Caught by the River

Nick's Pics

Nick Small | 25th April 2011

The Lakes, Luck and Lenticular Cloud. Words & pictures by Nick Small.

This photograph of a rather strange, beautiful sky, seen here exactly as the camera recorded it, is the result of a shutter-click, yet so much more.

A few weeks ago I went to the Lake District, tasked with making a short film for the One Show. Presenter/photographer Jamie Crawford would create a series of Spring photos, available for download on the One Show website for viewers use as desktop backgrounds. We had typically changeable Spring weather as we shot Wordsworth’s daffodils in the morning, and newborn lambs in the afternoon. We needed a dramatic landscape, and wanted to catch sunset and sunrise too.

This involved myself, Jamie, David and Mark (camera/sound) and Kieran (AP) getting up to Angle Tarn, high on the fells, a location with good panoramic views East and West, where we would camp for the night. We were assisted by local mountain man Ross Wallace, who provided us each with an 85 litre expedition pack. We had a fair bit of gear to take up. Ross and I had been keeping tabs on the weather forecast…there would be clearing skies for our overnight, but a rather unpleasant front carrying torrential rain on 60 mph winds was due the next morning. Exactly when it would arrive, we didn’t know and could only hope for the best.

At 5pm we took some shots of the waterfalls at the foot of Angle Tarn Gill and made the decision to climb the most direct (near vertical) route up alongside the cascades as the sun was getting low and I didn’t want us to miss the sun setting behind Helvellyn. Now this is a long and steep ascent without kit, but with a 40 grand HD Camera, tripod, head, sound equipment and all the camping paraphernalia this was a brutal assault on our middle aged physiques. How David got up there carrying the camera, I have no idea….we were on all fours for long sections of the long slog. Ross, the younger, fitter mountain goat kept us encouraged though and we made it to the tarn just in time to capture dramatic cloud sweeping across Helvellyn’s summit, backlit by the retiring orb, with the sun’s amber light painting the moorland grasses of High Street to the east, shades of pink and gold. The splendour was like morphine: the pain we’d endured soon ebbed, as triumphant euphoria numbed the aching limbs and tickled the pleasure parts of our tired minds.

Once we’d pitched camp and hungrily devoured the Spaceman food, expertly served up by Ross, we were treated to a pristine night sky, swept of all cloud and haze by the near freezing breeze. Save for a faint orange glow to the south east, betraying Greater Manchester’s presence, light pollution was almost totally absent. Some of our party were seeing the Milky Way for the very first time: Orion, Taurus, Cassiopeia, The Plough all clear and bright. We stood in the cold night air until late, sharing the majesty of it all. It was an “I love my job” moment.

None of us slept much. I seemed to spend much of the night fighting gravity and thought sleep had evaded me completely…though I was assured that I had indeed nodded off by those who had been kept from slumber by my snoring.

Ross sounded the dawn alarm at about 5 am. We all managed the contortions necessary to dress for the frigid morning inside tents that a five year old might consider cramped. The eastern sky started to brighten, minute by minute changing hues from deep blue, right through to the warmest gold. There was an odd dark shape in the sky…like a frontal system, but the front we were expecting was to come from behind us in the west. As the light grew more rich and intense, wavy lines echoing the landscape started to appear, picked out in bright threads of vivid colour. What we were seeing, and what you see in the photograph, is lenticular cloud. When the conditions are just right, lenticular clouds can form downwind of mountain ranges, where tiny ice particles are formed in a standing wave which rears up into a stiff breeze, just a fast flowing river swooping over a submerged ledge or weir, forms a stationary breaker.

For this photo to happen, the perfect combination of rare conditions had to occur: ripples of moist air rising and falling at the point of crystalisation, picked out by the brief intensity of dawn sunlight and, rarest of all, we had to be there, high on the fells when most sane folk were tucked up in bed.

As an added bonus, when I finally turned around to look west, I saw this….Helvellyn basking in the glory of it all. Just two hours later, the entire landscape was consumed by a storm.

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