Epona 100 Recce #4: Black Mountains South

A night recce of the Black Mountains starting in Crickhowell with Jon, Mike and Sean.

Epona 100 Recce #4: Black Mountains South

In the Epona recce group a fair few of us are doing this as our first 100 miler, and one thing about runs of that length is that you'll definitely be running through the night to sunrise, something most of us have little experience with.

With the first stretch of the Black Mountains being roughly when we'd expect the sun to be going down, we thought it a good idea to try doing it in the night. See how it feels to run when usually sleeping, what it would do to our energy levels, guts, ability to eat and so on.

So like absolute nutters we met at 03:00 in a pitch black Crickhowell car park and headed to the mountains.


Strava Link

Distance: 34km
Elevation gain: 1,249m
Trig Points: 6

Stage 1: Should've Turned Left

From a recce perspective we've made a pretty critical error that none of us noticed right off the bat. Rather than turning left and going up Table Mountain as per the Epona route, we instead kept on and went round our recce track in reverse, so we'd eventually hit Waun Fach first then go anti-clockwise around the horseshoe.

Did think it unusual we hadn't started to see Table after a fair bit of climbing, before it dawned on us. Ah well, it was pitch black and foggy anyway, what was there to scout 😅

A stretch through fields led to a flatter course slowly rising towards the mountains, before we dropped onto a forest track that climbed to the edge of Waun Fach.

Pitch black and frosty in the air, it was an eerie section of the route.

We summited the highest point of the Black Mountains almost by surprise due to the gradual ascent and poor visibility.

Stage 2: Waun Fach Slip

From here it was treacherous underfoot; ice on the ground in many places, with slippy rocks forming the descent off Waun Fach and along stretches of the usually easy to traverse gravel path that goes around the north side of the loop.

Poles were invaluable here, adding confidence by giving me more stability when going over slippy ground. That and the vastly better grip of the Agility Peaks meant this wasn't as bad as it could have been.

A hairy slow descent off Waun Fach then lead out to the rest of the horseshoe

Stage 3: Is This Table Mountain?!

From here the ice receded for the most part and dawn was starting to make an appearance. Not that we could tell, the air was so thick in fog we could have been running on Mars.

We all stayed in good spirits throughout, though it's a shame we had poor visibility as on a clear day the horseshoe is gorgeous: leading around a valley where you can see the mountains off in the distance, very much like the Pen y Fan loop.

Unrelentingly undulating is how I'd describe this stretch, we were in disbelief as we went up yet another climb with Mike asking "Is this Table Mountain now?" each time. Table was our last climb before the descent to the car park, and it didn't come for hours on end.

Stage 4: Down We Go

Finally after coming down a steeper stretch we saw Table strutting out in front of us. Pure relief for us all, it had been a long night!

A quick trip up to see the ... utter lack of views, then a descent back down to the car park over a set of fields and onto a road leading back to Crickhowell.

Sean had picked up an injury jumping across the puddles so we took it easy for the remaining distance. It gave us a chance to enjoy the mists starting to burn off in the morning light.

Car park reached in 6 hours 17 minutes. Coffee needed badly.


Considering the ice, visibility and time of night it couldn't really have gone better. We all remained safe and did things sensibly, kept the pace relaxed and morale high.

I stayed up all night prior to make it as close as possible to how it'll be on the day, chugging coffee before the drive over. In terms of energy levels and the ability to eat food it wasn't as bad as expected. The crisp air and fresh legs probably helped in that regard. Did need the loo more though, my guts didn't know what was going on, and our pace was much slower than it would have been during the day.

Poles were a lifesaver here, both in terms of safely crossing slippy ground, and in terms of support getting over the steep rough terrain. Longest stretch I've used them for and happy with how they worked. Got some great advice from Jon and Mike on how to best utilise them. Main drawback was stowing them away, I've got a quiver now but at the time I just had a belt and it was an absolute faff, especially with gloves on.

As for the route itself, I think this stretch of the Black Mountains may be the toughest part of the course. We'll have all ran 50 miles by this point, the sun will be setting & the night will be spent on rough, undulating ground with plenty of hard ascents.

Next we have the second part of the Black Mountains stretch in January to go recce, which pretty much completes the course, then it's time for training to get serious ready for the big day (and night. and day again).