The recent spate of good* winter weather (good* meaning some decent snow falls) had me salivating at the prospect of getting out and doing some serious walking. Squeaky brakes and a dodgy battery meant that I had to take the car to the garage for a quick bit of TLC. Whilst waiting for the car, I planned in a walk from the garage at Abergavenny up to Sugar Loaf and back. The snow appeared confined to 400m+ so I decided to plan in a longish walk taking in a riverside walk along the Usk before tackling the main objective
As I walked along the river, it was cold but not unpleasant with wisps of mist hanging off the sides of the valley. My immediate destination was Glangrwyney before cutting through to Llangenny and then up the western approach to Sugar Loaf. Its not a walk I often do but it was a welcome change and a chance to stretch my legs before attempting any steep climbs.
Passing through the very pretty hamlet of Llangenny, I started the long snaking climb towards Sugar Loaf mountain. The countryside around this area is wonderful indeed. Deep river valleys with towering ridge lines and mountains in all directions. The very start of the Black Mountains…..
As I climbed up the western approaches, pastoral fields started to give way to upland remoteness and the first signs of snow. Seeing the sheep reminded me that farming in upland areas is not an easy job.
Finally breaching the last drystone wall boundary and onto the open moorland covering the flanks of Sugar Loaf, the temperature dropped and the snow deepened. I glanced back towards the valley and the gathering gloom on the opposite ridgeline across the River Usk. The air was crisp and the contrast of snow and dark clouds giving the scene a feel of real winter.
A quick scan to the east towards the plateau of the Sugar Loaf ridge, showed that mist was clinging to the top most reaches. At this stage it didnt appear too daunting, visibility was reasonable and there was little wind or falling snow. I was looking forward to reaching the summit and possibly having a good view all around but I was to be mistaken…
That didnt last however, and I soon found myself in very wintery conditions indeed. In fact I was still 100metres below the summit of Sugar loaf when I experienced a white out. The wind was swirling and blowing hard, snow was falling and visibility was down to 10metres. I literally had to resort to map and compass to keep me on track for the summit. As the ground rose up for the final ascent, I found myself reaching for my ice axe to help me scramble up over the boulders that make up the western edge of Sugar Loaf. It was just a little hairy at times……
After spending a quick 10minutes by the summits trig point, I decided to push on. It was just too inhospitable to hang around for longer. Other walkers appeared suddenly out of the swirling whiteness. I had the sudden sensation of being in one of those films set in the Arctic. A few muffled words of hello, the stamping of feet and then they were gone again.
Coming off the wintery Sugar Loaf I followed the track thats runs southeast from the summit. This track takes in a pleasant mini ridgewalk and as I descended, the snow lessened and the visibility improved. It felt good to emerge from the harsh but transient conditions of the summit and back to a more normal winter setting.
A short sharp descent from the ridge took me through country lanes on the outskirts of Abergavenny. I recounted my steps along the riverbank and back to the garage to pick up my car. All in all it was a full winters day walking with some full on winter conditions on the summit. I must admit to not having experienced many whiteouts but it was good practice for my navigational skills.
Time to go home and plan the next walk with winter conditions hopefully still around. Oh, and the car didnt cost a fortune either….
We were staying near Abergavenny for a week’s walking in the Black Mountains. We scaled the Sugar Loaf on Thursday last. Cold but the snow was thawing. Most of the week we walked in snow. Came back today and when time permits details o be blogged.
will look forward to the trip report. Abergavenny is such a good starting point for exploring the Brecon Beacons and has the added bonus of being able to walk up three big hills starting from the town itself without having to get in the car
Looked like you had a great day out – there’s nothing like a whiteout to make you feel like you’ve had a proper winter’s walk is there? I remember trying to take some photos in one on Cairngorm one year – what a waste of effort and frozen fingers that was! 🙂
The snow was fair deep in places and at times I did wish for more exotic footwear…..snowshoes! It was a great experience but I was glad I was togged up for it. I did meet a couple of lads going up as I was coming down and they werent that well equipped. Sugar Loaf is a placid easy to reach mountain and you are never more than 3 miles from a road but she is still a mountain.
I did take some video which I will try to upload at some point. Its all howling wind and me swearing 😀
Good news with the car then.
Aye, it’s amazing just how quickly the feeling of disorentation can come and go with whiteout conditions. Nice to see some snow on the ground…I suspect we’ve seen the last of it up here for the year unless you actively seek it out on the tops and sheltered corries.
I think so too on the snow front. With mid Feb here and March a stones throw away, I cant see much more than a dusting happening in South Wales again this winter.
Still it was fun to get out in it whilst it was here 🙂
It’s quite incredible how wintry conditions can turn what seems on paper an amiable granny walk (looking at the map, it really does not strike me as being a difficult walk) into a mini-epic…Always worht baring in mind that before setting off!
couldnt agree more! The walk isnt difficult from any direction really until you add in the element of bad weather. Then it becomes apparent that it is still a mountain after all
I just stumbled on your blog and am enjoying having a read!
Some friends and I are staying in this neck of the woods at the end of April (in or near Newcastle, near Monmouth).
I really fancy getting a decent walk in – I was thinking Pen y Fan but I suspect some of my friends would like something closer and a bit more leisurely. From the research I’ve been able to do it looks like Sugar Loaf may fit the bill?
What do you think? Any alternative suggestions or ideas for routes / books I should look at etc?
Sugar loaf is definitely leisurely and you can choose how far you want to walk to get to it. You can walk along the river from the centre of Abergavenny and up through the flanks by Llanwenarth which is a good walk. You can also go from Pysgodlyn campsite which is closer or you can drive up to the carpark 2 miles from the summit if its a real gentle but rewarding walk you want.
Also if you are around monmouth, you could do the eastern beacons/black mountains easily. Skirrid Fawr is a delightful little walk with fabulous views and only 2 miles outside of abergavenny. Alternatively, take a drive to llanthony priory and spend all day mooching on one of the two ridges that sandwich this magical place. The next valley along has a great reservoir (Grwynne Fawr) and a bothy to inspect and thats also an easy walk it but its also possible to get to the top of the ridge for fabulous views
No need to go all the way to Pen-y-Fan in my opinion. Its ok but there are far better walks to be had in the black mountains
That’s really helpful, thank you! I will definitely check those out!
Good luck with your walking this spring and summer. Hope the weather holds out for you!
No problem Helen,
hope you have a good trip. The area is fantastic even if you dont go into the mountains, the Wye Valley itself offers some grand if lower level walking
Okay, so we also tackled the Sugar Loaf but in a different ocuntry and without snow, here’s some of our preparation tips, add away if you have any more!!