Get your head in the clouds #2

Flying through the clouds on top of the Mournes


In the previous entry in this short series, I reminisced about childhood desires to bounce on cotton wool clouds. There is, of course, another childhood desire when it comes to clouds - it is to emulate Superman and to soar through then midst of them as is flying.

A week and an half ago I got to do just that on Doan in the heart of the Mournes.

As I had drove south to the Mournes, the skies above were becoming ever clearer, and I thought that I wasn't going to get amazing skies for the sunset. Nevermind, I thought to myself, being on top of a Mourne summit is always its own rewards, photos or no photos. 

Little did I realise at that time that I was going to be treated to the most incredible of cloudy experiences in the heart of the mountains. For the same high pressure that produced the temperature inversion over Belfast - allowing me to climb up above the clouds and look down from on high - was bringing in south easterly winds across Northern Ireland. That meant they swept across the Irish Sea, picking up lots of moisture on the way. When the reached the south east coast of Ulster, the air was immediately forced to rise up over the majestic peaks of the Mournes. As it did so, it cooled, condensation occurred - and clouds were formed. Clouds that found their home over the various summits of the Mournes, while the valleys below were left free and clear.

The ascent

It was as fellow landscape photography, Ryan Simpson, his dad Trevor and I cleared the Mourne Wall and the kingdom opened up in front of us that we first got a hint of was was about to come. Although Doan was clear, behind the taller summits of Binnian and Donard were obscured behind this orographic cloud. The cloud base was well below 2000 ft. 

As it was late in the afternoon, we quickly made our way towards the top, wanting to be in place well before sunset (car park to summit in 1 hour - not bad!) And it was as I reached the very highest point on Doan that the first of the cloud appeared. The moist air was being funnelled all the way along the elongated Silent Valley - the valley that has Doan sitting proudly at its head. As it reached our location, it again was swept upwards. And, miracle of miracles, the cloud appeared out of thin air before our very eyes. Orographics in motion. 

Into the clouds

I managed to catch a shot of Trevor coming up out of the cloud to join us. And I knew we were in for a real photographic treat!

The next hour or so, Ryan and I got on with our respective photographic endeavours, while Trevor busied himself with the barbecue (yes, barbecue!) that he had brought up. 

All the while the cloud whipped past and around us. One moment, we were immersed in the thick fog, barely able to see 10m in front of us. Another, and the cloud swept away, revealing hints of the glorious vista all around. To our west, a bank of cloud rested over the mountain ridge, partially obscuring the harsh glare of the sun, backlighting the clouds as they soared north west.

As I moved to the southern end of Doan's peak, I was brought right to the heart of the cloud. As I looked down over Silent Valley, the clouds quite literally swirled towards, around and past me. I looked up - and suddenly I was flying. The clouds sailed past me as if I had taken flight and was soaring, Supermanesque, right through them. Then, once again, they would part and the view from the heights would open once more. I have driven through clouds on top of hills before, but never have I had an experience quite like this. It was mesmerising.

Even Superman needs to eat, however, and before long Trevor had the gourmet burgers ready, complete with cheese and fried onions. The tastiest picnic in history, surely!

Peaks picked out in gold

After dining in style, I moved back to the summit to catch Ryan in action, and lone figure dwarfed by the sheer scale of the landscape we were immersed in. By now, the sun had slipped well below the cloud, and most of the landscape was succumbing to the subdued tones of twilight. But the peak of Binnian still was picked out in the last golden tones of the sun. I loved the light and colour contrasts.

I turned around to see the summit of Bearnagh similarly lit. I put my zoom lens on for a close up shot as the cloud licked around the peak, bathed in the warm glow of the ebbing sun. 

What I would have loved is for a mate to be standing there - unfortunately, we couldn't quite make the hour's hike over there in time. So I have "borrowed" a selfie I took up Doan and transported myself over the top of Bearnagh (I was feeling quite like Superman after all, and that journey would have been no problem for him!)

Eventually, as the darkness closed in rapidly, it was time to break camp and make for the cars. I know this route back down very well. And it was just as well, as the cloud base descended as we climbed down from Doan. For most of the next hour we were immersed in the cloud in the ever growing darkness. It pays to be very careful in the mountains as the weather can change very quickly. I would never attempt something like this alone in case something went wrong. Take care up there if you're heading out folks! But we were sure of our route and we passed the time in amicable chat as we headed down. 

What an adventure. The day I soared through the cloud!

To finish, I want to share the video I took that day. The cloud was moving so fast that, even shooting in real time, it looked like time lapse. I have sped the clouds up two times in this video. I'd love you to check it out - I think it's the best video I've produced yet!