It was starting to feel like it had been too long since I had been up in the mountains. In fact, July was my last time. Unfortunately, injury was partly to blame for the lack of visits and not being able to carry the kind of gear I needed, the other was a lack of time. Despite being a full-time photographer I don’t just have days where I can pack up and go. It usually involves a lot more time behind the PC than out in the hills while I’ve got a few projects going off. Enough was getting enough though and I decided to take a cheeky couple of days out to head to Snowdonia, more precisely, Glyder Fach. The plan was to re-attempt a wild camp I did back in April, camping at Castell Y Gwynt to capture a sunrise there. The last time I was thwarted with my efforts and was rewarded with clag. I checked the forecast this time and it looked promising, with fog in the valleys predicted for the sunrise on the Friday. I had my hopes set for some high fog, so the mountain peaks would just be above it.
As always, forecasts changed last minute and it started to look a little less promising. However, I was set on going and go I did. Having previously checked TPE, I knew it was perhaps my last chance before the sun moved too far south to capture the scenes I wanted and even then it wasn’t brilliantly ideal.
Driving along I had my first nightmare. I had called in Tesco on my way to pick up some food and cough medicines as I had been suffering for a couple of weeks. Nothing like climbing a big hill when under the weather. However somehow between paying for my goods and getting to my car, my wallet had dropped out of my pocket. I hadn’t realised because I had actually put some of the stuff I bought in my pocket and the weight felt right. Driving past Runcorn, getting a cough sweet out I had realised what had happened and I pulled over in Chester services in a panic. I searched my car frantically to no avail and rang Tesco customer services up. Thankfully someone had handed it in. Assessing the situation I wasn’t sure I wanted to carry on as I don’t like being without my wallet and I wanted peace of mind. It also dawned on me should I run out of fuel or need to buy anything I had no way of paying. I checked my fuel and felt I would probably be OK to get back but my girlfriend made the point of I could draw money out using my mobile so that put my mind at ease. I decided to carry on to not miss this chance to get out in the mountains.
Arriving in Snowdonia it was particuarlly grey. Typical of Snowdonia really. The highest summits were cloud capped and upon arriving at Capel Curig I could see both Snowdon and the Glyders were heavily cloud capped. My heart did sink a little but I guess the good thing about driving three hours for a photo, you’re sure to go up anyway. I got myself ready and headed up the miners track from near the Pen-Y-Gwyrd hotel. I chose this path as I know it’s fairly steady, especially with heavy gear. It basically heads up to near Llyn-Y-Caseg Fraith and swings left up onto the Glyders. It can however be a bit of a bog trot and hard going in that respect. I made my way up and set a steady pace in no rush. Reaching the col between Glyder Fach and Y Foel Goch I started to reach the cloud base. In my head it was making sense to just abandon Glyder Fach and head to Llyn-Y-Caseg Fraith which was clear. My thoughts being if any sun did come through it might break through under the cloud. I had already taken shots at Llyn-Y-Caseg Fraith that I was happy with though and thought sod it, I’ll risk it and be happy to be out in the mountains. That’s one thing I always try to remember, it’s not 100% about the photos, it’s about being out and being happy.
Instead of following the path that takes you directly up to Bristly Ridge which I took before, I made more of a b-line for Glyder Fach. My reasoning was it was actually further the other way and knew it was quite rocky. I came down the direct route last time and found it more grassy and easier going. It still feels a slog from the col when you could be at camp at Llyn-Y-Caseg Fraith but I made my way through the clag, over the numerous boulders and eventually came out just below the summit of Glyder Fach. I was quite pleased to have found my way in truth without the need to check the map. I bumped into a young guy just coming down from the summit and had a quick chat and went over his map with him, he seemed competent enough but think he needed a little reassuring in the clag. He was the first and only person I would see that day.
Still in clag, arriving about a hour before golden hour I decided to pitch my tent pretty close to Castell Y Gwynt. It was a pleasant enough evening temperature wise. I got set up, lay down in my tent and as typical as it can be the sun started to poke through the clouds. I quickly got out and took some shots as I thought it would be my only chance (it wasn’t). I haven’t used any of the shots, but I’ll share a tent pic with you to show you the conditions.
Shortly after that, it started to rain and quite a lot. I thought it might be done for the evening but frustratingly I was looking down to a Llyn (Lake) below and could see blue sky and clouds reflected. It was frustrating and made me think I was in the wrong place. I looked over to Moel Siabod and it was getting some stunning light. It felt like I had picked the wrong mountain but you can never fully predict these things.
I saw some light rays breaking through the rain clouds in Snowdon’s direction and thought it would be good to make an image of that.
Getting a good soaking I was debating to go back into the tent for the evening or stay out. Instead I decided to stay out, picked up my kit and made my way over to Bristly Ridge. I knew if the light would break then the shot I wanted for the evening would be one I took in April, but in better conditions. This was looking down Bristly Ridge over towards the mighty Tryfan. I walked along and could see a little light starting to hit Pen Yr Ole Wen. Persistent clag stopped the sun reaching around to Tryfan to start with but I set up anyway. Fortunately, after a bit of waiting the light came really good with rain clouds, clean light and even a small rainbow to tie everything together.
At this point I looked to my left and saw it had started to get quite epic. I felt like I had got what I needed to at Bristly Ridge and started to make my way across the ankle breaking field of rocks back to Castell Y Gwynt. I hadn’t intended on shooting the location at sunset as it was looking into the sun, but with the thick clag breaking just enough to let the sun peek through it couldn’t have actually been more perfect. I moved as quick as I could, what would only take a couple of minutes normally actually took a lot longer. I stopped once along the way to capture this shot. You can see Castell Y Gwynt (just) with the Snowdon Horseshoe beyond.
At this point I was started to think I had messed up, missing the best of it and carried on to Castell Y Gwynt. Luckily the cloud rolled back in and created the shot I wanted. Thick cloud, with the profile of Castell Y Gwynt just visible and the sun just breaking through. I managed to take two shots and that was it. I prayed and hoped I hadn’t messed the focus up as I literally had a matter of seconds.
Fortunately, all was well and I managed to get the below shot. For all the planning in landscape photography, you sometimes have to be reactive in the field and be well aware of your surroundings and be willing to change plans at a moment’s notice. For me, this shot was the shot of the camp and one of my favourites from this year. I just think I could go up another 10 times and probably not witness it again. I’ve certainly not seen anyone else with a shot like it, but I could be wrong.
After this, the cloud started to break and move, revealing colours in the sky behind. I took a few more shots. This first one was of Castell Y Gwynt, just concentrating on its shape. It was a completely different shot to before!
I then took another shot just to the side of Castell Y Gwynt looking down to Y Gribbin. The clouds were rolling up the mountainside and I thought it looked really cool.
I made my way back to my tent. The light for the evening had died down and I needed to get an obligatory tent shot while it was still light enough. By this point it had cleared up almost completely and was a different day. Especially when you compare it to my first tent shot!
I settled in for the night, spoke to my girlfriend on the phone who I wished was with me. We quite often go on wild camps together, but only at weekends. It got dark early and I was going to sleep at 8:30pm. It felt too early to be going to bed, especially when sunrise was at 7:50am but I soon fell asleep, it amazed me. I would have shot some stars but it was probably about 50% cloud coverage throughout the night. I woke up the next morning and was surprised to find my tent frozen with a mild frost. I didn’t expect that! It also made the limestone boulders a nightmare to negotiate. Getting out of my tent I was unsure what I was going to shoot, the plan was Castell Y Gwynt originally but I felt I needed something different given I had shot it the evening before. Also, that fog that was forecast never happened.
I looked at where the sun was rising and felt there would be some colour in the sky. I decided to head up to near Bristly Ridge again as there were some interesting rocks that points into the sky and would look great set against a nice colour in the sky. The problem I was having was any prominent features like mountains looking down into the valleys below didn’t face where the sun was coming up. Anyway, this was quite nice. They could be shot on any mountain, but anyone who has been up Glyder Fach would instantly recongise them.
I also wanted to capture a shot of the Cantilever Stone, something easier said than done. It’s a well photographed stone, usually with hikers stood on it, normally jumping. A really cool feature of Glyder Fach really. In hindsight, I probably should have got up there and took a self-portrait of me stood on it but the colours of the sky were really starting to fade so there wouldn’t have been time:
At this point I was feeling quite blessed. I had got more than my fair share of images. I had properly lucked out with the conditions. However, I decided to head back to Castell Y Gwynt and take some shots of it actually being able to see Snowdon behind this time. The sun was just coming up and hitting the mountains and I felt I had shot everything at the summit of Glyder Fach. I could also see it was turning into one of them days were the sun would go into a haze on the horizon and time would be limited.
I set up and first off opted to go for a wide shot, with the foreground just catching the light and the Snowdon Horseshoe clearly visible beyond:
And finally, I decided to switch to my telephoto lens to concentrate on the details on the jagged rocks on the left and the Snowdon Horseshoe beyond. I love how well you can see Crib Goch and Snowdon and if like me, you have walked Crib Goch it’s great to see it from a view like this to see what you have walked.
After this the light faded and the sun went into the cloud as predicted. I packed my tent up and headed down to my car. It was quite a nice day once I got away from the cold summit. I went to Bethesda to get breakfast but didn’t have enough signal to draw the cash out! So instead, I just headed home calling in at Knutsford first to get lunch with my girlfriend and then Macclesfield to pick up my wallet. Irony is, you need ID to pick up your wallet! Luckily I managed to get a utility bill up on my phone. I was relieved to have it back.
So, to the title of my blog and my finishing thoughts. Was I lucky to get the shots I did or was it through determination? If we look at landscape photography as a whole, a large part of it is through meticulous planning and dedication to the cause. There’s many failed attempts that people don’t see and when it does eventually play ball, it feels like dedication, not luck. In this situation I think it’s a bit of both. I was determined to go, I still went after losing my wallet and I didn’t give up hope when I arrived to grey skies and even got rained on. I made my way up regardless and got myself into place. I had to read forecasts and ensure I put myself in the mountains with the best possible chance of some light. Remember also this was my second visit here, carrying at least 20kg of kit, to camp up a mountain for the night. All that is determination. The luck came into it with receiving pretty epic conditions I probably couldn’t have predicted and I’m unlikely to see for a while yet. I’ve actually had a few sunsets this year where it’s been cloudy and misty and most of these times it was clagged in on the summit beforehand and I went up anyway. So was it luck? Or was it taking the approach of if I don’t go I won’t know? Ultimately I think it was a mostly determination with a sprinkling of luck to reward me. If I hadn’t have gone, I would have never known. I had to put myself in that position to capture the scenes I did. Just think, I nearly turned round at Chester services to collect my wallet. How different my day could have been.
If you would like to purchase any of these images, you can purchase them from my Snowdonia Gallery.