The Mach Loop Experience

I got in contact with my old buddy and longtime friend from Manchester - Phil Edwards.

Phil - “You fancy going to the Mach Loop on Monday?"

Me - “Absolutely!"

They only fly through the Mach Loop on weekdays. My timing was perfect for our trip to the Mach Loop.

We rose at 0400 and hit the road. We picked up friends - Kev and Keith and we were set on our way out to Wales to the Mach Loop. We arrived at Dolgellau at 0700 and met Kev’s brother Kelvin. A quick bite to eat at the local cafe to fuel us for the climb up the hill. Kelvin broke the bad news to us - the Americans wouldn’t be flying today as they had a public holiday. My heart sank a little.

The spot we were headed to is the Bluebell. One of the entry points to the Mach Loop.

Going up to spot at the Mach Loop is like nothing else I’ve done before. It’s serious stuff. You need to be prepared for the hike up and for 8 hours or more up on the hill.

One thing is certain with the Mach Loop - nothing is certain.

You might spend a whole day up there and get to photograph nothing.

What to take:

Essential

  • Warm clothing and lots of it. I had 4 layers on and still it wasn’t enough. Next time I’ll be taking thermals, wind puffer vest, beanie and gloves.
  • Hiking boots and Gaitors. The grass and shrubs are long and wet in the morning. There’s mud on the paths. Hiking Boots are absolutely essential. Gaitors are a luxury but wear quick drying pants otherwise you’ll have wet pants all day and thats no fun.
  • A good camera backpack
  • A packed lunch and water
  • A small two man tent to buffer from the wind. The saving grace for everyone was the two man tent that we alternated in and out of to give our selves a rest from the wind.

What would make the experience more enjoyable.

  • A gas camping stove thats small and lightweight. You can find these at camping stores, they only weight a few hundred grams. I would’ve loved nothing more than noodles or a soup during the day.
  • Hiking Poles though no completely necessary if its been raining it would make the climb and descent far easier
  • Small camping chair.

So we commenced our climb up to Bluebell. We started off going through tussock. My pants were saturated at the ankles. Kev and Kelvin were in good spirits with their gators on. The hike up took roughly 35 mins. We reached a plateau on the side of the mountain. It was perfect for pitching the tent. It had some flat ground and few wind breaks.

Sullivan brothers reach the summit first

Camp set up for the day

So the wait began. We stared straight to entry of the Mach Loop.

Everyone was fixated on that one narrow entry point.

You get little to no phone reception on Bluebell. Not that much shows up on Flightradar24. Sometimes the pilots will radio in to say they are entering the Mach Loop. Other times they won’t.

You have zero notice on when or what is coming. Your camera must be within an arms reach at all times.

Me - "I hear something, yep. Herc!"

Kelvin - "Another Herc!"

Cherry broken! I’d photographed something at the Mach Loop. A two ship of Herc’s within 10 seconds of each other. Unreal!

Everyone was in good spirits. Back to the waiting game.

1.5 hours passed.

A chinook approached the valley. They opted not to dropping into the valley. Not cool.

Kelvin - "Hawk!"

No focus, nuts. I had my camera off. Rookie mistake. Always leave your camera on. I had 3 seconds to correct the situation. I fired a few shots off and managed to get it.

My camera on my leg looking down the valley with great weather

That was the Loop. It’ll get you when you least expect it.

All the action for the day was done in the morning. By 11am all movements for the day were done - two Herc’s and a Hawk.

The rest of the day we sat there freezing in the cold. It was 7 degrees outside maybe 6 in the shade and knock a few degrees off that for the wind chill. I was shivering for 7 hours on. Seriously cold. Even if you go in summer being prepared with the right clothing is essential.

Hawks flew overhead and teased us all afternoon. They didn’t drop back in.

The Mach Loop isn’t about photographing heavies. It’s the most purist form of being an aviation photographer or a plane spotter. If you can’t be detached from the internet, your smartphone or Facebook for 9 hours. Forget it. Don’t go.

I couldn’t have done it without local knowledge. Planning a trip to the Mach Loop is serious effort.

Thanks Keith, Kev, Kelvin and Phil for my first Mach Loop experience. I’ll never forget it.