From Five to Nine / by Philip Parsons

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Wading through the rain soaked undergrowth, deeper and deeper into a gloomy, mist shrouded forest. Driving for miles along winding country lanes, the tarmac shimmering with moisture and patches of fallen leaves. Clambering through a dilapidated building, the cobwebs dancing in the breeze. Wandering city streets as the last of the amber sunlight bleeds across the rooftops. Climbing the slopes of a mountain into the belly of the clouds.

Each time we explore, we witness the world in a different way.  We have the opportunity to gain a new perspective and re-evaluate.

Photography gives us the opportunity to capture fleeting glimpses of these experiences. Personally, I particularly love mobile photography because I always have my equipment on me and am sometimes able to capture these moments. The pursuit of that unique photograph drives me, but serendipitously, it is often the search that inspires me. So, when VSCO approached me to see if I would be interested in working with The North Face on a hiking and camping expedition, I was both interested and apprehensive. I am extremely critical of my own work and am slow to display it until I am happy with each piece.  There would be no escape from the fact that this assignment would require me to produce photos of a quality I would be willing to exhibit, irrespective of the weather, lighting or the natural restrictions of shooting with a mobile phone.

I discovered that it was possible to bring along a friend, so I invited a work colleague who I knew enjoyed camping and hiking to join me. We left work slightly earlier than normal and arrived at The North Face Cardiff store just before 5pm. We signed in and went upstairs to find the hiking bags packed and ready. All that was needed from us was to transfer our own belongings to the rucksacks. Food had been provided too. The staff introduced themselves and we met The North Face athlete, Siebe Vanhee, a rock climber who would be camping with us. A bus took us to the foot of the mountain, where we met three guides who would lead us up the mountain path and on to the campsite. Situated in the Brecon Beacons, approximately thirty miles north of Cardiff, Pen Y Fan is the highest mountain in South Wales. It is owned by the National Trust and its peak is 886m above sea level.

The guides took us up the 'Granny Path' with plenty of stops along the way. Our party ranged from regular Sir-Edmund-Hillary's to complete novices (a group which included me). However, it wasn't long before we reached the top.  

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After reaching the peak, we made our way down a slightly more difficult route and on to the campsite. When we arrived a campfire was already alight and we set about pitching our tents.

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Sleeping in a tent isn't something I've done for a number of decades. I don't own a tent and it wouldn't be my first choice for a place to spend the night. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to the experience and thankfully someone noticed me making a mess attempting to pitch the tent and came over to give me some pointers. The kit provided by The North Face included a tent, a sleeping bag, pillow and a self inflating, roll up air bed. It's fair to say that the technology behind all the kit had moved forward significantly since I last even considered sleeping outdoors.

We sat around the fire enjoying a few beers and our packed dinner. Siebe entertained us with stories from his climbing expeditions. Afterwards we all went back to our tents to attempt to sleep, some more successfully than others.

At 5am we awoke, ate our breakfast, packed away our equipment and walked a few miles back to the coach.

The entire event had been exceptionally well organised and executed. If there is another one next year, would I attend? Undoubtedly. Would I encourage other people to join in? Definitely.  

As an experience, this has been a good one. I saw the world differently and hopefully got a few good photographs too.

Then it was back to work.