Graham Bradshaw: Blog https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog en-us (C) Graham Bradshaw graham.bradshaw41@gmail.com (Graham Bradshaw) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:03:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:03:00 GMT https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/img/s/v-12/u834146734-o459308459-50.jpg Graham Bradshaw: Blog https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog 86 120 A second attempt for an Aurora from Stac Pollaidh https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2017/1/a-second-attempt-for-an-aurora-from-stac-pollaidh Those of you who have read my previous blogs may have noticed that I’ve wanted to catch the aurora from the summit of Stac Pollaidh for a while. So, when I returned to work on the 3rd of January and realised that there was a clear sky forecast for the night of 4th January in Assynt, I started to think about taking a trip over to catch some stars. Before long I had booked the Thursday as a holiday and was leaving after work on the Wednesday for an adventure!

Anyone that’s interested, my gear consisted of the following:

  • Berghaus Men's Ridgeway 75L Rucksack
  • Thermarest Neoair Xtherm mat
  • Snugpak Chrysalis 4 sleeping bag
  • Vango Banshee 200 tent (smaller footprint than my Quasar)
  • Snugpak Special Forces Bivvy Bag (In case I couldn’t find a big enough pitch for the tent)
  • 2 x Boil in the bag meals (Chicken Tikka and Sausages in Gravy)
  • 3 x Cuppa Soups
  • 1 x Chocolate Mousse Dessert
  • Pots
  • One of Chinas best quality petrol stoves from Ebay (BRS-8 Oil/Gas Multi-Use Stove)
  • 0.5 litres of petrol
  • 3 litres of water
  • Go pro camera (I never actually used it)
  • 1 x 30,000mAh lithium battery (To recharge camera batteries)
  • Dual usb charger for camera batteries
  • 1 x 15,000mAh lithium battery (for phone recharging)
  • Headtorch (Petzl Tikka RXP)
  • Spare headtorch (Petzl Tikka RXP)
  • Spare headtorch battery
  • Nikon D810 with Nikkor 14-24mm F2.8 lens
  • Nikon D7100 with broken Nikkor 17-35mm F2.8 lens (Aperture stuck wide open J)
  • Nikkor 28-300mm spare lens
  • Manfrotto beFree tripod (For D810)
  • Manfrotto 190 Carbon Fibre Tripod-Q90-4 Section
  • An additional Lowepro Toploader Pro 75 AW bag to carry the D810
  • And a few odds and ends – matches, granola bars, charging cables, Ibuprofen, cutlery etc.

As you can probably imagine, this wasn’t the lightest of backpacks, so I was relieved to be setting out on a clear path that I knew quite well, and it shouldn’t take much more than an hour to reach the summit, even in the dark

On the drive over, the temperature gauge was hovering around the 2C mark, except passing loch Glascarnoch when it dipped to -1C. I expected this, and was confident it would be above freezing in Assynt. I was right. When I reached the carpark at the base of Stac Pollaidh at 8 pm, it was 3C, pitch black, and there was only a motorhome in the carpark. Occupants obviously in for the night, as I could see the internal light on.

I’ve often wondered what must go through the minds of people staying in deserted carparks when a car turns up in the middle of the night and car doors are heard opening and closing outside. I’m not sure I’d get a comfortable nights sleep with all the weirdo's around….

Anyway, I quickly got my boots on, pulled my fleece snood over my head, zipped up my down jacket, wriggled my rucksack on and set off up the mountain.

Within 10 minutes, I was sweating like a pig, had my jacket and fleece unzipped, and felt like I was about to have a heart attack. I slowed down somewhat and just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. As I made height, I remembered the previous time I had been up here  at night and saw the deer eyes reflecting with my headtorch light. There were none this time which was reassuring. However, in the complete darkness your mind does start messing with you a bit and the thought crept into my head, ‘I wonder what scared the deer away……’

As the path climbs, it skirts around the east side of the mountain and then a path of big boulder steps takes you the final couple of hundred meters to the low point on the ridge. It was when I was about halfway up this last part that I realized I’d left my phone in the car. I generally tell my mum where I’m going when I head into the mountains as she’s my 4th emergency service. As long as there’s a signal, I tend to message her from the summit to say I’m still alive at night, and then again the next morning. So, as she knew from previously that I’d get a signal from Stac Pollaidh I started to think that there was a chance she might start getting worried soon. I really didn't want some hairy arsed mountain rescue guy turning up and saying, 'Mr. Bradshaw? Your mum says it's time for you to go home now.....'

In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I thought that it would be midday the next day at the earliest before I was at Ullapool with a signal, so I was starting to think that the responsible thing to do might be to go back down and get the phone……. First things first though. Pitch the tent!

I've been on Stac Pollaidh a few times, and never actually thought there was a place to camp on either summit. However, in October I saw John McSporran posting about a camp on the eastern summit, and then a month later Murray Wilkie confirmed this by also posting a blog about a summit camp there. I was pretty sure John had used a Banshee 200, so that's why I had taken this tent. A quick easy scramble from the low point on the ridge had me on the summit, and I quickly found an area of partly frozen ground squeezed between 2 large boulders that I thought I could fit the tent into. Before pitching the tent though, I got the D7100 out, and set it up just to the north of the tent pointing over toward Lochinver (north) and started the timelapse. A 20 second exposure at F2.8, ISO 6400 every 40 seconds. I also tied a big bag of boulders to the tripod to try to make sure it didn't move during the night.

20 minutes later, and being a bit creative with placement and length of guy lines, it was up and I had all my sleeping stuff sorted in the tent. The head of the tent was facing south, about 3 feet from the southern cliff, so I'd have to be careful at the side in the night, but the weather forecast was for the wind direction to change and come from the south in the early hours. I hoped I wouldn't be blown over the edge.

It was completely cloudy at this point, and I suspected my trip might be a complete waste of time. In order to kill some time though, I decided to walk back down to the car and get my phone. It was 8.30pm, and I reckoned on an hour to the carpark and an hour back up. This would work well, as I had decided on switching out the batteries of the camera every 3 hours. Back in the carpark, the motorhome was still there, still with a light on. Again I wondered whether they heard me back at the car and if they were worried about a potential madman outside their window in the middle of nowhere. I got a drink of water, picked up my phone and headed back up.

If anything, I think I was slower than the first time. I was starting to get cramp a bit, and was becoming extremely hungry. First thing I did when I got back to the tent was to get out my stove and a boil in the bag meal (Chicken Tikka) and start to try to cook.

I pumped up the petrol can pressure and released the valve a bit to prime the flame. Nothing came out the nozzle, but the petrol started pouring out the valve all over my hand and the rock I was sitting on. The air temperature was probably around freezing by this time, so a hand covered in petrol wasn't going to heat it up much (well, not without matches....). Faced with a prospect of granola bars, or cold sausages I decided to see if I could get the stove going. I managed to unblock the jet, confirm I could blow through it, then connected back up to the petrol can and give it another go.

And that was when the first of a few small thermonuclear explosions appeared to take place right next to me. Petrol stoves are quite scary to light, have a habit of flaring up a lot, and this one is really noisy! I was about 3 feet from the tent, but initially thought it might be in danger with all the flames of the preheat procedure. Still, priorities first, I got the Chicken Tikka on.

I also took the time to have a look at the sky and saw that there appeared to be some breaks in the cloud. Happy days! It was 11pm now, so I did the first battery change of the D7100 and started charging the one I took out in the tent, with my big lithium battery and USB charger.  I was anxious for the light pollution from my cooking to go away so I could start taking some photos, so when I eventually did turn the stove off, the first thing I did was to take some photos.

I was delighted to see lots of stars out, but even more delighted that the aurora was visible through breaks in the cloud to the north. The little red glow in the tent is coming from the very faint red LED on the battery charger. It really was pitch black up there. Anyway, thinking this might be the best I get all night, I wanted to make the best of it and get some decent photos. I set about taking a number of different composures from around my little summit.

 and then decided to get back to the tent and get some rest. It was getting bitterly cold, and although the wind wasn't strong, it was beginning to pick up a bit. Back in the tent, I tried to get warm in my sleeping bag and was reasonably comfortable although I couldn't really get my feet warm. By this time it was midnight and I started playing the time game again. 'That's 7 hours since I set off in the car to come here. In 7 more hours dawn will be almost here. I'm nearly halfway through....' I lay there until 1am when I had a look outside and it seemed like there was more aurora around.

There was still more cloud than I would have liked though, so just took a few photos, changed the battery again in the D7100 (which should do until 4am now) and went back to the tent to wait and see if it got any better.

About 2am, the wind started strengthening, and also shifted as forecast, to come from the south. It was battering the head of the tent and really was making a racket. I think when you're in the tent when this is happening it always feels worse than it actually is, especially when you're on a summit. I could hear the wind whistling around and was just waiting on the next strong gust slamming into the tent. This kept up for the next hour, and although it was uncomfortable, I didn't think it was bad enough to abandon, especially as it was so bloody cold! At 3am, I stuck my head outside and had a look at the sky. It was completely clear. I was almost tripping over myself in my haste to get out and start taking some photos.

The Milky way was out to the north and the aurora was a bright green band on the horizon. This was more like it! I took some shots, then went to replace the battery on the D7100. I was surprised to find it had stopped and the battery was dead. They had all been fully charged previously, so I'm guessing the cold severely reduced it's life. It would last 4-4.5 hours normally, and it turned out this one actually gave out at 2.06am, which meant I'd lost an hour of time lapse. Nothing could be done though to get the hour back, so I switched out the battery and started it up again. I kept taking photos for as long as I could stand the cold, then heading back to the tent, started the battery on charge again and tried to get some rest.

At 5am I looked out and it was still clear. I tried a photo out of the door of the tent

I thought, I'm not likely to get this chance again, so forced myself out to get some more photos, especially of the tent illuminated. The aurora had died down a bit and the Milky way was more horizontal. I changed the battery again on the D7100 and then set about photographising again.

You'll see on the photo above my timelapse setup. My D7100 on a tripod pointing north with a big bag of rocks in a yellow drybag tied to it.  Well, you can't ave the rocks getting wet..... I also wanted to get some shots of the other peaks - Cul Beag, Cul Mor, Suilven and the Ben Mor Coigach Range with the stars about, as well as the western ridge of Stac Pollaidh

Feeling happy now, I went back to the tent. It was still blowy and still freezing, but I knew I'd had a good night. As the minutes ticked towards 7am the wind subsided a bit and it became quite pleasant in the tent, although my feet still wouldn't heat up at all. I was constantly rubbing them together in the bag to keep them from getting too cold.

At 7.30am, I looked outside once again and saw blue hour had started. Not wanting to miss this, again I got up, put my cold feet again into my freezing boots and went out to start taking photos. I changed the battery out again on the D7100 and put it on aperture priority to try and prevent overexposure as it got lighter. The landscape was becoming visible to my eye for the first time since arriving at 8pm the previous night.

As the last of the stars faded, it looked like it was seting up for quite a nice sunrise, still over 2 hours away. Rather than hang about in the cold and take even more photos though, I decided to get some more time in my sleeping bag and review the nights haul of photos. I was quite pleased with what I seemed to have got.

At 8.50am, 25 minutes before sunrise, I went out for the final time, and started taking photos as the light was changing towards sunrise, and packing up my stuff in between times.

This meant that when the sun did actually appear above the horizon, I was all ready to go as soon as I'd packed the camera and tripods. The water I'd left in one of my pots overnight in case I'd wanted to get something else to eat was frozen solid, about a litres worth. I had to smack it against a rock to get the perfect rectangle of ice out. Something I like to think that may have confused walkers later that day :) So, last few photos and then set off down the mountain again for the final time.

On the way down, the air just seemed to be getting clearer and clearer. Suilven and Cul Mor were clearer than I had ever seen them, so as I had a camera in a bag around my shoulder I got a couple of snaps on the way down.

When I was nearing the carpark, I saw a couple coming towards me. The lady in front called out as she approached 'Did you have a nice night?' Turns out that it was the couple from the motorhome in the carpark. Paul and Maria from Bedford who were up touring on holiday. They had heard me back down to get my phone later the previous the night and assumed that I'd given up and slept in the car. They were confused when the car was empty in the morning. We had a pleasant chat about the night, the aurora and what a lovely day it was turning into. It looked like they were going to get a cracking day on the hill.

Back at the car, another quick look at my photos from the night, had some excitement about the thought of posting them later, then off to Ullapool to let my mum know I was still alive and to call off the Mountain Rescue. All that remained was a stop at Tarvie Services then home.

The photos turned out quite well, as you can see from above, The time lapse is below. The jump is quite noticeable with the missing hour from 2-3am and the transition to daylight is a bit clunky. But I'm still quite pleased with it!

Stac Pollaidh Aurora Timelapse

The good thing about timelapse of the stars is that you can use exactly the same images from the timelapse for stacking startrails. Here's a still from the D7100 and a then stack of a couple of hundred of the photos from the clear point in the night. It turned out OK too!

I don't think it'll be the last time I'm on Stac Pollaidh in the middle of the night, but I think this'll take a fair bit to beat!

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graham.bradshaw41@gmail.com (Graham Bradshaw) Assynt Aurora Graham Bradshaw Stac Pollaidh Summit Wild Camp timelapse https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2017/1/a-second-attempt-for-an-aurora-from-stac-pollaidh Mon, 09 Jan 2017 20:16:05 GMT
A Magical Night with Aurora on Beinn Alligin https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/12/aurora-and-i-on-beinn-alligin It's probably worthwhile apologising up front for the sheer number of Aurora photos on this blog, but when I'm out and the aurora is around I can't help but keep hitting the shutter button repeatedly in case either I miss something or it disappears.... Hopefully though, you're reading this primarily due to the promise of some aurora or mountain photos and it won't upset you too much :)

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   I tend to keep an eye out for overnight clear sky forecasts in the highlands as an opportunity to get out and get some decent photos, especially of the stars. In March this year, I saw a promising forecast for the Torridon area that suggested clear skies overnight on 16/17 March, so I decided to book a couple of days off work to see if the forecast actually turned out to be right. I've been up Beinn Alligin a few times and reckoned there would be a choice of pitches on either summit. I suspected the snow would be mostly gone as I had been over that way a couple of weeks previously and it had looked quite clear. Sounded like a plan!

 

I was also seeing one Aurora website which was predicting a KP5 storm on the night of the 16th. As this didn't seem to be corroborated anywhere else I didn't hold out much hope, but you never know...... This was primarily why I chose Beinn Alligin though, with a pretty much unobstructed view north. Most of the night there would be a half moon, but this set at 3.43am and Astronomical twilight didn't start until 4.18am which would give about 30 minutes of enough darkness for all the stars and the Milky Way to be visible. As long as it remained clear, it could be quite a good night for stargazing (for about 30 minutes anyway...)!

 

I was working on the 16th, but took a half day and planned to be starting my ascent no later than 4pm. Sunset was due at 6.28pm so that would give me  two and a half hours to get to the summit and get some sunset shots.I popped home, grabbed some lunch then headed over to Torridon with half the house in my rucksack.

 

It was a glorious day when I set off up the path to the first Munro on Beinn Alligin, Tom na Gruagaich. I was convinced that I would be at the top in no time. It was a little bit chilly at first, however the combination of the sun, my jacket, my rucksack with my tent and half the house, as well as the physical effort of climbing made me feel as if I was going to have a heart attack within the first 20 minutes. I was sweating buckets, overheating and wondering how on earth I was going to get to the top for sunset. I was already starting to think about other options to save face.

 

The jacket came off pretty quickly that made things a bit better, and I started to give myself mental targets on the way up (ie. 'That next rise, just focus on getting there in the next 10 minutes' or '500m. I really need to be around 500m by 5.15pm to make sunset). Slowly but surely, by putting one foot in front of the other I was getting there. I didn't think I would make the top for sunset, but the the path steepens at around the 500m point and snakes up through the corrie, making better time on the latter part of the ascent.

 

From the carpark it wasn't clear whether there was a band of snow that would have to be crossed at the top of the corrie, and this was a bit concerning on the way up. However, when I got the snow patches were easy enough to avoid and the summit area was majority snow free. 

 

I got to the summit just after 6pm, quickly found a decent pitch relatively sheltered from the easterly wind, threw the tent up and headed out quickly to grab some photos.

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The sun was setting directly over the Trotternish Ridge on Skye and the jagged Cuillin to it's south was looking tiny, but quite spectacular.

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I took a walk with the camera as far to the west as I could to try to get some shots out over Loch Torridon without the foreground slopes of Beinn Alligin. I was looking directly down on Inveralligin, and  out over Shieldaig to the Applecross peninsula and Beinn Bhan. 

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Once the sun had set, the real colours in the sky started coming out to the east. I love the post sunset (and presunrise) pinks and this was a good show going on tonight. Liathach was particularly strinking, with the bulk and approximate lines of a battleship, and across the head of Loch Torridon Ben Damh and the Achnashellach Munros were looking calm and peaceful on this beautiful spring night.

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The main view however, was Sgurr Mor, the higher of Beinn Alligins 2 Munros along with the horns of Alligin. It looked amazing with Baosbheinn to the north and Beinn Dearg behind the horns. I took many photos of this as the light faded (and again overnight and the next morning!). I was sure I could see a light around the summit of Sgurr Mor and it was circling above the summit at times. I was pretty certain there was someone over there with a drone getting some sunset footage.

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I was all done taking photos by 6.55pm (according to the time on the last photo taken), and by this time I was knackered after the climb and running around taking photos, so it was time to get into the tent, have some dinner, and try to get some rest  before coming out to see if the stars (and maybe aurora) was out. Nautical twilight ended at 7.53pm and Astromnomical twilight ended at 8.41pm. However, with the moon out, it was always going to be relatively bright. I decided to set my alarm for just before 8pm to see what the sky looked like.

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I got to the summit of Tom na Gruagaich at almost exactly 8pm, setup my camera and tripod, and took a shot north to Sgurr Mor. To the west the last light of the sunset was still just visible and I wasn't really holding out much hope for the aurora yet. However, when the image popped up on the screen there it was. A faint green band running from west to east, pretty much landing on the summit of Sgurr Mor. I was pretty excited and, thinking it might end at any minute, started taking photo after photo from as many different vantage points around the summit as I could.

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It was clear that my neighbour on the summit of Sgurr Mor was having just as much fun. I saw his/ her headtorch light going on and off and suspected they were also grabbing some photos. If you look closely at some of my Sgurr Mor Shots you can make out a tiny light on the summit. Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw

and the odd panorama

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The moon was lighting the landscape up like daylight and although to my eyes it was too dark to see without my headtorch it was coming through great on the camera. The only issue was trying to compose a shot just by point the camera in a general direction and hope for the best.

 

I also took a walk in the darkness to a spur on the northwest where I thought there might be some slightly different views. I had thought about taking a walk to Sgurr Mor in the dark, but it was a long way and I still thought it would end at any time. The wind was cold again. Nowhere near as cold as on the Fiddler the previous month, but enough to make it uncomfortable without gloves on and hood up.

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and then back to the summit again....... Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw

 

and a couple of obligatory selfies!

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I took photos pretty much constantly up until about 9.40pm and was then conscious that I had taken pretty much every composition I wanted, so decided to head back to the tent and try to get some rest. 

 

and took my only 2 tent shots of the night, which is unlike me...... Can you see my tent? It's quite a crowded site. That's as far as I got with the rucksack before I gave up. With the number of times I went to the summit, I was regretting not pitching it closer though....

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There, that's clearer. Graham_Bradshaw

 

I didn't rest much. To be honest, all I did was flick through the photos on my camera, thinking, 'This is awesome' and not really believing just how lucky I was to be experiencing this. I was also wondering, now I was in the tent, just what was happening in the sky outside. I couldn't sleep, and around midnight I headed back outside to see what was going on now.

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The aurora was still around, and seemed brighter, but less active. It was a more or less uniform arc stretch from west to east in the north. I took some photos to the northwest, with the lights of Gairloch and  Harris clearly visible and the north of Trotternish on Skye. Again I took a few photos, but you'll be pleased to know I didn't take as many as previously because the lights weren't dancing as much. I did try to get some shots lining it up with the summit trig point of Tom na Gruagaich and the summit of Sgurr Mor. 

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Once that was done, I took a walk south on the summit towards the snow cornice to see if that presented any nice shots. The aurora wasn't really visible from there though.

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That done, I then headed back to the tent. The next milestone was moonset at 3.43am and I was back on the summit just before to see if there were more stars out.

 

As I got there the moon was just setting behind the trig point, so I got a couple of quick shots including a panorama as it disappeared out of sight. The aurora seemed to be a different colour. It was bright yellow, and even appeared yellow to the naked eye, which was a bit unusual. I wondered if it was the White Balance in the camera, but checked and apparently not. I must say, I don't like the yellow as much as I like the green......

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I then took a bit more care over a panorama, hoping I would be able to stitch it together properly later. I've had mixed success with star stitching. Each of these panoramas took about 10 minutes to take as they were 6 shots each requiring about a minute, with recomposition between shots.

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I then took a couple of final shots, before heading back to the tent pretty happy, to wait on sunrise which was due at 6.31am.

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I set the alarm for 5.20am as I like the predawn light best. Unsurprisingly I didn't really sleep. I looked over some of the photos I'd already taken and had a think about what I wanted for sunrise. Before I knew it, it was time to get back out, and I was back on the summit as the first light of the new day started to creep across the landscape. 

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With the changing light of sunrise, you really have to move around to get a variety of different angles, sometimes revisiting the same point many times to get the same shot with different light. It was an hour of non stop moving and shooting, all the time thinking that the best shot was probably somewhere else.  Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw

I noticed my neighbour up as well, from the light moving around on the summit of Sgurr Mor. It looked like he/she was doing pretty much the same as me. 

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Once the sun broke the horizon in the east, directly over Beinn Eighe, I decided to call it a day. I had stacks of photos and was well pleased with the nights haul. I went back to the tent and took my time packing up, then set off down the mountain in no particular hurry. Near the bottom of the trail I started to meet people just starting out to climb the mountain during the day, It was a fantastic day to be on the mountain, but I suspect it would be hard to beat the night that I had just experienced. I made sure I told everybody who would listen that the aurora had been out all night long. Really annoying probably.

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I was back at the car by 10am, Breakfast at Tarvie Services at 11am and in the house by noon. Despite being anxious to see some of my photos on the laptop, I was so exhausted that I got a few hours sleep first. It really was a fantastic night with no small amount of luck to experience such a fantastic aurora. 

 

A couple of weeks later I was surfing the interweb and came across a report of a chap who had been on Beinn Alligin doing a summit camp watching the aurora on the same night. Turns out it was my neighbour who I had been watching through the night and morning. Scotlands Mountains very own Murray Wilkie (AKA Steaming Boots). You can read his excellent Blog and see his fantastic drone footage here. His stuff is well worth a look. I really wish I'd popped round to say hello now.... :)

 

Again, sorry for the shear amount of photos here. But it was a bit of a target rich environment that night!

 

 

 

 

 

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graham.bradshaw41@gmail.com (Graham Bradshaw) Beinn Alligin Galaxy Graham Bradshaw Landscape Photography Milky Way Night Photography Photography Scotland Summit Wild Camp aurora hike night photography stars sunrise sunset tent https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/12/aurora-and-i-on-beinn-alligin Sun, 25 Dec 2016 04:13:03 GMT
The Coldest Night of My Life! https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/12/the-coldest-night-of-my-life This is probably more an exercise on what not to do when camping in winter, but I hope it’s an enjoyable read for you. 

 

In February this year I decided to buy a ‘proper’ mountain tent and hopefully get some nice clear summit night photography done. You may have noticed that I like photos of the night sky..... I managed to pick up a second hand (but nearly new) Terra Nova Ultra Quasar tent on Ebay for a decent price and then waited on a decent forecast coming along. I got my chance on Feb 13/14 when the forecast around Assynt looked promising. 5mph winds, clear skies, and sea level temperatures of around -1C.

 

So, I was all set, until I realized that there might be snow around and I thought I should really invest in some snow pegs. No problem, I’d swing by Tiso in Inverness and pick some up on the way. I was expecting to pay somewhere between around £10 and £20 for a decent set that would do the majority of the tent. However, turned out that Tiso were charging around £20 for 4 nice red MSR snow pegs. So I quickly decided that as the tent was geodesic and therefore self supporting, that I would only need 4 for the corners. It wasn’t going to be windy anyway……. Pegs bought, I then headed up to Assynt early afternoon.

 

     It was a cracking day, with clear blue sky and just a breath of wind. As the ground was frozen, from Culnacraig to the snow line, it was a pleasant crunchy walk too, without the usual bogginess of the initial stages. I took my time and enjoyed it, knowing that I would be killing time waiting for the sunset, then the moonset, then dawn. With night still being around 15hrs in February I knew it would be a long night and a new experience for me as I’d never camped in freezing conditions or the snow before. Still I had a decent tent, my Snugpack Chrysalis 4 sleeping bag, a self inflating foam mattress, a stove and meals. How hard could it be?

 

As I reached the snowline I saw someone coming down from the summit. A lady who had done Ben Mor Coigach and its ridge before walking back by the Fiddler. She was crunching through the icy snow and had had a great day, although she looked a bit dubious when I said I was planning on camping out. As I got closer to the summit, there were patches of deeper snow in sheltered areas that were a ‘surprise’ when you stepped into them and sunk 3 feet into a drift. Mostly though, it was just a couple of inches deep and nice crunchy hard snow. I had thought about putting on crampons, but never really felt they were necessary.

 

I reached the summit area just after 4pm, with sunset due just after 5pm. What had been a light breeze at sea level was now a pretty brisk wind coming straight from the north, so I had a walk around looking for a decent pitch for the tent. Eventually I settled on an area just to the south of the summit, which was sheltered from the worst of the wind by the summit and seemed like the best option. At this point I met another walker, who had been following in the footsteps of the first lady. He stopped for a chat, agreed it was probably the best place for a pitch, then headed off west to a lower top to wait on the sunset. I then set about putting the tent up for the first time outdoors.

 

     It wasn’t too bad. I pegged out the main inner with normal pegs which allowed me to get it up, then stretched the fly over, got the MSR pegs out and started pegging the corners. After 3 pegs, I realized I had none left, so went looking around the pack for the last one. Couldn’t find it. Hunted high and low, even looking under the tent, but couldn’t find it at all. Eventually I gave up, then chose the corner that I suspected would have the lest wind and stuck a normal peg in that. Easy! I also decided not to use the guy ropes as I was sheltered, and the normal pegs were pretty useless…..

 

Tent up, I then started on the mat and sleeping bag. I tell you what, I was not prepared for just how cold the ground felt through the tent. It was OK through the sleeping mat, but as soon as you’re off the mat on the floor of the tent, you know about it. It was like touching the cooling element on the freezer. Even through the sleeping bag it was uncomfortable, but the mat made it bearable. What a great invention!. As the mat wasn’t particularly wide, I suspected this may be an issue later on.

 

  Anyway, I was pretty much sorted now, with sunset starting to take hold, so I grabbed the camera and headed out to get some photos. I see most people who are on the hills in winter wear woolly hats. I’ve always been more comfortable in a fleece snood hood as it keeps my neck much warmer and I can pretend I look like a Jedi. A Jedi in a North Face down jacket from Go Outdoors. A fat Jedi….. It was also biting cold in the wind, so gloves went on whenever I wasn’t needing to press the camera button.

 

Any of you that have ever been to the summit of the Fiddler will understand when I say it’s one of the scariest places to stand that I’ve ever been. On 3 sides you’ve got a 1500 foot vertical drop down the cliffs, and a covering of snow with some wind fairly helps to focus the mind. The view north across Assynt is fantastic though. I took many photos as the light was changing, and also a few south and east capturing a few decent shots before the sun finally set.

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As the light faded and it got considerably colder, I started to have thoughts about just how wise my adventure was. All alone on a mountain for the next 16 hours in freezing conditions. Well, I was committed now!

 

It was then a case of waiting for it to get dark enough for the stars to come out. I knew moonset wasn’t until just after midnight, so wanted to be out taking photos around 10pm with the moonlit landscape. I decided to kill time in the tent, so crawled into the sleeping back and tried to keep as warm as possible. I made some Chicken Tikka on the stove, and tried somewhat unsuccessfully to get some sleep.

 

When I went back out around 10pm, it was considerably colder, and when I wasn’t in the shelter of the summit, was ridiculously cold. With night photography long exposures, and in camera noise reduction on, it means you are waiting for 1 minute between shots, all the while getting colder and colder. Some of the images I was seeing suggested I was going to get a good haul, but it really was chilly in the wind, so once I had all the compositions I wanted, I headed back to the tent to wait on moonset after midnight.

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I was pretty pleased to climb into my sleeping bag. I kept my down jacket on and shivered for a while before my body heat made it more comfortable. I also noticed that there was little flakes of snow falling on me and the floor of the tent was getting an amount of little specks of snow building up. Just like big flakes of dandruff apparently (I've seen photos) This seemed to be from my breath which was freezing against the tent walls and then dropping off.

 

Getting a bit hungry again, I decided to have some more food. Pasta and meatballs. This time, the condensation from the stove flame seemed to be blowing directly into the tent and making it ‘snow’ even more. Every time one of my feet came off the sleeping mat and rested on the ground I soon knew about it. Although I was a bit uncomfortable, without the mat it would have been hell! Anyway, I finished my second dinner, tried unsuccessfully again to get some sleep, and waited for my alarm to go off at 1am in order to get outside and get the really starry photos. It’s amazing how you justify time to yourself overnight. For example, at 12am I was thinking, ‘Right, I’ve been here 8 hours. In another 8 hours, the sun will be up and I’ll be heading down the mountain. I’m halfway there! Just the same again’.

 

My alarm went off at 1am, and I started the painful process of extricating myself from the sleeping bag, getting my boots and gloves on, snood up, jacket zipped, head torch on. I unzipped the tent door and stepped into complete darkness. After letting my eyes adjust, I was happy to see a myriad of stars in the sky, so set about taking some photos again.

 

It’s quite unnerving standing in complete darkness at the top of a 1500 foot cliff waiting for a long exposure shot to finish. Switching the head torch off and pressing the shutter button leaves you in utter darkness, with eyes unadjusted and unable to see a thing. There’s a fair bit of sensory deprivation and I typically kept my hand on my camera strap, both the ensure it didn’t go tumbling over the edge, but also to ensure I didn’t become disorientated and topple off….. The night sky in Assynt is some of the least light polluted in western Europe, and although the lights from Lochinver and Ullapool were visible, the night sky was still spectacular. There was also a faint auroral glow over Lochinver which would have been nice if it had come to something.

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If anything, it was even colder than it had been when I had been out a few hours previously. As soon as I took the gloves off to get a photo my fingers felt like they were about to break off. In hindsight I wish I had taken more photos, but at the time I was desperate to get back into the tent, so I finished up as quickly as I could and went back to the tent to see if I could get some sleep before the sunrise.

 

I couldn’t sleep, and before long I became aware of the wind getting up a fair bit. There were strong gusts hitting the side of the tent from the northwest and they were getting a bit worrying. I kept putting my hand on the wall of the tent in an effort to stabilize it. By this time it was almost 4am and I was thinking, ‘Only another 3 hours. I’ve been here for 12. No worries. I’m past the worst of it.'

 

Then it happened. A gust of wind got under the center of the tent and flipped it over with me inside. I remember letting out a girly scream as I thought about getting blown down the mountain like an out of control gazebo. I threw myself against the side that had blown over and managed to wrestle it back down. Something seemed different though. After a bit of confusion, I realized that one of the main poles had broken.

 

I thought about sitting it out for another couple of hours, but realized that it was likely to just continue pounding me, so decided that it was time to call it a night. I started packing up. Everything in the tent first, staying in the sleeping bag as long as possible, with it being the last thing to get packed. Then outside into what by now was a pretty blowy gale to get the tent packed away. After getting it into the stuff sack, I had a look around for the 3 red MSR tent pegs and could only find one. You’d think with them being red against the white snow they’d stand out in the head torch light, but no. Couldn’t find them and didn’t want to hang about so set off down the mountain in complete darkness. Initially I was following footsteps in the snow, but I soon lost them. That’s where the GPS comes in handy, and I could follow the track I’d laid down on the way up. Even so, I drifted off course quite a few time and had to course correct quite a bit. Goodness knows where I’d have ended up without it.

 

Once below the snow line I met up with the path again and it was starting to get lighter. By the time I got back to where the car was visible I was feeling a real sense of achievement, and a fair bit of luck that I’d got through the night unscathed. I made plenty of mistakes and learned a lot but at every stage I was pretty sure that I would have been able to cut my adventure short and escape. Which is what I eventually ended up doing.

 

When I posted a few photos on Facebook the next day, a friend contacted me to say I was hardy and that his mercury had dropped to -15C during the night. I wasn't particularly surprised. It had felt a lot colder than -1C......

 

It was painful at the time, but an absolutely incredible  experience to look back on. So much so that I have a 5 season sleeping bag, some of Chinas finest snow pegs and a better sleeping mat all ready for a similar adventure this year!!

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed reliving it!

Graham_Bradshaw

 

P.S. – The pegs – I was back in the area a month later to walk the Ben Mor Coigach ridge.  I decided to go see if I could find my pegs now that the snow had gone. Find them I did! And it seems that I had 4 all the time, but had just pushed 2 in together. They were sticking about 5 inches out of the ground so fairly easy to spot. I also ordered a replacement pole from Terra Nova, lots of Snow Pegs from Ebay and was out again summit camping on Ben Tianavaig in Skye 2 weeks later J

Graham_Bradshaw

 
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graham.bradshaw41@gmail.com (Graham Bradshaw) Cam Fiddler Graham Bradshaw Landscape Photography Sgurr an Fhidhleir Summit night sunset tent winter https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/12/the-coldest-night-of-my-life Wed, 21 Dec 2016 23:28:53 GMT
A night to remember https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/12/a-night-to-remember I'm finally getting around to writing about this, almost 3 months after the fact!

   I always keep my eye on the aurora weather forecast, whether it's the 3 day short term forecast based on satellite data or the 28 day long term forecast based on known sunspots and the 28 day rotation of the sun. So, it was in early September when I was looking at the 28 days forecast, that I saw a really strong aurora was forecast from 27th September through 1st October.

   I decided to book the week off work in anticipation, and closer to the time started looking for clear skies where I could go and wait for the show. I noticed that the day before the show was forecast (26th September), it looked like there would be a clear night on the north coast of Scotland. So, as I was off work anyway, I thought I'd head up there, camp out and get some starry night photos. In the back of my mind I also thought there might be a chance of aurora, and with moonrise not due until around 1am, there should be plenty of stars around.

     So I had a look at Google Earth to see if I could find a decent spot with an unobstructed view north and hopefully some interesting landscape. I was primarily looking at beaches on the north coast, and settled on a small area that looked like it had some exposed rocks on the beach and wasn't too far from the road. If only the clouds stayed away, it looked like being a good start to my week off.

I set off reasonably early for the 2 hr drive to the north coast, and realised pretty quickly that I was going to have to kill some time to stop getting bored waiting for nightfall, so I paid a visit to Smoo Cave, and had a late lunch at the Smoo Cave hotel before heading the last few miles to where I had marked the coordinates of what looked like a layby on the road on my GPS. When I got there, there was already a car there and what looked like a couple of people having a walk around to marked boards and a faint trail. Turns out I had chosen by accident to camp out around the abandoned clearance village of Ceannabeinne and there was a signposted walk with information boards to explain what had happened during the clearances http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/sutherland/ceannabeinne.shtml It crossed my mind that I might be annoying someone by pitching a tent!

I spent some time having a walk around the area, looking for a good place to pitch my tent that wasn't too 'in your face' for anyone doing the Ceannabeinne walk. It really was a beautiful day, although there was a chilly breeze and there appeared to be more clouds than I would have liked. When I found a good pitch at the top of a section of cliff, I returned to the car and got my rucksack with tent, tripod and camera gear. The couple who I had seen earlier were back in their car by now and were watching me with bemused expressions. I can only guess what they were thinking, watching an idiot packed up for a grand expedition, when the Ceannabeinne walk was a short stroll of less than an hour to complete.....

Anyway, soon I had pitched the tent, had the camera out, and was off taking some photos! I took loads of the the beach, as I did think these may be the best shots I would get. The north coast beaches are spectacular, and I reckoned the photos would get some admiration. In reality though, hardly any of them were posted due to what transpired later!

Graham_Bradshaw I decided it would be sensible to see if I could find a safe way down the cliffs to the beach, as I'd hoped to take night sky shots later on with some of the rocks for foreground interest. Luckily, there seemed to be a reasonable way down, as long as care was taken, so I spent the next couple of hours exploring around my home for the night. It really is a beautiful place.

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Reading the different information boards was also interesting and killed some time. There's only one building still standing from the abandoned town. It's the old schoolhouse and is now a holiday rental home. Given, that it looks like an everyday home, it's hard to believe that the abandoned stone outlines were once people homes of a similar standard......

Graham_Bradshaw As it got later, I had some dinner in the doorway of the tent with a cracking view over the beach and sea. I'm more and more conscious of just how old I'm starting to look, so although I quite often take selfies, I rarely post them :)

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Before long, sunset came, and although I was hoping for a nice sunset, I was actually the wrong side of a hill for any real view. It wasn't too bad though, and I got the ND filters out and played with them a bit down on the beach

Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Now it was just time to wait on the stars coming out. I lay in the tent for a bit, hoping to get some sleep - no joy. I then decided to play with some wire wool for a bit. This was more fun, although maybe not the wisest thing to do on a cliff

Graham_Bradshaw and finally, as the stars came out slowly, I decided to head back down to the beach and get some 'blue hour photos'

Graham_Bradshaw As I took this photo, I was aware in the periphery of my vision to the left, that I could see a faint arc. I thought it was still too light for any aurora, but on a whim I thought I'd turn the camera that way and take some photos:

Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw and there it was. The aurora. A faint blueish arc stretching from west to east in the northern Skye. I was pretty excited, and started taking photos one after the other, moving to different positions as I was going. I was conscious that it could disappear at any time.

Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw It was pretty obvious that the aurora was dancing, and as it got darker, more stars came out and the band of light got even more intense. I kept looking around, expecting to see other people out on the cliffs taking photos, but there were none. I had this all to myself.

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It really was shaping up to be a magical night, and the aurora didn't seem to be going anywhere. I started to slow down and think about How I wanted to compose shots. I thought incorporating myself and my headtorch into one would be nice

Graham_Bradshaw and I was also conscious of the Milky Way, which I wanted to feature too (who doesn't like stars?)

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It actually got to the point, that I was running out of ideas for shots, but then remembered the cliffs, and thought I'd get back up there and take some photos overlooking the beach

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Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Needless to say, I couldn't really sleep for the excitement of seeing what the photos would look like (and posting to Facebook). I had a delivery of 2 tonnes of wood pellets arriving at the house at 10am the next morning, and the original plan had been to get up early and be back in time, but as I lay contemplating it, I decided that it would be better to just head off home and get a couple of hours of shuteye in bed, before the pellets arrived.

So, mind made up, I decided to get some last photos, including obligatory tent shots, before packing up and heading home.

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Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw The activity had died down to just a low arc on the horizon as I left. I got home around 4am in the morning after an absolutely amazing night. I suspect I'm unlikely to experience another night like it. I've some regrets about not hanging around for the moonrise, but given the shots I did get, count myself extremely lucky. Hopefully I'll get another opportunity during another aurora storm to revisit this spot and have another fantastic night. I hope you've enjoyed the photos!

P.S. As I said at the beginning, the strongest forecast was for 27th September through 1st October. I caught the lights again 2 days later at Portknockie:

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Graham_Bradshaw and again, 28 days later at Tarbat Ness near Portmahomack :)

Graham_Bradshaw

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graham.bradshaw41@gmail.com (Graham Bradshaw) Aurora Ceannabeinne Graham Bradshaw milky way northern lights scotland stars https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/12/a-night-to-remember Sat, 10 Dec 2016 17:40:34 GMT
Sunrise from Stac Pollaidh 2nd July 2016 https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/7/sunrise-from-stac-pollaidh-2nd-july-2016 With the weekend weather forecast to be rubbish, the only glimmer of hope on the forecast front seemed to be Friday night, which was forecasting pretty clear skies and hardly any wind in the far northwest of Scotland. Therefore, in order to get out somewhere, I decided to climb Stac Polliadh for the sunrise at 4.25am on Saturday.

In order to be there in good time, I left the house at 12.30am for the 90 minute drive to Stac Pollaidh. I'm not sure what it is with deer and deserted roads, but they seem to be drawn to roads like a magnet in  the early hours of the morning. I had to slam on the breaks twice on the way over to avoid a deer, the second one was a pretty close call.... They were all over the place. Especially around Loch Glascarnoch.

Arrived at the Stac Pollaidh car park at 2am and I thought that it would take 90 minutes to get to the summit ridge, that would give me an hour to prepare for sunrise, find a good spot and capture the changing light.

It actually only took me an hour to get to the ridge so I was a little bit early. I've just bought a GoPro camera for timelapse. Primarily for when I'm camping out under the stars (So I don't miss anything), so I thought I'd try it out for a couple of hours through dawn. First thing I did was to set it up and start it taking a photo every 10 seconds. It ran from 3am to about 5am, so about 20 minutes after sunrise. It looks fantastic, but I just wish I'd left it running for another 30 minutes or so as it looks a bit 'cut off' as soon as the sun appears. Here's what it turned out like:

Sunrise from Stac PollaidhMy first try at Timelapse. I wish I'd left it running longer as it looks cut short even though it stopped about 20 minutes after sunrise. I'll know for next time!

Once the timelapse was running, it was time to find a good vantage point for the sunrise. I had wanted to get photos from the east summit, as well as some with the rocky formations in the foreground from further west. So, as the East is easy to get to, I wandered up there to start getting some photos. There was a little bit of a cold breeze so I was glad I had decided to wear a fleece under my jacket. I zipped up and pulled on my snood to keep warm. It was still an hour to sunrise and I had been hoping for lots of pinks and oranges right across the sky, but it didn't look like it was going to be like that this morning. Not enough clouds, or maybe the wrong time of year. I'm not sure. However, I started taking some pictures across to Suilven, Canisp and Cul Mor, where the best of the views were:

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Looking east towards Cul Beag, it was clear that to get the best view of it would meaning climbing down, then scrambling back up to the furthest easterly point. 

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I wasn't sure how long that would take, and I didn't want to miss things if the light started to change suddenly, so I took a walk with the tripod over to the west. It's a tricky route up to the west side and a couple of years since I did it. After a couple of failed attempts up 'the wrong gully' I decided again that this would be for another time. It would likely be difficult to find a decent tripod site with so little time left before sunrise, so I took a couple of photos and headed back over to the east summit where I remained until after sunrise. Before I had left the house I had been telling a friend that I had planned to climb Stac Pollaidh in the dark to watch the sunrise. Not sure she quite believed me so I thought a 4am text was appropriate (Just to let her know I was safe..... :) ). I don't think she had her phone by her bed though......

Looking West: Graham_Bradshaw

 

Looking East: Graham_Bradshaw

     As the sun continued to rise, I just kept taking photos as the light changed, walking back and forth through the same positions as the scenes were constantly changing. I must have about 30 photos of Cul Mor! The sun was expected to rise right between Suilven and Cansip, and that was where the light seemed be strongest.  I kept having to dial down the exposure of the camera to stop areas being 'washed out' with overexposure. The sun eventually peaked through, and although it wasn't a spectacular sunrise, it was nice enough. Certainly much better than a cloud covered pea soup that I had half been expecting!

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And some obligatory panoramas: Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw

Graham_Bradshaw and as the sun rose higher in the sky, I decided it was time to call it quits. It was 5am and time to head back to the car. This walk is becoming quite familiar to me now and before I knew it I was crossing the road to the car. I felt something touch my face and stopped. It was starting to rain. I couldn't have timed it any better. Literally 10 feet from the car and it started to rain. It started pelting down on the way home.

Serendipity!

 

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graham.bradshaw41@gmail.com (Graham Bradshaw) Graham Bradshaw Landscape Photography Night Hike Photography Scotland Stac Pollaidh Sunrise Time Lapse assynt night https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/7/sunrise-from-stac-pollaidh-2nd-july-2016 Sun, 03 Jul 2016 10:44:18 GMT
Hunting for my tent on Sgurr na Stri - 17th June 2016 https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/6/hunting-for-my-tent-on-sgurr-na-stri---17th-june-2016 Top tip of the day: If you wild camp on a mountain and you have a GPS, mark the position as soon as you pitch the tent. Don't wait until after you've had a wander, don't assume you'll find it no problem and definitely, definitely, definitely don't leave your headtorch in the tent because 'it's still light'.

With a week off work and a couple of day walks under my belt, I wanted to get away for a night on a hill somewhere. Early in the week Skye was looking good for Friday/ Saturday and it looked like there would be little or no clouds around for Sunset and Sunrise. 

So I kept an eye on the forecast all week and it didn't change much except for the wind on Friday night was forecast to be around 30mph (sea level) which concerned me a bit as it would be stronger higher up.

I decided to go back to Sgurr na Stri on the Isle of Skye. I've camped here 3 times before and each time has been magical (2 of them with inversions). But although I've got some cracking photos from previously, it's the ones that didn't turn out due to overexposing that you miss the most. So, I thought here's a cracking opportunity to make a better job of it.

I always start the walk from Sligachan. At 12km each way it's a bit of a slog but 4 hrs after leaving I've usually got my tent pitched on the mountain. As it was really the sunset and sunrise I was after I didn't really need to leave the house until after midday and this would give me plenty of time to get up the mountain, pitch the tent and get some dinner.

Got to Sligachan at 3pm and although it was lovely and sunny it was also pretty breezy and coming from the north. Having been on Sgurr na Stri before, I knew that this direction would give me little options for shelter from the wind. My inner demon tried to convince me to pick somewhere easier and less remote like the Quiraing and although I was tempted I'd already told a couple of people where I had planned on going. I don't like admitting failure too often :)

3 hrs and I was at the area where the path essentially ends and you just cut straight up the mountain. There are some faint paths of sorts but I always find myself losing them. The wind was getting stronger the higher I got, so when I found a reasonably sheltered grassy area about 300 feet from the summit with a great view across Loch Coruisk, I dropped the rucksack and setup the tent. I was done by around 7pm and sunset was at 10.26pm so I really wanted to be on the summit taking photos from around 10pm onwards.

Best take a wander to the summit then and see how long it takes eh?

So I grabbed my Camera, took a couple of shots on the tent 'in situ and headed off to the summit:

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 It was further than I thought and took me about 20 minutes to get there. It was blowing a hoolie though up on top and it was quite difficult to stand at times. The forecast had the winds dropping after midnight, so hopefully it would only be the sunset that was painful. I was glad I'd pitched further down.

The summit of Sgurr na Stri is a fantastic viewpoint. To the Northwest you have Loch Coruisk surrounded by the Black Cuillin, then you have Bla Bheinn and the Red Cuillin to the Northeast, the Elgol Peninsula to the Southeast and the islands of Rum and Soay to the Southwest. All of these would have the sunset and sunrise light changing rapidly and all of them involved a fair bit of clambering to get a good vantage point. I spent some time looking for some decent spots and trying unsuccessfully to commit them to memory.

I was getting hungry now, so I thought I'd head back to the tent and 'cook' a meal (Or to be more accurate, add boiling water to dehydrated spag bol) before heading back up to the summit for sunset. I started back down the way I thought I had come up but pretty quickly had no idea whether it was or not. There seemed to be a number of areas that looked similar to where I had pitched the tent but none of them had a tent in them. As I got lower and lower on the mountain I thought I must have passed it, so started back up checking more dilligently. Still nothing? Back down again then, further than before. In fact, if it was this low down then my '300 feet from the summit' was actually a fair bit more. By this time I was starting to get a little bit worried: 1. Because I might miss sunset. 2. Because I didn't have my headtorch with me and 3. because I knew it was getting dark soon.

Eventually, I found a trail that looked vaguely familiar, followed it round a bend that didn't look familiar and to me relief saw my tent flapping in the wind. The first thing I did was get my GPS and mark a waypoint where the tent was so I could find it again in the dark. Secondly I put my headtorch in my pocket, and thirdly I had some dinner. 

By this time it was after 9pm and I decided just to head back up to the summit and start taking photos. The wind was getting really cold and I regretted leaving my gloves and snood in the house (Well, it's June.....). As the sun set, I moved about the summit taking photos, but it really was freezing so about 11pm when the light was getting flat I headed back to the tent again.

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I was glad to crawl into my sleeping bag and although I had intended on getting some photos of the tent lit from the inside I really couldn't be bothered going back outside. So I set my alarm for 3.45am as sunrise was 4.26am and I tried to get some sleep. 

I think I got a couple of hours as I woke around 3.30am and it looked really bright through the tent walls. There also didn't seem to be much wind, so I bounded gleefully out of the tent and started my by now familiar trudge to the summit. The clouds were starting to turn pinkish in the predawn light so I started to hurry to catch it before it faded and before long I was on the summit again. It was much more pleasant this time and I was able to wander around at my leisure taking lots of photos (and deleting the ones that were overexposed). 

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I also took the opportunity to get a couple of 'just woke up' selfies. Couldn't decide whether jacket on or off, facing the camera or away, so I took a few:

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Then headed back to the tent for around 5.30am, got packed up and ready to leave for 6am but couldn't resist a final couple of photos from the camp area:

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and then all that remained was the long walk back to Sligachan. Got back at 9.30am and if anything I think I might be getting fitter as I wasn't on the verge of crawling by the time I got back. I was relieved though!

Sgurr na Stri is a cracking mountain with exceptional views. I suspect I'll be camping here again in the not too distant future :)

 

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graham.bradshaw41@gmail.com (Graham Bradshaw) Cuillin Graham Bradshaw Isle of Skye Photography Sgurr na Stri Skye Summit Camp Wild Camping hike loch Coruisk sunrise sunset tent https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/6/hunting-for-my-tent-on-sgurr-na-stri---17th-june-2016 Sun, 19 Jun 2016 00:13:47 GMT
13th May 2016 Sgurr Mhic Bharraich - 2nd attempt at a night camp https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/5/13th-may-2016-sgurr-mhic-bharraich---2nd-attempt-at-a-night-camp Another fantastic week weather-wise in Scotland and another week I was stuck in Wales for work. Looking at the weather reports suggested that the weather was changing for the worse on Saturday, so I started looking for somewhere to go on Friday night when I got home.

 
Most areas looked cloudy overnight and a little bit on the windy side but when I looked at Kintail the forecast was for clear skies all night with wind dropping to around 5 or 6mph. I had wanted to go back to Sgurr Mhic Bharraich after my aborted attempt a few weeks previously. The view from the summit is great and I wanted to see what it was like at night lit by a half moon.
 
The only issue was time. My flight from Bristol was due in at 1.30pm so I really wanted to be able to set off from home around 3pm to get to the summit for sunset.
 
It wasn't to be though. Flight was delayed. for an hour. That along with an accident on the A96 and dropping colleagues off around Inverness meant it was closer to 5pm by the time I actually set off for Shiel Bridge. It was around 7pm before I set off up the mountain.
 
By 8.30pm I was at the Bealach around 500m and in a dilemma. The light was already starting to change for sunset to the west. Do I continue on up the east ridge and miss the sunset but still get the overnight summit views and sunrise from the summit, or do I camp at the bealach where I get a view to the west and should be able to see the sunrise to the east.
 
As I was already pretty knackered I decided it would give me an excuse to come back sometime if I just camped at the bealach beside the small loch. So that's what I did and 20 minutes later the tent was up and I was wandering over a small rise to the west to take some photos of the effect of the sun setting to the west.  The tops of the peaks of the southern Cuillin on Skye were just visible.
 
 
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When the sun is setting in the west, the effect on the sky to the east is just as beautiful, so I decided to go back to the tent and see what it was looking like this time:
 
 
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Then back to the west to see whether there was anything spectacular going on. This is what it's usually like. Wandering backwards and forwards as the light is changing, to try not to miss anything. In this case, about 15 minutes walk every time I decided to move position, carrying the tripod with the camera attached each time.
 
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Once the sun had set and the odd star was starting to come out, it was time for some food. Wayfarers Boil in the bag Chicken Tikka with rice followed by chocolate pudding. The first thing I'd had to eat since Bristol so it went down a treat.Took a couple of photos, but it wasn't dark enough yet for oodles of stars. In fact I wondered whether it would get dark enough with the moon out and it being close to mid summer.


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The darkest part of the night looked like it would be 1am, so I set my alarm for then and settled down to see if I could get some sleep. I guess I did, because before long my alarm was going off and when I got up for a look around. I wasn't disappointed!
 
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Around about this time I was also aware of things flying about. I couldn't see anything but I kept hear whirring around me. Sort of like the sound a boomerang makes when it flies through the air. It was a bit disconcerting as I didn't know what it was. I wondered if it was bats echo locating but couldn't see anything with my headtorch. When I heard a splash in the loch behind me though I was really spooked. Your imagination gets a chance to play in the darkness and I was imagining creatures crawling out of the loch to get me.  Time to take another wander over to the west....
 
MoonsetMoonsetThe Moon setting over Skye to the west from the Bealach of Sgurr Mhic Bharraich in Kintail
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The moon was getting low towards the horizon and it was clear it was going to set over Skye. I had though it was due to set at around 2am, but a quick check with the Photographers Ephermis let me know it was actually 2.56am. It was still a good way from setting so I took a couple of photos and headed back to the east for a while. before coming back just before 3am.
 
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When I came back, the moon was just disappearing beneath the horizon. Snapped a couple of photos just as the last of it was visible then decided to head back to the tent for some sleep and wait till sunrise. Sunrise was due at 5.03am.
 
Got back up around 4.15am and headed out to see what the views were like. Headed over to the view west first, but it was pretty uninteresting as the light hadn't really started to change there yet, so I went back towards the tent and decided to get some photos from the loch with the Five Sisters of Kintail in the background
 
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Then I went to wait on the sunrise. Found a spot with a great view to the 5 sisters and it was clear that sunrise would be just to the left of them. I knew the light to the east would be going through the early morning rainbow from blue to purple, but I didn't want to miss the sun peaking over the mountains.
 
And that was my latest mistake..... 5,03am was sunrise over the horizon, not sunrise over a hulking great mountain. It was closer to 6am before the sun eventually made it's appearance. Although it was nice, I was annoyed as I would have like to capture the changing light to the east. 
 
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This mountain is one which will probably remain on my redo list. Great view from the summit (and the Bealach), relatively close and reasonably quick to get up. I'm looking forward to the next time I'm back up it and will need to find out what those boomerang whirry noise beasties are and if they're likely to attack :) 
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graham.bradshaw41@gmail.com (Graham Bradshaw) Astrophotography Graham Bradshaw Kintail Landscape Photography Sgurr Mhic Bharraich Wild Camp hike night photography scotland stars sunrise sunset https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/5/13th-may-2016-sgurr-mhic-bharraich---2nd-attempt-at-a-night-camp Sun, 15 May 2016 12:55:59 GMT
6th May 2016 Hunting for clear skies on Cul Mor https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/5/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.

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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.

Assynt WildcampAssynt WildcampCamping on the slopes of Cul Mor and looking north to Suilven, Quinag and Canisp as the sun sets. Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Cul Mor sunsetCul Mor sunsetA wild camp on the slopes of Cul Mor as the sun sets over the sea.

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.

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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.

Suilven ViewSuilven ViewWild camp on the slopes of Cul Mor in Assynt with a grandstand view of Suilven to wake up to. Graham_Bradshaw

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. 

Bumpy GroundBumpy GroundWild camp on Cul Mor in Assynt with some stars just peeking through the thin clouds.

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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.

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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.

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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......

Assynt SunsetAssynt SunsetTaken from the slopes of Cul Mor as the sun sets to the west Graham_Bradshaw

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graham.bradshaw41@gmail.com (Graham Bradshaw) Cul Mor Graham Bradshaw Landscape Wild Camp assynt photography sunrise sunset https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/5/hunting-for-clear-skies-on-cul-mor Sat, 07 May 2016 15:16:57 GMT
Aurora hunting on Stac Pollaidh 29th April 2016 https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/4/aurora-hunting-on-stac-pollaidh 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.

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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. 

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and a few obligatory panorama stitches.....

Graham_Bradshaw Graham_Bradshaw Waiting for the Aurora....Waiting for the Aurora....Taken during a hopeful visit to Stac Pollaidh ridge to see if the aurora was around. Sadly it wasn't, but there were some nice starry skies to be had before the clouds came in!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 :)

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graham.bradshaw41@gmail.com (Graham Bradshaw) Assynt Graham Bradshaw Landscape Photography Stac Pollaidh hail hike night snow stars https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/4/aurora-hunting-on-stac-pollaidh Sat, 30 Apr 2016 14:22:47 GMT
Wild Camping with the Old Man 22nd April 2016 https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/4/a-night-with-the-old-man After a glorious week stuck in work and seeing lots of photos of people having a great time in the hills with cracking weather, I started looking at the weather to see where I would go at the weekend.

The forecasts I was looking at were suggesting that things would change on Friday with the wind coming from the north and rain on Saturday. However, there looked to be a few pockets of clear sky for Friday night and there was also talk of a G1 minor magnetic storm in the early hours of Saturday morning which may give some nice aurora. Saturday night coincided with the full moon, so it was also an excuse for staying up most of the night taking photos of the landscape lit up like daylight.

So that was it. Plan decided. I was off to Kintail after work to climb  Sgurr Mhic Bharraich, an easy corbett with great views in all directions. I got to the car park in Shiel Bridge about 4.30pm and set off. Everything was fine for around 20 minutes until I saw a big black cloud coming towards me. Sure enough, within 5 minutes I was completely drenched and high tailing it back to the car. Time for plan B.....

Plan B was the chippy in Broadford. When I had been checking the weather the day before I remembered that Skye had been showing clear skies all day and night. It certainly looked clearer over to the west, so that's where I headed. I stopped at the Waterfront Chippy in Broadford for a chip butty to keep me going till dinner later, then headed north past Portree to the Storr. By this time it was just after 7pm with sunset at 8.54pm. Plenty of time to get up the the Storr Sanctuary and set up camp before sunset.

I've camped here before in 2015. There's a great sheltered spot right in the center of the sanctuary, surrounded by towering rock formations on all sides. The only slightly worrying parts are all the warning notices advising not to go past this point.....

The wind was blowing from the north and it was bitterly cold. I was actually glad I had been soaked earlier as the top of a mountain would likely have been much colder and more exposed. Tent was up and sleep arrangements set by 8.15pm. Time to go chase some sunset light.

All pitchednice sheltered spot within the Storr sanctuary

Although the actual sunset to the west cannot be seen as the bulk of the Storr massif obstructs it, there can be some nice sky colours around sunset and just after. As I made my way past the Old Man of Storr over the various rockfalls and boulders I noticed a young couple desperately trying to get to the classic viewpoint in time for sunset. The girl looked cold and completely pissed off, and the young man was clearly determined to get a pic. Needless to say, I think they were a bit surprised (and likely a bit worried) to see a strange man wandering down the hill towards them from nowhere when they clearly thought they were all alone. We exchanged a few pleasantries, but it was clear they thought I was eyeing them up for dinner, so I took a few snaps at the classic viewpoint and left them alone.

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I then headed over the strategically placed barb wire fence to the path onto the Storr cliffs. I don't know about any of you, but balancing precariously only a couple of rocks astride a barb wire fence certainly helps to focus the mind on not making any mistakes. Made it with no medical mishaps I'm glad to say:) and headed up the cliffs to get the same view as on the cover page of the Highland Scenery FB page. From the top of the cliffs I saw the nervous couple hightailing it back down the path towards the car park as if their life depended on it.... and, that was me alone for the rest of the night :)

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So with the sun now set, it was now time to head back to the tent and settle down until the stars were fully out. This would be around midnight, although I knew with the full moon the stars wouldn't appear too bright in the sky. 

I never really sleep too well when I'm planning on being up during the night, and this night was no exception. However, around 11.30pm I decided to head out for a wander around and see what everything looked in the moonlight. I must have spent a couple of hours wandering backwards and forwards along the whole length of the Storr, occasionally taking a photo to the north too, to see if the aurora was making an appearance (which it didn't....). It's amazing how much the moon can light up the landscape when you take longer exposures. Makes it look like daylight!It was over an hour before I made the connection between the full moon and werewolves, and was suddenly conscious that I was completely alone in the middle of the night in the hills under a full moon..... Irrational I know, but I started looking behind me a lot more often!

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If you look really closely you can see my tent in the photo above. Just below left of center.

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and further north

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One last look north to see if the aurora was around.....

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The wind was absolutely freezing now, so I  headed back to the tent & shelter to wait on sunrise, which was just before 6am. For some inexplicable reason though I set my alarm for 4.30am to give myself 'plenty' of time to get up. When it went off, I was in a deep sleep and convinced myself  that it was 5.30am and cloudy outside so I fought hard with the inclination to roll over and go back to sleep..... I finally got the motivation to stick my head out the window though and realised that it was going to be quite a nice sunrise. 

So I got ready again and headed back out into the cold, stumbling about the boulders to get back along to where I had been 3 hrs previously. I managed to find a sheltered spot and spent the next 30 minutes taking the occasional photo as the light changed, hoping that I was going to get some brilliant pinks and reds in the moments before dawn. The light was good, not stunning but I was quite relieved when the sun was rising behind me and I could finally beat a retreat back to pack up the tent. I was surprised with it being a relatively clear sunrise that there was no-one else around to take photos. It's generally quite popular early in the morning.

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Anyway, back at the tent I started packing up, sat out a brief hail shower then headed back down to the car before stopping at the Waterside chippy in Broadford for some Rolls & Sausage for brekkie and then headed home. Needless to say, the cats were quite happy to see me after also spending the night outside. Quite a nice night and I suspect not the last time I'll be camped here!  

Now to check the weather forecast for next weekend......

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graham.bradshaw41@gmail.com (Graham Bradshaw) Graham Bradshaw Landscape Photography Old man of storr Wild camp dawn full moon highland night scotland skye stars sunrise sunset tent https://www.grahambradshaw.co.uk/blog/2016/4/a-night-with-the-old-man Mon, 25 Apr 2016 19:16:01 GMT