Aurora hunting on Stac Pollaidh 29th April 2016
I've always thought that watching the aurora from the summit ridge of Stac Pollaidh would be amazing. I tend to keep an eye on the 3 day Aurora forecast and when it looks like there'll be a chance of some activity, I start looking for some clear sky.
And so it was on Wednesday this week. I had a look at the forecast and it said there was likely to be a minor geomagnetic storm, Kp level 5 which should mean it would be visible from northern UK. It was forecast from 12am to 9am Saturday morning.
So I started looking for clear skies, and quickly found that the Ullapool postcode area which also covers Stac Pollaidh looked like it was going to be clear at the same time. With the moon not rising until 3.10am, if the aurora showed up it would likely be best between 12am and 3am so that's what I decided to do.
Left the house at 9pm for the 90 minute drive to Stac Pollaidh and started up the mountain path with my headtorch. Some stars were visible but it was evident that it wasn't a completely clear sky. Still it was quite a pleasant night so I trudged on in the hope it would clear later.
About halfway up I looked up the slopes to the left and got the usual initial shock at seeing about 10 pairs of glowing eyes staring straight at me, with one set occasionally blinking. A herd of deer keeping a careful eye on me. At least the deer eyes glow yellow. The mountain goats around Dundonnell have eyes that glow bright red and when you see these on a head with short curved horns it really makes you question whether to continue....
As I came around the north side of Stac Pollaidh and the track started to climb steeply up to the summit ridge I started to get hit with the odd bit of hail. Probably a passing shower, I hoped it wouldn't come to much...
But it did. By the time I got to the ridge, It was pelting down and the wind was howling down from the north. I nearly turned around and started straight back down. However, I knew I would be gutted if I awoke to FB being full of wonderful pictures of the aurora so I decided to hang around for half an hour to see if it would clear. I settled down behind a rocky outcrop and waited it out.....
30 minutes later the hail started to thin out a bit so I stuck my head out and had a look north. It looked as though things were starting to clear a bit. I could see clear sky over Lochinver.
By this time it was around 12.30am and if the aurora forecast had been right it should have been visible by now. I thought I could almost detect a faint tinge of green on the viewfinder, but suspect it was more wishful thinking.
As the clouds continued to clear, I took some more photos North and Northeast to kill some time and see if any of them would turn out well. It was pretty obvious that there wasn't going to be a show though.
and a few obligatory panorama stitches.....
The clouds also looked like they were getting thicker. As it was freezing and clearly not going to be a cloud free night, I decided just to grab a couple of shots south from the ridge and call it a day.
On the way down I stopped to get a couple of photos of Cul Mor and Cul Beag, and also check to see whether the lights were making any sort of appearance. Not a sign though.
Back at the car around 2.30am. Started home but stopped in the viewpoint layby on the A835 just to make absolutely sure that there was no activity.
As I approached Ardmair, an animal 'bounded' across the road, then ran along the verge as if it's life depended on it (which it probably did...). As I passed it, I got a good look at it, and it looked exactly like a small beaver. I'm not sure if Coigach is one of the areas that is reintroducing these and I may well have been mistaken, but I'm 90% sure it was a beaver :)
After passing Ullapool and climbing past the Corrieshalloch Gorge it started snowing. It got heavier and heavier until it was pretty near white out conditions around Loch Glascarnoch and I was reduced to a 20mph crawl.
Thankfully as I dropped down towards Ben Wyvis it turned back to rain and I got home around 4am.
Unfortunately, I forgot to turn my alarm off which was set for 6am.......
Facebook wasn't covered in fantastic photos of the aurora from last night when I got up, so I guess I didn't miss anything :) :)
I guess an aurora from Stac Pollaidh is still on the to do list :)
Keywords: Assynt, Graham Bradshaw, Landscape Photography, Stac Pollaidh, hail, hike, night, snow, stars
Good grief - that sounds like an Alfred Hitchcock movie! It's great to hear the background stories to your photographs. Such stunning images, and such dedication (and fearlessness) in the process of achieving them! I'd have been right back down the mountain within a nanosecond of seeing the glowing eyes...eeeek!
As ever, wonderful Graham. Hope to see your wonderful pictures of the Aurora from Stac Pollaidh
Made me laugh- the eyes- argh! But seriously well done! Keeping those hours takes dedication and love the pics
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