Autumn snow tunnels in the Cairngorms

October snow 'cave'Scotland’s autumn snow tunnels. Inside the Feith Buidhe snow-field in the Cairngorms. (Nikon D7100, 16mm, f8, 1/15sec with a Nikon SB700 Speedlite).

Most people aren’t too aware of it, but if you know where to look then you can find snow on any day of the year in Scotland. There have only been 5 occasions in the last 100 years when all the snow in the Highlands has melted entirely, and it has been possible to see snow every single day since 2006.

We’ve had some big winters in the hills recently and interest in Scotland’s summer snow patches has increased substantially. I’ve been fascinated with this subject since 2009 and I’ve watched this year’s extraordinary snow-patch ‘season’ unfold with excitement. Last winter seemed to never end on the mountains, with huge snow-falls and cold conditions persisting from November to late May on the highest tops. The result of this and a relatively cold summer is that extremely large areas of snow still exist in some places.

A few days ago I headed to the Cairngorms to photograph a snow-patch which often has totally melted by this time of year. Describing it as a ‘patch’ of snow certainly doesn’t do it justice – it is hundreds of feet long and about 20ft deep at its thickest. I wanted to approach photographing it the way I would a caving trip – taking self-portraits to give a sense of scale to the various voids and tunnels that exist inside the snow.

October snow tunnelA natural corridor formed by the melting of the snow. (Nikon D7100, 11mm, f8, 1/50sec, no flash).

After a careful and quite intricate descent down wet slabs of granite I managed to get to the lower end of the snow-field where I found two large ‘cave’ entrances. Inside it was absolutely amazing – a huge void carved out by meltwater with the surface of the snow sculpted into beautiful textures. My intention was to use a blend of available light and wireless-flash to light the tunnels as well as possible and to bring out the startling patterns in the snow.

October snow 'cave'
A huge void inside the snow-field. (Nikon D7100, 11mm, f8, 1/10sec, no flash).

A climb up some slabs at the back of the main chamber took me into a long natural ‘corridor’ between the back of the snow-field and the steep area of rock that rises up behind.  I spent a few minutes walking about finding interesting compositions and soaking up the atmosphere of this remarkable place. Even though I’d been expecting the snow-patch to be large, I was amazed at just how extensive it was. It will certainly survive through to the next lasting snows, which are now only a few short weeks away.

The Feith-Buidhe snow-fieldTwo of the entrances into the main ‘chamber’ with Hell’s Lum in the background. (Nikon D7100, 11mm, f8, 1/400sec).


2 Comments on “Autumn snow tunnels in the Cairngorms

  1. Awesome shots, we passed pretty close in April this year enroute Ben Macdui from the Northern Corries, the snowpack was so thick and corniced around the Feith Buidhe just downstream from Lochan Buidhe on the relatively level section, but nothing like your position on the steepening ground spilling over towards Loch Avon!


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