An Overnight at Llyn y Cwm & Glyder Fach

After the last trip here Dean and I had been monitoring the weather to check for the possibility of high-pressure weather fronts moving in and creating the right conditions for cloud free summits!

The 29th March looked ideal, even though the weather reports were erring on the pessimistic side.

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Shetland Ponies at Cwm Idwal, Snowdonia

We arrived at Ogwen Lodge around 2.30pm which is good time, but the curse of photographers is the fact they keep stopping to take photographs, so by the time we were reaching the wall at Llyn Caseg Fraith we were chasing the sunset.

Oddly at Llyn y Cwm there were two young men and a lady taking photographs whilst holding her upside down, stood in the lake – whatever floats your boat, the shots may have been great!

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Glassy Surface – Llyn y Cwm

Dean and I took some shots around Llyn y Cwm and then started the accent to Glyder Fach, however, probably not even a 1/4 of the way up it because abundantly apparent we would not make the summit whilst sunset was ongoing. We decided to descend and pitch our tents for the evening.

After a nice meal cooked on the trusty Trangias, we had a crack at some star photography and the obligatory ‘lit-tent’ shot! I’ve never really tried astro-photography seriously and it is much harder than it looks, I had far more failures than successes.

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My MSR looks enviously at the Hilleberg!

The weather was good, with no real wind, but it’s never going to be warm at 750m so we retired to our tents and set an alarm for 4.30am.

The alarm at that time is never the greatest moment! A quick change, boots on, headlamp, waterproofs (just in case) and grab the camera and we’re off. Firstly we decide on the stranger decision of scrambling for the Glyder Fach peak by heading straight up from our camping position, rather than returning to the “paths” that lead up from Llyn Caseg Fraith, the climb was not easy, the rocks are loose, as they are on the other routes, but bigger and more precarious. At one point we thought it may have been a mistake and we should turn back, but that risked missing the sunrise – so we carried on and eventually made the summit around 6am, only to find two adventurous young men camping out near to the Glyder Fach summit! Fair play to them and it’s a thought for the future and it saves a climb in the morning and possibly a lie-in!

The weather was tremendous, the clouds were low and the sky clear – the sun broken the horizon and we were treated to a glorious sunrise with clouds reflecting the bright rays, if I had a complaint, and it’s a pernickety one, it was hard to try and get some dynamic range with the sun being so bright!

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We manoeuvred around the summit snapping, lapping up the scenery, taking as many shots as we could. Once the sun was well above the horizon we decided it was time to descend.

It was only as we started the descent you realise the toll such treks have on aging knees and the route to Glyder Fach is particularly unforgiving, after a couple of portraits as a reminder of such great weather, we made the less steep portion of the path, passing the climbers at the base of the slopes of Glyder Fach, we eventually made it back to the car. Exhausted, it was an absolute pleasure to put on some more relaxed shoes and get some lovely pastries from the shop at Ogwen Lodge.

 

The Quest for Lightness

This is going to be an ongoing post with regular updates.

Total Weight Saved: 4.53kgs (so far)

Lightness, when backpacking, is something most seasoned hikers & campers strive for. I hadn’t given it much though when I first went camping, my pack weighed just shy of 22 kilos, that’s some hefty pack and that doesn’t include my Canon 5D Mk IV, Lee Filters and batteries which were on my ThinkTank chest rig.

I decided to make some changes, and below are the kit swaps I have made and the weight savings realised. I don’t have a full pack weigh at the moment as I haven’t been camping since changing some of the gear out, but as soon as I have a full pack to weigh, I’ll put it up for you.

Tripod

In: Benro Slim Carbon Fibre Tripod Kit + N00 Ball Head (1kg)

Out: Gitzo Series 2 Traveler GT2540T Tripod 6X Carbon Fibre with GH2780TQD Ball Head (1.8kg)

Saving: 800g

We all know Gitzo, lovely tripods, sturdy, expensive, however even though the series is given the title “Traveler” it weighs 1.8kgs, the Benro is not quite as sturdy, to get to its very impressive 1kg weight you have to make cuts and the legs are thinner, and the joints where the legs join the centre column are not quite as rigid and they don’t fold back on themselves, but 800g is a significant saving. Gitzo do make a lighter tripod, pretty much the same weight as the Benro, but it’s £800, the Benro was £90. Hook a bag underneath for long exposures and I don’t miss the Gitzo at all.

Backpack

In: Osprey Exos 58 (1.32kg)

Out: Berghaus Khumbo Atrek Pro 70+10 (2.68kg)

Saving: 1.36kg

Slightly unfair comparison this one, the Osprey is much newer than the Berghaus, better technology and lighter materials, it’s also 22 litres smaller than the Berghaus, but on a quick test pack I didn’t really notice the reduction in space, due to the flexibility of the Osprey, it also sits more comfortably than the Berhaus which, I’m guessing, is down to advancements in technology, also the Berghaus has an adjustable back, whereas the Osprey you buy to suit your frame length.

Boots (updated 6/6/19)

In: Merrell Moab 2 Mid (for generic walking) (998g)

In: Scarpa Manta Pro GTX (size 10.5) (1.6kg) (for more severe climbs)

Out: The North Face Verto S6K (size 11) (2.94kg)

Saving: 1.3kg

Another slightly unfair comparison, The North Face boots are a professional mountaineering boot, extremely rigid, the Scarpa is similar but designed to be more flexible, you can fit a crampon to it but also use it for hiking and mountaineering equally well. It’s as waterproof and a very comfortable boot. It’s also the top boot on many outdoors review websites.

Update: The Scarpa’s are a great boot, but very stiff, being designed for climbing and to take a crampon, this is great for rocky surfaces and rough terrain, but walks where there is a path or a less rocky climb they can fatigue the feet. Recently I purchased a pair of Merrell Moab 2’s mid height walking boots. They’re far less stiff and very comfortable, although lack waterproofing. I have coated them in Scarpa 12 to try and improve the water-resistance. However, they are much lighter!

Sleeping Mat

In: Mountain Equipment Helium 3.8 (746g)

Out: Adtrek inflatable sleeping mat (1.84kg)

Saving: 1.07kg

Not really a surprise this one, going from a generic Amazon purchase to a proper sleeping mat designed for hiking adventures. Aside from the weight saving, the Mountain Equipment mat is significantly smaller when rolled-up and, I can only assume this is because of the more professional materials and better build quality, I didn’t miss the 5cm thickness of the Adtrek compared to the 3.8cm of the Mountain Equipment.

Walking Poles

In: Leki Micro Varios Carbon Poles (229g)

Out: Trek Mates Peak Walker Poles

Saving:

Another one that isn’t going to be a surprise, going from a cheap pair of poles bought from Go Outdoors to a professional, and very expensive, pair of hiking poles. The Peak Walker are aluminium (or other metal) whereas the Leki are carbon fibre. They’re both quite comfortable, although the Leki poles are slightly more padded on the handle. The defining feature of the Leki is that they collapse into 3 pieces, so are very pack-able.

Book Review: Photographing North Wales

I thought I would follow-up my post about a trip to North Wales with a review of the book we used as inspiration.

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Photographing North Wales is a photo-location guidebook published by Fotovue and written by Simon Kitchin, a superb landscape photographer based in North Wales, so he really knows the area well and it shows.

The first thing that stands-out about this book is the quality. The imagery is stunning and it’s motivating, which is the whole idea, especially if you’re starting out and for seasoned ‘togs the same, you’re never too experienced to pick-up ideas and tips.

Opening the fold-out cover the reader is presented with ephemeral information and the book continues in this way, not with ephemeral, but really useful information on every page. For example the book divides North Wales into 7 regions, going from Anglesey to Snowdonia, which is divided itself, this makes finding interesting subject in the area you’re going to really easy to find.

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The locations are then listed, numbered so they can be easily found within that region, but it doesn’t stop there, once you’re into a subject you want to photograph Simon splits the subject into viewpoints and then supports each view point with information and local knowledge, and it doesn’t stop there either! There’s an information box on each subject giving the reader information on how to get to the location, how accessible it is and the best time of year to visit.

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The book is filled with Simon’s photography, which is superb, and some shots from guest photographers, including one particularly stunning image of an American F15e Strike Eagle fighter plane flying through the Welsh Valleys (the photo is by Ben Gilbert). How could you capture such images? The book goes on to tell you how and where to stand for the best chance.

The useful information doesn’t just stop there, the book finishes with more information about events and when they take place in North Wales and a small bio of Simon.

I absolutely recommend this book, although it may seem like it is pitched at beginners, everyone can benefit from an expert’s experience and local knowledge.

These photo-location books are a series and you can find one for pretty much most regions of the UK, penned by other fantastic and talented photographers.

Photographing North Wales is published by Fotovue Outdoor Photography (ISBN: 9780992905118).

Popular shots! Llanberis – Lone Tree, Penmon & Cwm Idwal

If you’re a keen photographer, such as I, you can do worse when considering landscapes to pick up the Photo-Location Guidebook series for the area you are going.

The books are quite superb with loads of information about well researched locations, best time of year to visit, local knowledge, postcodes for satellite navigation etc. A lot of people think that great landscape photography is simply a matter of turning up and photography the vista, but it takes planning and an awful lot of luck.

Which brings me to the subject of today’s post, part review and part “here’s my shot,” let’s start with the location, Snowdonia. Yes I know, “can’t this git go anywhere else?” Well there’s a reason, I grew up in North Wales, spent a lot of time in Snowdonia and I absolutely love the place, so my usual photography partner in crime Dean and I set-off for North Wales with out Photo-Location Guidebook, the book is written by Simon Kitchin, an absolutely fabulous photographer who lives and works in Snowdonia. You see, I may be from North Wales and know Snowdonia, but I don’t know it like Simon.

We decided to head for Bangor, an area I’m particularly familiar with, with the intention of catching the sunset over the Menai Strait, sadly, and once again, a tardy departure put pay to our plans and we didn’t arrive in Bangor until gone 11pm.

All was not lost, snooze, up and a quick McDonald’s breakfast and off to Llanberis we went.

Llyn Padarn is the name of the lake in Llanberis, but many people refer to the photo location as ‘Lone Tree,’ and the name absolutely makes sense when you see it.

As the name suggests, it’s a tree, on a tiny bit of land sat about 10ft from the edge of the waterline. The water is shallow so the angles and position you can photograph down Llyn Padarn are numerous.

We got there around 6.20am and was greeted by another photographer patiently waiting for the sun to break the mountains between Glyderau and Snowdon.

By 7:05 it was clear the cloud was not going to break, but we got some lovely sky colours from the sun behind and the lake, as Simon says, is like glass on a still day, it really is the most beautiful scene.

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Lone Tree, Llyn Padarn, Llanberis

After we’d taken all the shots and realised the sun was not going to break the cloud and mist, we headed off to Cwm Idwal, near to the Ogwen Valley, a beautiful glacial lake which is extremely easy to get to, even for the most green hiker.

The wind was low, the cloud still an issue, so the lake was glassy, but the sun didn’t manage to break, in fact it got worse as the morning wore on.

We met another photographer at Cwm Idwal, who’s name escapes me now, but a very friendly chap – who’d just become an ambassador for a new range of landscape filters, if he ever reads this post I’m more than happy to add his name to this blog post! This is a very popular area for photography!

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Cwm Idwal, Ogwen Valley, Snowdonia

After the cloud stubbornly refused to lift we decided to head back to the coast where the weather shifts a little more quickly and has a better chance of being clear.

Penmon Lighthouse is situated off the north east coast of Anglesey (Ynys Mon), it’s on private land, but the landowners have capitalized on their position and charge a very reasonable few pounds to park nearby.

There’s a coffee shop and good access to view of Penmon.

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Penmon Lighthouse

So to finish, we didn’t get the glorious sunrise we were looking for on our trip, but we made the best of the locations we went to and were well informed by Simon Kitchin’s book, which I heartily recommend. If you’re new to a location or an old hand, with these types of books you may find yourself surprised at hidden gems not far away, a prime example for me would be Dolbadarn Castle – which I’d never even heard of before! One for another trip to glorious Snowdonia.

Thanks for reading comments, as always, very welcome.

 

My Best Photo

How do you select your best photo? Did you set out on that day and said to yourself “I’m going to take my best photo today?” It’s unlikely.

My best photo was captured on a day I simply chose to wander, I was on holiday in Hawaii back in 2011, we’d spent time at the beach and site seeing across Hawaii’s Oʻahu island, not being an avid sun bather I left my wife at the hotel and took my trusty 5D Mk II and 24-70 L Mk I and headed off to see what I could find away from the beautiful beaches and tourist areas.

On the Ala Wai Promenade I encountered homeless people, every city has them, even in this beautiful paradise, there wasn’t as many as I’d encountered in San Francisco, but it’s sad to see people abandoned by society like this.

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The Homeless on Ala Wai Promenade

I skirted around the city’s eastern edge, encountering more homeless people as I went, why is it photographers find them so fascinating? Since Don McCullin’s photograph of a homeless man in Liverpool I’ve wondered what makes these people who have so little, give so much to the camera.

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More interested in the camera, than the destitute.

Heading back towards the tourist area of Waikiki, where streets are lined with high-rise hotels, catering for every pocket, but mainly those pockets that are fuller than others, I heard the tinny screech of a megaphone, turning into Lili’oukalani Avenue I was confronted with a protest.

The side-walk was lined with people doing a loop, holding placards, I believe that there is a law which would give the police the power to arrest or move them on if they stood still, so they walk in a loop.

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Stronger Together!

A young woman leading the protest was providing an ‘echo’ chant and the crowd was responding. They were protesting about pay, at the Hyatt and the many other hotels on Waikiki, that charge a lot of money for tourists to stay on this beautiful island, but pay their staff a paltry wage.

Here I was essentially an infiltrator, a tourist staying in one of these expensive hotels.

I moved through the protest, taking pictures of the protest leaders and the interesting variety of characters these types of events seem to attract. I took a few more pictures, whilst being ordered by a police officer to stay off the road.

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Addressing the Crowd

Whilst moving through the crowd a man stepped into the fore, passionately chanting, he’s a photographers dream – they’re the type of person you want front and centre in your shots, bags of character. When I took this shot and reviewed it later on my laptop, I was a little disappointed to see that he’s not actually looking down my lens, but at the photographer to my left, however over the years of viewing this shot, the fact he is looking into that camera and I’ve captured the moment of his own protest and enthusiasm, I’ve grown to love it more and more, here is the shot unedited:

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Protester, Hyatt Regency, Hawaii, 2011

I’ve edited this photo so many times, if I were still on Lightroom I could probably tell you how many times (I moved over to ON1 Photo RAW 2019 a month or so ago, but that’s a story for another time!) I’ve edited it, despite the bright reds of the Hyatt and their t-shirts I try to channel a bit of Don’s favourite film, the Kodak 400 TRI-X, which ON1 Photo Raw does an excellent job of emulating through a pre-loaded preset.

Here is the final edited image, my best shot, taken in 2011 and I’ve not taken as good a shot since!

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Protester, Hyatt Regency, Hawaii, 2011 (Kodak 400 TRI-X)

I know the black and white treatment can be overused and it may seem like an odd choice given the vibrancy of the original, but I love the way the man ‘pops’ out of the image with the TRI-X.

Thanks for reading and you’re welcome to give your opinion below.

Review of the Kona Dew Plus Bike

It’s hard to write an objective review of a bike when you’ve come from a 15 year old GT Aggressor mountain bike, but I’ll do my best to illustrate what I was looking for and why I went for the Kona.

There wasn’t anything particularly bad about the GT, a little old, clunky, heavy – but like me really, but the opportunity presented itself through Cycle2Work so I thought “why not?”

Initially I had narrowed my search down to the Orbea Carpe, a lovely looking bike, with carbon forks, disks etc. I’m not big on the technical detail of the components, they had to be better than the GT right?! A long lead time from Tredz meant that I was looking at February 2019 before delivery. After chatting to some people on the /r/bikecommuting sub-Reddit I decided to change tack.

The general opinion from people who are more familiar with bikes than I, was that the Orbea was simply their road bike, the model of which escapes me, with slightly wider tyres and a drop-handle bar, now this, on its own, is not a deal breaker, many commuter bikes are similarly specced this way, but my commute is short, I have some rough ground to cover and comfort is key.

The search resumed.

It was by chance I came across the Kona, whilst perusing bike reviews on YouTube I came a cross a video about one of their ambassadors, after a review about Kona bikes and the one he was riding, the video trailed a piece on Kona’s history. Starting in America a few decades ago, attention to detail, hand-built and, this was really interesting to me, a lovely charity move to send traded bikes to Africa, right up my alley.

So with the Kona in mind, I returned to the Tredz website and there she was, in all her glory – the Kona Dew Plus. In a lovely pale green (I hate harsh colour bikes!) with large beige side-wall tyres. She didn’t have carbon forks, which I had been keen on, but the large tyres apparently compensated for this. She was ordered!

A mere 10 days later, here she was:

Straight out of the packaging (no pedals!)

I set to work straight away, some Shimano SPD pedals – a gift from the kids for Christmas, some Chromaplastic fenders (mud guards) and a Specialized Pizza Rack for my waterproof bag.

She was finished and what a beauty I’m sure you will agree:

So what is she like?

Perfect is the simple answer. I’ve been using her for the last two months for commuting to work (5 miles each way), the ride in comparison to my old GT is astonishing. The riding position is more elevated and upright, making it more comfortable. Though she lacks shocks and carbon forks, the big 47c tyres do indeed swallow up the bumps quite nicely.

The gear changes are snappy and the range is perfect from my commute.

So, as stated, I’m not big on technical detail – you can reach out to Kona and look at the technical specifications for this bike for those, but as a real world user of the bike, I can highly recommend it.

If you want to know anything specific about the bike, please put a comment below and I’ll endeavour to answer as soon as I can.

Trip to the Glyders

Being diligent is one thing, but as they say – you can’t account for mountain weather.

Let me set the background, Dean and I had set off from Lichfield mid-afternoon on Friday (15th Feb) with intention of camping in Snowdon, sadly my crap car delayed us by an hour and thirty minutes, therefore we reached the parking at Ogwen Lodge at 3.30pm

Getting changed as fast as we could we set off up the Glyders with the intention of clearing the ridge at Y Garn and camping somewhere between Glyder Fach and our target peak.

Sadly, due to our tardy departure, we only made 2700ft (ASL) by 6pm, just shy of the peak ridge.

Dean just below Y Garn
Dean just below the ridge at Y Garn

With night falling, yet a lovely bright moon, we decided to descend slightly and find a spot to camp near Llyn Clyd.

There’s an odd phenomenon in mountain weather where the wind in the lower valley can be stronger than peak wind, I don’t know whether it’s something to do with the wind being channelled by the slope, picking up speed as it descends, I’m sure someone with better knowledge of these things could tell us why it seems stronger, but any way – by the time we’d pitched our tents the wind was blowing and hard.

The forecast from the Mountain Weather Service and the Met Office had given the wind at 22mph with gusts up to 32mph. I’ve walked in 50mph winds and this was definitely more towards that end, this made for a pretty hectic night and a tough sleeping experience, with the walls of my tent blowing in on me when particularly strong gusts came!

You can see an example of the conditions inside the tent here.

I managed about 5 hours between 10pm and 6am.

The morning brought rain and peak mist, not great for photography, although we got some misty shots from the plateau at Llyn Clyd. Around 9am we decided to give up going over Y Garn and onto Glyder Fach due to the amount of mist on the peaks and extremely poor visibility.

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View from Llyn Clyd

With 21kg packs, the descent was slow and arduous, the wind on Saturday remaining an issue.

We passed many hikers coming the other way who must have been bemused to see us carrying these massive packs coming down the mountain at such an early time.

So we never got to do the star photography at night and ending up huddling in our tents away from the elements, which may give the impression the trip was a write-off, but these experiences give you a chance to test your equipment and your own mettle to deal with adversity.

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The casualty was one bent tent pole on my MSR tent, Dean’s Hilleberg was uninjured – a far superior tent!

Looking forward to the next trip and, hopefully, some better weather!