It’s been a long time, been a long time…

•November 5, 2015 • Leave a Comment

In my Element - An evening on Moel Ddu//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

It’s been too long since last I wrote down my thoughts here, but as I have an article in Trail Magazine’s December issue (in the shops now)which directs folk to this blog I thought I’d better put fingers to plastic as not to disappoint anyone who happens to follow the link.

So, what to write about?

As the leaves are falling in earnest now and the colours of Autumn are starting to lose their lustre I suppose I’d better muse on this most fleeting but beautiful of seasons.

It certainly has been a wonderful 6 weeks or so in Snowdonia where we have enjoyed a fantastic spell of weather after an indifferent Summer. Just the other morning I climbed Glyder Fach, starting at 5am and wearing on my top half nothing but a base layer until I reached the summit, not bad for November!

 

Each Autumn I promise myself I will prowl around the valleys and sit by rivers and lakes capturing the resplendent colours of the season as almost every landscape photograph will be doing but every year it’s the same and I find myself back on the mountains which are my year-round haunt. I suppose, broadly speaking I am a landscape photographer but I find no satisfaction in photographing anything but the mountains from on high; that’s where my passion lies.

Occasionally I will find my camera pointing toward a lake, river or valley scene but feel no frisson of excitement, unlike when I have toiled and sweated up a hill, never quite knowing of there will be a photographic payoff at the end of it.

Of course, that is not the point of the exercise, that being to climb those hills and rejoice in the high places, thanking my lucky stars that fate led me to this beautiful life here in Snowdonia.

Now, the weather gods are frowning down on us and recalling the debt for all those precious days we have enjoyed. Once more, great light is at a premium and the waiting game begins. However, if I can’t be with the light I love for a while then maybe I should learn to love the light I’m with…

Morning mists - Llyn y Caseg Fraith//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

The Wall - Bryn Banog//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

First signs of Autumn//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

First Light - Snowdon//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

In a sombre mood - Llyn Idwal//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Y Lliwedd - The Birthplace of British Mountaineering//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

As far as the eye can see - Southern Snowdonia//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Yr Wyddfa - Snowdon//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Another day in paradise - Dawn on Glyder Fach//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Alone in the Rhinogydd

•December 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Rhinogydd Regression - The Primitive

I just couldn’t stay away. This place has done something to me and I can’t stop thinking about it. All at once I’m beguiled and horrified, fascinated and repulsed. Every human emotion is here and the ghosts which stalk this cadaverous landscape toy with them.

For me it starts upon leaving Llanbedr and turning onto the single track road which leads in five enchanting miles to Cwm Bychan. Every twist and turn of its serpentine course takes me deeper into a waking dream where nothing is quite what it seems; it’s as if that road junction is a portal into other realms, where the spirit or soul of the place communes with the few 21st century mortals that find themselves repeatedly drawn to a mountain sanctuary more redolent of the Celtic Fringe than anywhere else I know.

Bookended by the peaks of Clip and Rhinog Fawr is a long, flat mountain called Craig Wion, described by Harold Drasdo as a “Splendid mile of Celtic badlands”, an apt description of a place that has me utterly captivated. Craig Wion encapsulates everything that makes the Rhinogydd special.

I have been there twice in the last two weeks, and on both occasions enjoyed complete solitude. The landscape itself is unique; imagine huge, tilted gritstone slabs with glacial erratics strewn around, secretive lakes in heathery bowls and deep, transverse canyons. The rigors of a traverse and the demands it places on the average pedestrian are entirely disproportionate to the modest mileage the walk entails. This is terrain for the experienced mountain walker and even then it would be wise to take a friend as there are places where, if one were to come a cropper, they may not be found for days or even weeks. That I go alone, without even a mobile phone for emergencies may be seen as foolish or irresponsible, but mountains are about freedom and this is how I exercise mine.

So that’s the physical fabric of the place, but there is more, much more to it than that. The real draw of the Rhinogydd is how it makes me feel, which is course the most important consideration for any landscape photographer.

The conflicting emotional responses I experience are compelling. At times I feel an unease not felt on other mountains and at others I am joyous in my insignificance with any trace of ego stripped away. Lengthy vigils spent waiting for the light are eerie affairs and I feel like I am being watched from near and far, not by people, but by ‘things’, the nature of which I can only ponder on.

I am eager to discover the secret life of the place; there is ‘something’ going on there and I will keep returning until I gain an understanding of what ‘it’ is. A part of me wants to know that secret, but in truth, so enigmatic and other worldly is it that I doubt I ever will…

Back in the Rhinogydd badlands

On Craig Wion

In the Cymric Badlands

Wilderness Wales - Rhinog Fawr from Craig Wion

Dawn on Crib Goch

•November 26, 2014 • 1 Comment

Pe-dawn selfie - Crib Goch
It’s 5.30am and the very last thing I want to do is leave my warm bed, but I must. The forecast is full of promise and dawn can’t be wasted in dreams, especially after all the bad weather we’ve had of late. I perform my morning ablutions and head down to the car. Ten minutes later I am at Pen y Pass and full of the usual apprehension which accompanies a solo ascent of Crib Goch in the dark. It’s not as though I haven’t been here before –this will be my 3rd pre-dawn raid on the mountain- it’s just that in darkness this familiar lump of rock intimidates me, making me feel very alone. Naturally, I don’t have to do it; I can go up onto the Glyderau instead, but the other thing about Crib Goch is that it is hypnotic, compulsive and anything less will seem like a cop-out. This morning, it’s all or nothing.

Trudging up the Pyg Track, I soon find my rhythm and fall into a trance. This is such a surreal experience, I’m not fully awake yet, my thoughts are woolly and my world is condensed into a small bubble of light. From time to time I glance back at the eastern horizon through the glacial breaching point we know as Pen y Pass. There’s a gap for the sun to rise into which is good news but I won’t know for sure until I get to Bwlch Moch as the dawn will start in the South Eastern sky today.

At the bwlch I take stock. It’s not looking too good now as a bank of cloud will blot out first light but I’m here now so it’s onwards and upwards. Crib Goch towers above me, a monstrous black pyramid and although I could continue on the ‘Pyg’ for Snowdon, it doesn’t even cross my mind. I am a slave and Crib Goch is my master.

On the easy first section of the climb I find myself in a peculiar state of mind; the rational part of me is wondering why the hell I am doing this. The devil on my shoulder thinks otherwise, telling me that I’m a wimp for feeling unnerved and vulnerable in this unforgiving environment. It’s the same old conflict that arises when I climb mountains, on my own and in the dark. I’m not the most adventurous person in the world you see, and doing this goes completely against my instincts, which are firmly rooted in the desire for self-preservation. The thing is though, my desire to experience and capture the birth of a brand new day on a 3000ft mountain obliterates any reason I can come up with not to, so here we are again.

At the rock band where the real scrambling begins I’m in a slight pickle. Although I have climbed this crag tens of times I can’t find the usual place where I begin, it all looks different in the dark. I decide to stop faffing and climb the most appealing line available which brings me onto familiar ground again. I swarm up the juggy slab and then the polished corner before picking my way up shattered rock onto the East Ridge proper. This is where the exposure is felt for the first time but I’m not unnerved now. No, I’m intoxicated by the exhilaration of being in such a spectacular place. I stop for a couple of minutes just to take it all in. Above me rises a slender ridge of red rock, while on 3 sides the ground falls steeply away to depths which are no longer hidden as civil twilight filters its subtle blue light on lakes, valleys and the myriad peaks which range to every horizon.

I turn off my head torch and revel in my position, climbing high above the still-sleeping world below. I take it slowly, enjoying every move while a feeling of beautiful freedom fills me with exaltation until there is no more up. I’m at the eastern summit of the mountain and ‘that’ view floors me. It matters not how many times I experience this moment, it’s always the same; it is an awesome sight. My route for the day is spread out before me; Crib Goch’s knife edged ridge leads my eye via Crib y Ddysgl to Garnedd Ugain and then to Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), the highest ground in south of the border and finally to Y Lliwedd where later today I will be rejuvenated as I scramble onto her twin peaks. I set up my gear, put on my down jacket and take a self-portrait, just for the record.

And now the waiting game begins. It’s still not looking good for first light but that hardly seems to matter now. The air is still, it’s cold and I shiver a little as I survey the incredible 360 degree panorama. Down the valley and six miles distant I can just make out my home village as mist forms over the lake. These mountains are in my heart and soul and living in them is a privilege. I look at every peak and relive adventures of days gone by, rejoicing in the solitude but thinking of friends with whom it would be wonderful to share this moment.

Well, I don’t think I’m going to get any decent shots. There’s too much cloud over there so I’ll pack my gear away and get ready to embark on the remainder of the horseshoe, long day ahead. But wait, something’s happening. The rock is starting to glow and it’s getting more vibrant by the second. This is it. I’m going to get the classic shot of the horseshoe but I’m also going to turn around and get the Glyderau and Dyffryn Mymbyr, I don’t usually do that but the light’s amazing. THIS IS IT!

Daybreak - The Snowdon Horseshoe

Ten minutes ago I was a very happy man, but now I am ecstatic because I can share with you the dazzling beauty of fleeting, unique and never to be repeated moments in my life on the mountains. That is what my photography is all about. I want you to see what I see, to feel what I feel. Of course a photograph can never do that, not really, but what it can do is evoke an emotion, and I hope that the emotion is in tandem with mine.

Follow your bliss dear reader, I’m about to follow mine on this blessed day. We only live once…

A glorious dawn - Y Glyderau, Dyffryn Mymbyr and Moel Siabod from Crib Goch

Laying ghosts to rest – A tale of two photographs

•September 11, 2014 • 1 Comment

Nothing lasts forever

The image above was taken on May 2nd 2013 in the Rhinogydd mountains of Snowdonia. Whilst descending Y Llethr I’d had a heart breaking telephone conversation with my fiancé that changed my life. As I sat alone in this wild and elemental place I was shell shocked and inconsolable, but it was there and then that I decided I was going to make some very big changes. It was time to move on and less than a week later I had packed my car with all it could carry and on a wing and a prayer moved to Snowdonia in a whirlwind turn of events.
The Rhinogydd are the most idiosyncratic mountains in Snowdonia and quite unlike anywhere else in Britain. The central and northern sections of the range are wild and remote, rough and rocky. To go alone in the Rhinogydd feels adventurous, especially on a weekday, as solitude is virtually guaranteed and the going difficult. The atmosphere is pre-historic, primitive and to be there on my own at dusk gives me overwhelming feelings of smallness and vulnerability in an alien landscape where man is an intruder. This is the main attraction of the Rhinogydd for me, and the inhospitable, desolate nature of the range helps me to forget my preconceptions and even who I am, which makes tapping into the spirit of the place a simple task, in fact, it might be more accurate to say that the spirit of the place taps into you!
Cymric Badlands - Rhinog Fach and Y Llethr fron Rhinog Fawr
Last week, I went back to see just how far I’d come in terms of healing and to evaluate and muse upon what my life has become since the dreaded ‘phone call’. I’d already visited the range twice this year but confined myself to Rhinog Fawr, barely being able to look at Y Llethr across the gulf of Bwlch Drws Ardudwy, where this chapter of my life had found its genesis. I was going to face my demons head on and look them straight in the eye.
The serpentine road into Cwm Nantcol ends at Fferm Maes y Garnedd which is set in verdant pastures, totally at odds with its backdrop of wild, heather clad mountains. I went over to the farm to pay the small parking fee and told the farmer not to expect me back before dark; he was the last person I would see all day.
Beyond the farm you are entering a landscape that, for a dry-stone wall and a few stone flags, shows very few signs of human interference. Grazing has been kept to a minimum and at this time of year, heather proliferates in vast purple carpets. The feeling of wilderness grows stronger with every step. With a hint of autumn in the air it was good to be back, though memories of that fateful day were to haunt me until I returned to the car ten hours later.
Recent rains had waterlogged large areas of the path, necessitating frequent diversions, while crossing the Afon Nantcol proved interesting to say the least, but I finally found a way and entered a different world. At tiny Llyn Cwm Hosan I suddenly felt very alone. Steep mountain sides and moraine shut out the affectations of civilisation, prompting a sense of total isolation, which is all at once unnerving and exhilarating. All was silent until a piercing cry broke the calm; I wasn’t alone after all…
A hundred metres away I spotted a large herd of goats and counted 50 before giving up. Mothers and young, they were watching me, an interloper into their mountain sanctuary. Some stood stock still while others shuffled around uneasily but all of them eyed me with suspicion. It’s not unusual to see wild goats in the Welsh mountains but never before had I come across them in such numbers and while they are rarely known to attack humans I became somewhat discombobulated at the prospect of having to walk past them.
With a trekking pole in one hand and a fist-sized rock in the other I slowly approached, watching their every move just as they were watching mine. It was an anxious ten minutes and I was glad to get them behind me. With much relief I went on my way and rounded a bend chuckling at my cowardice only to find 40 more of them not 10 metres away. This lot, however, were a very different kettle of fish; huge, malodourous bastards, hairy with flowing beards and sporting horns that could disembowel an elephant. These lads had a serious attitude problem; I had stumbled upon a full scale rut and was less than happy about it. What followed was an absorbing spectacle and I had a ring side seat.
Imagine a wild, godforsaken mountain landscape, in which you are the only human being, surrounded by large, aggressive animals; the air is pungent with their scent and other worldly grunts fill your ears. The sound of stone fall echoes off walls of rock which tower above you, as do dull, percussive thumps as one head clashes with another. All around is chaos; there are chases, battles and innocent bystanders hoping not to get drawn into the fracas. The scene is primeval, no, visceral and so far removed from human contrivances as to be strangely beautiful in its truth, purity and authenticity. My initial fear turned to fascination as I realised that these brutes were far too preoccupied with world domination to worry about me. I then quietly went on my way, ready for whatever lay ahead.
Safely beside Llyn Hywel I paused a while. The goats were well behind me but in that secluded cwm there was absolute quietude. Once again I felt like I was being watched, stalked even, but this time it was by the ghosts of my old life, a life for which, on occasion, I feel an acute yearning.
The next few hours went by with the solemnity of an age old ritual as I retraced my steps from that fateful day. First I made my way up onto Rhinog Fach where I stayed for an hour and then back down and onto Y Llethr, walking the gentle rise to its broad summit dome, quite unnecessarily but totally in keeping with my intention of travelling back through time to confront the past.
I was totally in the zone. The light was exactly how I remembered it, the sky just the same and once more I was alone; I may even have been wearing exactly the same clothes. The absurdity of my re-enactment was lost on me. I approached the spot where a beautiful dream was finally laid to rest and settled down to reminisce. Sixteen months had elapsed since last I sat there. I recalled the conversation, almost word for word. Sixteen months felt like sixteen seconds but now, the raw, insufferable sadness I felt that evening was replaced by passive acceptance tinged with a lingering regret. In that place I had lost something so precious to me that I can hardly put it into words, but in doing so had found a path that has led me to fulfilling one of my wildest dreams, a life in the mountains I love.
It was time to complete the journey and head down the where I took the photograph at the top of this page. All those months ago I left a part of myself there for safe keeping, until I felt strong enough to go and collect it. I arrived, and there it was; waiting for me. I set up my camera and gave myself completely to every fleeting moment and the emotions that they brought with them.
I often talk –sometimes vaguely- about the spiritual or personal nature of my relationship with the mountains and how that ties in with my photography. If you, dear reader, have ever wondered what that means, then consider the words of this tale and look at the photograph below. It’s not every picture that tells a story, but for me, this one certainly does…

Stay Gold - The Rhinogydd

Book Review – Photographing the Lake district by Stuart Holmes

•August 30, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Reviewing 'Photographing the Lake District' by Stuart Holmes

If you were to go outside and shake the nearest tree then I would be surprised if several landscape photographers didn’t fall out of it, such is the increasing popularity of the hobby. It seems as though everyone and their dogs are at it. Aside from the inevitable dross there is some fantastic work on show with the gap in quality between amateurs and professionals practically non-existent.

Every day we are bombarded by landscape images on social media and sites like ‘Flickr’; most are dreadful, others are technically excellent and a few exhibit everything that makes a great photograph. Sadly, the majority are of classic viewpoints which of course are classic for very good reasons but have become somewhat clichéd.

The ‘tick-list’ mentality is endemic in the ‘enthusiast togger’ community and it’s not unusual to see threads in photographic forums asking for lists of great locations. It would appear that the masses take a different approach to their image making these days, collecting ‘locations’ like someone who collects stamps or the numbers of trains and buses. Exploratory instinct and an urge to express how a landscape makes one feel through the photographic medium have largely been replaced with an acquisitional bent. If only someone could come up with a definitive guide to where all the best tripod holes are. Well, you can all sleep easy now; the wait is over!

Enter ‘fotoVUE’, a concept so glaringly obvious that I’m amazed no one has thought of it before. The brain-child of Michael Ryan and Stuart Holmes, fotoVUE are publishing a series of books which guide the photographer around various areas of the UK, both rural and urban. I first heard about this project last year but was sworn to secrecy so had to keep shtum, but I’ve been awaiting the results with bated breath until this morning when a review copy of ‘Photographing the Lake District’ landed on my doormat.

The aforementioned Mr Holmes is the author and needs little in the way of introduction to anyone who has enjoyed his wonderful mountain and aerial photography on ukclimbing.com, where he wowed all and sundry under the name of Ice Nine. Stuart’s credentials as one of the top outdoor photographers are evident, but has he got what it takes to pull off a book which weighs in at over 300 pages? Let’s have a look shall we?

After a preliminary flick through, my first impression is that for £25 you’re getting a lot of book for your money. A closer inspection reinforces that view and I felt relieved that I hadn’t been commissioned to write the North Wales volume which is due out next year. Indeed, the amount of work and man hours which must have gone into producing this book is frankly mind boggling. It’s clear that ‘Photographing the Lake District’ is a labour of love and the culmination of years of dogged research. In those terms alone it is worth every one of those 25 pounds, but what of the content?

After the usual intro and acknowledgments there is a raft of handy information in the form of notes on weather, seasonal variations and even driving tips for those not used to narrow mountain roads.

The real ‘meat’ of the book however, is in the locations themselves which are divided into seven sections covering the entire national park and this is where Stuart’s diligence and dedication to the project really shines through. I know the Lake District as well as most avid walkers and climbers but as the book mostly concentrates on valleys and lower fells I was amazed at how little I really knew the place. Stuart’s extensive local knowledge has unlocked the district’s lesser known jewels as well as covering honey-pot locations such as Tarn Hows and Wast Water.

Each location guide starts with some well written introductory blurb followed by information on the logistics of getting there, accessibility and on the best time of day/year to shoot. In addition to a map giving an over view of the area there are tips on composition and useful techniques before moving onto specific viewpoints. It would appear that nothing has been left to chance and each chapter arms the would-be Lakeland photographer with everything they need in the field to stack the odds in their favour of capturing good images. I’m sure if Stuart had mastery over the weather he would have included that too!

Later in the book there is an extensive technique section to help those still taking baby steps in their photographic journey which I’m sure will inspire and provide plenty of motivation to try different approaches to their image making.

The photography throughout ‘Photographing the Lake District’ is never less than excellent, often exceptional and at times truly inspirational and if I was starting out on my photographic career I would be devouring this tome at every opportunity.

I would recommend this book to any photographer who wants to take advantage of Stuart’s knowledge of the district and landscape photography without investing years of independent exploration and wasted trips. When pondering on this project I was worried that it would perpetuate the lack of imagination and ‘tick-list’ thinking but having read the book those fears may prove unfounded. The range of locations is so extensive that it might actually have the opposite effect and introduce folk to new places, while spreading the load on the honey pots.

I’m now looking forward to the other guides in the series and especially the North Wales edition. Stuart has set the bar at a very high level so it will be interesting to see if they measure up to this outstanding book.

Bravo, Mr Holmes…

Finding focus in the Ogwen Valley

•July 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Winter's retreat

For the past six months, I’ve noticed a pattern forming in my approach to photographing the mountains of Snowdonia. Rather than flitting around all over the shop, I’ve been focusing on certain valleys and even mountains, returning time and again. Take the last month for instance; apart from trips across Crib Goch, Cnicht and Siabod I have more often than not been in the Ogwen Valley or on the mountains which cradle it. Even when I’ve been out climbing and not taking photographs the Ogwen Valley has become my focus and that has nothing to do with the fact that it is little more than a five minute drive from home! No, there’s more to it than that, but it’s only recently that I’ve given some thought as to why this relatively new way of working has come about.

If you are a photographer reading this, I would like to ask you a question; is it important for you to feel a profound connection to the landscape when you are making your images, or is it enough for you to just rock up somewhere, set up your tripod and fire away? I wouldn’t venture to say one way is better than the other, but I will state that to me it is not merely important, it is absolutely paramount.

My photographic raison de ‘etre has always been to communicate my passion for, and the spiritual aspects of, being in the mountains but I always found that the act of spreading myself thinly all over Snowdonia, while yielding good images, usually felt vaguely dissatisfying, my relationship with the hills shallow and lacking commitment. That, I suppose, is the lot of those not fortunate enough to live in a place like this, one for which their heart yearns when they are in exile. Now of course, I am able to play the long game and seek a deeper communion with the landscapes that inspire my photography. In thinking about the way I now go about my pursuit of mountain images it has become increasingly clear that actually living here was essential for me to really get under the skin of these wonderful places and take my relationship with them onto a higher plane. If you are thinking “What a load of pretentious bollocks”, then that is absolutely fine, but, if you know me at all, then you will understand what the mountains mean to me and how they are much, much more than something for me to point a camera at!
Nant y Benglog - Explored

So, back in the Ogwen Valley and on its mountains by which I mean, for the sake of clarity, the entire Glyderau range, the Carneddau as far north as Llewelyn and the valley floor from Nant y Benglog to the new and improved Oggie Tea Shack.

Two minutes after leaving my home you enter its wild, lower reaches, flanked on either side by desolate, boulder strewn moorland; straight ahead is the hulking Gallt yr Ogof and to the right the shapely cone of Pen Llithrig yr Wrach. Here, the valley is wide and there is a great feeling of space and a palpable air of mystery and magic. After leaving the fertile environs of Capel Curig it’s as if we are entering a new and foreign land.

A little further on and Tryfan sidles slowly into view, revealed piece by piece until its unforgettable profile, replete with spines and buttressed by great crags takes your breath away. Even now, it is a sight that has me almost crashing the car into dry-stone walls and other motorists!

The scene is quickly taking on a grandeur out of all proportion to reality, for the peaks rarely top 3400ft in height; Llyn Ogwen appears, and ahead is Y Garn, as beautiful a mountain as you could ever wish to behold, its twin ridges wrapped around secretive Cwm Clyd. To the right is the nose of Yr Esgair on Foel Goch, one of the most coveted but rarely climbed ridges in Britain, one which I climbed one memorable winter day in 2010.

At the Oggie Tea Shack it is time to stop and choose your way into the mountains. Which way will you go? Pen yr Ole Wen towers above, throwing down a stiff challenge for the legs and lungs, the Cwm Idwal path offers an easy stroll into an astonishing mountain sanctuary while Y Garn’s ‘come hither’ looks are almost impossible to resist; and that’s just the start of it. Yes, there is so much here to go at, and for the photographer there is easy and delicious fruit close at hand, but if you really want to feel the heartbeat of a place, if indeed that is important to you, then you must give yourself to it wholly, for flirting will just leave you frustrated. So how, in the last few weeks, have I done that?

My first thoughts were to forget photography, to stop thinking about light, to get my eye away from the viewfinder and to live in the now. The most effective way I know of achieving a mindful approach to life is to go climbing (but make sure your friend takes a camera on your behalf!). So much of our time as landscape photographers is spent looking at the big picture in a way that almost detaches us from the thing we are trying to capture. Recently and apart from the grade 1 scrambles I have climbed, I went up Zig Zag on Clogwyn y Tarw and the Dolmen Ridge on the North West face of Glyder Fach. One was a hard but relatively safe route with all the paraphernalia of the modern rock climber, the other a thought provoking solo climb without ropes. On both occasions I grappled with the very matter of these mountains, the bones on which they are built. At times I was nervous and aware that a mistake would cost me my life, at others I was embroiled in a physical fight to gain ground, losing skin and blooded by the mountain. You could say I was as intimately involved in the place as it is possible to get and at no time did I think about the shots I was missing. It was me, thee and nothing else.
If it's to be, it's up to me...

Freedom

Another component of attaining a meaningful communion with Ogwen was going out walking and scrambling with others and watching their response to the hills. Did it mirror my own and if not, what did it say about me and my relationship with these hills? One hundred per cent of the time it was me that enthused, swore involuntarily and outwardly marvelled in my surroundings, even in places I had trodden numerous times before. I may not have been any more moved than my companions but my awe and enthusiasm was impossible to contain which once again clearly illustrated the reason I take photographs, which is the very real need to express my passion for the mountains, photography being the means rather than the end in itself.

Ogwen Nights

The time honoured tradition - Explored

Late Light on Llewelyn - Explored

The aspect I have found most rewarding is what I like to call the ‘Go with no expectations’ approach. That is, to take all of my kit just in case, but with the express intention of experiencing the release of solitude after a hard day at work, enjoying the physical and spiritual gains it so abundantly bestows upon me. It’s worth noting that these forays can be the hardest for which to find motivation to get started but have proved the most successful in terms of image gathering. There is a lesson here!
Shards aglow - Castle of the Winds

In the absence of expectations - Late light on Glyder Fach from Tryfan - Explored

Glyder Fingers

An evening on Elidir

Lastly, and not least important is the obsessive ‘go to the same place every day’ mode of being. In the past week I have trudged up the same path to exactly the same spot on Pen yr le Wen three evenings running where I spent at least an hour and a half on each occasion. Why? Well, because I am a bit weird like that, but what it did for me was this…I got to know every stone on the path and in doing so developed a very strong sense of place. I was after the same shot and each time came away without it, so capricious have the conditions been. But what I did come away with, by sitting still and watching the weather from a pre-ordained viewpoint was the cumulative effect of observing the same scene in a way that is only usually gained from your own back garden or door step.

Cloud-capped - Y Glyderau

The Oggie Four

A splash of light - Tryfan

After all this, do I feel that I know Ogwen better? No, of course I don’t, but I know for sure that when I next set up my tripod on one of its mountains I will have condensed the essence of the valley into my sub consciousness, which in turn will make my photographic endeavours a more rewarding enterprise. It is one thing to look at a place and trace your many comings and goings from days past, but entirely another to spend an intense period in its embrace.

Time to move on maybe, but where next?

Many thanks to Jock Andrews for the photographs of me on the Dolmen Ridge

An interesting evening on Crib Goch

•June 26, 2014 • 4 Comments

Yr Wyddfa - The roof of Wales
Seven days of work, man-flu and late nights have left me weak and feeling my age, but the call of the hills is too strong to resist and before I have chance to assess my sanity a plan is hatched.

I drive to Llanberis, followed by an angel in human form who then takes me back up to Pen y Pass where the main routes to Snowdon’s summit are thronged with dishevelled and sweaty walkers making their way back down the mountain.

I fight against the tide of humanity until Bwlch Moch where I’m alone at last and can feel the power of these ancient lumps seeping into me, reviving my weary limbs and reminding me of this incredible waking dream that my life has become.

En route to Crib Goch I come upon four Asian lads, “I’m glad you’re coming down and not going up” I offer as a greeting. “Yes” one replies, “It seems quite dangerous but our friends have kept going”. These boys are obviously not regular hill-goers and the thought of two novices up there fills me with dread. Still, they’re keen to stand on the roof of Wales so I send them on their way up the Pyg Track and let them know what time the sun goes down. It’s 6 O’clock and the weather is settled so if they get a move on they’ll be fine.

At the first section of steep scrambling there is still no sign of the others and the mountain seems to be empty. However, my ears are attuned to the sound of rock-fall which I am anticipating if there is anyone blundering about above me.

Where the East Ridge narrows I see the first signs of life; two young women with a rope and helmets. “Hello girls, have you seen a couple of Asian lads up there”? “Yep, they’re up there alright, and having a bit of a hard time”. Hmmmm. My first thoughts are “why the hell, with all your kit, haven’t you sorted them out”? I keep these thoughts to myself and head up the ridge only to find no trace of them and no sound other than the wind. “That’s strange, where the hell are they”, I wonder to myself.

After a brief rest to take in my incredible position (my usual routine before crossing Crib Goch’s exposed knife edge) I press on. A minute later I look down to my left and there they are, 30 metres below me and making an attempt to descend the shattered South Face. They look completely out of their depth, on all fours and totally gripped. “Lads, what are you doing down there” I ask incredulously. “We want to go home, we’re really scared and can’t move”! The ghost of Whillans whispers in my ear; “It looks like you two will be getting your 77 virgins sooner than you think”…

I’m out tonight to enjoy the mountains alone and hopefully catch some good light on the way down. Now I’m going to be saddled with these two. A wave of anger breaks over me. I’m not angered by the poor unfortunates, these things happen after all. No, I’m annoyed that two capable and highly equipped mountaineers have left them to their own devices on a mountain that regularly claims the lives of those that climb it in ignorance or with a lack of respect.

“Ok, lads, don’t move. I’m coming down to get you”. It’s not easy; the ground is very steep, very loose and extremely treacherous. It takes me half an hour to coax them back onto the crest.

Shweb and Sodran are about 16 years old, from Kent and woefully ill equipped, both physically and mentally, for such an enterprise. They have bloodied knees, a tiny satchel each and flimsy trainers that are in an advanced state of disintegration. Thank god I found them when I did!

“Right lads, you’re going to be absolutely fine now. I’m going to look after you and get you down from here”. “Thanks mate, we followed some people up here. We thought it was Snowdon” says Shweb, who is sweating profusely and exhibiting bodily tremors more usually seen in constipated dogs.

I’m anxious not to overplay the situation and make them even more nervous, so in a very calm and matter of fact way I explain that we have three options; firstly, we can go down the way we came up; secondly we can call mountain rescue and thirdly, (which, incidentally is my preference) I can help them traverse the ridge and send them down to the Pyg Track at Bwlch Coch. With some gentle encouragement and reassuring words Shweb and Sodran agree to let me guide them across the ridge and over the pinnacles.

It’s a slow and nerve wracking process watching their every move but an hour later we arrive at the bwlch and the boys can’t thank me enough. It’s been a very rewarding experience, working as a team and seeing the boys gain confidence; I even suspect that they enjoyed climbing the pinnacles! It’s now 8 O’clock and after handshakes I send them down to the Pyg with a request that they stay ‘switched on’ and concentrate until they get the path under their feet. As I make my way up Crib y Ddysgl it’s a joy to look back and watch them bum-sliding down the grass, what a tale they will have to tell!

The rest of my evening is relatively uneventful but I enjoy glorious solitude, wonderful light and swirling clouds bubbling up from Glaslyn before going down to catch ‘Cloggy’ in the last rays. As I walk down to Llanberis in the twilight I feel a warm glow, knowing that I possibly saved those boys from a nasty end but not only that, there is the satisfaction of sharing a wonderful mountain experience with them, one which I hope has taught them that even in this day and age, regardless of race, colour or creed, some of us still put humanity above the things that make us different. That’s one thing the mountains have taught me and maybe a lesson still to be learned by the two girls who abandoned Shweb and Sodran when they needed them most.

 

Riding with the gods - Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon

 

 

 

Clogwyn Du'r Arddu

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 50 other followers