Hiking through cotton grass – Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales

Cotton grass in the Brecon Beacons, Wales

Cotton grass in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales (Jake Graham Photography)

We climbed away from the haggard forest and the deep-set country lanes, between grazing sheep and bounding rabbits, and on. Cotton grass began to appear; at first one or two shoots, but by the time we reached the lower crags of Fan y Big the ridgeline was awash with white. As pure as the foam of an Arctic wave, the cotton heads lit up the Beacons, monotone yet magnificent.

We sat – with our toes overhanging – on a diving board of sandstone. We were at the apex.

Fan y Big summit, Brecon Beacons, Wales (Jake Graham Photography)

Fan y Big summit, Brecon Beacons, Wales (Jake Graham Photography)

From the Craig Cwmoergwm spine we moved south, beyond tottering cairns and peat bogs the colour of the night. The Neuadd Reservoir deep in the valley had run dry.

Stopping to rest on our descent into the Caerfanell basin, Jake fell asleep amidst a bed of grassy tussocks. I tried, but was kept from my slumber by the chirrups of the skylarks overhead.

Cwm Cynwyn valley, Brecon Beacons, Wales (Jake Graham Photography)

Cwm Cynwyn valley, Brecon Beacons, Wales (Jake Graham Photography)

Climbing through the fog – Snowdonia National Park

The buttress of Glyder Fawr, Snowdonia National ParkThe buttress of Glyder Fawr, Snowdonia National Park

The south-western aspect of Glyder Fawr, Snowdonia National Park

Having read several hours earlier that the weekend’s weather was set to comprise torrential rain and gale force winds, we were pleasantly surprised as we arrived into Snowdonia National Park to instead be greeted by heavy rain and strong winds. It was, in the light of perspective, a beautiful day.

‘Just to remind you Johnny,’ I said as we closed the boot of the car, ‘I’ve never climbed before and the only footwear I have is my walking boots.’

‘You’ll be fine,’ he reassured, passing me a harness and throwing a sling around my neck.

Route finding in Snowdonia National Park

Route finding in Snowdonia National Park

Leaving the road in our wake, we clambered over a dry-stone wall and onto an odorous bog dotted with large slabs of granite. We traversed the uneven ground for an hour or two, stopping momentarily to test our footing on an angled rock face just south of the park’s Glyderau Range. Having slipped from a hold after several metres of climbing, I then watched on as both Johnny and Phil scrambled to the top of the encampment with what appeared to be relative ease.

Phil and Johnny free climbing in the Glyderau Range

Phil and Johnny free climbing in the Glyderau Range

By the time we reached the buttressed scree slopes of Glyder Fawr, a 1,000-metre-high ridgeline hidden by a thick blanket of mist, my feet were sodden and my cheeks numb from the wind and rain. Johnny, a seasoned climber with an almost flawless safety record, knotted a rope around my harness before pulling himself up onto the rock. He fixed a piece of gear into a narrow crack and disappeared into the fog.

‘Unclip from the safety as you go,’ Phil said. ‘And if you hear someone shouting ‘rock’, get close to the wall.

Some minutes passed before Johnny called down: ‘Safe, climb when ready!’

Grabbing the wall, I hauled myself up, slipping on the small patches of snow that populated the exposed footholds. For 30 metres I climbed, feeling my fingers weaken and my mental strength fade, eventually concluding, as I reached Johnny on the safety of a narrow ledge, that I was incurably inflexible.

Half a dozen pitches later snow began to fleck the air and, when we eventually reached the crest of the mountain four hours later, visibility had reduced to just five metres. Feeling my heart rate slow to more familiar pace, I took in the morose scene of translucence and jagged rock.

‘It’s type II fun sometimes,’ Johnny said through deep breathes: ‘You may not like it at the time, but you’ll love it in retrospect.’

Glyder Fawr summit, Snowdonia National Park

Glyder Fawr summit, Snowdonia National Park

Glyder Fawr, Snowdonia National Park

Glyder Fawr, Snowdonia National Park

Pen y Fan Adam

Brecon Beacons Adam, acrylic on canvas (Daniel Graham)

Brecon Beacons Adam, acrylic on canvas (Daniel Graham)

Adam turns towards my brother before ascending up the south-western face of Pen Y Fan, Brecon Beacons (Wales).

Brecon Beacons Phil

Phil hiking in the Brecon Beacons, Wales

Phil hiking in the Brecon Beacons, Wales. Acrylic on Canvas (Daniel Graham).

With a staggering beard and a look of utter content in his eyes, I couldn’t resist a portrait attempt of Phil, a dear friend from back in England, as he pauses midway through a romp of the Brecon Beacons mountains in Wales.