With the Easter weekend approaching I had planned to travel to Arran with Emma for a 4 day backpacking trip. As it turned out work got in the way a bit and the forecast for Arran at least didn’t look especially promising. With heavy snow the week before and a great forecast in Snowdonia we decided to head there for a couple of day, inviting Guy Richardson along for the ride.
Given that the Metoffice mountain weather forecast warned of 2 feet of snow and possible avalanches I decided the best course of action was to tackle a route that I knew was safe and would provide excellent photographic opportunities. I take quite a conservative approach with my hiking, gradually building my experience before taking on more challenging terrain. I decided we would head up to Caseg Fraith, a collection of lakes on the Glyderau between Glyder Fach and Y Foel Goch.
We set off a little later than intended and the snow conditions (and our lack of fitness) made it pretty clear we weren’t going to make it to Castell y Gwynt in time for sunset as intended. Certain sections of the hike up were particularly exhausting. Whilst walking up steep sections it was a regular experience to lift your boot by 2 feet, only to find it drop 1 1/2 feet through the snow as soon as you put your weight on it. Snowshoes would have been great! Still, we eventually made up to Caseg Fraith and dropped our bags off to try to make the most of the fast approaching sunset.
We were already in shadow at Caseg Fraith so it wasn’t long before Guy and I decided to run up to the snow lit slopes of Foel Goch, leaving Emma temporarily in our wake! The sastrugi (snow formations) at the top were quite beautiful in areas and I set about shooting the view in a number of ways and formats. My Canon 16-35 coped particularly well with the sun rendering characteristically beautiful sunstars. The final image I chose from the evening shoot was a combination of 3 portrait images.
Once the sun had dropped well behind Glyder Fach we took the obligatory photos of each other and headed down to set up camp. I thought it would be a clever idea to go and stand on the ice at Caseg Fraith, only to find a leg falling through soft snow and into the bog below before ever reaching the pool itself. Guy found this hilarious, that is until he unintentionally repeated the feat just a minute later, this time submerging both legs. Needless to say we made a hasty retreat from the pools after than and never ventured anywhere near them for the rest of the trip!
Finally back with our rucksacks we started by trying to dig down to the ground below with a snow shovel of Guy’s. 2ft down we gave up, it would be far too much effort to dig suitable platforms for both tents. Fortunately an icier area of snow held pegs sufficiently well that we were able to set up our tents on the surface. We had the usual dinner of noodles, with a custard and hot chocolate chaser and went off to sleep.
The tent looked surprisingly bright when I woke up. Guy had agreed to wake me when his alarm went off…I quickly woke Guy up and he explained that his alarm had woken him up, but he had nodded straight off again. I made the usual threats along the lines of ‘if I miss something amazing’. We now had just 50 minutes before sunrise, not enough time to hotfoot it to Glyder Fach as we had planned. I spent at least 5 minutes trying to put very frozen boots on my feet but once on I took no time in clipping on my crampons and racing off in search of a composition.
The directional blue light of twilight sculpted the snow formations beautifully and I shot a variety of compositions incorporating Tryfan, Glyder Fach and, a little later, the setting moon. As sunrise approached the sky filled with cloud but partial gaps to the east gave some hope. I spent a while looking for easterly facing snow formations that would be lit by the rising sun, eventually finding a spot that I felt would make a good image.
As Tryfan caught a brief moment of light I took a shot across a rather powdery looking drift, eventually deciding that there was insufficient foreground contrast for the shot to really work.
The plan for the rest of the day was to walk the Glyder Ridge in the sunshine with Emma before heading down and then back up to Glyder Fach for sunset. After a breakfast of flapjack we headed up the remaining 250m to the peak, finding the going pretty easy with crampons biting firmly into the icy windblown slope.
At the top it was clear that we were the first there, there was only the odd old footprint from the day before that had been mostly covered in snow. I had it in my mind to photograph Castell y Gwynt in a different way to how I have approached it previously, just to introduce a bit more variety into my images of this iconic location. Although I did of course take some more classical compositions as well. Emma was particularly patient in allowing us to wait for the sun to burst through the cloud, I have to say I doubt I would have waited if I wasn’t a photographer, so I guess I am just lucky that she is more patient than me!
Guy headed off a little in advance of Emma and I, but we both took more or less the same route along the ridge to Glyder Fawr. As we went we started to pass people who were enjoying a Good Friday hike and by the time we were at Glyder Fawr there were quite a lot of people out. Guy and I were both thinking along the same lines of ‘oh no, their footprints are going to ruin our shots’ but there was nothing we could do, and we managed to work around the problem quite successfully in the end.
At Glyder Fawr I realised I was totally exhausted so we stopped for an early lunch and a bit of a rest. The bitter wind meant we didn’t hang around for long and we walked over to the fanned rock formation to the south west of the summit. Once again I was trying to shoot something different at this familiar location (often quite unsuccessfully I might add) but I came away with a couple of compositions that did work.
The way back along the ridge was uneventful until we reached Glyder Fach again, stopping to take photos of jumps off the Cantilever Stone, in classic hiker fashion! By this point footprints had trashed the surrounding snow which was a bit disappointing given that I had planned to shoot this spot for the first time at sunset.
One the way down to our camp at Caseg Fraith Guy fell when his crampons didn’t bite into the ice sufficiently. Fortunately for him he slid all of 8ft on his back before hitting a rock. It was a stark reminder of just how careful you have to be in ice and snow. It also vindicated my decision to pick a route with comparatively shallow gradients, rather than tackling the Glyders from Idwal!
With Emma settling into her sleeping bag for a well deserved break, Guy and I headed downhill to find a stream to refill our water bottles. We soon found a spring of crystal clear water that clearly required no treatment.
We headed up to Castell y Gwynt again 2 hours before sunset. It took us 40 minutes to get back to the top, pretty good going given that my legs were starting to feel pretty heavy by this point. I tried to make the best of the remaining untouched snow around the ‘front’ of the Cantilever Stone, but there wasn’t a good composition available. Heading around the back I took a few shots into the sun and was very pleased with the results, happy to have my shot.
Whilst Guy shot some wide-angle images of Castell y Gwynt (very successfully) I once again wanted to try something different. I have several shots of Castell y Gwynt in my portfolio already so I opted to shoot it from a greater distance and focus on the meringue like snow formations on the ridge looking across to Glyder Fawr. I would have liked to shoot a little closer in, but I suspected the snow had formed on top of a cornice so I didn’t venture too close to the edge! From time to time a gust of wind would pick up snow from the surface and blow it over the precipice and, caught in the light of the setting sun, brought an extra element to the scene.
As the sun came down I took a few images of Castell y Gwynt, again trying to avoid going over old ground. I’m not too sure how I feel about the resulting images, I guess the classic views are classic for a reason!
I finished up the evening by shooting across to the Carneddau and finally in the very bluest of twilight shooting a rock formation to the north of the peak of Glyder Fach. Although I was hastling Guy to hurry up so we could get down the mountain before darkness in reality we had absolutely no issues, getting back in a little over 20 minutes. It was nice to be back in the tent and out of the bitter wind. Dinner went down a treat.
I didn’t sleep well on Friday night. My face was sore and I kept tossing a turning trying to get comfortable. When I awoke at around 4am I realised my face was badly swollen. Apparently severe sunburn can do this, looking at a self portrait gave me quite a shock, I barely recognised myself! In the significant cold of the day before it hadn’t really occurred to me that I could burn so badly, but it won’t be a mistake I make again. Cloudy skies meant that we stayed in the tent until just before sunrise when things started to look promising. Guy was in stitches when he saw the state of me, I must admit I couldn’t help but see the funny side.
I headed to more or less the same area as the previous morning with my camera, this time determined to find some really interesting foregrounds. The previous day only lower slopes had seen the sun and with all the cloud around I decided to head down a little further. As the sky began to light up Tryfan and the mountains behind I found some astonishing beautiful textures in the snow. It was a fantastic end to a great 48 hours of photography.
I did take one last passing shot as we headed down with our kit from Caseg Fraith. With excellent visibility (and a great view across the valley) Snowdon was quite a sight and just had to be photographed one last time.