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Glen Muick & Lochnagar

It’s been a while since I wrote about an overnight trip away with my camera. In fact this one night camping is the first time I’ve been away overnight this year (and we’re in May). Despite not many trips away it has been a fairly busy start to 2017. As we started 2017 my (photographic) thoughts were dominated by my exhibition – Scotland’s North East Coast (in collaboration with Icarus Owen Photography) – it was looming large in my mind and concentrated my efforts within the local area. As our subject/theme was the local coastline it meant that it rarely called for anything more than a few early starts for sunrise.

With the exhibition now up and running my thoughts have turned to ‘What next?’

And with that question fresh in my mind I had a nicely timed enquiry as to whether I had any images of Glen Muick, Loch Muick or Lochnagar in the heart of Royal Deeside. This area is located just south of Ballater, Aberdeenshire and sits within the southerly boundaries of the Cairngorm National Park.

This is an area that I’ve only been to once before, that trip involved a very early start to drive into Glen Muick and then walk into Lochnagar for sunrise. I wrote a little blog on that trip and you can read it about it here if you wish.

My room for the night.

My room for the night.

This enquiry just gave me a reason (or excuse, depending on how you look at it) to plan a wee adventure into the area to try and capture an image worth sharing. I have seen a few images of Lochnagar and the theme is usually only the mountain with its smaller neighbour, Meikle Pap. I was after a view that allowed me to capture both Loch Muick and Lochnagar in one image. In order to capture this I knew I had to be up on the hills to the east of the loch so that I was looking west across the glen and into the mountain.

It was at this point that the research truly began, firstly a check of The Photographer’s Ephemeris to see where the sun would be rising and how it would play across the area. It turned out that at this moment in time the sunrise is perfect for lighting the surrounding summits and the corrie face of Lochnagar when looking west. With this checked and everything looking good I now had to find a suitable vantage point.

I’ve been using the online Ordnance Survey mapping for quite a while now. It allows you to check the topography as well as look for paths and features without the need to have paper maps covering the floor. OS Maps has also recently added a new feature; this is 3D mapping. This was the first time I had used this new feature and I found it extremely useful for finding a vantage point that, most importantly, gave a very good idea of the view you will have in front of you. I can see this being used quite often for future landscape trips, giving a proper sense of where the best place to be (within reason) might be. It means a little less of the ‘suck it and see’ approach although it doesn’t help with the weather!!

So with the basics covered; the sun doing what I needed it to do and a place to camp picked all I needed was the weather to play nicely and I was set for a wee overnight trip.

As it turned out the weather behaved impeccably, the week in the run up to my trip was wall to wall sunshine with reasonable daytime temperatures. If anything I was hoping for a little cloud to roll in and break up what was a very blue sky. I had parked the car around 19:00 on Friday evening and was expecting a bit of a slog up the hill – as it turned out I was only climbing for around 20minutes before I felt I was high enough with the view I was looking for. So, with campsite chosen and the tent pitched I settled in to watch the sun set in the west. The evening was extremely hazy albeit with reasonable visibility although any detail and clarity was near non-existent - I hoped for clearer air at sunrise.

My evening view. Not many rooms can boast a vista like this!

My evening view. Not many rooms can boast a vista like this!

Just after 21:00 I turned in for the night. I had set two alarms, the first for just after 1am – I wanted to see what the night sky was like, maybe try a bit of astro photography if the conditions were good – and the second for 04:30, sunrise was to be just after 5am. As I lay drifting off to sleep I was kept company by the Grouse that were busy talking to each other on the hillside.

At 01:15 I was woken by my first alarm and I noted that it was a little chilly outside of my nice and warm sleeping bag. I stuck my head out of the tent to be greeted by a very bright moon that was still high in the sky. I fumbled about with setting up the camera and stuck it on the tripod for a few quick ‘test’ shots – The conclusion? The moon was far too bright. It near enough obliterated any stars in the sky although it was turning the scenery to day with its bright silvery light. Less than five minutes later I was tucked back up in my sleeping bag, trying to go back to sleep before my 04:30 alarm.

The pre-dawn sky.

The pre-dawn sky.

Along with my sunrise alarm I woke to the sound of the Grouse. As the new day dawned they were busy calling to each other and making a fair noise! After crawling out my nice and warm sleeping bag I noted a distinct chill in the air – I hadn’t imagined it at 1am! I sorted myself out quickly and pulled on my down jacket to help keep me warm and exited the tent. It was at this point I noticed the ground frost and upon turning to look at the tent I saw it was white with a coating of frost. No wonder I thought it was chilly!! I quickly dug out a hat, gloves and my neck warmer.

My frost covered accommodation.

My frost covered accommodation.

Prior to turning in the night before I had taken a wander with the camera to try and identify where I wanted to set up for sunrise. It would save me a bit of time and a lot less faffing about. So, with my spot for setting up the camera already chosen I dug out what I needed and wandered over to set up and await the sun’s appearance.

Having set up the camera I then got my stove going with a pan of water for heating breakfast and making a cup of tea. As I sat observing I noted that the air had cleared up with the haze now gone - I’m guessing the overnight temperature drop is what cleared the air, literally! Looking north towards Ballater it was evident there was a bit of mist laying around the hills and over the River Dee. A bit of mist in the glen over the loch would have been a bonus but I was just happy it wasn’t hazy!!

As the sun appeared and started to light the landscape in front of me I became busy with capturing the changing light and the way it played across the hills. As the time neared 06:00 I decided that I had captured what I needed and, with the light quickly becoming brighter, I grabbed my breakfast and cup of tea. I sat watching to see how things would develop as the sun climbed higher and decided that after I’d eaten I would just pack up and head home - happy with what I thought I’d managed to capture. I was back at the car just before 7am and home just after 8am. All in the trip was around 14 hours but it was good fun and I wasn’t far from home.

Of the images captured this is the one that stands out from the rest, It is a panorama consisting of 3 images stitched together in Lightroom – First light on Lochnagar and the surrounding hills, Loch Muick sits in the shadows, the surrounding hills reflecting the in its near mirror like surface.

First Light on Lochnagar.