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
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
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.
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
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
© Paul Saunders, March 2007