A Night Time Raid On Glencoe - Trossachs Reflections

Meall A Bhuiridh from the Glen Etive road using the Nikon 14-24 

A Night Time Raid On Glencoe

With the weather forecast for Glen Coe looking promising over the weekend with snow showers during the day and clear skies at night the temptation for a trip to photograph the peaks of Glen Coe under a blanket of snow proved too much. The usual preparations ensued and by Friday night the van was packed and the remaining camera and drone batteries were being charged. Saturday morning finally came and after some last minute work calls we set off for Glen Coe. The temperature gauge was reading an icy -4 as we left but with bright sunshine now forecast and the promise of clear skies I was pleasantly optimistic of some night shots of the areas most famous peak.

As we left the shelter of Loch Lomond, the snow laden peak of the mighty Ben More at Crianlarich came in to view and the amount of snow fall became increasingly apparent. It seemed every corner had abandoned cars encased in white tombs created by the busy ploughs. After a quick rest stop at Tyndrum's Green Welly, we were met with the towering Ben Dorain looking spectacular with her full winter jacket on. I always feel this point signals a change in the landscape, the start of the highlands as the terrain becomes more rugged and wild. 

As we made our way along the A82 passing the Bridge Of Orchy and Loch Tulla, a low lying blanket of freezing fog had formed and upon passing Loch Nah Achlaise I couldn't resist stopping for a shot before the sun burned through the haze. With no real option but to abandon the van, we made our way over towards the loch not realising just how deep the snow was, Poor Nila only visible by the tip of her tail. The haze was burning off quickly so opted to send the drone up to try and take in the white expanse of Rannoch Moor.

A shot using the drone looking over Rannoch Moor as the last of the mist burns off

Lyndsay waist deep in snow on Rannoch Moor (left) camera all set up to capture the black mount (right) Standing in the river Coupall waiting for sunset (below)

On the road again we passed by the Glencoe ski resort and attempted to make our way down Glen Etive but unfortunately only the first couple of hundred yards were accessible due to the recent snow fall, making it off limits to all but the most capable of off road vehicles. With sunset not far away there was time for a quick cup of tea then on with the down jacket, hat and gloves to the river Coupall to try and get the sun setting behind Buachaille Etive Beag and the Lairig Gartain. As the sun slowly slipped away behind the hills the temperature plummeted and pushing through waist deep snow to stand knee deep in the freezing river was certainly challenging and the clear skies did not help the shot I was looking for but it was still a fantastic scene.

Buachaille Etive Beag taken with the drone. I think the river makes it look as though the earth has a crack running up through the glen 

After a road side dinner and copious amounts of tea to heat up it was time to head out for  the shots I came for (fingers crossed). I have tried several times to get a shot of the famous Buachaille Etive Mor twinkling under the stars but being in Scotland the constant cloud and rain has beaten me every time... until now. Parked up at the layby across from Lagangarbh Mountain hut I knew the shot I wanted but logistically it would be difficult due to the sheer amount of snow that had fallen. It was -15 and my wife and dog opted to stay in the warmth of the van (wrapped in a sleeping bag) while I ventured out in to the night.

I made my way down, wading through deep snow and stopped on a little mound with a perfect view of the mountain I had come to photograph. With the camera setup and the composition chosen I took a step back to marvel at the sight of what was the great Herdsmen of Glencoe and the surrounding landscape lost under a thick blanket of snow and ice. It was then I realised just how special an evening it was, standing there waist deep in snow I was engulfed by something I don’t seem to get to experience very often in the chaos of busy life...total silence. Not a single car nor a breath of wind, the only sound was from the crinkle of my down jacket. It was a feeling of total serenity as everything had come together for this moment under a sea of stars, standing alone under such an iconic mountain revelling in the silence. I almost didn’t want to take the shot as the sound of my shutter would shatter the silence. But it was what I had come for,  using the Nikon 14-24 gave me the scope to get not only a good percentage of foreground in to the shot but it also allowed a good portion of stars to be included in the image also. I could have stayed there all night but I had other shots on my agenda while conditions were so good.

Buachaille Etive Mor under a sea of stars. This is my favourite shot from the trip and the shot I had wanted for so long

Back at the van and after a quick cup of tea and I was on my way to photograph the 3 sisters, the roads were becoming quite difficult to navigate with ice forming on the already snow laden roads. A quick scout and I found a composition I quite liked taking in the view down the glen itself instead of looking directly at the mountains . It was getting late and the plummeting temperature was taking its toll on not just myself but the gear, with my ball head and tripod freezing solid making framing up increasingly difficult.

Bidean Nam Bian  part of the three sisters of Glencoe

We decided to head back down to the entrance to Glen Etive to park up for the night and hope the weather held for some more shots the following day. We found the only part of the road with a somewhat accessible lay by with the snow and parked up for the evening. I couldn’t resist nipping out and getting a shot of the van under the Buachaille and stars. I would like to say it was a pleasant night in the van but that would be total rubbish at -15 it probably compared to staying in an igloo with ice forming on the inside windows and the condensation from our breath freezing on all the gear. I am not sure if my wife will forgive me anytime soon for this trip.

My room with a view under the great Herdsmen of Glencoe (left)   The inside of the van window covered in ice

Moring came and with a strengthening easterly wind which was whipping up massive snow drifts on our only escape route. We hunkered down in the hope that it would soon pass but as usual my luck was not in that day and we made a desperate attempt to get the van turned and back out to civilisation. All was going remarkably well until we hit a massive snow drift that pushed us on to the verge and with that we were stranded. Obviously I wont repeat the colourful language I used as I desperately tried to get us moving again but it was in vain. Our only hope was the council had a jcb that it was using to dig cars out that been stranded for days. Luckily they were absolute gents and slowly made their way down to us getting stuck twice in the process themselves but managed to tow us safely out on the main road. They were then heading down to a lady that had been stranded in her house for 5 days so hopefully they were successful. After slipping the jcb driver something for his efforts we were on our way and the decision was made to head home as it was now white out blizzard conditions. In true A82 style this was easier said than done as there had been an accident further down and the road had been temporarily closed causing a huge tailback up and over Rannoch moor. We decided to try coming home via the Oban Loch Awe road which proved to be a good one as when we arrived at Tyndrum 3 hours later the road was still closed. A few hours later we were pulling up in our driveway already talking about the next adventure

Morning views before the blizzard moved in (left)   Being towed out by the fantastic guys from the council (right)

Buachaille Etive Beag from the river Coupall

If you made it this far thanks for reading my first attempt at a blog and I hope you will return for more of my adventures. As always any comments or suggestions are most welcomed

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