The Winter of 2014 will not be remembered as a particularly snowy period by many however if you live close to the mountains then you would be justified for finding fault with that statement. St. Valentine's Day, Feb 14th 2014 was the fourth out of five days and nights in a row of snow on Glenshane Pass and I had been out photographing the Winter weather on every one of those days in the hope of finding an exciting photo opportunity. Nothing particularly significant was happening on ground level however the forecast had promised more snow flurries across the Sperrins during the afternoon so I was looking forward to getting back up the mountain to see what it had to offer. My Dad rang me to arrange lunch so we met up and had a nice warm bowl of soup and hot tea at the Mid-Ulster Garden Centre in Maghera and that was when Dad suggested we take a quick run up the mountain to check out the snow and get a few images - this was music to my ears as I was already planning on doing so anyway - so we got into Dad's van then hit the road and ascended the steep mountain road towards the summit and already we could see a white layer on top so all was looking good.
When we reached half way up the mountain the casual nature of our trip changed dramatically for we were suddenly in the midst of a major traffic jam on the mountain road. At first it was slow going, then crawling, then we came to a halt and it quickly became clear that we had been suddenly thrust into a newsworthy Winter road traffic event and that the infamous Glenshane Pass was once again worthy of its reputation. The snow wasn't thick, in fact, it varied from a dusting here to 4" of snow near the top and on the road sides, however it was a bitter day and during this time of the afternoon the temperature was dropping like a stone and it became apparent that the road was freezing over in dramatic fashion with ice, snow, and freezing slush all at once as new snow showers let loose above us - the situation was fast becoming out of control.
We struggled to see what was causing the hold up on the road near the top however through the dancing snow flakes we saw a collection of trucks clustered close together and stationary so something was going on however we where too distant to know for sure. Judging by the angles of the trucks it seemed that several had spun-put, lost traction completely or by the look of one of the trailers perhaps a jack-knifed lorry too, we could also see Police and road crew on the scene, we weren't going anywhere for a while. I began getting images through the van windscreen however the temperature difference between the interior, the outside and my breathing caused my optics to mist over and the view through the windscreen was hampering my light so I considered getting out onto the road to get better images then Dad encouraged me to do so - so I went for it. This was a 400mm zoom image looking towards the top of the Pass.
Turning around 180 degrees and facing down the Pass, the length of traffic was massive with cars, vans and trucks piling up bumper to bumper all the way to the bottom and even beyond Oak Leaf Filling Station. On a quick count I estimate 65 vehicles in this image alone, there must have been several hundred in total. It felt weird standing out on this open road with lines of traffic in front and behind for as far as the eye could see and it was all because of the snow and ice, I felt like I could sense everyone's emotions, there was an intense feeling of ''what was the hold up?'', ''come on come on'', ''cursing'' and ''worry'' - it was a Friday afternoon and everyone just wanted to be home and not stuck on a dangerous mountain road as more snow fell and darkness beckoned.
Many people were loosing patience and those who could got turned - pulled out from the que - and headed back down the mountain road. I was standing between the front of Dad's van and the rear of the car in front and as the traffic inched slowly up the mountain road at irregular intervals I inched forward with them so that I was always between both, it was a little unnerving being out in the middle of this with hundreds of eyes watching you with the road getting covered in what looked like glace ice, my boots were starting to slip back down the gradient with each foot step, this felt a little dangerous among all these cars on a steep road in poor light with little in the way of traction, I was just glad I had my high visibility jacket on.
There was some great photo opps at the top of the mountain and I wanted to get them on camera and I soon felt more in the way of excitement than apprehenschion and the photographer in me went into first gear. I crossed the road to the hard shoulder on the right and began my climb up the road through the deeper snow, it was hard going on the incline crunching my way uphill in the snow carrying the heavy 100-400mm lens while a cold breeze cut through my layers of clothes and my lungs worked overtime due to the effort, my breath formed milky clouds in the air and flurries of snow fell from dark clouds overhead, I felt very uncomfortable but yet I was loving it, you can't beat being out in the snow with the camera, I was in my element, here's one of the road crew in a 4x4 pick up monitoring the operation.
I was near the top but not quite there yet so I employed the 100-400mm to get me closer into the action. The jack-knifed truck had been sorted however this truck had been stationary here from the very start, maybe it too had spun out in the ice.
I have a thing for shooting traffic struggling in Winter weather and I also have a thing for trucks in snow which I think stems back from watching too many episodes of Ice Road Truckers years ago so this was my favourite action shot of the day. More vehicles can be seen waiting behind the truck and even the familiar 212 bus.
That man must have come from one of the other vehicles behind and was now chatting with the truck driver. It was now extremely cold with a brutal wind chill and I was really feeling it, my sweat was now freezing on my skin and the wind chill was sucking the energy from me, I was tired, cold, my hands were trembling and my chest was starting to wheeze, I had only been out here in the open for perhaps 15-20 min's - that's how quickly exposure at a high elevation can effect you.
The road crew were in action and things were happening fast, if the road couldn't be cleared soon then this place was going to be a disaster at rush hour and that time was fast approaching. The crew did a professional job, parts of the snow and ice were cleared and the plough towed the truck out and things were looking up for everyone.
The traffic was slowly back in motion and I could almost hear the collective sigh of relief from all the drivers who were elated about getting moving again with the prospect of a warm cosy home waiting for them. This member of the road crew deserved a pat on the back for a job well done, I even got chatting with him for a while.
Last shot of the day with the traffic once again flowing as the light level dropped, I spotted Dad's van and made my way across and was glad to be back in the interior away from the unfriendly wind chill, I got the heat on full blast and warmed my aching cold fingers, they were dangerously red in colour and shaking from holding the metal lens however at least I was feeling pain so everything was still working. That was a fun and memorable shoot on Glenshane Pass documenting a dramatic snow-related road incident, we had never expected to be stuck in the middle of this when we were sipping our tear earlier. I didn't have much time to rest, I got home and threw my damp clothes on the radiator and had a quick dinner, charged the batteries then I was back out in the elements once again ready for an all-night photo shoot with friend and Omagh photographer Paul Martin.
The forecast was for a clear freezing night with pockets of mist and fog with a chance of convective snow showers over northern coastal areas, normally we would be after this very thing however tonight we would be trying something very different and would be heading inland to the E for a long drive to Glenariff Forest Park with the intention of shooting the famous waterfalls here under moonlight. I had visited this location a number of times in daylight and ever since I have always wanted to shoot it at night, Paul and I had talked about it for many months and for one reason or another we never got a chance until now, everything looked rite, clear skies, a near full moon and all the recent stormy weather in the form of rain, hail and snow would be producing significant amounts of water to feed the waterfalls, so we made it happen, whether this shoot would work or not we simply didn't know, however there was only one way to find out. We met at Cookstown then drove to Maghera in two cars, while passing through Desertmartin we saw a big cell over the Sperrins lit by the moon, we really wanted to stop to shoot it however time was ticking and we had to be on location, it was already 22.00 and we had an hour and a half of driving ahead of us on roads which could be slippery in the falling temperature.
We made it to Glenariff Forest Park and Paul and I couldn't wait to get to the first waterfall, it was extremely atmospheric here and magical, clouds and stars battled for dominance overhead and in case the clouds won we got our cameras set-up in the car park and focused on planet Jupiter so we had infinity focus, that way when were in the dark forest area surrounded by high cliffs and clouds overhead we could still shoot. The first waterfall was magical, there it was in all its glory with icy cold water rushing down accompanied by a steady thunderous roar which made it difficult to hear each other talk. Photography here was extremely challenging, spray was blowing through the night air from the waterfall for a considerable distance covering the lens constantly in water droplets so I had to keep taking images then wiping the lens over and over again, this was 10mm wide angle with tungsten white balance with the waterfall lit entirely by the light of the full moon during this long exposure, the result was both eerie and beautiful.
Shooting over the safety rails at 18mm, I was getting soaked with spray and the camera's were drenched but what an atmosphere! - a constant sound of rumbling, rushing, and moonlit movement, this was spectacular, the moon was high overhead above the cliffs with the brighter stars along the ecliptic winking down on us, the timing was perfect because had we arrived later the moon would have dropped behind the mountain and the waterfalls would have been in dark shadow making photography useless - the moment was captured and the night was not lost, I was rather happy with this one, this scene looks haunting yet enchanting.
Later we climbed to the top of the same waterfall only this time we were looking down it instead of up, this was 10mm on auto white balance, the moon was so bright that the images looked like daytime in our exposures. This was 00.30 on a cold Winter night, Paul and I were taking a substantial risk standing here to get these images very close to the edge on wet grass with gaping holes and rocks and dead falls into the water below, however we chose our steps carefully and used our head torches, it was exhilarating being here.
We made our way further into the depths of Glenariff Forest to seek out the other waterfalls, the main route which hugged the moonlit river was blocked off from the public due to restoration work being done because the walkways and cliff faces were extremely dangerous and had broke and collapsed in places due to all the rainfall, flooding and gales, after all, it had been the stormiest Winter in N. Ireland since records began. Paul and I got around the obstacles and at one time made our way around a thick tree trunk with feet close to the edge of the river then we ventured into dark territory and over dodgy planks and wooden boards which didn't feel entirely safe at all, the other waterfalls were spectacular however they didn't work out for us because of the high cliff blocking the moon and stars so composition was difficult and the fast flowing icy river made it impossible to get into the water for a better angle.
To be honest I found this location very creepy at night, Paul and I would split up to do our own photography and for a time we would lose sight of one another due to the sharp angles of the rocky cliff, it was during these moments when I was standing on the wooden walkway taking exposures beside the waterfalls that I felt an overpowering sensation that I was not alone, the feeling was so powerful that I felt like someone was standing rite behind me and I soon felt very uneasy and cold and decided to lift the camera and move back, I moved back around to Paul and we had a chat about what I was sensing and Paul said that he didn't want to say anything at the time but he also had been feeling the same thing in certain areas. This was all very interesting then I decided to take one more image before going back to the car, this was with the 50mm F/1.8 of one of those waterfalls in glorious moonlight taken from the wooden walkway with tripod lowered and camera exposing from between the two cross sections of wood, I rather like it.
Paul and I then had our tea then drove across the frost-covered mountain roads and did another shoot at The Dark Hedges which didn't really work out however it was still a thrilling experience being there on a moonlit night at 03.00, we then made our way home feeling exhausted. I was never going to show the Glenariff images online because at the time I didn't think they were in any good, however after eight months I decided to showcase them because they represent an exciting and atmospheric night at a new location with many miles behind the wheel making for yet another great experience. What a thrilling day and night - snow and ice then moonlit waterfalls, thanks for reading.