Sunday 15 November 2009

Brocken Spectre, Schiehallion

Last Friday after a week of low cloud, mist and drizzle I wandered up Schiehallion - the fairy hill of the Caledonians - on what was forecast to be the last day of reasonable weather before big storms swept in. There was even a chance of sunshine and summits clear of cloud. For the first time in days there was a brisk wind and squally showers blasted across the lower slopes of the hill, some past and gone in just a few minutes, one lasting long enough to dampen my outer clothing. As the storm clouds raced away the sun would shine briefly before the next squall blew in and there was a succession of rainbows. Higher up the squalls were of hail and light snow. As I walked over the awkward, smooth, sharp edged quartzite blocks of the summit ridge the sun was coming and going as ragged clouds enveloped the mountain only to be torn apart seconds later by the wind and hurled over the steep edge to slide away into the glen. The wind was bitter and the ground frozen with puddles of solid ice and remnants of the snowfall of a week earlier between the boulders. As I approached the summit cairn the sun appeared again and I suddenly saw a giant shadow thrown out on the clouds below, a shadow ringed by a bright halo. I waved. The giant waved back for it was of course my shadow projected on to the clouds by the light behind me, a phenomenon known as a Brocken Spectre from the Brocken, the highest peak in the Herz mountains in Germany, where it is frequently seen. The apparently huge size of the shadowy figure is an optical illusion, caused by a lack of identifiable reference points. I was thrilled to see this Brocken Spectre, one of those unexpected magical moments of mountain light that make even familiar mountains exciting and inspiring. In this case seeing the Brocken Spectre from the summit of the peak so that it projected right from the tip of the shadow of the mountain itself made it even more special.

Photo info: Brocken Spectre, Schiehallion, November 13, 2009. Canon 450D, 18-55mm IS @55mm, 1/160@f5.6, ISO 200, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.4


  1. Nice one Chris - always good to see a Brocken Spectre....

  2. Great shot - lots of colour in the spectre. My photos of brocken spectres have always been disappointingly faint - did you use a polarizer?

  3. Yes, I did use a polariser. I find one pretty much essential for rainbows and Brocken Spectres. Colours can be brought up in raw conversion software but I've not found them to look as natural as with a polariser.