Wilderness Wales


Twin Peaks in the Snow

Craig Cerrig Gleisiad and Fan Frynych
Brecon Beacons - 21st March 2007

Another Cold Spell  
It must be said that February's snow was a bit of a disaster for me. The snow on the beach had melted by the time I got there a few hours later, and the snow on the hills the next day was shrouded in mist and showered with rain. Not to mention forgetting to take my camera with me... :-( So I was pleased to hear of another promised cold spell last week. The problem with snow though, is that you have to catch it just right. Too soon and you get snowed on - great fun but not much good for photos. Too late and it's all melted. Ideally you need to catch the sunny bit in-between (if there is one), or at least you do if you want some decent photos of mountains in the snow.

So I chose Wednesday, the astronomical beginning of spring. It was a fantastic morning, not a cloud in the sky. Unfortunately I didn't get going until the afternoon, by which time things were clouding over quite badly due to a frontal system approaching from the west. I was afraid the day would be ruined, and began to question whether it was worth going out at all.

But I was already packed by then, so I went out regardless. The first half of the drive was overcast, the prospects didn't look good. Passing Fan Gyhirych I was a bit miffed to see that much of the snow had already melted. Bill had told me there was a good covering the night before, but it had melted faster than I'd expected.

Fortunately I was headed further east, my goal for the day being to photograph Pen y Fan in the snow, since I don't yet have any decent photos of it with my 10MP Canon EOS 400D. My last good snow shots of it were taken with my 4MP Canon Powershot G3 from Camlais Pool, near the Beacons mountain centre on Mynydd Illtyd Common. So that was my first port of call. It was sunny when I got there, with clear skies to the east, so it was perfect for photos.

Enough of that, on with the walk...
Craig Cerrig Gleisiad  
Driving up Glyn Tarell I passed a horde of walkers. Arriving at the car park next to Craig Cerrig Gleisiad I encountered another horde, a literal bus load, emptying from the hill straight into the bus. My mind filled with images of herds of wildebeest, pack animals whose instinct is safety in numbers, in comparison to say a cheetah, a solitary hunter, in my case hunting for photos. It's so much nicer to be out on the hills alone, but I guess that's a matter of opinion.

Avoiding the busy path, I headed ESE, directly up the steep slope alongside the cliff. I haven't done much hill-walking lately, so I must admit that the ascent came as a bit of a shock to my system. I hadn't been up this way before and it was pretty damn steep, but it was all worth it once I reached the top. Although the snow had melted from most of the lower slopes, there was a reasonable amount above 550m, not a huge amount, but enough to satisfyingly crunch through it, and there was enough sun to make any photographer happy.

On reaching the summit, I actually bothered to cross the barbed wire fence to go and stand on the actual top, a small cairn a matter of yards away. First time I've actually stood on it, so technically I've never really bagged it before, but I was never obsessed about standing on the actual spot in the past. This time though, I needed to mark it with my GPS. I was getting excellent reception with the aid of EGNOS, but my altimeter was telling me 638m, 9m too high. It was slightly breezy on the top, which may have affected the reading, and it also made it a little chillier.

Fan Frynych  
The descent to the col was quite pleasant with even deeper snow to crunch through. I stopped at my favourite viewpoint for a quick snack, before trying to determine where the col was. There's a boggy bit next to a small pond, which is the lowest point, but it's not actually the col, since there's a slightly higher ridge next to it. The col seems to be near to the pool, which wasn't suitable for reflections due to the breeze, but I still got a few decent shots of it.

By this time the clouds from the west were starting to look ominous, and interesting cloud formations were starting to form on the leading edges. Some rising smoke in the distance quickly flattened out and made a horizontal streak in the sky, a clear indication of a temperature inversion. A dark horizontal cloud formed directly above Pen y Fan, which made a nice photo. I passed another pool on the gentle ascent to Fan Frynych, but there were no photo opportunities there either. Halfway to the summit though, the sky became really interesting, with excellent "mackerel" skies.

On Fan Frynych I took another GPS reading, this time 628m, just 1m too low. In fact, allowing for the usual 1-2m fluctuation, it was pretty spot on, which surprised me, since CCG was much too high. The reason I called this trip report "Twin Peaks in the Snow" is because I regard these two summits as being"twins" of equal status, since they're both 629m on the map. I was hoping that my GPS would give a similar reading for each.
It must have passed sunset by that time, but I'm not sure because with the cloud in the west there was no visible sunset. It was getting dark though, and I made my way to the third pool I'd marked with my GPS to find that it was frozen! Yes! Result! (Well strictly speaking it wasn't actually frozen, more like slush, but it definitely wasn't liquid water). I proceeded to take a bunch of photos of Pen y Fan and Fan Fawr with the pool in the foreground, very bluish because of the twilight, some of the best photos of the day I reckon.

From there I proceeded to the large cairn on the NE ridge and took more twilight shots. This is possibly the best high viewpoint for Pen y Fan and Corn Du. After that, another short walk NE took me to the junction where I turned south to follow the path back to the car park. I tried to rush, but I couldn't beat the darkness. The path was often muddy, but quite easy to follow, even in the dark, although I had to resort to using my head torch eventually. It was much warmer below the ridge out of the breeze.

Halfway back I realised that the snow on the cliffs of Craig Cerrig Gleisiad would probably make a good night photo. It was 70 minutes after sunset, so technically it was dark (I certainly needed a torch to see the path ahead) and there was no trace of a sunset in the sky, but I stopped to take a photo anyway. I took two in fact, to make a nightime panorama.

The result was way better than I expected, although I didn't realise it until I got home. A very satisfying end to the day, as I realised later. At the time, I almost couldn't be bothered to stop and take the photo (taking photos in the dark is rather fiddly and it just looked dark grey and black to me), only the snow on the cliffs persuaded me to make the effort. In retrospect, it may even have been the best photo of the day!

© Paul Saunders, March 2007