Can you really work in 80mph winds on Ben Nevis? In winter? With heavy snowfall and a high avalanche forecast? Well, it seems so. Sort of.
It’s been one hell of a day. Hellish. Hard. Windy. We’ve actually come looking for foul weather – the sort Scotland is famous for – but it’s been a fine line between foul and feasible… or total shutdown. And today there was every danger that we were going to be completely shut down, unable to shoot very much at all.
Basically, a lot of snow has fallen on the Ben these past few days and the gullies are completely loaded. Approach slopes to most routes are similarly avalanche prone, and the wind has been ungodly, vicious and uncompromising. We’ve been knocked off our feet by 80mph gusts, and that’s only at 700m. A lot of the mountain has been completely off limits.
Thankfully, I’m here with a superb team. Ally Swinton, Nick Carter and Tamsin Gay are as strong, experienced and don’t seem to mind suffering. As a result of Nick’s many years experience guiding on the mountain, we were able to find something to film (a melting, slushy and precarious icefall called Cascade) and set about trying to make a dent in the video shot list.
Uniquely for a shoot, a large number of shots have been taken with my eyes closed. Many others, I’ve not been able to see the screen, let alone tell whether shots were in focus. In fact, I couldn’t see very much, such was the perpetual spindrift blowing across the mountain, into our eyes, into the camera. The moment the camera emerged from the bag the lens was covered in snow, necessitating a removal of gloves, an unzipping of jackets and pockets, the removal of a damp tissue, then a quick, futile wipe to turn the snow into water and smear it unattractively around the glass before the next gust covered it in snow again. It was intensely frustrating and meanwhile, everyone was hanging on and quietly freezing.
By the time we walked off the hill, I had little idea of what was on the memory cards. I didn’t know whether my cameras were still working, or whether everyone had put in an awful lot of effort for nothing. It’s not often at work that I find myself in such a state of ignorance at the end of a shoot, and it’s not comfortable.
Thankfully, from the warm confines of the Grog and Gruel in Fort William, I now know that we’ve done quite well. For a shoot that was largely conducted blind – including the many shots taken with my eyes closed – we’ve come away with much of what we need. That’s the good news. The other good news is that there’s no real change to the forecast for the rest of the week, meaning at least I don’t need to worry about continuity. More high avalanche risk, more storm force winds, more heavy snow. Delightful.