Monday, 22 June 2020


Carn Etchacan & The Shelterstone Crag, 0445
Over the years I have made an effort to get a high bivvy out on the mountains for the Summer Solstice. It's one of those 'you must do if you're a mountaineer'. Of course the whole idea of it is to enjoy a stunning sunrise on the longest day of the year. Of the many bivvies I have done over the years I think A' Mhaighdean in the Fisherfield Forest ranks has my finest sleep out at Solstice. A glorious 2 days.The prize for the  most miserable one was probably Clisham on Harris in cloud, rain and midges! You can't win them all.
Of course camping out (which includes bivvying?) isn't allowed at the moment in Phase 2 of Covid come-out. So the next best thing is to walk through the night and plan on getting to a chosen mountain top at sunrise.
I am 24 hours 'out', I know. The true Solstice was yesterday but the forecast for the early morning yesterday was dull and cloudy so I gave that one a swerve.

The Northern Horizon at 0230 from Coire Cas
One loctaion I have been meaning to photograph for some time now is the huge and spectacular Carn Etchacan & Shelterstone Crag. This remote climbing crag is steeped in Mountaineering history. Some hard summer and winter routes here. It's in a remote and very beautiful spot above Loch A'an. A fair trek to get to never mind doing a spot of extreme climbing. The crag faces East, therefore to get a good photograpic image you ideally need to capture it early morning, preferably at dawn. Of course being the Summer Solstice it is now sunrise at 0419 (precisely)! The best spot to photograph it is at the top of Stag Rocks on the Cairngorm plateau. I left my house on my bike at 2300 on Sunday evening.
Sunrise behind Cairn Gorm
Apart from my bike lights, I didn't have to use my headtorch all night/early morning. This time of year it is basically twighlight. A lovely bike up to Glenmore and the ski road. I then walked up Coire Cas to the 1141m top and over the plateau. It was chilly up high, single digits C. A brisk breeze was also blowing. Not ideal for photography so I was hoping to get some shelter amongst the many wee tors that litter the edge of the  plateau above Stag Rocks. Of course there used to be a bothy, well shelter, here. St Valery. It was pulled down after the Cairngorm disaster in 1971. This was a dark day in The Cairnorms. Many children and 1 adult perished in winter blizzards high on the plateau. They were searching for another bothy that existed at the time in the Feithe Buidhe area. All but 2 of the group perished from exposure and cold as they failed to loacte it in the appauling conditions. After this incident all the high shelters were pulled down for safety reasons. Far better plan to get yourself down off high ground than risk searching for a small shelter in poor conditions. All that exists of this  bothy at the top of Stag Rocks is a slab of granite which is inscribed with the St. Valery shelter name. It's a good bit of micro navigation to find it.
The only remains of the St. Valery Shelter
I arrived in good time, 0330 so plenty of time to set up the tripod and camera. Also scoping out the best viewpoints and windless spots. Photography is much better with a few clouds around and the light was just catching under some of the clouds above Cairn Gorm summit.

Cairn Gorm summit with beautiful lit clouds
The ever changing colours
All my photography tries to capture the colours I actually see. Some photographers will argue it's art and the camera can never capture what the eye sees. Fair enough. In these days of mobile phones and social media it's getting quite extreme with the 'art' form. No doubt you'll have come across the many images with completely saturated colours of sunsets and sunrises. Big no, no for me but hey ho, people must lovely gory and weird colours!
First rays of light on Carn Etchachan with Ben Macdui in the background
Suns up! Loch A'an below
I was jumping between sunrise shots in the East and the first rays on the roks of Carn Etchachan. Can't be in the two places at the same time! It's always very special that first sight of the sun peeping over the skyline. What joy.
Beautiful colours

Shelterstone Crag (centre picture)
Soon the whole mountain side was illuminated and Loch A'an was just catching some daylight too. It's amagnificent scene. This whole area is, for me, the finest place in the Cairngorms. From Stag Rocks round to the summit of Carn Etchachan. Whicever viewpoint spot you choose along the crag edges you can't go wrong. This morning at this particular time it was most definitely the place to stand!
The glorious beaches and water of A'an. Lying at 700m. The jewel of the Cairngorms

Carn Etchachan towering over Loch A'an
I spent a good hour moving about finding some of the best spots to capture the ever changing light. Already the clouds were rolling in from the SW over Ben Macdui's summit. The beautiful light was about to disappear. What a glorious sight and enough time to savour it all.
Hard to choose

Cloud creeping over Ben Macdui
That was it. Dull cloud and flat light. It was over. Light is everything in photography. Early morning and evening the finest times, always. It is worth getting up early and stumbling out of bed. Or in my case, no sleep the previous evening! I was going to stay a while on the plateau for some wildlife photography. The wind had picked up and it was quite dull. I was happy to head back down, despite lumbering all the camera gear!
Magic. Will be back here for a winter sunrise soon! At least in winter you get a wee lie in!
The final sunlight, 0600

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