Brecon Beacons Wintry Weekend

Brecon Beacons winter hiking

Photo: Snow storm and whitout on Fan Brycheiniog, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales. Dec 17, 2011

Winter arrived in the mountains of Brecon Beacons national park this weekend.  So as the weekend came, and with a friend visiting, it was off to the mountains for a bit of hiking.

Saturday we headed out west to the Black Mountain range for a hike up Fan Brycheiniog.  Well, there was no plan really, but as we arrived on scene to less than ideal conditions, it was obvious that it wasn’t going to be a super long day in the hills.  I had actually been hoping for colder temps to freeze the super-bog of a trail that makes up most of the approach, but nope, not cold enough and the super-bag was as bad as could be.  Not to mention it was covered in a layer of snow so it was difficult to avoid missteps into the mud at times.  The path up the hill hill to Fan Brycheiniog was barely visible and had sections of thigh deep snow drifts.  Once on higher ground, snow stayed about ankle deep for the most part with deeper drifts here and there.  Winds were in the region of 40-50mph once up high, with a face stinging icy snow falling most the time.  It was pretty much impossible to look into the wind, so we had took look down at our feet if walking into the wind – which was the whole way up the mountain. We were more or less in whiteout for most the hike as well, but the clouds cleared from time to time giving a nice view over the frozen land.

Sunday we had plans to hike Pen Y Fan from the south, but the road was too icy to get to the trailhead so we headed to the main parking area on the A470 between Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil.  Conditions down low were mostly calm, but the summits were hidden in cloud.  The forecast for Sunday had been better that on Saturday, but I’m not sure how true this was.  While there was less snow falling, once we reached the gap between Windy ridge and Corn Du, a strong, icy wind made it difficult to walk straight.  Again, conditions were complete a whiteout, even worse than Saturday.  Luckily I know the way quite well or it would have been pretty easy to get lost up there.  And I’m always amazed, especially on Pen Y Fan with its close proximity to larger cities, by the amount of people up there totally unprepared for conditions.  Once we were back down and heading towards Brecon the clouds cleared from the summit for what would have been a nice view at sunset.  Oh well…


Brecon Beacons winter hiking

Photo: Winter conditions near summit of Fan Brycheiniog, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales.  Dec. 17, 2011

Panoramic Landscape Photography

Scenic winter view across Kjerkfjorden towards Vindstad, near Reine, Lofoten islands, Norway

Winter view across Kjerkfjorden towards Vindstad, Lofoten islands, Norway.  Jan 2010.  This was perhaps one of the most perfect days I’ve experienced in my life.  The day to which I have since judged every other; none having come close in the last 18 months since I took this photo.  But as with all good things, the 4 hours of light of the polar winter was gone all to quickly.  An amazing 4 hours it was.

I now have close to 600 images in my panoramic gallery.  CLICK HERE to view more.

Reflection on lake Gjende, Gjendesheim, Jotunheimen national park, Norway

Lake Gjende, Jotunheimen national park, Norway.  Aug 2010.  I rose early for sunrise, yet nothing of much interest materialized so I returned to my tent for a few more hours of rest.  A few ours later I peeked out the door and saw this scene of total calm.  I checked my watch, shit, the ferry leaves in a few minutes, time to get moving.  I hoped up, ran down barefooted (to the mosquitoes liking) to the shore of the lake.  5 minutes later, the morning ferry to Gjendesheim passes by, the wake leaving the lake rippled there after…

Dramatic light over Lofoten and Vesteralen islands, Norway

Lofoten and Vesteraalen islands, Norway.  Sept 2009.  Taken from on board the Hurtigruten ferry as I traveled from Sortland to Stamsund on a rather stormy and windy day.  Luckily storms and wind make for nice light is one is brave enough to face the elements.  I made many nice Photos during this journey.

Ring of Brodgar standing stones, Orkney, Scotland

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, Scotland. Dec 2009.  The barren, windswept islands which make up the Orkney islands are one of my favorite places.  While the short days of December are probably not the most ideal time to visit, it had been three years since I last stepped foot here, so my return was long overdue.  Despite a bit of wind, the weather cooperated quite well over the few days I was there.

Welsh Mountain Pony

Welsh Mountain Pony, Hay Bluff, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales. Jun 2010.  Hay Bluff, just above the town of Hay-on-Wye was one of my favorite places for a summer afternoon of wandering around the hills.  Quite often the weather was typically ‘Welsh’ (rain), yet some days managed to turn out quite nice, there in a Welsh Mountain Pony, and there you go, the photo is almost made for you.

Stamsund, Lofoten islands Norway

Stamsund, Lofoten islands, Norway.  July 2010.  I’ve stood in this very spot a hundred times in the last 10 years, and walked away with a hundred different images.  It’s a little rocky point out beyond the harbor from the Stamsund Vandrerhjem.  To the north is this view towards Henningsvaer.  East looks across the Vestfjord towards the Norwegian mainland, visible on clear days.  This photo was taken after 11:00pm, on one of those magically endless Lofoten summer days.  Stamsund is quite simply the center of the universe, enter and you may never return…

Abandoned walkay in water, Salton Sea, California

Salton Sea, California.  Mar 2010.  The Salton Sea is always an interesting place, both for ones eyes and nose.  I arrived in darkness to a location that I thought I knew, yet I wasn’t aware just how far the lake level had declined since my last visit.  This is what I found waiting in the morning light.

Eureka dunes, Death Valley national park, California

Eureka Dunes, Death Valley national park, California. Feb 2011.  Isolated in the northern end of Death Valley national park are the Eureka Dunes.  Less frequented than other areas of the park, one can escape here for a bit more isolation and a better chance at footprint-less dunes.

Dry lake bed of the Racetrack playa, Death Valley national park, California

Devil’s Racetrack, Death Valley national park, California. Feb 2010.  Vertical panoramic to emphasize the texture of the dry lake bed playa.


Best Photos of 2010 Part II

…Continuing on from my last post: Best Photos of 2010 Part I: January – June.  Here are what I feel my best photo’s from the second half of the year are.  The peak of this was my July-August trip to Norway’s Lofoten islands and Jotunheimen national park.  Otherwise, a week in Scotland at the end of October was really the only other productive period of photography for me.

Stamsund lofoten islands norway

July: Summer twilight over Vestfjorden, Stamsund, Lofoten islands, Norway

The second appearance from the Lofoten islands on this list.  While the islands are more commonly pictured as jagged mountains rising from the sea, I feel this image helps portray some other aspects of islands: the sea, the light, the silence.  Only towards the end of July does the summer sun leave the sky, yet the night still remains a few weeks away.  This leaves an ever lengthening period of twilight as the sun travels further below the horizon.  It is during this time when the magical light of the north occurs.

This images was from a calm night, just a short walk out to the coast from the wonderful hostel at Stamsund.  I’ve stood in this exact same spot a dozen times, and walked away with a dozen different photos.  If I’m lucky, I’ll return again and again until I’m an old man.

Click here to view the entire photo gallery from my Lofoten Islands summer trip.

Memurudalen and mountains of Jotunheimen national park, Norway

August: Memurudalen and Muru river, Jotunheimen national park, Norway

This was the view only a short walk from my tent in Norway’s Jotunheimen national park.  The weather was good this day, so I stopped here hoping this view would provide something spectacular for sunset.  Increasing clouds throughout the day led to a dance of shadows across the land.  While the sunset I was hoping for never arrived, I feel this image is an adequate representation of the brilliance of this location.  Another place that I’ll have to return to in the future.

Click here to view the rest of my images from Jotunheimen national park.

Fan Brycheiniog and Black Mountain, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

September:  Black mountain, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

I wont lie, this is more of a filler photo from an unproductive month.  It was a nice autumn day out hiking the the Black Mountain, but that’s about it.

Callanish standing stones, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

October:  Callanish standing stones, Isle of Lewis, Scotland

In late October I found myself out on the Scotland’s Western Isles.  I had originally intended to travel here last year, but as normal, plans changed.  I got lucky when I arrived at the Callanish standing stones in the late afternoon with clear skies and calm wind, about as good of conditions as can be hoped for out there.  This photo is just a simple silhouette, yet for some reason it jumps out at me.

Click here to view photos from my Western Isles trip.

Corn Du brecon beacons

November:  Pen Y Fan and Corn Du, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

I was a bit torn as to what to add here as late November brought a deep freeze to the UK, but I thought this image of the last day of autumn (before the snow) just had some magical light.  Typical Welsh weather of clouds, sun and shadows while hiking around Pen Y Fan in the central Brecon Beacons mountains.

Ice covers Llangorse lake at dawn, Brecon Beacons naitonal park, Wales

December: Winter ice covers Llangorse lake, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

Llangorse is the only sizeable lake in the nearby area.  Despite this, the beginning of December was the first time I’ve ever been there.  And that is mostly because the roads have been too bad to go anywhere else.  For some reason I became slightly obsessed with getting a proper frozen lake image.    On my first visit I fell through some ice and had to leave early before any decent light.  With my second time I was greeted with impenetrable fog.  Finally on my third visit I had some clear skies, though the light is nothing special.  The surface of the lake is a bit messier than I would prefer, but at least the broken pieces of ice add some interesting shapes to the image.

Part I January – June: CLICK HERE

Best Photos of 2010 Part I

I’ve put together a list of what I think are my best image from each month of 2010.  That’s not to say these are all my best images of the year, as nearly all of them would have been from the Lofoten islands in January.  It’s been a good look at my consistency throughout the year.   There are definitely a few filler images from months where I wasn’t able to shoot much for whatever reason.   I’d say, April, June, and September are the weaker images of the year, Jan and July my favorites.

As a whole, it was an okay year photographically. I think I’ve captured some of my best images ever and had a couple productive trips.  But I’ve also felt a fair amount of frustration in being unable to realize a fair amount of my vision.  I guess I could say it better as: more often than not, I’ve failed to return with the images I wanted.  This is quite normal for landscape photography, but part of the problem is that I don’t want to be shooting landscape photography, I want to be shooting adventures and journeys surrounded by those landscapes.  Hopefully I’m able to find my vision better in 2011 and take my images to the level at which I want them to be…

Lofoten islands winter beach norway

January:  Arctic twilight on Haukland beach, Lofoten islands, Norway

This was a difficult month to pick only a single image from.  The 6 days I spent on the Lofoten islands at the beginning of the month were some of the most inspiring days I’ve ever had.  Jan 6th in particular, my first full day on the islands, was especially memorable and the light was simply amazing.  I was completely frozen after a chilly night sleeping in a wind rocked car.  When dawn arrived in mid morning, all was perfectly calm with a brilliant pink glow.  It was one of those days that I wished I could have been in 100 places at once; there were so many photos to be made, yet only a painfully few 4 hours of light of the arctic winter day.

This image is from Haukland beach and the first place I stopped in the morning.  It was nearly perfectly still, only the gentle waves that seemed more like a lake than ocean disturbed the silence.  While several images from this location could easily be my favourite images, I think this is the best.  For me the single piece of ice helps show the isolation of the frozen beach and lets the cold reach out to the viewer.  I only stopped shooting at this location when I wasn’t able to feel my feet for some 30 and decided I should try and warm up a bit.  My only critique is the otter tracks that pass through the image.

Lofoten islands winter: Click here to view gallery

Devils racetrack death valley

February:  Night on the Devil’s Racetrack, Death Valley national park, California

Another difficult month to choose from, mostly due to a fairly productive trip to Death Valley towards the end of the month.  After having spent the autumn and early winter in Scandinavia and the UK, I was in need for a bit of a change in scenery.  So I headed out to explore some parts of Death Valley national park that I’ve never been to before.

This image is from the Devil’s Racetrack, more commonly know as the location with the moving rocks.  Unfortunately, the above average winter rains had flooded the southern part of the lake where the rocks are, leaving it impassible due to the danger of leaving permanent damage to the fragile area.  Fortunately the northern half of the playa was dry and walkable.  A bit bored, with my planned shooting location off limits, I thought I’d just go lay down in the middle of the lake.  It was quite amazing really, all alone in the middle of nowhere, full moon overhead, cold night temperatures of winter desert, some AM talk station coming out of the radio.  I stayed out there shooting late into the night.

Abandoned walkay in water, Salton Sea, California

March:  Abandoned dock, Salton Sea, California

My last journey to the Salton Sea was in 2005, or was it 2004? Can’t remember at the moment.  Anyhow, in March, before temperatures became unbearably hot for me, I headed down.  I had been to this location on my last trip, so as I arrived in the dark of early morning I thought I knew where I would be.  How I was wrong.  The sea level was now far lower and the shore nowhere near as I remembered.  Anyhow, as I explored a bit, I found this cool old dock just as the first light of the sun was arriving.

Burnt tree in Mojave national preserve, California

April: Charred tree, Mid Hills Campground, Mojave national preserve, California

In 2005, lightning strikes started the Hackberry fire which swept thought the high desert area of the Mojave national preserve.  On the first night of a 4WD trip of the Old Mojave Road, we camped at the Mid Hills campground which was partially burned.  I’d never been to this area, nor heard about the fire, so It was quite interesting to see a charred desert landscape.

Mt whitney tent

May: View from tent towards east face of Mt. Whitney, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California

Nearly five years to the day of my last trip up Mt. Whitney, I found myself looking at the mountain again.  It was sort of a last minute trip, but everything worked out and I made a successful climb of the mountain.  This is the view from my camp at Iceberg lake towards the east face and Mountaineers route of Mt. Whitney.

Brecon Beacons wales

June:  Stormy weather over Black Mountain, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

Black Mountain is the westernmost range of Brecon Beacons national park.  Just an image from a less-than-sunny day wandering among the mountains.

Part II July – December: CLICK HERE

Llangorse Lake Take Two

Llangorse lake winter ice

Photo: Winter ice on Llangorse lake, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales. December 2010

With clear weather forecasted for today, I looked out the window at 5am to see a nice starry sky. A little bit more sleep and then it was time to head back to Llangorse lake for another attempt at sunrise. Arriving at the lake in the pre-dawn darkness, the skies were clear, no fog today! Gradually as the sun rose some clouds arrived in the east blocking most of the first light that should have lit up Pen Y Fan off in the distance. Oh well, guess another trip will be scheduled for sometime in the next week.

Llangorse lake winter ice

llangorse lake wales

Llangorse lake wales panoramic

Deep Freeze Wales Part III

Llangorse lake winter ice december 2010

Photo: Row boat frozen in ice on Llangorse lake, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales. December 2010

Woke up early this morning to watch the fog at Llangorse lake.  Well, it wasn’t the plan to watch the fog, but that’s about all I was able to see.  I was here yesterday evening, but an unfortunate accident – me breaking through the ice and plunging my leg into some frozen pond – meant I had to go home an warm up instead of waiting for twilight to arrive.  Today, fog.   The temp was only -5º C at 6am, but today is feeling really cold for some reason, even now at noon when it’s only -2º C. I’ll have to wait a few more days before I can head back and try to get the Photos I was looking for.

Llangorse lake winter ice december 2010

Wales winter landscape

Photo: Ground fog over frozen farm field in winter twilight, Llangorse lake, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales.

Deep Freeze Wales Part II

Brecon Beacons Wales snow november 2010

Photo: Frozen Welsh landscape from summit of Pen Y Fan, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales. November 28, 2010

A few more photos from Pen Y Fan and the Brecon Beacons on Sunday.  The last few days have seen the temperature rise to around 0º C with several more snowfalls, but nothing like last week.  Still a very wintry landscape and since they don’t use snow tires (or should I say tyres) here in the UK, they tend to drive like Californians do when it rains; not very well.  Here in the countryside many of the roads don’t get cleared from snow, so it can be a bit difficult to get around.  Almost got stuck up in the mountains on Tuesday on the way back from checking out the waterfalls at Ystradfellte to see if they’ve begun to ice up at all.

Brecon Beacons Wales snow november 2010

Brecon Beacons plane crash november 2010

Photo: Small plane crash in Brecon Beacons near Pen Y Fan

On Friday this plane crashed up on the ridge near Pen Y Fan.  Looks bad but apparently the pilot was able to crawl out and walk away.  Pretty amazing.

Brecon Beacons plane crash november 2010

Deep Freeze Wales

Winter view from Pen Y Fan over a frozen Welsh Landscape, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

Photo: Dawn view from Pen Y Fan over a frozen Welsh landscape in record setting cold temperatures Sunday, November 28 2010

The Russians have been kind enough to send an express delivery of Siberian wind from the east to the UK.  The results sent temperatures plummeting and brought the earliest widespread winter storms since 1993.  Saturday night saw Wales with the coldest temperature in the UK at -17 degrees Celsius, somewhere towards the left horizon of the above photo, about 20 miles north from Pen Y Fan. However I didn’t know any of this when I thought I would head to the hills for sunrise on Sunday.  All I knew was that clear weather was forecast and hoped for a good sunrise.

So instead of taking shelter in a warm house, I set the alarm for 4:45 am; intent on heading up Pen Y Fan for sunrise.  Waking in the darkness of early Sunday morning I checked the outdoor thermometer, -11.5.  Hmm, better take another jacket today.  I hit the trail a little after 6 am, the dawn glow barely visible above the mountains in the east.  It was eerily silent as I walked through the dark and frozen world, the crunching of snow beneath my feet the only sound.  The wind arrived once I hit the ridge and was exposed to the east.  Brutally cold, and a shock for November in what should normally be the mild weathered UK.  A low bank of clouds in the southeast blocked most the color of the sunrise unfortunately, but the views were still amazing and the air amazingly clear.

Winter view from summit of Pen Y Fan towards Black Mountains in west, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

Photo: View from Pen Y Fan across Brecon Beacons national park towards the Black Mountains in the west

Brecon beacons november UK snow

Photo: Hiker on summit of Corn Du overlooking a frozen landscape


Autumn leaves in yard

I think it’s safe to say that autumn is my favorite time of the year.  Usually I would look forward to several trips to try and shoot the fall color.  Last year I was lucky to have pretty good timing for my travels in Sweden and Norway.  This year though, I haven’t been able to travel anywhere.  Well, that’s not totally true;  I was driving through Scotland the other week and the colors were absolutely brilliant, unfortunately it was raining like hell and I didn’t have the several days needed to wait until the weather cleared.  Here in Wales, there didn’t seem to be much color this year, and the winds of the last few days have blown off any leaves that still remained.  So my only autumn images of this year are from the backyard.  A bit disappointing…

First Snow

I was up hiking on Hay Bluff yesterday and saw the season’s first snow.  Ya, it’s not much, but Hay Bluff is quite low and it’s only the beginning of November. There was more to be seen on the other peaks in the Black Mountains and I heard the west coast of Scotland got a pretty good dumping, too bad I’m not up there at the moment. Hopefully this is a sign of what’s to come in the next months…