Welsh Mountain Diary 1

Posted by on May 29, 2017 in Blog | 2 comments

It has always seemed to take a titanic effort to organise my time to a point where photography can take a front seat in my schedule. Owning and running a gallery where I am printing and framing my own and other artist’s work, organising and leading workshops and tours and of course a myriad of domestic necessities have meant that time out with a camera ( and other creative pursuits such as writing) have often been postponed. For now I seem to have managed to achieve a balance that allows me the time to head into the hills on up to five days of every week and manage the other elements over a working weekend Sat-Mon.

I had hoped to get started on this project to climb and photograph all the Welsh mountains as listed in John and Anne Nuttall’s book The Mountains of England and Wales Vol 1 last Summer but I simply couldn’t seem to get my week looking the way I had been planning to make the project possible. With time ticking away I’ve finally made what what feels like a really positive start with two overnight trips to Snowdonia in less than a week.

My original plan to start in late Spring/ early Summer, a time of year when I have in the past chosen to stay off the hill due to heat, humidity and of course bug density, was hatched to allow me time to acclimatise and regain my confidence in overnighting in the wild before the more serious task of camping in late Autumn and Winter becomes necessary. Really early starts have never been my thing and the thought of climbing a mountain before dawn, with the time pressure of an unstoppable sunrise fills me with dread. Far better to take my time climbing and hunting for images during the day and then enjoying both evening and dawn light from a high vantage point.

Wild Camping, Moel Ysgyfarnogod

























I shall explain more of the link with the Nuttall’s guide books in my next instalment but for my first trip out this season I chose the relatively easy route up into the hills of the Northern Rhinogydd, Moel Ysgyfarnogod and it’s satellite Foel Penolau. At just over 2000ft each this pair required little more than 1200ft of ascent and with a favourable forecast I was keen to revisit the wonderful Gritstone pavement with their scatterings of erratics. I’m pleased to have made a number of images on what was essentially a first and therefore a scouting visit ( my expectation is to take every one of the 49 walks and 190 peaks at least twice in the fulfilling of this project).

Afterglow, East to the Arenigs














Rhinogydd erratics




























Following a glorious afterglow with great views both East and West I pitched my tent and my phone/alarm clock immediately died. What followed was one of those nights where I awoke very regularly, concerned that I would miss the 04.45 pre-dawn glow. After what felt like my six or seventh peep out through the flysheet it was finally light enough to reveal the thick mountain mist that had formed over the summit. A chance for a lie in then following a sleepless night. Some time later I rose, broke camp and headed back down the terraced slopes arriving at the remains of the Manganese mines just as the cloud broke to reveal a view across to the Moelwyns and Snowdon. The light was sadly already too flat for my liking but the view is definitely one to return for, perhaps in Winter.

Old mine workings, Moel Ysgyfarnogod

















Arriving back at my car with no idea of the time I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was only ten to eight in the morning. A straight drive home saw me sitting drinking freshly brewed coffee in my back garden at quarter past ten.


My second outing of the week ( Wednesday 24th-Thursday 25th May) saw me climbing Cadair Idris from Minffordd, a far more serious walk in with around 3000 feet of ascent to gain three of the five listed tops on this range. It’s a route I’ve climbed on numerous occasions in different seasons although not with 20kgs of gear and certainly not in 25 degree heat. The last time I got so hot and dehydrated on a hill was when I decided to treat myself to a climb and camp on Ben Cruachan on my birthday ( 4th of July) a few years ago. The conditions were almost identical with zero air movement, harsh blue skies and clouds of midges right at the summit, a set up that had seen me heading straight back down off the Argyll munro.


Fair but harsh

























Fortunately, on crossing the ladder stile on the summit of Craig Cwm Amarch I was met with spectacle of an Irish Sea covered in a thick blanket of fog right out to the hazy far horizon. Enough to convince me to stick with it in the hot Sun and continue the climb. My original plan had been to head up over Pen-y-Gadair and along the broad ridge to Mynedd Moel for sunset but with the prospect of fog pouring up both the Mawddach Estuary and the Dyffryn Dysynni I opted to stay at the Western end of the range and headed for the rocky top of Cyfrwy which afforded me a superb overlook for what was to follow. Initially working with a longer lens I was able to pick out detail but had already scoped out some rock formations to work with low angled sidelight as the Sun set.

Sea fog near Llynau Creggenan























Glowing sea fog, Dolgedr


















The conditions turned out to be sensational on a day that I had very low expectations of making images that I was happy with. With no wind I did regret the decision to leave my Large Format camera at home but with hindsight carrying the extra weight may well have made the climb impossible, particularly since I used so many different focal lengths on my two Canon lenses.

North to Snowdon























Mawddach Mist


























Having continued to make images for around 30 minutes after sunset I packed up and headed uphill towards Pen-y-Gadair and camped on flat ground beside some large rocky outcrops. Another uncomfortable and sleepless night but luckily this time the alarm on my phone woke me at 04.30 and then immediately died leaving me again with no sense of time. Venturing out it had clearly been another night of thick mist on the mountain as my trusty Terra Nova tent was drenched but fortunately this time it was already dissipating allowing me to make a few more images before committing to the descent.

Dawn haze, Craig Cau

























Having made my image of Craig Cwm Amarch in the first light I retraced my steps back to the car. On the steep descent back to Llyn Cau the heat was already getting unbearable. I estimated it to be about 9am already when a young, newly married couple were heading up and asked me to take a photograph of them with the perfectly calm waters of the lake below. With no liquids in either of my drinking bottles I was starting to feel the effect of the head and headed rapidly down beside the gorge to my car where I drank down 1.5 litres. It was just 07.30, a full ninety minutes out with my estimation but clearly going to be another scorcher of a day. Time to head home for that coffee and a long shower.




  1. Beautiful scenery Richard, really awe inspiring & I thought that there is nothing to beat Iceland or Scotland. I am very envious of you I must say.

    • Many thanks Doug.

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