Wales - Black Mountains overnighter

9:22 a.m. on August 25, 2014 (EDT)
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So this weekend involved a bank holiday Monday. I didnt anticipate being free but managed to be about 5 days ahead on what I have been working on so I wanted to make the most of it. Unfortunately all the more exotic locations had exorbitant travel costs due to the holiday weekend. So I thought it would be great to get to my nearest national park (about 2 hours by public transit), and get some fresh air and give some of my gear a bit more of a test. I set off for the east end of the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales, which is also referred to as the Black Mountains. 

I'll mention first some of the gear I was using. I definitely didnt keep it lightweight, packing 5 pounds of camera gear, even though all my other stuff is either light, or ultralight. Still this was good practice for this winter when I will be loading up with even more weight for the Highlands.


Some details: (and yes I am obsessive about pack organization!)

Tent: Wild Country Zephyros 1 with footprint.

Sleeping: Mountain Equipment Helium 3.8 SIM, MEC basecamp SI pillow, lifeventure silk liner, (in the orange podsacs event compression sac) Blacks Cosmos 400 sleeping bag (90/10 goose down, 1 C-5 C comfort range, down to -15 C extreme), (green podsacs stuffsack) merino top and leggings. and mammut inflatable pillow I use as a body pillow for side sleeping.

Extra clothing: (in blue podsacs stuffsack) OR Neoplume primaloft jacket, TNF venture rain shell, TNF hat, an acrylic beanine and MEC windstopper gloves.

Essentials: OR backcountry bag with almost everything I need, plus Lightmyfire fireknife, SAK climber, (the red drybag) with trovel and garbage bags, microfibre towel, 3L source insulated bladder, and some disinfectant wipes.

Camera equipment: Canon T2i with EF17-40mm F4L lens and Manfrotto BeFree tripod

Cooking/Food: GSI halulite set (with firemaple Titanium stove and primus gas cylinder inside), fresh spaghetti (cooks in 3-4 mins), package of ready made bolognese, 1L nalgene of cooking water, 2 Clif bars, 1 clif crunchy, 1 trail mix pouch, Mountain House custard and fruit (first time trying, and very happy with it!) and finally my newest addition, Lifeventure Ti mug packed with some breakfast biscuits and a small nalgene with Ovaltine and some napkins. This works particularly well as it weighs nothing, and I can start boiling up a drink while eating dinner out of the halulite set.

Other items include Brasher Hillwalker II GTX boots, Fizan ultralite poles, and MEC Kokanee II gaiters, all packed up neatly in my Lightwave Wildtrek 60. The boots were a big mistake! They simply cant handle the type of load with the amount of walking I do per day, I ended up with pretty bad blisters at the end of it!

On to the hike now! I planned to do a circular of what is essentially a big horseshoe of what would either be considered big hills or small mountains, starting from the town of Crickhowell.

Notable summits: Pen Cerrig-calch (2300 feet), Pen Allt-mawr (2362 feet), Pen Y Gadair Fawr (2625 feet), and Waun Fach (2661 feet). The overall distance would be 25 miles, which I planned to complete (and did), in 20 hours.

I planned my hike so I hit the summit of Pen Allt-mawr just in time for sunset so I can get some nice photos. My bus was delayed by about 45 minutes due to road closures (accident), and so I had to start at a faster pace than anticipated, which didnt allow for as many photos as I would have liked. Still I had the time to snap these two.

A look down at the trail I took up to the first peak.

Some beautiful Welsh ponies roaming the hillside!

The view of the trig-point of the first summit, Pen Cerrig-calch as the sun begins to set.

Finally made the summit of Pen Allt-Mawr, and looking down at the rest of the horse-shoe with Waun Fach and Pen Y Gadair Fawr in the background. My camp would be somewhere to the right of the first peak in the foreground. The next day would involve that entire ridge-line in the background and all the way back to the start.


I waited another few minutes and grabbed this shot of the sunset over the Brecon Beacons National Park from the summit of Pen Allt-mawr. The wind started blowing really cold, much colder than I anticipated (never trust forecasts!)! I think I was dressed/packed a little light for the temperature, but I was just on the borderline so it was OK but not great!


I walked over to where I was planning on setting up camp. The main issue is that most of the hills are a mixture of rocks, or very boggy wet ground, so there is considerable difficulty in finding a good spot.... especially in the dark! I managed to find a good patch to the side of a path off the side of the main trail. Unfortunately it was just about 2 cm of soil over rocks, and it was difficult to get pegs in.

As you can see below, the stock Wild Country pegs that came with my tent were useless! They all bent!! Fortunately, I carry 8 Mountain Hardwear X-stakes which I easily hammered into the ground with some rocks. They held up great! I wish manufacturers would include better pegs with their tents (but that's a rant for another day!).


I got all set up, made dinner and went off to bed by about 10. It was a chilly night, but I was comfortable in my bag, and as you can see the next morning when I woke up (5 am) I was mostly in a cloud/mist and my tent sagged quite a bit as it was a very windy, cold and humid night. There was also a great deal of condensation in my tent, it was probably 1 lb heavier after packing up!

I was hoping to get some sunrise photos, but alas you cant count on good weather in Wales, so I had breakfast, packed up and went on my way.

The clouds started to break up a bit, and I managed to get this shot of the sun over Waun Fach and Pen Y Gadair Fawr.


After I got off the main summit, I got to an area where there was obviously a lot of logging in the past, but still a substantial coniferous forest, which is rare to encounter in the UK as most have been logged. Walking through the woods made me feel like I was back in Canada, so that was a nice feeling! (especially since I didnt have to worry about bears!)


I eventually made my way along the long and winding roads to Crickhowell, where I sat down at a great country pub for a Sunday roast, and then made my way back home.

Overall it was a great little trip and made good use of my weekend. Now I am just resting and letting my feet heal on this lazy and rainy holiday Monday.

9:56 a.m. on August 25, 2014 (EDT)
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Great Pictures TJ, thanks for sharing the trip!

12:24 p.m. on August 25, 2014 (EDT)
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That looks like some amazing open country but that definitely leaves you at the mercy of the weather.  Great sunset at least even if the morning was gray.  Thanks for sharing your weekend!

11:54 p.m. on August 25, 2014 (EDT)
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Interesting country, very open.  With the clouds and the mist I expect to see King Arthur coming along with his coconuts.

7:46 a.m. on August 27, 2014 (EDT)
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Thanks guys, it is very interesting being so open, very different than most places in North America where you are surrounded by trees. So far its been an interesting experience being up high on exposed plateaus.... it does leave you at the mercy of the weather, but so far I have thankfully been ok.

I was camped up at about 2000 feet for this trip.

9:52 a.m. on August 27, 2014 (EDT)
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Very nice TJ! Really like your pix and great gear discussion as well!

1:58 a.m. on August 28, 2014 (EDT)
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Well done! A very nice article and it brings back memories from 50 years ago when as a student I roamed these hills in the vac's. Now I'm in my mid seventies and a long time resident of NZ still doing the high alpine routes with the aid of ultra light gear. May I suggest that you try a silnylon tarp for three season use, for solo use and versatility I have found it an absolute must but that said nothing beats a good rock bivi. 

3:58 a.m. on August 28, 2014 (EDT)
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I dont think I am quite ready to go with just a tarp in some of the exposed areas I pitch. I'm just not brave enough yet! I have been looking at getting a single walled tent though to cut weight, but that will be in next years budget as I have to remain somewhat sensible!

9:52 a.m. on August 28, 2014 (EDT)
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Sensible????? NEVAH!

10:01 a.m. on August 28, 2014 (EDT)
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That is one austere looking landscape. It has its own beauty. It is amazingly rocky on the mountain ranges and hills of the United Kingdom.

The removal of the forests does not seem to trouble anyone. I went to Ireland to find my wife's relatives and we ended up in the woods in some very remote country. It was not what she expected. It was a wonderful experience. I really like the Irish, but would like to meet the Welsh. I have two short dogs from there named Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. We call Queenie and Bert.

10:21 a.m. on August 28, 2014 (EDT)
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That is such a beautiful place.  Great report.  Probably not a great place for me as a hammock camper, unless maybe I could tie off between a couple of the more sedentary ponies.  ;)

10:45 a.m. on August 28, 2014 (EDT)
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giftogab said:

Sensible????? NEVAH!

 To be honest, if I found a single wall tent with proper bathtub floor to deal with the damp boggy ground I sometimes have to pitch in, I would probably just buy one, but I havent found one yet (the BA scout UL has it, but costs the equivalent of $450 here!!).

10:46 a.m. on August 28, 2014 (EDT)
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MPaint said:

That is such a beautiful place.  Great report.  Probably not a great place for me as a hammock camper, unless maybe I could tie off between a couple of the more sedentary ponies.  ;)

 Yeah I would think quite a few of the trailspace regulars probably wouldnt like the areas I hike and camp in! Nowhere for hammocks, often fully exposed!.... but it has ponies! You cant beat ponies!

10:50 a.m. on August 28, 2014 (EDT)
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Looks amazing there.  You carry a lot of stuff sacks!  Ever consider carrying fewer and putting more things in each one?  Just an idea.

10:56 a.m. on August 28, 2014 (EDT)
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FromSagetoSnow said:

Looks amazing there.  You carry a lot of stuff sacks!  Ever consider carrying fewer and putting more things in each one?  Just an idea.

 Haha yeah, I'm a bit obsessed with the organization. I tend to like having things separate as it makes it easy to pack and unpack, and get to specific items as I need them. I got ultralight stuff sacks though, and they dont add much weight at all.

Packing my bag ends up like a game of tetris with big colourful blocks!

2:30 p.m. on August 28, 2014 (EDT)
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Enjoyed your report.  Very interesting place.  Beautiful photos too!

3:01 p.m. on August 28, 2014 (EDT)
Sean Van Cleve
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Thanks for the report!

12:32 a.m. on September 1, 2014 (EDT)
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Good stuff, TJ.  I like "organized" too--nothing worse than spending too much time "digging" for stuff, especially when the light is falling fast.  It's all about the joy-in-the-moment anyway, and esp encounters with things like the ponies you saw (and, kindly, photographed for us), the misty morning, seeing weather patterns forming right above you, etc., is where you find it. I'll bet the late moonlight over those ridges is fabulous, too, weather permitting!  Afterthought:  that pub's roast sounds like it was a welcomed end of the trail event.  Thanks for sharing your trip!

12:33 p.m. on September 1, 2014 (EDT)
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One more thing, TJ:  maybe you could start a movement over there in Wales for greater protection of at least a few identifiable biospheres from being leveled by commercial interests every time a tree gets big enough for pulpwood, much like the Wilderness Act in the U.S. did in 1964, which was started by private initiatives and ended up being embraced by the Federal government.  It takes a while for the old dogs to be run off!

When President Johnson signed the act, he made the following statement: "If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it."

"The Wilderness Act will be chosen from existing federal land and by determining which areas are considered to have the following criteria: (1) minimal human imprint, (2) opportunities for unconfined recreation, (3) at least five thousand acres, and (4) to have educational, scientific, or historical value. Additionally, areas considered as Wilderness should have no enterprises within them or any motorized/mechanized devices (e.g.; vehicles, motorbikes, or bicycles)."  --from Wikipedia

I don't know if Wales has that extensive a legal frame already; but, TJ, you may be the beginning!  Sermon is now over--ha, ha!!!

9:15 a.m. on September 3, 2014 (EDT)
Alicia MacLeay @Alicia
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That's beautiful, TJ! I think the five pounds of camera equipment was totally worth carrying, hope you did too.

I spent a semester in Scotland many years ago, but would also love to go to Wales.

11:09 p.m. on September 3, 2014 (EDT)
B. Frost @Billie 777
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I enjoyed reading your trip report. Like how well organized you are in putting things in nylon sacs, neat & tidy! I just stick my junk in zip lock baggies. I noticed you didn't have a first aide kit for your blisters?! 

6:12 a.m. on September 4, 2014 (EDT)
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Thanks for the kind words all!

Alicia, I actually have a pretty epic adventure booked for Scotland this weekend. I look forward to posting that trip report!

B. Frost, I keep my first aid and blister kit inside the grey Outdoor Research organizer. I keep a roll of zinc oxide tape, gauze, disinfectant wipes, a small sharp blade, moleskin, compeed blister bandages, and regular bandages, and two capsules of ibuprofen. All neatly organized of course!

May 30, 2020
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