Drive from Caernarfon towards Beddgelert on the A4085, past Llyn Cwellyn, and you arrive at Rhyd Ddu. It’s a hamlet with pub and cafe and is the starting point for one of the paths up to Snowdon from the south-west flank.
On the other side of the valley though, well away from any crowds, is a fantastic ridge walk called the Nantlle ridge. A route of knife edges and precipices but still a walk. The views are spectacular. I’d planned an overnight wild camping trip and reckoned the start of the ridge, the first summit of Y Garn, was a likely spot to get both sunset and sunrise.
The walk up is a slog. About an hour from Rhyd Ddu, straight uphill on a rough path. In front of you is just the hillside you’re walking up. Behind is a great view of the Snowdon range and the whole of the valley but this is behind you so you aren’t looking at it very often. Then, as if by magic and in seconds, you’re at the top and another 180 degrees opens up and you can see uninterrupted all around the compass. I had only planned on getting a good view of Snowdon, I didn’t realise I’d see the sea as well. A great view of Holyhead at the far tip of Anglesey.
My only problem now was that I’d arrived on the top at about four o’clock. At least four hours to wait for the start of the good light. Right now it’s still that uninspiring straight-overhead light of a summer afternoon. Never mind, it’s an amazing spot, I’ve got some lunch to eat, there’s no-one around and I’ve got a good book. The sky looks promising. I get up every now and then and wander round the plateau and along the start of the ridge to the next summit, the amazingly pointed Mynydd Drws-y-coed. You scramble easily over rocks with the cliff dropping vertically right at your side.
Surprisingly and perhaps disappointingly, the views of Snowdon aren’t so inspiring. You see the full height of Snowdon, uninterrupted, but it’s just too square on. I want an angle. I want it to be a bit more shy, a bit more hard-to-get.
The next worry is midges, which start to come out about seven o’clock. I worry they’ll eat me but they go away again and leave me alone.
The good light starts at about eight o’clock. Slightly watery with the hazy clouds but nice. I keep moving around, running all round the plateau to find the shots as the light changes. I wait around after the sun has gone below the horizon, knowing there’ll be an afterglow about ten minutes afterwards. Eventually it’s time for bed and into my bivvy bag.
I wake up in the middle of the night – no, that’s not right, I was never really asleep to begin with. I notice in the middle of the night that I’m getting a bit cold and need more clothes. I pop my head out of the bag and wow! The moon is almost full and right above me lighting up the whole valley. This job is pretty good sometimes. Of course if I were a proper photographer I would have got out of the bag and taken some shots but it was cold outside and much warmer in the bag.
I set the alarm for four o’clock. The sunrise story will be in the next installment.