In Pursuit of Snow
Sat anxiously staring at a computer screen for most of the week with various weather forecasts open, assessing whether the weekend would bring snow or not to the mountains. Thursday arrives and the weather is forecasting snow and wintry showers to higher grounds but we’ve been here before, traipsing all the way to South Snowdonia in pursuit of snow and wound up being blown off a mountain side. Friday arrives and it’s still not guaranteeing it will snow, with numerous weather warnings for rain and wind in place throughout the next 24 hours, our hopes of waking up to snow around our tents was slim.
Saturday morning arrives and Grant sends me a message with a screenshot of the mountain forecast, “Morning Matt. Forecast isn’t looking to bad! Im game.”
9am and the rush to pack all my kit was in full swing. I knew it would take me a little over two hours to get to the National Park but I didn’t want to arrive in the midst of the current storm and winds that was blowing through. For once, being slow when it comes to packing was going to work in my favour.
During the morning, the usual gang were firing off messages between each other about the plan for the camp. Where to go? What’s the plan, who’s even staying out? So many questions all last minute.
All I knew was myself and Grant were certainly up for the wild camp that night but trying to pursued the other two was proving more difficult.
We agreed it would be on or around Pen y Fan. The highest peak was going to get best of the wintry showers, the West of the park wasn’t looking bad either but thick fog and more rain that night before put us off venturing to our usual spots.
Finally about to hit the road, we agreed on our meet time and location - 2pm at Pont Ar Daf car park.
This gave us all plenty of time to finish our jobs that morning or drive over to South Wales in my case. Before I could make my 130 mile trip across the country I had to make a few minor detours, all eager to get a winter wild camp and see some snow we were all being very slow about getting there.
With my detour complete I could finally leave and hit the M4. Hoping for little traffic and that I had packed everything I needed, not that it mattered because I wouldn’t be turning around to get it. With an ETA of 1pm at the car park I knew I could relax a little knowing my journey was going to be a fairly pleasant drive for a change. Anyone who knows the M4, like many motor ways can be plain sailing or an utter nightmare. Some trips to the Brecon Beacons has taken me best part of five hours to get there, by which point you really don’t want to climb any mountains or do anything at all.
I pulled into the services just outside Bath and dug the stove out to brew a flask of coffee, only at this point had I noticed something was missing! The bag of goodies… No chocolate, cards or whiskey. I could go get more out of the services but I know I could probably only get 1 out of 3 items and by this point I knew I would only be disappointed with the selection.
Now a little grumpy, I finished brewing my coffee and drove off in a mood having forgotten these somewhat cruel items. Wild camping doesn’t have to be all hard work and no reward, certainly at this time of the year with cold and wet weather. Knowing what was likely to be in for the evening and my current track record with the weather and now new name of the rain god or the cursed, me and Grant would need some sort of entertainment for sitting in the tent if it was going to be raining.
After two and half hours drive across the country, I finally made it to the Brecon Beacons. Despite the weather warnings and Storm Erik blowing through, there wasn’t much damage, if any at all. Sat in the layby of the Brecon reservoir I could see pockets of snow still on the peaks. My mood instantly lifted seeing these small patches, still remaining hopefully. With my mood lifted I headed over to another layby further down the road to climb up Gilfach-Wen. I dug my boots and camera out of the boot and set off up the mountain to enjoy the clear and warm afternoon. Halfway up the mountain side I could see a car pull up by my car and a figure.
Despertately trying to get Grant’s attention by waving and trying to call on the mobile. Nothing would work. As quickly as he pulled up by my car he had gone and with good reason, shortly after the heavens opened but not with rain.
As I struggled to climb back down the mountainside to get back to the shelter of my car and avoid the wave of hail coming through. By the time I got to my car a sheet of white had smothered the car and of course at that point I get a phone call from Grant. “I’m at Pont Ar Daf now, where are you?”
“Hiding from this hail, I will be with you shortly. Let me defrost the car first”.
Minutes later, once I had defrosted the car I turned around and head to the popular car park for Pen y Fan and Corn Du. As I turned in I could see Grant sat in just off the main entrance, despite the poor weather with rain and hail had put people off climbing up the popular peaks. With this in mind we agreed to abandon going up to Fan y Big on the usual route, you couldn’t see the summit of Pen y Fan so we knew we would end up sat in the clouds most of the night which is no fun.
We decided to go below the cloud line and head to Llyn Cwm Llwch, a small lake below the two peaks which is protected in the horseshoe and if it were to snow would prove to be a beautiful little scene.
It’s also a lot easier to get too and if it were to be raining at least we could get off fast and head to the Brecon Beacons visitor centre for some warm grub.
Shortly before leaving to find the car park for the glacial lake, Jim joined us but without any kit.
I must admit and agree with Jim’s reasoning but since the New Year, he is convinced I have a curse and that any camping trip we go on I will have rain or see rain at some point on the trip.
He isn’t wrong either, as we drove down to the car park it began raining, only briefly but enough for us to start thinking is this a good plan now? Arriving at the car park it did dry off but half way up the horseshoe walk it began raining and not just a little bit! It was torrential.
The three of us stood huddled below some trees for some shelter from the slushy rain and hail. I remember looking at Grant and commenting “Why, why are we doing this again?” He couldn’t give me a good answer back but you could see Jim’s smug face as he was thinking of his warm, toasty house with a plate of food and beer that evening…
Jim, we would have the last laugh but it wouldn’t be for a few more hours yet.
The rain only eased a little but we marched on up the mountainside, you could see a few walkers up front attempting to climb up from Llyn Cwm Llwch up to the peaks. You couldn’t see past the obelisk on the ascent up. Even our thoughts of being below the cloud line were slim. On reaching the lake the cloud was hanging just above the small hills around the lake which we used for shelter.
Reaching the lake it had stopped raining so eager not to get anything else wet, we pitched the tents as quick as we could. Anyone who has visited the lake before will know the shores are fairly boggy and with all the recent rain and previous weeks snow, the ground was damp to say the least.
The tents were pitched and kit inside drying off and moments later the rain returned. By this point Jim had decided to leave us to avoid getting more wet than already was.
Within our Whatsapp group we had numerous messages from Jim complaining how he had got wet on the way down and poor Indy, Jim’s Golden Doodle puppy was shivering away despite a jacket on.
Me and Grant couldn’t really sympathize however, we were both sat inside the tent listening to the rain, continuing to debate why we were here.
We didn’t want to stay sat in a tent for the rest of the evening so Grant suggested we walk up to the obelisk so I could read the story about the little boy who was found here: Little Tommy Jones who was lost on the Beacons at the age of five.
The climb up here was very wet, we had driving rain in to our faces and a wind building up. The steps below were like sheets of ice where the icy water was draining off from the tops.
We made it up to the top but only stood here for a mere minute or two. Soaked through we returned back down to the tents for some shelter, dinner and warm up.
We climbed inside one tent to cook some dinner and shelter from the rain. Over the next few hours we had a good catch up and plans for the year, the pair of us are keen hikers and go out camping not for photography but for a break and enjoyment and with the warmer months quickly arriving we had put together several trips across the UK from bike packing, wild camps and some ideas for heading abroad. 2019 was looking to be an exciting year for our outdoor trips.
Come 8pm we called it a night and returned to our own tents, winter wild camps are great if you need a good night’s sleep. You get hours in, rather than Summer where you are lucky if you get four hours. I only remember waking up once and that was because I couldn’t hear Grant snoring from his tent, seconds later you would hear the snoring lump going again but it was a good opportunity to peak outside the tent.
Flakes! Snow was falling our patience was paying off.
At 6am the light wasn't enough to see the full extent of coverage but if what was around my tent was anything to go by the surrounding area was going to have a good coverage.
Excited and eager to get out I dug out the stove and started brewing coffee and breakfast.
I could hear Grant stirring and then heard the faint cry from his tent “how's it looking out there?” Rather than telling him how it was, I replied back with “take a look! You won't believe me otherwise”.
Seconds later I heard the zip of the tent go - “Wow!”
Well worth the wait and slog up in the rain.
It wasn't clear however, we were just below the cloud line and that was shifting every second. It hadn't stopped snowing either and every few minutes a flurry of heavy snow would fall again.
By this point the pair of us were up and out of the tents wandering around the hills behind us and around the lake. The lake wasn't completely frozen but most was and the remainder was still. The near perfect mirror in a winter wonderland.
We didn't spend long up here. By 9am arrived a cloud of slushy rain scuppered our plans and with such a miserable and wet evening the night before we were both keen for a second breakfast/lunch at the National park visitors centre down the road.
With the rain and sleet now in, it was a good time to pack up and leave our wintry lakeside and return to the lower levels lacking snow.
Packing kit when it's wet is never fun and when cold it's always more difficult, twenty minutes later we finally packed up and began our descent back down.
By this point the rain had stopped once more but the ground under foot was very wet, it was snow or ice that was the issue but the mud. Several points coming down, both of us nearly lost our footing.
Now below the snowline you could see a clear division behind us as we climbed over the final stile.
Two worlds collided, a wintry wonderland on the peaks and a slushy wet land by the woodland and rivers below. I could spend hours looking at the patterns in the mountain sides left by the snow and mud. Poor grant eager for breakfast carried on, meanwhile I was messing about with the camera firing off shots and making the most of the conditions.
Finally I stopped, I could hear the growling or my stomach as lunch time wasn't far off and breakfast seemed so long ago now. The snow was a good distraction and as we walked in to the visitors centre you could hear our relief as the warmth and smell from the kitchens blew over us.
And the rumbles of our stomachs began again.
“Two full Welsh breakfasts please!”
A great finish to our night in winter wonderland.