While there's far more to a hill day than that brief summit moment, for most of us the top remains the place to draw breath and really take in the panorama. So what are the key ingredients that make a truly great summit view? Nick Livesey reckons he knows, and here the North Wales-based photographer offers his personal pick of Snowdonia's finest.
On a spring or summer evening the Carneddau undergo a transformation; daylight subdues the ghosts that roam these huge hills, but come the golden hour remnants of the past start to stir and nowhere more so than on Carnedd Llewelyn. The third highest peak in England and Wales can play tricks on the mind and navigational frailties have led many a walker down the wrong ridge only to become stranded a long way from where they started! In good visibility, however, ‘Llewelyn’ is a mountain that repays the effort of ascent with an awe-inspiring view across Cwm Llafar to the Snowdonian giants and right around to Yr Eifl with the glittering sea beyond.
Some would argue that the view from Glyder Fawr is finer than that from her little brother and it’s an opinion for which I have much sympathy. However, from a photographer’s point of view I would chose Fach over Fawr nine times out of 10 for this extraordinary scene comprising Castell y Gwynt and the Snowdon Massif. I’ve shot this location in every season, in a variety of weather conditions, at dawn and dusk and every hour in between. Even after numerous visits it remains, for me, one of the classic mountain views of Britain and familiarity has done nothing to dull the shine. To be there alone at either end of the day is to immerse yourself in the prehistoric atmosphere that permeates this unique mountain top.
In the Tyn y Coed hotel debates have raged long into the night concerned with which Snowdonian mountain has the very finest view of all. During these lively Leffe-fuelled discourses I invariably throw a wild card into the mix…Moelwyn Mawr. Unloved and neglected, the big Moelwyn must enjoy but a tenth of the visitors that find their way up onto Cnicht which lies to the north across the deep trench of Cwm Croesor. You might say Cnicht is the star of the show hereabouts and Moelwyn Mawr a lumpen individual reserved for that time when you’ve run out of interesting hills to climb. How wrong can you be? I stand by my inebriated tirades in defence of this fine mountain, for the vista from its top -when climbed as part of the Maesgwm Horseshoe - comes as a shock so astonishing in its extent and beauty. But don’t take my word for it…
The Rhinogydd are famed for their unforgiving nature and primeval ambience centred around the northern and central sections. Y Llethr, the highest peak in the range which sits just south of Llyn Hywel marks a change. Here the terrain abruptly morphs from heather-clad wilderness into mile upon mile of grassy sheep runs. On the flanks of Y Llethr the view over to Rhinog Fach is, for me, as affecting and poignant as any I have ever seen. When the westering sun sinks down over the sea there is nowhere else I would rather be, and on each of my many visits I have enjoyed complete solitude and a panorama which arcs from the hills of the Lleyn all the way to Arennig Fawr standing proud above the Migneint.
Pen yr Ole Wen stands as the cornerstone of the Ogwen and Nant Ffrancon valleys and offers the hillwalker one of the most gruelling ascents in Snowdonia via its south face. Masochists love it but the rest of us usually opt for a walk up from Cwm Lloer to start the classic ridge romp around the high Carneddau. The bare summit plateau is unremarkable in itself but a walk around its margins reveals stunning aerial views of the Glyderau cwms, Llyn Ogwen and the thread-like meanderings of the A5 2000ft below. In my opinion this is one of the grandest and most fascinating mountain views in England and Wales.
Old Siabod reigns supreme as a beginner’s mountain par excellence, and an ascent from Capel Curig via the Daear Ddu ridge offers the perfect combination of mental and physical challenge to those taking their first baby steps in the hills. Even for those of us who know her well a return visit is always a pleasure as familiar holds fall beneath our hands and feet with the growing anticipation of ‘that’ view from the summit. And what a view it is. On a clear day you can see 11 of the 15 3000ft peaks of Wales without turning your head and further afield range after range stretch out into the blue distance. Many years have passed since first I saw this tremendous vista, though back then I knew not the names of the numerous mountains spread out before me. These days they are all close friends whom I regard with an enduring and ever deepening affection.
Out on a limb, diminutive and unfashionable, Yr Aran is another of Snowdonia’s fine but forsaken peaks. On most days scores of people pass beneath this mighty midget on their way to Yr Wyddfa along the Watkin Path. I’ve heard talk of folk climbing Yr Aran but on all my many visits I’ve failed to spot them. In terms of the view, it’s a very good one. Through 360 degrees sumptuous scenes of inspiring hill country are there to be studied and enjoyed. The Eifionydd present a skyline one could almost notate, the Moelwynion, Rhinogydd and the Irish sea hold the gaze before it comes to rest upon Siabod which crowns a magnificent backdrop to beautiful Nant Gwynant. Best of all though, and especially late on a winter’s afternoon, is to gaze across Cwm Llan to Snowdon itself rising 1100ft above, a genuinely impressive sight which does full justice to the highest mountain in the land.
When it comes to true mountain grandeur the Snowdon Horseshoe, whether viewed from below or from upon its narrow ridges, has no equal south of the border, and as a mountain day it even holds its own amongst the best that mainland Scotland has to offer. It matters not how many times you scramble up the east ridge to the start of Crib Goch’s famous knife edge, the effect is always the same. With the route laid out in its entirety a mixture of awe, excitement and trepidation will fill the heart of even the most jaded mountain goat. The very best way to experience this sublime view is to go alone by torchlight, arriving at the top just before sunrise where, if you are lucky, you will witness a scene that will stay with you forever.
Nick Livesey is an award-winning semi-professional mountain photographer based in Capel Curig. When not verbally abusing customers in the Moel Siabod Café he spends his free time in the Tyn y Coed pub and wandering extensively in the mountains of Snowdonia.
He is currently working on his photographic guidebook ‘Photographing the Snowdonia Mountains’ for fotoVUE, which will be published towards the end of 2017.
Nick is a brand ambassador for Mammut
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