to this kind of life that’s hard to beat although secretly, a cold bottle of Becks would make it perfect. We stayed up late to watch the last of the evening light conscious that there was bad weather on the way.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

Overnight it arrived, heavy rain and strong winds that battered the tent so we enjoyed a snug and cosy lie in (except for the inevitable comfort breaks in the rain that come with middle age for me and TBF).

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

We stayed in as long as we could but eventually we had to pack up as we had a couple of hours to walk out and to be honest I was a bit worried about finding the col seeing as we were already in the cloud. As I started throwing stuff out the tent door the rain stopped and within 30 minutes the cloud had lifted and patches of blue were appearing. Perfect timing.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

The clearer skies and scudding clouds were a real surprise and after an hour of walking there was abundant sunshine

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

Rather than just walk out over the col I convinced the other two that a bit of off piste to pick up the far end of the Fan Hir edge would make a much more satisfying finish to the day. TBF is not a big fan of off piste with a pack. Being somewhat vertically challenged she often loses her balance so prefers paths to tusssocks (don’t we all).

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

Still the long edge is a superb and easy stroll and it did indeed make for a fitting finale to the weekend.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

It was especially pleasing to finish with views down over our first night’s stay to Llyn y Fan Fawr, now firmly established as my favourite lake in the UK. Under a clear blue sky it has a magic and perfection that’s beyond enchanting.

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

fan hir, black mountain, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, wild camping, backpacking, bannau sir gaer, fan brycheiniog, pwll y cig, disgwylfa

I’ve had so many good times in its company and it bade us farewell as we lunched above its shores before heading back to the car. 15 miles of proper backpacking under our hip-belts

Black Mountain

A fine weekend in a range of mountains that rewards the dedicated walker and backpacker with majestic edges and austere charm.

Black Mountain Blast   6 comments

TJF was off at a sleepover with a friend so the Mountain triumvirate of me TJS and TBF planned a proper day out. Alas the forecast wasn’t great and we were in the midst of some seriously stormy weather. So stormy in fact that it ripped up most of my back garden fence and picked up our trampoline and threw it over a 8 foot fence and several hundred yards into the field next door.

So, ideal conditions for a walk in the Black Mountain.

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

It was a bitterly cold, windy and grey day. There was a semblance of brightness but the forecast was for a rapid deterioration so there was no time to hang about

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

A blistering pace was needed to avoid the next battering and to keep warm. The plod up to Llyn y Fan Fawr is an extremely wet one, TBF regretting not having bought new boots to replace the one’s with holes in. The lake is a wonderful spot and the last time I was up here it was in warm March sunshine.

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

No stopping today. Onwards and upwards. When we hit the edge of Fan Brycheiniog we hit the wind. It was ferocious. A real battle to stay upright. It’s hard work and a little disconcerting – the edge is quite sharp and the drop quite significant – but I love walking in a gale. Blows the working weeks dust out from the brain and makes you feel properly alive. A battle with the elements is good for the soul.

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

Again despite hunger we just pressed on, staying away from the edge for fear of being blown off. At Fan Foel we made the decision to abort the rest of the route to Bannau Sir Gaer and head down. The clouds were darkening and we’d have been walking into the teeth of the gale for an hour. It meant an earlier finish but we had enough fun in the wind for now.

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

The small pools of water on the top had been blown and then frozen – a capture of small waves in action.

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

We dropped down to the exceedingly fine unmarked path that traverses under the cliffs we’d just walked along. Almost immediately that we turned under the cliffs we were in calm conditions. Lunchtime under the brooding cliffs and stormy skies was well-earned

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

As soon as we reached the lake we were blasted by the wind again.

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

The trouble with still images is they don’t really capture how windy it is. Except this shot. As the gusts of wind roared across the lake they whipped some mightily impressive tornadoes of spray with a deafening growl.

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

Back down through the bogs to the car. Almost a relief to sit in the car in silence without the constant drone of the wind.

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

Bannau Sir Gaer, Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog, llyn y fan fach, llyn y fan fawr, mynyd du, fan fawr

Not a blue sky Wales day, this one was for the connoisseur (re: mad)

Father & Son Backpacking – Black Mountain July 2013   21 comments

Normal service resumed here at Surfnslide after the family holiday to France – normal service meaning me trying to catch up on trips from a couple of months back – will I ever catch up? Why am I asking you?

Where was I? Ah, trip reports from July. TJF was with the Grandparents in Wales and TBF was performing one of her plays so me and TJS took off for some backpacking. After much pondering of maps and a somewhat uncertain forecast, the Black Mountain and the Limestone area on its southern edge caught my eye. I’ve walked the main ridge a number of times including a great day out with TJS last year but I’d never ventured to the South so this was a great opportunity to see what it was like. The map makes it look interesting

By 10am we were parked up at Dan yr Ogof caves and ready to set off. The cloudy start had been replaced with some fine sunshine and things looked good. Our route would take in the length of the Black Mountain escarpment before heading off over the limestone hills to west to wild camp. We’d then return over the limestone crags above Dan yr Ogof

Black Mountain Part 1

Day 1: 9.8 Miles

Cribarth, Dan yr Ogof

Cribarth from Dan yr Ogof

We headed off to follow the Haffes valley into the hills. I was using a Cicerone guide “Backpackers Britain – Wales” by Graham Uney that i’d seen on Amazon and looked promising for some route and wild camp site ideas. I’m normally a fan of Cicerone guides but let me just say that this one is a massive disappointment. For a start the majority of routes involve overnights at campsites, pubs and guest houses, not exactly backpacking in the proper sense. Only a few have wild camp sites as their overnight. There are a few that use bothies but they are not well researched. A few routes use the Grwyne Fawr bothy in the Black Mountains which is fine but it’s tiny, near the road end and very well-known. on weekends it is very likely to be full and there is very little alternative if you happen not to have a tent. None of this is mentioned in the book which I think is a little remiss.

Reason for mentioning the guide at this point is that is the route is a 2 day route over a total of 37km described as a “short backpacking route” – now I’m reasonably fit but I wouldn’t describe 37km over 2 days with a backpack as “short”. As it turned out even at a relatively brisk pace we had no way to reach the suggested wild camp spot at a reasonable hour and had to cut several miles off the suggested route. The first time we needed to get the guide out was to find our way onto the open hillside. The description “follow the stream for a short way up into Cwm Haffes” neglects to mention that there is no path or even a trace of one. In fact the whole valley floor is completely overgrown and we spent an unhappy half hour scrambling through the undergrowth, clinging to trees and wandering about looking for a way through before we eventually broke through to a point where we could escape upwards. None of this is mentioned either. The book went back in the pack and hasn’t been seen since. Lesson learned stick to my own instincts and the vast array of knowledge and reports on the web. Rant over 🙂

Haffes Valley

D above the Haffes Valley

The Haffes valley is actually rather pleasant once you emerge from its jungle-like confines and after a short and very steep climb up its banks we took a pause to take in the view

Haffes Valley

Haffes Valley

Haffes Valley

Haffes Valley

Haffes Valley

TJS takes a break

We filled up with fresh water at a small side stream (last chance until later in the day) and then headed off across the vast expanse of soggy tussocks to the slopes of Fan Hir

Haffes Valley

Lone tree

TJS has done most of his walking on well-known hills with broad paths. This was the first time I’d taken him “off-piste” and he didn’t seem to appreciate the subtle charms of tussocks and bog without a path (neither do I but that’s not the point). He was mightily relieved when we finally reached the path.

Fan Hir

TJS admires the view after tussock bashing

Fan Gyhirych, Fan Hir

Fan Gyhirych from Fan Hir

It had turned into a very fine day with clear skies and expansive views. Withe renewed enthusiasm we romped along the extremely grand Fan Hir escarpment. I’ve walked the Black Mountain many times but never along this section and its top-notch. It stretches for a good couple of miles with sheer drops to east and wild moors to the west

Fan Hir

D on Fan Hir

Fan Hir

Fan Hir

Fan Hir

Fan Hir

We managed to find a sheltered spot on the summit for lunch. Time to experiment with a new backpacking lunch. Sandwiches that have been squashed into a pack never look very appealing (especially after a few days) so I was going for some Heinz “Squeeze and Stir” soup and some bread. The Herb and Mushroom flavour when squeezed looked suspiciously like – well I’ll leave that to your imagination. And the taste? Well here was lesson 2 for the day – read the instructions. Don’t assume that one sachet will be fine for a very large mug. It looked like dirty dish water and didn’t taste much better. Still, it was hot and filling (and the tomato flavour with the proper amount of water to soup ratio is actually pretty nice) so it was voted a success 🙂

Fan Hir

Lunch on Fan Hir

We pressed on to take in the next set of tops along the escarpment, Fan Brycheiniog and Fan Fawr. This is one of my favourite walks with the deep blue Lyn y Fan Fawr below.

Brecon Beacons

East to the Brecon Beacons

Fan Brycheiniog

Fan Brycheiniog

Fan Brycheiniog, Lyn y Fan Fawr

Fan Brycheiniog & Lyn y Fan Fawr

I was struggling a bit on the steep sections as I was carrying the majority of the weight but TJS was romping along and enjoying every minute. After the early struggles the terrain is very easy-going and perfect for backpacking.

Fan Fawr

TJS on Fan fawr

As we reached the high point of Bannau Sir Gaer, eating up the miles, the weather suddenly turned gloomy and the sunshine disappeared spectacularly quickly. We didn’t linger on the summit and pressed on to leave behind the dark sandstone of the Black Mountain following a succession of very handy sheep tracks across the grassland and bog to the limestone summit of Carreg yr Ogof

Carreg yr Ogof

Carreg yr Ogof

It’s a fine summit, littered with small limestone pavements and outcrops. We took time out for a second lunch but didn’t linger too long as it was pretty gloomy and quite chilly. We pressed on to the summit of Garreg Las with its two massive stone cairns. I assume that these are some sort of ancient burial cairn or shelter such is their size

Garreg Las

A very tired TJS on Garreg Las

TJS suddenly hit “the wall” and his pace dropped markedly. He’s not to used to carrying a heavy sack and he was struggling. This unfortunately coincided with the cloud starting to close in and the summit is not a place to practice navigation amongst its chaotic collection of pavements and rocks. The “guide-book” route urged us to take in Foel Fraith, Garreg Lwyd and Cefn Carn Fadog but it was already 5pm and we were both tired and the mist was upon us. I took a line straight down towards the Afon Twrch through a tangle of boulders and small crags. It would have been an entertaining route had the mist not been following us down. I was keen to try to least see the river to pick out a camp spot so had to encourage TJS to keep going. As we emerged from the mist we could see the river with several green patches on it’s banks that looked promising. We just had to cross the last patch of tussocks to reach the bank. In time honoured Welsh mountain tradition this proved to be a cruel deception. It was in fact a small lake with tussocks floating in it. My trail-shoed feet, dry up to this point were wet within a few strides as were TJS in his boots.

The site was a fine one albeit not the flattest. It was my first test of my new Voyager Superlite tent and I have to say I’m well impressed. It’s rather compact (rucksacks outside) and lacking the cavernous space of my Quasar or Lightwave GT3 but then it weighs less than half of them and it’s quick and easy to put up. I may put a review up at some point if I can be bothered

Afon Twrch

Wild Camp by the Afon Twrch

It drizzled while I pitched it, and that combined with a minor midge invasion forced me to cook tea in the tent. By the time we’d eaten the skies cleared a little and we got some shafts of late evening sunshine.

Afon Twrch

Evening Sunshine

It’s a lovely wild and lonely spot and I only wish we could have seen more of it while we were camped there. Finding your own little private corner of the mountains is the joy of backpacking and I’d looked forward to a late evening exploratory stroll to really get to know the local suburbs

Afon Twrch

Post meal enjoyment

Afon Twrch

Afon Twrch

As quickly as the sun had appeared, it vanished again and the gloom descended. Tired yet satisfied after a long day we turned in.

When we woke the next day, I was hopeful that the skies would have cleared and we’d be treated to breakfast in the sunshine. What we got was breakfast in a steam room. It was mild muggy and we were in the cloud. Every single surface, plant and blade of grass had a pint of water clinging to it. Still breakfast in steam room in the wilds is better than breakfast in…… lets not follow that line of thought. We did enjoy our bacon sandwiches though and by the time we’d eaten and packed up the cloud had lifted a little. Our route back to the car was to take us along the Afon Twrch and then over the limestone hills to Dan yr Ogof and Glyn Tawe

Black Mountain Part 2

Day 2: 5.7 Miles

The going was rough with no path and the grass absolutely soaking. My trail shoes were squelching again within a few hundred yards. Still we had the valley to ourselves and it retained an air of austere wilderness which is surprising when you consider it’s not actually very remote

Afon Twrch

On our way into the gloom

It’s hard to judge an area when your first visit is under a blanket of leaden grey cloud but I saw enough to make we certain I need to come back and see it again.

Afon Twrch

Afon Twrch

Afon Twrch

Wild and untamed

We met the path at the ford which looked like a good place to camp with a few rocks to sit on and slightly flatter. The path east was actually well-defined and easy to follow and takes you across the wild moors to Pwll y Cig. It’s a fascinating area of sink holes, some filled with water and blind valleys. It looked like a great place to camp and explore and I made a note to come back here next year. Despite the gloomy weather I was really enjoying this section of the walk with the terrain providing a lot more interest than anything the map would have you believe

Disgwylfa

Disgwylfa

We had planned to traverse Disgwylfa and Carreg Goch but as they were dipping in and out of the cloud there seemed little point. We were enjoying the ease of following the well made path past the succession of intriguing features. The hills could wait for a better day

Swallow Hole, Pwll y Cig

Swallow Hole, Pwll y Cig

It was a very easy, uneventful and enjoyable stroll back to the car with some decent views across the Tawe valley and over to the interesting little hill of Cribarth as we emerged from the confines of the wild limestone land

Cribarth

Cribarth

Tawe Valley

Tawe Valley

We were back at the car in mid afternoon after an excellent couple of days. More progress in TJS backpacking career with a much longer and tougher outing than his first trip to the Moelwyns last year. He’s still spent all of his wild camping time looking at grey clouds and rain and he asked me if it was always like that. I regaled him with stories of days spent lazing by the tent in warm sunshine and how life doesn’t get much better. Perhaps his next trip would provide some of that 🙂

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