A Night on Sgurr na Stri

18 July 2017

If you read my last article where I shared with you the camping and photography equipment I take with me when I go on my overnight trips, I mentioned how I had recently spent a night on Sgurr na Stri.

Well, early last week I decided to camp overnight on Sgurr na Stri, a location which arguably provides some of the best views, here on the Isle of Skye. You don't even have to be on the summit of the mountain, which is only at 494 metres, to get views looking down on Loch Coruisk, and across to the Cuillin Ridge.

I had been on Sgurr na Stri last April, all be it during the middle of the day, however I could already see the potential this location has to offer photographically. So, I checked the area out on my iPhone using the newly released The Photographers Ephemeris 3D app, which allows you to see how the light interacts with the landscape at any time of the year, and of course in 3D. What I saw on TPE 3D looked promising, however I also know that it starts getting better in a couple of months time, so wanted to using this as a camping recce trip.

The weather forecast looked promising, so late Tuesday afternoon I drove down to Sligachan from Portree where I would leave my car overnight, and started the walk down Glen Sligachan, before making my way up to Sgurr na Stri. It was a lovely walk with plenty of sunshine and a slight breeze. The first five miles are relatively flat through the glen, then you gradually make your way uphill for a mile, to the edge of Sgurr Hain where you look down on Loch a' Choire Riabhaich with a glimpse of Loch Coruisk in the distance.

It is then a case of another mile or so before you get to the lower slopes of Sgurr na Stri. At this point the view looked pretty good, so I decided to try and find a decent spot to pitch my tent, something which proved not very easy. Here the ground is mostly either rocky or damp/boggy. I finally settled on a spot which was big and dry enough to pitch my tent, however also had some areas of hard sections of grass sticking out, one of which was situated where the top of my sleeping mat would normally sit; so I knew I would simply have to rethink my sleeping position.

By time I had pitched my tent and got myself sorted inside, it was around 30 minutes before sunset, and the sun was just starting to make its way down behind the Cuillin. My hope was that there may be some nice orange hues to the sky after sunset which would look nice above the silhouetted Cuillin, however thirty minutes after sunset nothing was happening, so I decided to turn in and try and get a few hours sleep before sunrise.

Sunrise was around 04:45, so I set my alarm for 04:00, and upon unzipping the door to my tent, I could see it looked promising in terms of what I had envisaged for my main shot from the trip. I got myself ready and headed to a spot I found the night before, to set up my tripod and work out my composition, which would be multiple shots making up a panorama.

Around 30 minutes after sunrise, the sun had come far enough round to make its way between Marsco and Bla Bheinn of the red Cuillin, and started to light up the tops of the Cuillin Ridge. I checked my exposure, made sure I had the correct filter(s) in place and started capturing the scene in front of me. Here I took six images which I later merged together in Adobe Lightroom.

Ten minutes later and the light wasn't doing much more to the Cuillin Ridge, however I did notice some really nice light hitting Sgurr na h-Uamha, which also had some great cloud behind it. I promptly moved to a different viewpoint and swapped lenses in favour of my 70-200, allowing me to concentrate on capturing the mountain on its own.

After firing off a few shots from this composition I noticed how the cloud behind had broken up enough to allow the peak of the towering Sgurr nan Gillean behind to reveal itself, so changed my composition a little to allow for a slightly wider view.

I then spent the next hour watching how the continually changing light affected different parts of the landscape in front of me, therefore trying various compositions with the 70-200 lens still in place.

As the light wasn't doing much more, it was time to pack up my gear and make the seven mile walk back through Glen Sligachan to my car, stopping part way through the glen to fire up the stove and boil some water to make breakfast (seeing as it was a lovely morning and I was getting hungry).

Although I didn't get the two main shots I had envisaged, my panorama came out quite well, and I am rather pleased with some of the other shots I captured. I will most likely return to Sgurr na Stri without all the gear, to try and find a slightly better viewpoint (probably further round the northern face of the mountain), which also has a good enough tent spot nearby.

Although I chose to do the seven mile walk from Sligachan to Sgurr na Stri, you can always catch a boat from Elgol to Loch Coruisk, which would mean a walk of only a mile or so. However, in the summer you most likely need to book in advance, which makes impromptu trips based on the weather forecast harder to do.

Keywords: camping, sunrise, sgurr na stri, cuillin, coruisk

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