A photography trip to climb and wild camp on the summit of Sgurr an Fhidhleir (The Fiddler) in Coigach in the North West Highlands provided me with some special moments, some scary moments and the spectacular sight of the Aurora Borealis.
The Fiddler is one of the lesser climbed hills in the Coigach and Assynt area of Scotland, possibly due to the fact that it is ‘out of the way’ and hill walkers have to pass many other more famous peaks enroute, quite probably being distracted by the temptation of these other mountains, e.g. Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor, Cul Beag, etc.
The hike up the mountain begins almost at the end of a 30 mile single track road, through the village of Achiltibuie to the small hamlet of Culnacraig. The hike is described as a moorland walk. I would suggest otherwise. There are two relatively steep ridges to climb before the going gets easier and you glimpse the summit. It might be have been easier if I wasn’t carrying 25kg of camping and photography kit and the hike is longer than it looks.
After two and a half hours I reached the summit and this is where the fun began. I had planned to camp directly on the point of the summit but the wind was quite strong and I dropped down to a flat ledge about 20 metres below the summit for wind protection. Nevertheless, the Mountain Weather Information Service was forecasting 40mph winds gusting to 60mph. I set up the tent then weighed the tent pegs down with boulders. However, it was still getting a bit of a battering so I weighed down all the edges with large stones to afford additional protection. It was a good call as the tent withstood the wind.
Having pitched the tent it was then time for photography. The views out over the mountains of Assynt were good, but not stunning, while the sunset over the Summer Isles while nice to look at also did not make for great photos. Sometimes it can be like that, nice to look at but disappointing from a photography perspective. Maybe I was just tired and my ‘edge’ was missing after the long hard hike. I needed caffeine. Three cups of coffee later and I’m good to go but the light was fading fast. The Belt of Venus – the anti-twilight arch – appeared in the sky over the mountains of Assynt.
After dark the Milky Way could be clearly seen in the night sky directly overhead and I took the ‘standard’ tent on a mountain shots.
As I was packing up a faint glow appeared in the northern skies, then …. Bang - the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights) began to put on a spectacular display over the mountains of Assynt. The display lasted all of 30 minutes before fading.
It was a rough night in the tent, which was battered by the high winds and I didn’t get much sleep. What little sleep I did get was probably through exhaustion. At 5am I made my breakfast and had several more cups of coffee ready for the dawn.
Dawn was simply spectacular: a stunning sunrise lit up the clouds and I spent the next two hours taking photo after photo of the constantly changing scene. As the warm light of dawn faded, the morning cloud and mist began to drift up and over the mountain top, still good from a photography perspective, but a more subtle light.
At 10am I packed up. That is to say, I spent 15 minutes wrestling to flatten the tent in the high winds and get it packed away, eventually I just stuffed it into its bag through sheer frustration. The walk off the mountain was (obviously) a lot easier and made even easier by the high wind which was now at my back. After 90 minutes I was back at the car. Another great adventure. You make your luck.