Snowdon was the first mountain that I ever climbed – over forty years ago. Then, as now, I was fascinated by the complexity and sheer majesty of its great north-eastern cwms and ridges of Cwm Dyli, Cwm Glas, Crib Goch and Crib-y-ddysgl. Those who climb Snowdon by way of Crib Goch and Crib-y-ddysgl will indeed experience in some measure the precipitous nature of this flank of Snowdon; but it is only from the upper slopes of the neighbouring Glyder range that the magnificence of this mountain landscape is truly revealed.
There are many published images of the Snowdon group that have been taken from the top of the Glyders ridge – the shot from Glyder Fach near the spectacular pinnacles of Castell y Gwynt (Castle of The Winds) springs immediately to mind. However, I have always felt that this viewpoint is just too distant from the Snowdon massif to see its topography in any detail. Above all, the ground to the west drops away far too gently to be able to include anything of the Llanberis Pass that would help to emphasise the sheer scale of Snowdon’s northern precipices in any image.
When seeking out a new viewpoint for a view of the Snowdon Horseshoe from Glyder Fawr I was reminded of the day that I ascended The Glyders from Pen-y-Pass. The route is often neglected in favour of the more challenging alternatives to be found on the Ogwen side, and today what path remains is particularly indistinct in its lower reaches. In anything but good weather, the route requires careful navigation and is therefore best left to the mountain connoiseur. However in good weather and with clear air, the easy if rather uninteresting ground underfoot is more than compensated for by expansive and imposing views of Crib Goch, Cwm Glas and Crib-y-ddysgl that develop as height is gained.
From notes taken at the time of my only previous ascent of this route in 1974, which included a diversion to the top of the cliffs of Esgair Felen, I was keenly aware that these western slopes of Glyder Fawr offered the possibility of an excellent viewpoint for a wide panoramic image of Snowdon’s entire north-eastern flank. Apart from ensuring that I chose a day of perfect weather, the only other issue that I had to address was to establish my ‘perfect’ shooting location. This needed to be high enough to include the summit of Snowdon and its satellites yet, at the same time, be low enough to see into the depths of the Llanberis Pass in order to emphasise the sheer scale and extent of the cliffs which supported these summits.
With the aid of digital mapping and some preliminary excursions with camera and a long lens from slopes above Pen-y-Pass on the Snowdon side, I identified a shallow stony couloir lying east of the ridge adjoining the top of the cliffs of Esgair Felen to the summit of Glyder Fawr. Just a few hundred metres off the tiny path from Pen-y-Pass to Glyder Fawr this couloir not only seemed to offer the viewpoint I was seeking, but my impression of the nature of the ground suggested that it might also provide excellent foreground and a framework for the image that I had in mind.
It was a very cold and clear November morning when the opportunity finally presented itself to capture the shot. Ideally I would have preferred a time closer to the autumnal equinox or perhaps early spring when the sun would have risen higher in the sky. But such crystal clear days are rare and I also wanted to ensure that the mountains were still dressed in their autumn or winter colours.
I left Pen-y-Pass at around 0630; the temperature was -6C and the wind which was whistling across the top of the Llanberis pass made it feel considerably colder. Initially I walked by torchlight, but it was not very long before I witnessed a most beautiful sunrise. The path was indistinct – clear evidence of little use – but the way above and around the western shores of Llyn Cwmffynnon was obvious and I was soon up onto the shoulder of Bryn Du with the imposing shapely summit of Crib Goch rising high above me across the Llanberis Pass.
The shallow couloir that I had observed from the Snowdon side soon appeared, as anticipated, above a broad grassy shelf in the hillside. At the head of this couloir was a small rocky outcrop that offered the most perfect location upon which to set up my cameras and tripods. The wide couloir framing the composition that I proposed was scattered with numerous large flat stones and provided excellent foreground interest. At the centre of my composition, above all else, was Snowdon itself; its many ridges could be seen falling from the summit. Best of all were those of Crib Goch and Crib-y-ddysgl clearly supported by the famous climbing crags of Clogwyn-y-Person and Dinas Mot.
With a 50mm focal length lens attached, I shot nine images in portrait format overlapping by thirty percent in order to capture the complete panorama that I intended. The full final stitched image extended from the southern tip of Llyn Cwmffynnon and Pen-y-Pass to the south-east across to Moel Elio and the Menai Straits in the north-west. However, this would eventually have to be trimmed to fit the standard print template.
I took the first set of images at around 0830 but the sequence used for the final print was shot at 0915. The issue that I had identified regarding the time of year and height of the sun came into play when chosing the final sequence of images for printing. It was very clear that, as the sun rose and moved further into the southern sky, improved illumination of Cwm Glas was only achieved alongside a loss of light on Dinas Mot and other features in the depths of the Llanberis Pass.
The shoot provided an excellent example of the importance of researching viewpoints and pre-planning the shoot if one is to make the best of the limited opportunities that come along.
Date : 18th February
Location Map Reference : SH 64499 57789 : Slopes of Glyder Fawr.
Time : 0915 GMT