Failing Pen Y Fan

Never Underestimate Any Mountain

Never underestimate any mountain. This is the lesson my friend and I learned on this trip. Pen Y Fan stands at only 886m, and we rather ignorantly went into this hike confidently calling it a ‘hill’.

What Pen Y Fan did was let us get close, bend us over, and spank us back out the way we came. But what a perfect place to fail on; low altitude, no sheer drops (that we got close to), local terrain, easy to navigate back to where you came from… and more as I explain in the podcast.

Pictured above, is Matt lying in the snow – completely fragged – and above his knee, on the horizon, is Pen Y Fan in the distance.

Very High Winds Along The Wrong Ridgeline… But Stunning Views

It Was All Going So Well

We start on the night before. I drove over to Matt’s house and ready to do Pen Y Fan the next day, followed by Snowdon the day after.

We googled 4 main ways to do the route, and decided on doing “The Tough One” – the classic horseshoe hitting 4 peaks in the area.

We went shopping, got our food and extra water bottles, packed up our gear and hit the hay, ready for an early start. Thinking I had the right car park ready to go on Google Maps…

What Went Down

“We had no map and when we arrived swiftly discovered that we had left all of the food at home, 2 and a half hours away.”

So, if you type ‘Taf Fechan car park’ into Google Maps it will not provide you with the right car park for this. So as you can imagine, nothing went right from the moment we left. Although we didn’t realise this until later.

It’s worth noting: we still had a blast. An awesome day. So everything from now, we were 98% of the time smiling. But it did go very wrong.

I Think It’s Called ‘Dramatic Irony’? So Naïve At The Start Of The Walk

We arrive at the car park and start following the instructions. We had no map and when we arrived swiftly discovered that we had left all of the food at home, 2 and a half hours away. With the shorter December days we didn’t want to drive back to civilisation, so we cracked on with just two army style ration packets (one of nuts, the other raisins).

We then began the walk (from the wrong car park) and we realised we had left the water in the car. Matt had his camel/hydration pack which holds 2.2L so we just decided to press on, even though we could never see how much we had left. Everything we did from now, water was rationed.

It doesn’t help our simple and uneducated minds at the time that the horseshoe circles around a small reservoir, and that there is a larger one next to it that we decided was the correct one from the map. In addition, I recently went back with my daughter and found the correct reservoir to be empty, so who knows how long that had been and if we even would have seen it.

We pressed on, and after back tracking when lost in boggy woods, decided to just cut up the hill side and force our way on to the ridge; we’d have to get there anyway, right?! In doing so, we had to jump a river in high flow. Not exactly signs that we were on the right path…

Jumping A River… It Was Farther Than It Looks, Okay?!

We pressed onwards up the hill side through undulating grass which was threatening to twist our ankles at any second, sucking the energy out of us. Acknowledging we were likely – almost definitely – not on the correct trail. We then cut up a further hill side to get on to the ridge (video at the top).

Always Take The Right Way, Not The Easy Way

I explain further in the podcast, but what ensues is us doubling our elevation gain, trying to take shortcuts, draining our energy while dehydrated and not eating anything.

Although fun, we messed up in a big way. At one point, we finally received 3G and loaded Google Maps, and we had been heading the wrong direction! So, instead of heading up the ridiculously windy ridgeline, we decided to walk the inside of the ‘bowl’, shortening our distance and staying out of the wind. Instead of choosing the right way, we chose the easy way… which was not easy. We drained our energy on more undulating grass, and had to reclimb the ascent on a steeper slope.

Pulling The Plug

Heading Back With Pen Y Fan Faintly In Sight

Eventually we sat, drained, filled only with a little bit of water and some raisins and nuts. Using our newly acquired, state-of-the-art 3G we checked our timings. 2 hours to Pen Y Fan, 2 hours until sunset, 1.75 hours to the car.

We decided to head back, in sight of Pen Y Fan. So close, yet so far.

It’s a good thing we did, including Matt falling asleep by a river for 5 minutes, it took us 2 hours.

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Published by Between The Mountains

Between The Mountains delivers researched, in-depth interviews, captivating expeditions, and expert advice for must-do adventures in the world of Adventure Travel!

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