The Buttermere Fells
An expansive panorama of the peaks of Buttermere and Crummock Water from Fleetwith Pike.
Image Size : 840 x 280 mm
Print Size : 960 x 406 mm
The English Lake District owes much of its appeal to its charming and sometimes complex blend of mountain, valley and lake, and nowehere is there a better example of this phenomenon than Buttermere. Having climbed these mountains many times over three decades, I have accumulated a vast array of photographic material of their most fascinating aspects. However, it was only when I started working with the Fuji GX617 did I begin to realise the potential of the panoramic format to produce a particularly striking and comprehensive single image of the whole area.
Of the many enjoyable viewpoints on the Buttermere fells, my particular favourite has always been the one looking north-west from the summit of Fleetwith Pike. From this lofty perch, one is blessed with a grandstand view of the entire Buttermere valley; a complex yet perfect composition of intricate ridgelines, corries and buttresses rising up out of a valley filled with a ribbon of blue lakes leading the eye towards the distant horizon. But whilst this viewpoint was unquestionably the one which I particularly wanted to use, I was also very aware that achieving the precise image that I wanted was going to be extremely problematical.
Given my now mandatory requirements for any image containing such complexity and detail - rich and varied colours, strong directional light and above all crystal clear air - the period of opportunity during which these conditions might previal in Buttermere excluded all the summer months and much of late spring and early autumn. I have generally found the winter months very productive, but on this project this season would also give me unsurmountable problems. Simply put, such is the depth of the Buttermere valley, its geographical orientation and the dominance of the shadow of Fleetwith Pike, that for much of the year the perfect image is extremely difficult to capture.
Once I had taken all these factors into consideration, it was clear that the opportunity for my 'perfect' shadow-free image from Fleetwith Pike in early morning light was going to be during a fairly narrow window sometime around the time of the Spring equinox. And so, from February 2002, I started to make frequent early morning visits to Fleetwith Pike; each involved setting off from Honister in the pre-dawn, each started with promise and anticipation in the hope of success, but each eventually ending in disappointment for one reason or another.
On several occasions I reconsidered my approach to this project and started looking for alternative viewpoints. I visited one such option on the ridge between Dale Head and Hindscarth, but it had none of the grandeur of the view from Fleetwith Pike and I soon dropped the idea. On the morning of the Spring equinox in 2007, having submitted to frustration and impatience, I found myself on Rannerdale Knotts with a beautiful view of a snow-covered Red Pike reflected in Crummock Water before me. The material I obtained that morning was excellent, but upon reflection later in the day I realised that what I had really done was miss the perfect opportunity on Fleetwith Pike that I had been seeking all those years.
But luck sometimes favours the brave, and just three days later I was persuaded by another promising weather forecast to take yet a further pre-dawn trip up Fleetwith Pike. Five years after starting what was turning out to be one of my most difficult projects, I arrived on the summit along with the first rays of the sun at 0615 to be greeted with totally clear skies and the most perfect view down Butternere.
In eager anticipation that this, at long last, was going to be the day that I captured my elusive image, I set up my equipment in readiness for the moment. The shadow of Fleetwith Pike filled Warnscale Bottom and to a height of 500 metres on High Crag, so realising that I had time on my hands, I took extra care to ensure that I carried out all my prepations correctly; I could not afford to make any mistakes.
It was with some excitement as, at 0815, I watched the shadow of Fleetwith Pike finally disappear from view leaving me with the perfect image that I had planned. Over the next fifteen minutes I shot more than 50 images of a panorama extending from Black Sail Pass Ennerdale in the south-west to Robinson in the north-west, including, as expected, the particularly impressive Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater.
With the image now in print, it is a constant reminder to me that capturing high quality images in the mountain environment is always down to detailed planning, ruthless determination and a lot of good luck with the weather.