Pen Y Fan, Wales: The Truth about Hiking to the Summit as a Novice

Hiking Pen Y Fan, the highest mountain in South Wales was at the top on 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, this would be my first and last holiday of 2020, and 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 find out 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 was later to learn, 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 at 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 had 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 the 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 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 than 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 the SAS use 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 was going to 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?

Brecon Beacons Weather Forecast

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 were ascending (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!

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.

YHA Libanus and YHA Danywenallt are in the Brecon Beacons and a great base for all outdoor activities.

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A Photographic Journey to the Summit of Pen y Fan

Pen Y Fan View

Bridge Over Stream

Pathway on route

National Trust Marker

Countryside

Sheep on a mountain

Sheep and mountain view

white horse and sheep on a mountain

view across South Wales

Angie at the summit

Conclusion

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?

 

 

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Alison
15 days ago

I would love to do this! What a gorgeous place, and your photos are fabulous. I’d be one of those annoying people who would probably call it fairly easy as I like climbing hills (do some every day) and much prefer it to coming down which I find too hard on the knees. This is exactly the kind of hike Don and I would search out when travelling. Good for you for doing it! It must have felt amazing at the top!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Alison
15 days ago

You put me to shame climbing hills every day! I think because I normally hike on the flat this became much more of a challenge but I did punch the air when I got to the top and saw those views! I’m thinking maybe Mount Snowdon next (my husband is thinking probably not!)

Phoebe
16 days ago

Those views are amazing and the landscape of the mountain itself is beautiful too. It’s good to read an honest and real account of how hard this walk is, very useful to be prepared. Well done for making it to the top.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Phoebe
16 days ago

Thank you, Phoebe, even though it was hard I felt a real sense of achievement at the top and as you say the views were so worth the pain!

Anisa
Anisa
17 days ago

I came very close to booking a trip to Brecon Beacons earlier this year, but ended up in the Peak District instead. Thanks for your honest opinion on this hike, I think I might have to find an easier one. Hope to make it to that area soon!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Anisa
17 days ago

I would definitely recommend the area, there are so many things to see and do in the Brecon Beacons. I loved it so much I’ve booked for next year!

Sue
17 days ago

This looks like a fantastic hike & well worth the effort for these views. I really appreciate the honesty about how hard you found it. At the end of the day this is all we want to know. I’m not a fan when people tell you it’s easy & the reality is far from that. It’s actually not at all helpful! I also appreciate you info on toilets as this is also what I want to know before a hike ;). Your posts have inspired me to visit Wales…& then we went back into lockdown so fingers crossed I can make it back one day soon.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Sue
17 days ago

It was my only trip this year but it was a fantastic one and I have already booked up again for next year! I loved the freedom it allowed me in these tumultuous times and would be quite content staying in the UK again next year ( although I have got 5 trips from this year to still re-book!)

Emese
Emese
18 days ago

The views are gorgeous, and I’m glad you found it was worth it. I totally understand the feeling of “this is much harder than guidebooks made me believe” though. I’m good at walking/hiking even for long distances, but when it comes to climbing, I’m not so sure… I’ve been on trails where I thought I’d have no problem, and took me forever to reach the top – though once there, you do feel a sense of accomplishment. Good to know what to expect though, and for that this is a helpful post.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Emese
18 days ago

Hi Emese, I’m glad I’m not alone in finding hikes and walks often tougher than expected. As you say it gives you the best feeling of accomplishment when you reach the end!

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