Black Mountain - New Years Day 2007

This site has been rather too quiet of late since a fall in June 06 led to injury problems severely curtailing not just my running but even hiking and cycling. The damage was done on the bleak Cefn Yr Ystrad where I lost my footing on loose scree in the Trefil quarries and pitched headlong onto a stoney slope, severely bruising my patella tendon (and something called an infrapatellar fat pad underneath it, which is still swollen six months later). The knee was an issue on the Pumlumon race, and certainly slowed me down a lot on the Brecon Beacons Traverse, but it was when I returned to road running that the underlying damage really showed up, and I had to take a total break from running and cycling. So, all in all, I was pretty desperate to get back out in the mountains and at least have a decent hike if not a fell run proper. New Year is a great time for new starts, so a hike round the Carmarthen Fan horseshoe with a short run thrown in was in order.

This winter has been crazily mild - driving up to Llandeusant before dawn it was misty but without a hint of frost. The sun was still hidden when I got to the car park at the foot of the trail to Llyn Y Fan Fach, but it was warm enough to head off with just a couple of layers on, waterproofs and fleeces pouched in the camelbak for later. The view from this carpark is awesome - the Carmarthen Fan looms in the distance, promising a short but steep ascent at the end of the reservoir track. I had decided to head off up a lesser used trail towards Fan Foel, so I climbed straight up the bank on the eastern side of the track and found a very wet but obvious path along the grassy flanks of a hill known only as "Foel" on the OS map. At first I followed a gulley, a stream babbling eagerly, swollen from the incessant December rain. As I climbed out onto the slopes of a broad ridge (Cefn Disgwlfa) I was circled by three huge Red Kites, one of whom hung in the air just 50 feet away, watching my every move. These birds are such beautiful creatures - it's no wonder they seem to be the emblem of so many institutions from the county of Powys to the Sarn Helen running club. But they are also fascinating for their primal wildness - they seem like visitors from another age, primordial birds from prehistory. Not sure why they conjure up that image, but their consciousness seems so different to that of a kestrel or a skylark. The kites fit perfectly in this landscape - the Black Mountain is mostly untouched by humans since prehistory - only the dam and it's attendant watercourse, filter beds and gravelled track detract from the brooding sense of "ancientness" that pervades the whole area from Llandeusant down to Brynaman. There are several stone circles here abouts, and standing stones, ancient cairns, not to mention the eerily magnificent burial mounds on the summit of Carreg Las just a couple of miles away.

The path divided and reformed - new routes obviously trod by walkers avoiding the bogs proved useful in this wettest of seasons, and helped me ascend steadily without wetting my feet. Numerous streams were bursting from the hillside, forming pools and miniature cascades, like tiny grottoes or shrines cut into the hillside. Sadly I had left the camera at home in my haste to get up here nice and early, but the few shots I took with my phone at least give an impression.

Once atop the ridge the view along the escarpment was wonderful - the great ship's prow of Picws Du dominating the western aspect, with the slopes of the Bannau Sir Gaer ridge sweeping precipitously down the the shores of Llyn Y Fan.

Although the map shows only intermittent tracks, I found pretty decent paths leading up on to the ridge and thence to Fan Foel, a steep but easy climb leadingg up to the flat summit and well-walked paths leading south to Fan Brycheiniog & Fan Hir or west round the horseshoe to Picws Du and a circuit around the cwm of Llyn Y Fan.

Looking up the path to Fan Foel.

View to Picws Du (Bannau Sir Gaer) with Llyn Y Fan in the cwm beyond.

Llyn Y Fan Fach is associated with myths and legends, especially one about a faerie woman who emerged from the lake and married a local farmer, returning to the waters after he "struck" her (or just tapped her on the shoulder in some versions of the story) three times. It's said that her children became the legendary physicians of Myddfai.

Once atop the ridge I broke into a run, as my strict schedule for rehab from the knee injury allowed a 16 minute jog that day. It felt amazing to be running on the hills again - after a long break from running, I was grateful for just that 16 minutes, especially as it included the lung-bursting ascent of Picws Du - a few hundred feet of proper climbing that would have been easy work a few months ago but left me struggling somewhat now I've lost so much fitness. Still, I stuck to the task and managed to run every step from bwlch to summit and felt some satisfaction that the fell running career, such as it is, had started again after the enforced break. Atop Picws Du the views across the dip slope of the Black Mountain were gorgeous but too vast and hazy to catch with the phone camera. Further round the ridge I snapped a retrospective of the escarpment - it's so rare to come up here in winter and have such good visibility.

I felt in really good spirits on the way down, cutting a corner to tramp across the slopes instead of going right to the dam and arriving back at the car after an hour and forty minutes. I realised then that I'd pretty much followed the route of the Llyn Y Fan race. I just hope I'm fit to run it when it next comes around! Anyhow, on today's evidence, the battle of wounded knee is going OK :)

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