Hiking Pen Y Fan, the highest mountain in South Wales, was at the top of my list of things to do in the Brecon Beacons. With a short 3-night stay in the area before heading on to a week in Pembrokeshire, I wanted to experience something out of my comfort zone.
Pen Y Fan seemed like a fabulous option, and I eagerly combed through hiking websites to learn more about how hard it would be to climb Pen Y Fan.
Pen Y Fan Online Resources
Plenty of online information told me that Pen Y Fan was a mountain that was easy to navigate and suitable for all age groups, from children to golden oldies.
One website even stated it was a mountain walk for softies – I later learned, during my climb up the highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons, that this statement was far from the truth for me.
With the height of Pen Y Fan being 886 metres above sea level, it was only 200 metres shorter than Table Mountain in South Africa, and I had managed that ascent with minimal discomfort.
I surmised that this iconic Welsh mountain couldn’t be anywhere near as challenging as hiking to the top of Table Mountain, and so decided to attempt the ascent to the summit of Pen Y Fan.
I was to be proved wrong, and with every heavy footstep and beating heartbeat, I was reminded that this was not the easy climb that had been described by others. And so because of this, I have answered questions for my readers that I wish I had found before I did the climb. It is definitely better to know what is in store for you as a novice before starting!
Regardless of how hard I found it, I am really pleased I did the hike up Pen Y Fan. The rewards for doing it speak for themselves in the form of sensational views all the way to the top. Scroll through to the end and see the photographs I took on my journey.
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Frequently Asked Questions about Pen Y Fan
How high is Pen Y Fan?
886m above sea level, but at the start of the walking route, it is an ascent of 440m from the Pont ar Daf car park.
Do I have to be fit to climb Pen Y Fan?
This million-dollar question is a hard one to answer. I found it extremely tough, as did my husband, and so it would seem did plenty of others who were stopping on the route out of breath.
We expected it to be a challenge but not as intense as it turned out to be.
Our fitness level is ok. We walk a lot but aren’t hill/mountain climbers, which is very different from walking on the flat.
In comparison to how hard we found the climb, there were plenty of others who didn’t find it anywhere near as challenging. In particular, the small child who greeted me at the summit and the guy who was running up Pen Y Fan carrying a huge weighted rucksack.
I later discovered that the SAS used this as a training ground for the world’s oldest Special Forces test, so didn’t feel quite so feeble!
Should I attempt the climb?
I could never have realised as I looked up at this imposing mountain that the walk would push me to my limits and test my mettle. It is proof that you can achieve most things you set your mind to; however, you should never compare what others find easy to your own abilities.
If you don’t feel comfortable climbing Pen Y Fan, it is not a failure to stop; it could be the correct decision to make. No matter what the guidebooks say, this is a hard and demanding walk and not a stroll in the park as some hardened walkers portray it to be.
How can I find out if the weather is suitable for climbing Pen Y Fan?
How many routes are there to the top?
There are several routes to reach the summit.
The so-called “Easy” Pen Y Fan Walk (excuse me while I laugh out loud) is 4 miles long – 2 miles up and 2 miles back down (it seriously felt a lot longer than that!). Locals call this walking route “The Motorway” as it can get extremely busy. This walk starts at Pont ar Daf car park by the stream.
A similar 4-mile (7k) Pen Y Fan circular walk takes a different route back down, which includes the smaller mountain (I use the word “smaller’ very lightly) with a height of 873m called Corn Du. The start will be at the Pont ar Daf car park and will finish at the Storey Arms car park.
Other routes range from six to 11 miles, but I guess if you are reading this, then you are a novice and are still deciding whether or not this is for you.
How long will it take to reach the summit?
One hour is the average time for the “Easy” (I say with a smirk), one-way route, but all depends on your pace. We ended up counting 100 steps and then stopping to catch our breath as we got nearer to the summit. It took us over 90 minutes each way.
When should I choose to visit?
You can climb it all year round, but you need to be prepared for when the weather gets bad. Always check the day’s forecast before your ascent; what might start as a sunny day could quickly turn into fog and rain as you get higher into the clouds.
What time of day should I visit?
We visited at the end of September and arrived in the late afternoon. As we ascended (slowly!), we were met with hoards of visitors on their way down. If those many climbers were still heading towards the summit at the same time as us, I think we would have given up.
Pen Y Fan gets over 350,000 visitors a year, so I guess it all depends on luck and the weather as to how many other climbers will be on the mountain with you.
Be aware of what time the sunsets during the year. We witnessed visitors starting their climb as we were on our way down (oh, the joy!), and on asking why so many people had suddenly appeared, we were told it was for the sunset.
This works well if you have intentionally planned it, but the last thing you want is to be on the mountain when it gets dark. Always have a torch with you – just in case of emergencies.
How many peaks are there in the Brecon Beacons?
There are four main peaks in the Brecon Beacons. Pen Y Fan (886m), Corn Du (873m), Cribyn (795m), and Fan Y Big (719m) yes, you read correctly, it isn’t a spelling mistake!
Is there a car park?
Yes, there are two car parks along the A470. One is at the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre but the best Pen Y Fan car park is at Pont ar Daf.
Are there toilets nearby?
Yes in the Pont ar Daf car park but none while you are hiking the trail.
Is there anywhere to get refreshments for the climb?
Yes, a small burger van is in the car park at Pont ar Daf however, I would recommend you bring water, snacks etc., with you.
Can I wear trainers for the climb?
Yes. I had no choice but to wear mine as my walking boots had fallen apart the day before. The correct footwear is always advisable, and a good grip is essential as the gravel pathway to the summit may prove hazardous in bad weather. My new walking boots have now arrived, ready for my next adventure. I would also advise investing in a pair of walking poles – I saw several walkers using them and have since bought myself a pair!
What clothing should I wear for the climb?
Layers! I started at the bottom with a t-shirt, fleece, ski jacket and woollen hat. Midway up the mountain, I stripped back the coat and fleece (this was the point that I was struggling) but left my hat on as my ears were cold. At the top, all my clothes plus a pair of gloves went back on as it was very windy and cold.
Don’t forget the importance of breathable walking socks and waterproof walking boots.
Girl Guides motto – be prepared!!
What does Pen Y Fan mean?
A rough translation means “Top One” or “Top of the Summit.”
Why is there a stone pile at the summit?
The stone pile indicates a burial place from the Bronze Age. A National Trust plaque sits on top of the pile marking the summit of Pen Y Fan.
What can you see from the summit?
The most stunning views of the Bristol Channel, the Gower Peninsula, the Black Mountains, Exmoor, the Cambrian Mountains, Brecon, much of Mid-Wales and the South Wales valleys. It is truly breathtaking.
Where can I stay in the area?
Nant Ddu in Merthyr Tydfil is one of the closest country hotels to Pen Y Fan.
A Photographic Journey to the Summit of
Pen Y Fan
For me, this was a challenging walk/hike; however, the effort was worth it as the views are just breathtaking!
South Wales is a stunning part of the world, and the sense of achievement on reaching the summit far outweighs any struggles to get to it.
What do you think? Would you hike to the top?