21st Century penance conspired to keep me housebound for much of the month. I'd managed a biking weekender but otherwise I was up to my eyeballs in egos and ids, and not just my own. Time to put that aside. The weather forecast showed a window of a few hours inbetween storms, but I've gotten used to making the most of those little gaps since I've lived here. It just depends how much you want it.
I didn't want it much at 6am, but by 6.45 I was coming to. Nearly 3 hours in the car there, and the same again back - would it be worth it? It usually is, but not always as expected. As I walked up through the birch woods and met the snow, the air grew chill and gusts tugged at my clothes. Winter sun and a coffee headache, to tell the truth it just felt good to be walking, though I stopped often to fuss with my layers and take photos.
This was my third time there this year, we are becoming friends. The woods under snow were my destination, photos my reason for coming, but I was drawn on, curious about an easy climbing route, fairly soon reaching what seemed to be the last tree in the glen. Beyond that, storm clouds gathered on the plateau, but not for long. I was soon presented with a face full of fresh sleat as the Cailleach of the Glen swooped down to meet me. Hi honey, I'm home.
The youngster's from the car park seem to be far ahead of me somewhere, but I was glad of their trail - It was slow going through soft snow with an overnight bag and camera gear. I hurried on, slipping and panting, to meet the light and join the river, snaking past the moraines, green ice and black water.
I caught them at the loch, with Toby the dog.
'Are you going up? No, this is us for the day. Will you take our picture together? No problem... what a place, eh? - Aren't we lucky.'
Where next? I wavered, walked on, then waded some and stopped for lunch. Spindrift dervished along the water's edge, I could watch it all day. I trudged halfheartedly bealachward, but didn't get halfway before the wind dropped and the clag came in.
Instead, I glissaded back to the lochs edge, reveling in monochrome intimidation. I've plainly got a way to go, I'd want a blue sky day to tackle even Easy Gully on my own. It's pretty formidable up close in there. Freshly fallen, fridge sized blocks of snow lay on the ground amongst the rock debris, and I was astonished to find dwarf birch and willow even here, right at the head of the coire.
The wind picked up again, and the tops cleared but I'd left it too long to make a summit sunset. I postholed slowly round, ending up on the wrong side of the swollen burn that refused to be crossed at least for a while. Tired and suddenly very, very thirsty, I rushed to beat the dark, to find my now familiar campsite under the oak as the very last light leached from the land. Descending, I saw the same family of deer as last time - a hind and 3 yearlings, slightly bigger now. They lead, I follow, their tracks to my camp, as I have now twice before.
Tea first. Then, slowly, I assemble the fuss and bother of a winter's camp. Inner tent and thick mat, warm jacket and long johns. So much stuff, it feels like glamping. More comfort than I'm used to is eventually achieved. Then, as predicted, the rain comes, and the winds too, quiet as first but with a growing intensity. By 4am the rain hammers at the shelter walls. By 7 the river roars above it, raw with the thaw. It's time to say my goodbyes before the nearby burn engulfs my campsite. I wade my way inbetween moraines, now snow capped islands in a world of fast moving water. Though the rapid thaw is dreich and miserable to look at, it's engaging to bear witness to a big weather event like this. There's no app for that yet.
Thanks for reading this year. May your winter's break be full of loved ones and laughter, with occasional escapes outside to mitigate the cabin fever.