6th May 2016 Hunting for clear skies on Cul Mor
Well, the week commencing 2nd May seems to have been glorious in the north of Scotland. Unfortunately I didn't experience any of it because I was in Wales for work all week, which was also great weather but it's not the same when you're at work....
So, I bored my colleagues senseless all week with constant updates on what the weather looked like for the weekend as we were getting back on Friday afternoon. The weather sites I tend to go by were saying that Skye had clear skies on Friday night, along with large parts of northern Scotland. For 3 days I was telling them about my plans to climb Beinn na Caillich, which is the hill just behind Broadford and camp on top with great views of the Cuillin and out to sea. Also of interest was the legend of the Norwegian Princess who is said to have been buried under the massive summit cairn during the time of the Viking occupation as she wanted to 'feel the wind from her homeland around her'. I was mentally making up titles for this blog, most of which centered around spending a night with a Norwegian princess :)
But it was not to be. By Friday, the forecast for Skye was looking cloudier, and the wind was starting to get up. The thought of being camped in howling wind wasn't really floating my boat so I was delighted to find that Assynt was forecasting clear skies and no wind for Friday night. I decided to head up there when I got home from Wales.
I had to pick a mountain that was reasonably quick to get up. I'd arrive home mid afternoon, get packed, drive 90 minutes to Assynt and hopefully be on top of a mountain in good time for Sunset.
Stac Pollaidh was ruled out as I was there last week, as was Ben More Assynt, the Fiddler and Cul Beag. I thought about Quinag which would have been relatively quick and I could camp anywhere on it really with good views, but I had decided on Cul Mor.
I camped on Cul Mor last year and got some good photos. Good, but not great. I had camped on the Spur of Sron Gharbh after checking out both summits. The spur gave great views out to sea, and the mountains of Coigach and Assynt, but I always found them a bit boring. I wanted to go back, see if I could find a better location and hopefully some better light.
So that's how I ended up setting off from the car at 6.30pm along the stalkers path over the moor. I couldn't remember how long I had taken to climb the last time but with sunset at just after 9pm I really wanted to have camp setup and be taking photos in the 30 mins leading up to sunset.
By 8pm I had reached the last shoulder before the boulder field slope to the higher summit. My GPS was reading around 700m or around 2300 feet. The light was starting to change quickly and I was really anxious to unpack and start shooting. As I thought about the 30 min climb to the summit and maybe missing the good light I had a look around where I was on the shoulder. Wait a second. What did we have here? Unobstructed view of the setting sun, Unobstructed view of the rising sun, great views to the north and lots of interesting sandstone shapes. The only thing I couldn't see was Stac Pollaidh and the mountains to the south. I had photos of them from last year though so I quickly found a rough level bit of stony ground, got a few quick photos, threw up the tent then spent the next couple of hours taking photos as the light slowly changed from daylight to dusk.
Suilven was looking particularly impressive and really dominated the landscape to the north. It was mesmerising watching the light slowly change from red through to pinks, purples and blues, and the effect this light really has on the landscape. It was like a completely different world.
Eventually the sun dipped below the horizon. Top tip - Most peoples eyes tend to follow the setting sun, but if you look in the opposite direction just after the sun has set you get some great shades of pink contasting with the white clouds. I think this is called the Gloaming.
Once sun had set and the colour had disappeared from the sky, it was time to wait until the next milestone - 11.30pm and Nautical Twilight. It's now too late in the year for really starry skies as the sun doesn't dip far enough below the horizon, but if the sky cleared up (which was now looking doubtful) there should still be a good amount to photograph. I finished off getting my stuff inside the tent ready, got the stove out and made some boil in the bag Chicken Tikka Masala and some Sticky Toffee pudding. Dinner for champions..... Also checked my phone and saw a message from a friend saying that there was a decent chance of aurora. Excellent!
Popped my head out of the tent at 11pm. Lot's of clouds around, no sign of an aurora and not much to see in terms of stars, so I took a couple of photos and settled back down.
I decided to check again at 2am. Still Cloudy. Could see the odd star, but no aurora. Again I took a coupld of photos north and south, then headed back to bed to wait on sunrise (which was a 5:13am). I planned to be up for just after 4.30am to see the sky change colour before the dawn.
About 4am it started raining...... It got louder and louder for around 15 minutes, then suddenly stopped. I looked outside expecting to see a cloud filled sky with no hope of a sunrise, but was pleasantly surprised to see it wasn't much different to how it had been earlier.
By this time it was clear I wasn't getting any sleep, so I started packing things up in the tent, so I could set off immediately after sunrise. When My alarm went off at 4.30am I got up went outside and took some photos.
The light wasn't changing very fast, so I just sat the camera on the tripod close to the tent, and started packing the tent away, stopping to take the occasional photo. When it was clear that sunrise was imminent, I started taking more and more to ensure I got the first rays. I must have wasted about 20 shots...... Anyway, the sun finally did appear, and soon after it was all over.
The light then became much harsher and not great for the colours I like to capture. So, I picked up my rucksack, and headed back the way I had come the previous night. Within 2 hrs I was back in the car and heading to the Tesco in Ullapool to get the cats some treats to help makeup for them being neglected for the previous week.
Next one I'd like to camp on up this way. Probably either Suilven or Quinag. Hopefully this year if weather permits.
Oh, and of course, the obligatory Pano shots......
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