I recently headed up to the Scottish mountains with a group of mates, ready to hit the hills and make the most of the snow. Actually we’d booked the bunkhouse a couple of months ago, so we were incredibly lucky to have such stunning weather and beautiful snowy conditions. I’d not been to Glen Coe in over a decade, so I was looking forward to the prospect of some proper Scottish mountain action in this weather.
It had been very icy (minus 12°c on our first night) so the snow was covered in shimmering range of sparkling ice crystals, and thick ice coated many rocks. The plan was to get some good height and walk along the ridge, eastwards in the opposite direction to the classic Aonach Eagach. Although I’ve always wanted to complete that particular route we were a mixed ability group and we started later in the day than would’ve been advisable, so that was quickly discounted as an option. We started off near the pass of Glencoe at Altt-na-reigh and climbed very steeply up Coire an Ruigh.
After we hit the snowline the ice axes had to come out to make progress possible: my legs and lungs were on fire and I started to realise that snow goggles or sunglasses are more than a mere affectation in bright sunshine on a snowfield. I was definitely suffering from a lack of practice at winter walking, and was further encumbered by my pack and photo gear. Visibility was superb: you could easily see north towards Ben Nevis and the Mamores, south-east to the Trossachs, and along the southern line of peaks in Glen Coe itself.
We pushed on along miles of undulating snowscapes, often running parallel to mountain hare tracks, marked with their distinctive loping gait. How anything lives up here in the depths of winter is beyond me though, those hares must be tough. As the sun started to drop, the light took on a golden hue and the snow and peaks around us were lit up with a stunning intensity. The low light refracted off the ice crystals in the snow, and we all marvelled at the spectrum of colours. One of my mates said it was like walking on a field of diamonds in the sky; we’d never seen anything quite like it.