Has Winter in Snowdonia Ever Looked This Good?

At the turn of the year snow conditions in North Wales were about as good as they get.

Feature type Photo Essay

Read time 11 min read

Published Jan 20, 2021

Photographer Jethro Kiernan

Jethro Kiernan North Wales based adventure photographer, happy being in or on the sea, lakes, mountains and crags usually with a camera.

Photography | Jethro Kiernan

The United Kingdom is not celebrated for its reliable snow and ice and for those chasing the fleeting days of winter mountaineering, skiable snow and climbable ice walls, playing the game can prove to be a frustrating and fruitless endeavour. At the turn of the year though, conditions in North Wales were about as good as they get. With travel restrictions in place across the country however, making use of those conditions was a privilege reserved solely for those living in the immediate vicinity.

Jethro Kiernan a local based photographer made sure not to waste the opportunity. The following photos were taken over four days in the Snowdonia National Park.

Marking the end of two weeks of blanket snow cover in the region, the forecast called for a picture perfect sunrise before the return of familiar warmer and wetter weather and thus the inevitable thawing of the sublime conditions.

“This was to be the end of what was a good run of New Year snow in Wales,” says Jethro. “It may have been more suited to skiing than walking and ice climbing but very welcome to those who were lucky enough to be local. All the weather apps showed a glorious dawn before the thaw started to kick in the following day, so an early start was on the cards.”

Setting off from his nearby home, Jethro loaded up a pack of winter mountaineering and photography kit and hopped on his mountain bike pre-dawn in order to capture these last moments of beauty.

Like most people it was about sticking to relatively familiar and straight forward local territory

“It was a chilly starlit climb up Llanberis pass up to Pen Y Pass, to get set up for Crib Goch to see the sunrise,” he says. “Like most people it was about sticking to relatively familiar and straight forward local territory.”

Even despite his close proximity to the mountains, he knew he’d still be scrambling to make it up to the ridge before the sun. Having miscalculated the effort of climbing the pass though, the sky’s fast changing colour palette only added pressure to the sitution.

“I’m more used to a road bike than these fat tires and a rucksack full of gear. So once off the bike a bit of a power walk ensued to make it to the ridge before sunrise. Fortunately though, I knew a friend was going to be on the ridge that morning and I’d seen his head torch in the distance so I knew I’d have a subject to photograph when I got there,” tells Jethro.

Drenching the landscape in hues of pink and orange when the day’s first rays did appear over the horizon, the landscape stood before him resembled something closer to the formidable summits of the French Alps rather than the more modest snow speckled peaks of North Wales that he’s used to

As far as the skiers and snowboarders are concerned it probably hasn’t been this good for decades

“As far as the skiers and snowboarders are concerned it probably hasn’t been this good for decades,” he says. “Obviously, the ongoing lockdown is restricting where and what people can do though.”

Those lucky enough to call these mountains home were no doubt pretty smug about their own life choices cementing their lives here. Pause and listen for just a moment though, and you can almost hear the distant collective cussing of those stuck at home, battling with the knowledge of what the conditions had in store.

“There was only one other early morning group ahead of me on the ridge. A couple of local friends appeared up the North Ridge as I was packing up to leave and a few people were heading up as I was on the way down. As I was getting back to the bike, a team from the local mountain rescue stopped for a chat whilst they were on a ski tour checking out the conditions, but the whole route was very quiet overall,” tells Jethro. “Before setting off home I had chat with the park warden and generally it sounds like people had been observing the travel restrictions, but there were a few people still travelling to get to the mountains, they were turned back by the police patrols with a warning though.”

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