Chasing Cloud Inversions In Snowdonia
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, hikers and photographers alike across Wales were gifted some incredible cloud inversions. The phenomena, caused by cold temperatures in the valleys, creates spectacular scenes with peaks emerging from the ‘Dragon’s Breath’.
Mid Wales based photographer and adventurer Mat Price headed to Snowdonia to capture the spectacular images and words featured in this article. Over to Mat.
Planning For Cloud Inversions
Like most trips I’ve made to North Wales, this one took a bit of planning and research. After months of pretty average weather, I wasn’t confident in getting anything special, but a few days before I had planned to head to Snowdonia, the forecast changed. It now predicted there was a high chance of low cloud and fog in valley — bingo — he cloud inversions were looking likely!
The forecasts mentioned that mountains over 900m would be above the fog. That had me headed to a peak of around 1000m to get above the cloud line. I chose Glyder Fach as I know the mountain well and it has great views of Yr Wyddfa and Crib Goch.
The Day Arrives
The day arrived, and leaving my van at 5:45 am in the Ogwen valley, I began my ascent. The route I chose, starting from Gwen Gof Uchaf, steepens quickly and I was soon in thick cloud with low visibility. A good head torch and navigation skills are pretty important when visibility is reduced to less than 20 metres!
The climb up to Glyder Fach can seem relentlessly steep. After around 1.5 hours of walking, I finally got to poke my head out of the cloud and was greeted with the summit of Tryfan looking more like an island than a mountain. The hard part of the climb was done and I was above the clouds. I had around 40 minutes before the sun was due to rise which gave me plenty of time to try a few different shots and get myself ready.
Getting The Shot
The conditions were absolutely perfect. Zero wind and no clouds to block the sun as it rose. I set up my tripod and managed to capture a shot of myself on some rocks looking over Bristly Ridge, towards Tryfan.
With 20 minutes before the sun was due to rise, I made my way over to Castell y Gwynt, a classic location and one of my favourites in Snowdonia. The clouds below were blanketing the valleys and only a few peaks were visible, giving lots of different options to isolate the mountains in the frame.
I couldn’t help feeling like I was on the ocean surrounded by islands instead of up amongst Wales’ great peaks.
As the sun started to rise I kept myself busy changing lenses and trying different shots. A favourite of mine from this location is to use my 200-600mm lens to pick out people on Crib Goch. Right on cue, a few hikers lined up perfectly on the ridge. I had just enough time to capture the size and scale of the infamous peak before they scrambled out of sight.
Another classic shot in this area is the tall rocky outcrop of Castell y Gwynt. I set my tripod up and made the mad dash up onto the rocks to get a selfie overlooking the Snowdon Horseshoe.
After enjoying the best morning’s photography I think I’ve ever had, I decided to slowly make my way towards the valley floor. It was so hard not to stop every few minutes to capture something new.
The Broken Spectre
As I made my way towards the cloud below I spotted my first Broken Spectre. A Broken Spectre (often also called a Broken Bow or Mountain Bow) is the magnified, and apparently enormous, shadow of an observer cast onto clouds opposite the sun. The figure’s head becomes surrounded by the halo-like rings of coloured light caused by sunlight refracting in the water droplets of the cloud.
I couldn’t have had a more beautiful and perfect end to a perfect morning. Until next time, Eryri.
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