The Bigger Picture: Mountain running in the Grey Corries

'The Bigger Picture' is an occasional series where I share the story behind some of the images in my portfolio.

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Charlies Lees expressing his joy about being high in the Grey Corries at 4.30am in the West Highlands of Scotland.

The Grey Corries are a group of four Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft) that form a natural rocky ridge running south-west from Spean Bridge in the West Highlands of Scotland to Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak. I’ve trekked over the Grey Corries many times, on day trips as well as backpacking them as part of the Lochaber Traverse and during an attempt on Tranter’s Round. Each time I’ve arrived on the summit of Stob Choire Claurigh, the highest summit in the Grey Corries at 1177m, I’ve made a mental note of the expansive views as the ridge snakes its way south-west towards Ben Nevis. I’ve always resolved to come back for a photo shoot.

The image I had in my head was of a trail runner descending from the summit of Stob Choire Claurigh as the sun set far in the west over Ben Nevis. I’d roped in a friend, Charlie Lees, who is supported by Gorewear, and we’d hiked up the mountain the previous afternoon so we were in a perfect position for the shoot. Unfortunately, as is often the case in Scotland, the weather didn’t play ball. The forecast was good but the light at sunset was muted by low-lying cloud and so we improvised instead, shooting a variety of shots until it got too dark (around 11pm). I wasn’t too concerned as we’d had the foresight to bring sleeping gear with us and we planned to spend the night on the summit so we could shoot again the following day.

In the morning, I woke early, well before sunrise. I was disappointed to find the cloud was still there but a wild mountain hare, stationary not five feet from my head, buoyed my spirits. The hare and I sat in silence for a while, perhaps both of us just admiring the view, before it hopped off down the ridge. I called out to Charlie and we got ready for the shoot.

My intentions were still to shoot facing west, catching Charlie as the sun caught the ridgeline out to Ben Nevis. The view to the east though as the sun rose behind the spine of a subsidiary top, Stob Coire na Ceannain, caught my eye and we headed along the ridge. As Charlie crested the summit, he leapt in the air slightly and I knew I had my shot. After a few repeat takes, including some without the leap, I was happy.

Capturing this image reminded me that the photograph I’m most glad to have captured is not always the one I had planned. It’s best I keep an open mind and consider all my options when planning and executing a shoot. It also reminded me to keep an eye on an athlete’s natural traits and take advantage of them, when it’s appropriate, when I’m producing an image.

Published in: A variation of this image was published in Runner’s World, June 2018


Thanks go to Charlie’s partner, Naomi Freireich, who was with us on this shoot so we could capture separate images of her on her mountain bike.