Grabbing a wafer of winter

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This brings back memories of university mountaineering trips. Cheap, uncomfortable, cold. But adventurous.

We’ve rolled into a deep frozen Aviemore far too late to find accommodation; late enough for the milky way to be reflected in Loch Morlich and for a thick hoar to have covered the earth. James – who has never camped out before – and I throw down bags on crispy grass and fall unconscious in seconds. The South is a very long way away and tomorrow is the only day we have to film the winter walking video for the BMC.

Typically, the past few days have been perfect, blue skies and cloud inversions across the frozen highlands, but commitments have seen me pinned, pining, to the lowlands. And now we have a weather window measured in hours before the heavy rain and thaw sets in. But that’s what I love about Scotland – you end up doing daft things to grab the adventure while it lasts.

And that’s what I tell myself as the alarm goes off at 5.45am and we crawl from hoar frosted bivvis like a couple of slow witted animals. There’s a staggering spread of stars overhead. Semi conscious, we drive to the ski station carpark and slog our way up into the darkness, then rapidly wake as daylight breaks across the Cairngorms. And then suddenly I’m very wide awake indeed, excited, shooting pink clouds over summits and walkers dwarfed by landscape and frozen rocks and frost and all the wondrous fragments of a perfect mountain day. It’s the morning mountain photographers dream of; crystal light and atmospheric clouds and a visual alchemy that transcends the cliché of mere blue-skies. Combined with crisp neve that makes walking uphills easier than even in summer, we’re onto a winner. The gamble of Scotland – the long drive, the little sleep – it’s all paid off.

By the time evening comes around, we’ve had a long day on the plateau and created gigabytes of data; snow and mountain recorded in zeros and ones on a wafer of silicone chip. And so it’s down to Aviemore for an exhausted curry and to begin the long process of downloading and transcoding that form the less glorious aspects of the photographic life. But it’s been worth it. Tomorrow may rain and thaw, but we’ve had a beautiful day.

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