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  • johnmcsporran

Why do I do this?

Sunday 25 Feb 2018 - morning alarm at 2.30am, left house at 3am, arrived in Glencoe at 4.50am. It was a cool minus 5 in the Glen. Gear on, camera kit in rucksack and off up Buachaille Etive Beag (BEB) in the dark to capture the dawn over the mountains. One of the problems of climbing in the dark is that you can easily miss the trail. The trail up BEB runs along the path over the Lairig Eilde pass between BEB and Bidean nam Bian for the first half mile, then splits. There is no cairn to mark the split, just a rough easily missed (in the dark) path veering to the left. Having done it a few times I know the signs that I am getting near the split and slow down so as to not miss it. On the right path and it begins to steepen. The path had a lot of snow and ice, which was hard packed and frozen solid, quite slippy but not constant enough to need or warrant crampons (yet).

The Dark Night Rises

Reached the stone steps and proceeded upwards. Some of the steps were covered in sheets of verglas, not such a problem on the way up but treacherous on the way down (note to self – be careful on the way down – see later). As the steps ended the deep snow began, knee deep for the most part, thigh deep in places. However, it was frozen solid and possible to walk across. Crampons on. Reached the bealach (valley) between the two peaks of the mountain after 90 minutes and turned left for Stob Coire Raineach (the northern summit). Up top for 6.50am. It was a wee bit chilly with a fresh north easterly wind dragging the temperature down to about minus 17. In fact it was bloody freezing.

The Belt of Venus above Stob Dubh

The sky was clear and as the stars began to fade the Belt of Venus or antitwilight arch appeared in the sky above the mountains (The Belt of Venus is an atmospheric phenomenon visible shortly before sunrise when a pinkish glow extends roughly 10 to 20 degrees above the horizon). Camera fixed on tripod and away we go. I settled on the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 lens (my go to lens in the mountains) and began to shoot panoramas and details. Hell, its cold (somewhat of a contradiction), can’t feel my fingers, can’t feel my nose, why do I do this? Can’t stop for a warming coffee or I’ll miss something spectacular. Two pairs of gloves, can’t operate the camera – one pair of gloves still can’t operate it, no gloves, no feeling in my fingers. Can’t stop. Why do I do this? Why is there no one else here?

Belt of Venue above Ben Nevis

First light on Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis, the CMD Arete to the right, Carn Dearg is the hill on the left.

The morning light was superb. The views north over Ben Nevis and the Mamore Mountains were spectacular, then sunrise over Buachaille Etive Mor. The morning mists began to blow over the summit obscuring the view at times. Time for coffee, can’t open the flask, frozen fingers, why do I do this? Eventually hunkered down behind some large rocks out of the wind, 'little hottie hand warmers in gloves' - feeling back in fingers, coffee and jaffa cakes. Great morning. 8.30am still alone on the mountain top, soft early morning light changing to the hard light of daytime, time to head down.

Sunrise over Buachaille Etive Mor

Carn Dearg - The Red Hill

Ben Nevis and The Mamore Mountains

Half way down Raineach, stood on what I thought was snow but actually rock covered in verglas (hard frozen ice) covered in snow, feet went away from under me and I crashed down (protected my camera kit) and began to slide down the mountain slope, ice axe at the ready and digging in, slowing my slide, crashed into a large boulder and came to a halt. Lay there slightly dazed - probably more shock and surprise than anything else. Checking all my limbs – everything feels OK, nothing broken. Stood up and I’m very sore, elbow, ribs, hip and thigh but nothing broken – why do I do this?

First person I met was when I was half way down. He looked at me as if I was slightly mad. Back to the car for 10.30am and home for 12.10pm. Lay in a hot bath with a glass (or two) of red wine. Two days later I’m a mass of bruises but the pictures are superb. No wonder I do this.

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