Black Mountains day 2 - sunshine at last
by malky_c » Tue Feb 07, 2012 2:02 am
Hewitts included on this walk: Mynydd Llysiau, Pen Allt-mawr, Pen Cerrig-calch, Pen y Gadair Fawr, Waun Fach
Date walked: 05/02/2012
Time taken: 7.75
Distance: 48 km
Ascent: 1390m2 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Date walked: 05/02/2012
Time taken: 1 hour 30 minutes (cycling), 6 hours, 15 minutes (walking)
Distance: 21km (cycling), 27km (walking)
Ascent: 230m (cycling), 1160m (walking)
Weather: Cold and sunny, cloud often clinging to summit ridges.
Having worn myself out much more than expected on Saturday (report), I had an early night. The morning looked to be pleasant, so I was up and away from the bunkhouse in Pantygelli early. Last night's snow had turned to sheet ice so I pushed my bike gingerly up the driveway. Fortunately the next section of road over to Forest Coal Pit was gritted and easily cycleable. A sharp ascent had me wheezing early, and led to good views of a couple of Marilyns I had my eye on - Ysgyryd Fawr across the valley, and the adjacent Bryn Arw, which I thought I could climb on my way home if I was early enough (yeah right ). Not to mention the Sugar Loaf, which I was now passing round the base of, and was only a few meters short of the the 2000 ft mark.
Bryn Arw from near Pantygelli:
Once over the high point, I began to get a look up the Gwyrne Fawr - one of the long valleys that pushes its way through the Black Mountains. At the foot of the hill, I turned onto the Llanbedr road, which was much more icy, and required some care. A turn off and steep ascent at Gudder, and I was at the point that I had decided to start walking from.
Up the valley of the Gwyrne Fawr from near Forest Coal Pit:
I locked my bike to a fence and confronted the next obstacle of the day. A couple of horses which refused to move over and let me into their field, even though I practically clambered over them. In the end, I had to climb the fence to the left of them to avoid being stuck there all day
Horses block the start of my walk:
I started off descending steeply into the valley of the Gwyrne Fechan, crossing an old packhorse bridge at the bottom of the gorge. A brief climb up the other side took me into Llanbedr, a cosy looking little village. I took the wrong road out of the village and missed the route up to Table Mountain, a small summit on the S end of the main ridge. Instead I followed a section of the Beacons Way towards Pen Cerrig-calch. I took a short cut, heading straight up the hillside. This was a bit slow, as I was feeling more knackered than I expected, so I stopped for a second breakfast a bit short of the summit. The air was cold, but I was out of the wind and the sun was even shining. Quite an improvement on yesterday!
Across to Pen Gwyllt Meirch from the ascent of Pen Cerrig-calch:
Sugar Loaf and Mynydd Llangatwg from the ascent:
Table Mountain and Mynydd Llangynidr. Cloud obscuring Pen y Fan and neighbours:
Across the valley to Crug Mawr:
South from near the summit:
However, there was still a lot of low cloud about - not very thick, but clinging determinedly to the ridges. I was in it on the summit, but re-emerged shortly afterwards, where I was treated to intermittent views of Pen y Gadair Fawr.
Pen y Gadair Fawr and Pen Twyn Mawr from Pen Cerrig-calch:
It was great to be able to see what the Black Mountains actually looked like, but they are so massive and sprawling that they are practically impossible to photograph.
Back to Pen Cerrig-calch:
I was on similar terrain to yesterday afternoon - frozen peat but with some wind-blown snow, however with the intermittent views and the path sticking to the edge of the steeper slopes, there was much more variety. I reached the summit of Pen Allt-mawr sooner than expected, and got a pleasant surprise. Not a view, but a steep, narrowish ridge dropping northwards into the cloud. It was hardly dramatic by Snowdonian standards, but it was barely hinted at on the map, so came quite unexpectedly. A quick romp down this (disappearing up to my knees in a couple of drifts) and I was at the foot of the steep section and out of the cloud again. Sadly it didn't really appear well in any photos.
I was glad the next section was a little lower, as it had less snow on it, and was out of the cloud for the most part. This section of ridge was very broad, and was enlivened by a couple of boundary markers on the northern summit of Pen Twyn Glas. At least the map said they were boundary stones, but a faint date carved into one suggests they might be a pair of graves.
Cwmdu and Mynydd Troed (one foot short of being a 2000er):
Pen Cerrig-calch and Pen Allt-mawr from Pen Twyn Glas:
Boundary stones with Waun Fach and Pen y Gadair Fawr in the background:
Next up was Mynydd Llysiau - so indistinct from the south that you could barely call it a hill. The high point was not particuarly obvious, and barely worth hunting around for. However looking back from the northern end, it had more character, with a steep NE face. Waun Fach was also looking particuarly featureless from here.
Waun Fach from Mynydd Llysiau - the most difficult hill to capture on camera:
Back along the NE face of Mynydd Llysiau:
The narrowest part of the ridge came just before the final ascent to Waun Fach, and had a major path crossing it. I could see a group of 20 or so people heading up, looking like they might get to the col at the same time as me. Much as I like meeting people on the hills, I didn't want to get tangled in a group of 20 , so I sped up a bit and got there before them.
Big group ascending from Cwmfforest:
A short steep section led me back into the cloud, and across an eerie section of bare peat. On the final pull to the summit plateau, the snow became deeper and the path more buried. I took a bearing to be certain, but to be honest, if I hadn't bumped into a couple at the summit, I would probably have walked straight past it!
The couple arrived at a large boulder at the same time as me and confirmed this was the top. "The only summit I know of that's in a hollow" said the guy . To be fair, Waun Fach translates as 'little hollow', although it is more likely to refer to one of the cwms surrounding it than the actual summit. It transpired that the boulder was actually the upturned plinth for an old trig point, which had evidently sunk into the peat. Looking at other people's photos of this summit re-iterated to me how lucky I was to be there in frozen conditions.
The 'summit hollow' of Waun Fach:
There appeared to be marginally higher ground to the SE, which I crossed on my new bearing to Pen y Gadair Fawr. Where the actual high point is appears to be of little significance, since there would be poor views from it even if it wasn't in the cloud.
I stopped for a lunch break after a few minutes, when it looked like the cloud might clear (it didn't). The snow was getting deeper and softer over here, and I was occasionally disappearing up to my knees in drifts. A fellrunning couple passed me at full pelt here, before stopping and asking if they were going the right way. They didn't appear to have a map, so I pointed out where we were on mine. They had descended off the wrong side of Waun Fach, as they were trying to get back to the A479 to the west. Rather than retrace their steps, they opted to descend to the Gwyrne Fechan valley and re-ascend the ridge on the other side. Gluttons for punishment .
The ascent to Pen y Gadair Fawr got steeper before ending on a minature plateau. There was cairn on the obvious high point here - one of the few 'obvious' summits in the range. There was also a more recent memorial nearby - a laminated photo nailed to a wooden post.
Shortly after leaving the summit, I picked up the edge of the forest, which had been mainly felled and appeared eerily out of the mist. As I got lower, I finally emerged from the cloud and got some more views, including the tame looking Chwarel y Fan - hard to imagine it had been so frustrating yesterday!
Chwarel y Fan - source of yesterday's frustration:
As the visibility improved, the ground deteriorated, with the snow getting deeper and softer. In places the ground underneath had thawed, and I disappeared thigh deep into snowy, boggy holes. I was suddenly deciding that I didn't fancy following the ridge all the way to Crug Mawr! I continued over Pen Twyn Mawr, as there didn't appear to be a descent route that wouldn't end in tears before this. As it was the heather on the top of the SW spur was extremely hard going. Luckily it thinned lower down, and the going became pleasant all the way down to the forestry. Climbing a fence here, I picked up a farm track which returned me to the road with much less effort than expected.
From Pen Twyn Mawr to Sugar Loaf:
Sugar Loaf and the valley of the Gwyrne Fechan from Pen Twyn Mawr:
Mynydd Llysiau and Waun Fach across the Gwyrne Fechan:
Back to Pen y Gadair Fawr:
The next hour and a half was spent wandering along peaceful country lanes in the afternoon sunshine, and was very agreeable - it felt like the first day of spring, with the snow melting and the birds tweeting (despite the fact that the snow had only lain for a couple of days!). In the entire walk back to my bike, I wasn't passed by a single vehicle. I would have taken more photos, but my batteries died just as I hit the road.
All that remained now was the cycle back to Abergavenny. The weekend had taken much more out of me than I expected, so I discounted any bonus Marilyns, and took the least hilly way home. This involved a short section of the A40, but even that wasn't too bad. I got to the station in the last light just as the 5:25 train was coming in. However, I had the bike booked on the next one (waste of time - nobody looks at the special bike ticket anyway), and it was just going to leave me waiting an hour longer at Shrewsbury, so I let it go and got changed. Getting home, I was surprised to find no snow in Shrewsbury, but lots on the ground in Shifnal, just 20 miles east.
So something of an eye-opening weekend. The Black Mountains turned out to be tougher than I expected. Partly down to the snow and cycling, I'm sure, but also because of the massive distances and rough ground involved if you try going off track. I now have even more respect for anyone who does the lot in a day (as shown in clivegrif's report), but I also think that if I'm walking here again, then doing big rounds of the main valleys isn't the best way to see the area. There would be much more variety in going across the ridges rather than along them, and including some of the areas on the southern extremities.
by ChrisW » Tue Feb 07, 2012 3:32 am
by Phil the Hill » Tue Feb 07, 2012 12:16 pm
malky_c wrote:I also think that if I'm walking here again, then doing big rounds of the main valleys isn't the best way to see the area. There would be much more variety in going across the ridges rather than along them, and including some of the areas on the southern extremities.
Nothing wrong with big rounds, but there are some nice walks to be had by ascending and descending the side paths to link the ridges from the valleys. Steep ascents / descents, but fairly short and they provide some variety from the plateau-like tops. I've got a wonderful picture somewhere of my mate with a chicken on his head (!) whilst having lunch in one of those valleys. If you get a chance the Cat's Back Ridge (I think it's called) up to Black Hill is a good ridge route.
Good move doing Waun Fach when frozen. The trig point was still there when I bagged it years ago now. It doesn't look like the summit area has improved.
by willywalker247 » Tue Feb 07, 2012 2:19 pm
by clivegrif » Tue Feb 07, 2012 6:50 pm
I would second Phil's suggestion about the Cats Back Ridge, it's certainly the most defined ridge in the area and is a nice route.
by poppiesrara » Tue Feb 07, 2012 7:54 pm
I'd add the Y Grib ridge descending to the west from north of Waun Fach to the short list of highlights of the area (and I definitely think more highly of Chwarel y Fan than you!), but I don't think too many would argue that you'll see better Beacons further west. Look forward to the reports to come!
by Klaasloopt » Tue Feb 07, 2012 8:58 pm
by garyhortop » Tue Feb 07, 2012 9:24 pm
by dooterbang » Wed Feb 08, 2012 3:00 pm
Another big day - the old fitness levels must be near their peak.
by mamoset » Wed Feb 08, 2012 4:46 pm
by malky_c » Wed Feb 08, 2012 10:46 pm
willywalker247 wrote:I am planning a similar walk in the next month or so, will let you know how i get on.
I'd be interested to see another report on this lot (Yokehead did a good similar one as well) as I still don't feel like I got a proper impression of the area.
dooterbang wrote:Another big day - the old fitness levels must be near their peak.
Dunno - I can usually do loads more ascent than this without feeling so knackered!
Cheers Phil/Clive/Poppiesrara for some other suggestions. If I'm back in the area I will definitely consider them.