I have two views of this same rainstorm that hit Allt Forgan – a hill in the Blean y Glyn area of the Brecon Beacon – while briefly illuminated by a fast moving hole in the clouds.
I cannot choose between the two, as both convey a slightly different message: the wider view putting the storm into its context by showing the surroundings, while the one with a closer angle of view is all about the contrasting forces of nature both hitting on this hill.
It took me quite some time (two weeks) to write this but the memories are still fresh in my mind and the following account is based on the notes I had taken during my trek.
I woke up late after dawn in my truck parked at Cwm Idwal and drove to Llanfairfechan where the starting point was. It took me about half an hour to locate a good spot to park the truck and just as I was leaving, I stopped someone who was passing by and asked for directions to the start of the path. Having now explained to Mr Johnson the purpose of my trek, he walked me to the start of the path. Quite surprisingly, while walking at one corner we stumbled upon a known face and a known dog: Rob Johnson MIC. After a quick chat with Rob, we continued the walk uphill towards the path to Garreg Fawr.
By the time I said good-bye to Mr Johnson it was well past 11 so I tried to hurry towards Drum. In the meanwhile, clouds were approaching fast carried by an increasingly raging wind. At one point I met a group of four walkers that had decided to turn back due to the worsening conditions. Now on top of Drum, I decided to take a break and eat something, shielding myself from the weather behind a circle of stones. While I was eating, it started to snow heavily.
About half way to Foel Fras the snowing turned into a blizzard in whiteout condition and gale force frontal wind. It just took me what seemed ages, over an hour and a half in fact to make any good progress to Foel Fras. Past Foel Fras, on the way to Carnedd Gwenllian, the weather worsened still and snow turned into hail with even stronger frontal wind. The path had gone completely and visibility was down to about ten metres without any landmarks whatsoever. I must have battled in these conditions for over half an hour, the progress absolutely painful and pathetic. Even just standing upright was difficult as was checking the map and compass, and with just about two and a half hours of light left before sunset I seriously pondered what to do. Without any sign of improvement, I realised the only thing I could do was to turn back, as I would have not been able to cross the remaining Carneddau in two hours with that weather. So, before arriving to Carnedd Gwenllian, in the saddest possible mood, I headed back to the starting point, then back to my truck and to Cwm Idwal where I spent the night.
The second day of the trek was supposed to start on or near Pen Yr Ole Wen and finish near Castell Y Gwynt on Glider Fach. I woke up at the back of my truck after seven o’clock feeling down and not very motivated. I decided that I would do my best even though the result had been compromised already. The one thing that was really killing me was the weight of my gear. One of the last time I had weighed it, it was over 25 kg not counting the camera gear and water. Way too much if you ask me. At over five kilos, the food bag was by far the heaviest single wrap in my pack. A good idea thus seemed to just take what food I needed for the next couple of days and come back to the truck later to get the rest. So I loaded food for two days and left all the spare underwear I had. Even so, the pack felt like a huge bag of bricks. I took the time to make a nice breakfast, coffee with milk powder, oat biscuits, a chocolate bar and vitamins. The weather was changeable, large clouds moving fast with a glimpse of blue sky every now and then. Cold and windy.
I then set out to walk the stepping stones of Cwm Idwal, approaching Y Garn from the longest route available. I stopped a couple of times to take photos of the approach. Half way up I decided to take a coffee break and put my crampons on. A raven showed interest in my biscuits and I shared. It would take this dry piece of biscuit I threw at it and swallow some snow right after to make it go down.
Progressing on Y Garn was easy and pleasant as I was shielded from the westerly wind raging on the other side of the mountain. As I was approaching the summit, the path disappeared in progressively deep snow. Now, what had happened was that the huge amount of fresh snow that had fallen the previous day had been blown away by the strong wind and deposited where the wind would not reach. So that the path had been erased and cornices of snow had somewhat reshaped the way ahead, forcing me to summit by double kicking and punching my whole forearms into the snow, nearly vertical and exposed. Lots of fun though.
Next was Glyder Fawr, and I took it a little easy walking down Y Garn as my right knee was aching as it always does when descending. There was a beautiful changing light but no time to stop and play around with it unfortunately.
Summiting the Glyder took over an hour, grinding up through that screey path on the north face. By the time I was really up that mountain, the weather had slightly worsened and it was time to find a spot where to spend the night.
I inspected a number of rock formations that could shelter my puny tent from the wind before picking this snowy spot, tucked away behind some 9 foot rocks.
Once inside the tent, the first thing to do is start melting snow for water, which takes surprisingly long. I opened a pouch of chicken curry rice, had dinner and set up for the night. It was amazingly cold. Frequent hailing could be heard coming down. I kept on thinking back to my much heavier sleeping bag I had discarded at home for weight considerations. I put on all I had with me and tucked into the lighter sleeping bag. I switched my phone on, no service. I tried to take a pic of the inside of the tent but the phone packed up and switched off! I gave up and resigned to try to sleep. The drinking water I had melted refroze in my tent overnight.
During the night I kept on waking up every two or so hours, either for cold or the shaking of the wind. Sunrise came in a grey cloud and with my hope for some dawn photography faded away, I went on making breakfast. Suddenly though a bright orange lighted the tent, I turned the hob off, grabbed my camera, put the boots on and shot off to the rocks outside. Here a sudden hole in the clouds was letting through a fantastic, dramatic light. Feeling very excited, I went on shooting a series of photos in a very instinctive way, without tripod, trying to convey the sense of implacable roughness of the landscape in the lighting drama that was unfolding, constantly changing and on the brink of fading away at any second.
The rest of the morning was spent packing up and then walking to Glyder Fach, mostly in a cloud. I then turned back and descended from Devil’s Kitchen. Half way down I spotted this natural shelter and decided to have some breakfast and rest my aching knee.
When I arrived down at the Idwal lake I was knackered. I sat on the shore and looked around. It’s difficult to describe how this place triggers hidden keys inside me. There’s a sense of rejoin, reunion with the place and myself.
I collected my remaining strength and headed to my truck where I passed out to a long sleep.
I woke up the next morning to a fair day. After a large breakfast, I felt the urge to try and wash somehow. So I was in the Idwal toilette, trying to wash myself with the cold water of the sink, when a guy in the red jacket of the Idwal wardens came in. “Good morning” I said. And he: “Morning. You know there is a shower here, right?”. “There is?! Where?”. “Here, I’ll show you”, and he took me next door where this awesome shower room was, all finished in slate. The kind guy in the red jacket, Guto Roberts, brought me a towel. “Thank you” I said, “I’ll tell you afterwards what’s going on.”
After the shower (man what a fantastic experience), I sat with Guto and a junior colleague of his, telling them all about what I was doing, commenting on the route I would be doing next and so on. After about half past nine, it was time to collect my bits and head for my big challenge, Mount Snowdon.
It turned out the the best thing to do was to dump my truck at Plas Y Brenin parking site and head on towards the Llanberis pass. I was miraculously able to grab the Sherpa bus and cut the travel to a few minutes, thereby finding myself where I should have been, had I been on full schedule, only many hours late.
I was now well into the afternoon and had to move quickly. Walking on the Miners’ Track, the Snowdon Massif (Y Lliwedd first) soon got into view.
Progress to Y Lliwedd was fairly quick. I just stopped at Llyn Llydaw to grab a couple of pics of the mighty Crib Goch.
The path up Y Lliwedd was initially fairly good, slightly rocky and eroded. It soon disappeared into a fair scramble, at times more exposed and steep than I would have cared for. I stopped to fit the crampons when the rocks started to be glassed in ice.
Once the top was reached, I started right away looking for a place where to camp. I had never been on that mountain but I knew how desperately rocky it is, so finding a good spot for pitching could have proven tricky to say the least. I wanted to strike a good balance between making progress, spending a sheltered night and maximising the chances for some great photography.
Thankfully I was able to find this spot just below Lliwedd Bach which yielded good shelter and views, sacrificing a little the progress, with the next morning’s trek having to start at 4:30 AM to be on schedule.
I pitched the tent, brewed a coffee and got busy with photography.
With the weather over the Snowdon Massif increasingly gloomy, the forecast for the next day was worsening and so were my concerns of not being able to grind as many miles as I wanted. Not that I had a hunch. Rather, I was vaguely in apprehension for the severity of next day’s trek. I prepared dinner, made a rough schedule for next day and went to bed.
I decided to challenge myself into the longest and most brutal trek I am yet to do: a seventy miles journey across the Welsh mountains over seven days and nights, climbing no fewer than seven summits and wild camping all along the way.
In short, the start and finish will be the same, the village of Llanfairfechan in North Wales (53.252155, -3.974390). From there, I will traverse the Carneddau range via Carnedd Gwenllian, Carnedd Llywelyn, Carnedd Dafydd and down through Pen Yr Ole Wen. Then up the Glyderau range through Y Garn, Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach. Then up the Snowdon Massif via Miner’s Track and Y Lliwedd, down through Cwm Tregalan and Cwn Llan to head up to Moel Siabod before folding back through the Carneddau again.
The following four images illustrate the route I intend to follow.
With a ground temperature of -5 Celsius and 50 mph gusts, this was one very cold day. I arrived the night before and slept in my truck for a couple of hours before setting off at five AM. The light did not disappoint.
Situated next to Avebury, the famous prehistoric site and less than half a mile from The Ridge, is Fyfield Down Natural Reserve, a small but very fascinating place. It has the highest density of Sarsen stones in England, known as Grey Wethers, in turn home to some rare lichens.
Without a doubt, the Glyderau is my favourite range in Snowdonia. With its uncompromisingly spiky and rocky features, rough and varied, from Bristly Ridge to Cwm Idwal, the Glyderau has it all, for all level of technicality and enjoyment.
I spent a couple of days camped on Glyder Fach at the end of December and the atmosphere was absolutely great. Here’s a sample from the reel..