Fan Brycheiniog with the PANSTARRS Comet, Andromeda Galaxy, Cepheus, Cassiopeia and Vega

The latter part of this winter has been brilliant (winter is my favourite season) and, whilst I was disappointed by the first snow in January when it was overcast and misty, the March snow has stuck around with a lovely high pressure meaning clear skies. Thanks to all this, I was able to make this exposure.

Fan Brycheiniog with the Milky Way, PANSTARRS Comet, Andromeda Galaxy, Cepheus, Cassiopeia and Vega

Fan Brycheiniog with the Milky Way, PANSTARRS Comet, Andromeda Galaxy, Cepheus, Cassiopeia and Vega

I decided that I would go to Llyn y Fan Fawr and up onto Fan Brycheiniog to photograph the stars. Knowing that the forecast was for -7 degrees C with a 35-40mph wind (that gives a wind chill of around -30 degrees C!!!), I planned my equipment very carefully. I took my tent, crampons, ice axe, spare clothing, survival equipment, map, compass, GPS, whistle, gas and burner with saucepan, rice pudding to heat up and more food. I weighed my rucksack before I left and it came in at just over 21Kg!!!

My 21Kg rucksack for my Brecon Beacons night shoot

My 21Kg rucksack for my Brecon Beacons night shoot

I parked the car at 5pm and spoke to someone who had been up to the lake and part of the way up to the ridge, but had turned back as the wind was so strong and conditions under foot treacherous. Being well prepared, I set off and walked (slowly due to my rucksack weight!) up the hill, following the river. At the lake I had a drink and some jaffa cakes before putting on my crampons. The wind wasn’t too bad and half way, I stopped to take a self-portrait of me in all my gear.

Me on the way up from Llyn y Fan Fawr towards Fan Brycheiniog

Me on the way up from Llyn y Fan Fawr towards Fan Brycheiniog

I reached the saddle above this path and WOW, the wind was intense. It blew straight through my wind proof shell! The snow was covered in ice and looked amazing, so I spent a few minutes taking photos. The summit shelter was my next aim where I would put more clothes on to ensure I didn’t get cold. There is a steep hill to it and it was extremely icy – without my crampons, it would have been impossible. I even used my axe to cut a couple of steps to make it easier for me and reduced the chance of me falling! In the shelter, I had cup of coffee, more jaffa cakes and put several more layers on.

Out of the shelter, I took time to photograph the snowy landscape with the sun on it and later the sunset itself. I hadn’t realised how icy it was and when I dislodged some ice, it slid a very long way down the hill. It was quite good fun so I dislodged some more and watched it slide slowly down the hill! Once the sun had set, the plan was to pitch my tent so I could have some shelter as it was two hours until the stars would be out. However, I scored a big FAIL as either the snow was too deep for my pegs or the ground was too frozen depending on where I tried. I gave up, retrieved the tent pole which had slide gently down the hill and went back to the summit shelter.

In the shelter, I assembled my gas burner and put on a tin of rice pudding to warm up. However, the wind had shifted direction slightly and was blowing straight into the shelter. This meant the gas started to freeze and the flame was blown about quite a lot. I managed to get the rice luke warm and it tasted amazing…

Attempting to heat up rice pudding in the summit shelter on Fan Brycheiniog

Attempting to heat up rice pudding in the summit shelter on Fan Brycheiniog

When I’d finished, I knew it was time to get moving as I was getting chilly. I packed everything up and prepared the camera. When ready, I set about taking photos and spent 40 minutes trying different compositions. During those 40 minutes, I made the exposure at the top of this blog post. Whilst I was crouched down on the edge (I had used my ice axe to make sure I wasn’t on the cornice!) I could hear the wind rushing over the ridge just a few metres in front of me – it sounded like a train!

After the 40 minutes, it was definitely time to get down as I was starting to get a little chilly. I carefully walked down the steep section to the saddle, grateful for my ice axe to steady myself. At the saddle, I carried on down to the lake where I took my crampons off and finished my coffee and the pack of jaffa cakes. At the lake, it was positively mild. I spent 1.5 hours at the lake taking various photos, including ones with my tent in – I’ve always wanted to shoot the stars when there is a tent in the foreground lit up from inside. By midnight, I had finally had enough and packed my camera away, walked back to the car and got home at 1am.

The following day I was rather tired with aching limbs and a bit zombie like having burnt a huge amount of calories and gone to bed later than normal. I used a free piece of software called Stellarium to help me identify constellations and stars. Thanks to the software, I was able to identify the following.

Fan Brycheiniog with constellations identified

Fan Brycheiniog with constellations identified

I hadn’t realised until I got home that I had captured the PANSTARRS Comet!

I really enjoyed my expedition in what was, without doubt, the most severe conditions I have ever been in. My Pen y Fan night shoot was a breeze compared to this. But I was very well prepared, someone at home knew my route and what time I would be back, I felt safe at all times and was warm – a little chilly at times, but not cold. This expedition was incredible and I feel exhilarated and alive having been in those conditions safely. I also have many, many more photos to process…

7 comments

  1. 'Er says

    Fantastic and quite a high point (literally) in your photographic year :-) You would have enjoyed being born in Scandinavia really!

  2. Pingback: Llyn y Fan Fawr with Gemini, Auriga and Perseus | Dan Santillo Photography

  3. Pat says

    What dedication and stamina. The photographs are amazing and well worth the experience. I think you’re ready for Antarctica now.

    Well planned and well executed. Glad you got home safely.

    I must get some Jaffa cakes!

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