Yesterday, my group and I headed up Table Mountain in the cable-car just before 09:00. The temperature was about 5 degrees centigrade and even my intrepid clients, used to the cold and snow of New Zealand, found it a bit chilly. But we were warmly-dressed, the sun was shining, and there was no wind. I fully expected to find some snow up there.
There was no snow but we found something even more special. As we strolled from the city side facing the rising sun, to the opposite side of the mountain that faces the beaches of Camps Bay, in the west, we had the low sun behind us and there was some mist coming in from the south.
And there it was in front of us – a Brocken Spectre. At first appearing to be a small round rainbow we gazed at it in wonder, and memories of something I’d heard recently came flooding back to me. This was an unusual phenomenon only experienced in mountains when the sun is low and behind you. I knew that I was supposed to see my shadow in the ‘rainbow’ so I moved my arms and there it was – movement, vague and shadowy but unmistakably my own shadow in a ‘rainbow’ on the mountainside. The Brocken Spectre is your own shadow, cast on mists below you.
Of course I couldn’t remember the full name of this phenomenon but I googled it as soon as I got home. The ghostly Brocken Spectre is named after the highest peak of the Northern Harz Mountains in Germany. It’s normally experienced by mountain-climbers and early morning hikers, so we were rather lucky! The rainbow effect is caused by particles of water in the air.
It’s also known as the Glory Effect or the Solar Glory. Here are some more photos of it, including an airplane, and here’s the detailed Wiki explanation and some literary references. My photos are taken with my phone so forgive me the poor quality – it is ghostly, after all.
Within minutes I was showing off by pointing it out to anyone and everyone in earshot, and the top of the mountain was soon full of people waving their arms around as if trying to catch someone’s attention. It’s said that you can only see your own shadow in it but if you stand close to someone else you can see two figures.