Riding the Sierra Wave
The week was worth it for that one hour alone
Believe me if we could guarantee the events of the Wednesday dawn on our Autumn workshop week in La Alpujarra then we’d be doing ‘Northern Lights’ type business.
The previous week had been uniformly hot and sunny with deep blue skies. Pleasant enough, of course, but challenging for photographers, even when adopting the “love the light you have” philosophy.
Our guests arrived at La Estrellita on the Saturday in a light shower with rainbows to the East, and a steady, warm rain fell gently throughout our Sunday morning orientation session. This was more like it; changeable but not unpleasant weather bringing the prospect of skies and shadows.
With more rain forecast for Monday night, not clearing until late morning, I went with the responsive photographer’s hunch: to delay our planned dawn raid on the mountain village of Cañar until Wednesday. Instead we took a leisurely breakfast and drove to the Poqueira valley with clouds hanging heavy on the Sierra, stopping to take advantage of momentary shafts of light that always come at the edges of weather.
Watching the sky that evening, I had a feeling that my intuition would be rewarded. A few fleeting clouds gave hint that the Sierra Nevada wave was rolling off the high mountains to the North. With light not hitting Cañar until at 8:20am, we scheduled a morning departure for 7:00.
When I stepped outside the villa in the faint light of dawn, hints of cloud shapes hovered overhead, barely discernible, flowing, layered. The wave was rolling and with was one of La Alpujarra’s legendary wave clouds. The others were not aware and I didn’t let on my excitement straight away.
We climbed the 8km on the switchback road to Cañar. And with every turn to the right, the wave cloud presented itself in the gathering light, much to Chris and David’s astonishment. I don’t think we realised how fast we walked through to the east side of the village.
It took a few minutes to settle into the moment, to find the right viewpoint and to tune in to the changing colours. A dome of morning glow spread over us before the cloud turned to gold, seeming almost to be lit from within. For fifteen minutes it played out its show before turning to light yellow and then white.
And my choice of location immediately gave its ‘two for the price of one’ value when we turned on the spot to see Cañar light up as the sun crested the ridge. One golden rule is always to look in the other direction too.
Photography workshops have to be a fusion of coaching and tuition with taking a holiday, seeing the place and relaxing. For photography they present a learning opportunity more than a guarantee of getting great images. But sometimes we get lucky and witness something extraordinary. Some of that luck we can make for ourselves by going on a hunch, or even riding with the wave …