Montane Brand ambassador Nick Morris recounts a memorable day climbing the Aonach Eagach Ridge during this winter's late but beautifully pristine resurgence in the Highlands.
As a white fluffy blanket finally fell over the Highlands a plan was being hatched in a soggy South Wales. Stood on belay in the dust-filled air of the local climbing centre one sentence was tentatively blurted out…"Scotland this weekend, it's looking mega". Three days later boots were packed, crampons sharpened and a rack built. It was decided, we were heading North and on the road to Glencoe for what we hoped would be three days of climbing.
This was a once-in-a-million Winter Scottish day. No spindrift. No wind. Perfect blue skies and warm enough for just a base layer and fleece. We pressed on.
We woke to clear skies and as we drove up the pass the skies
were a sea of gentle orange and blue pastel hues. We pulled up at the base of
the Aonach Eagach Ridge, opening the car doors to the crisp chill of Scottish
Highland air and the sound of silence. It was going to be a bluebird day! We
started the climb slowly, making our way up to the start of the Aonach Eagach
Ridge. Warming your face as you looked out over the Glencoe pass. The ground
underfoot was crunchy with a thin sheet of verglas on shaded rocks and the sky
above was a solid expanse of saturated blue.
At the top of the ridge we kitted up, donning a harness, big gloves, helmet, and crampons before starting to follow the white ribbon. The views were a 360-degree panorama with snow-capped Munros for as far as the eye could see and we soon reached the first abseil. Our crampons scratching on the rock as we descended to a small ledge before a scramble across the thin exposed section of the ridge.
For a second, I stood on the small section of snow looking down. There was nothing but air with hundreds of meters between me and a pure undisturbed sheet of white snow, hugging the rolling highland landscape as it lay on the valley floor. We plunged our ice axes into the soft snow followed by each boot. One foot after another, plunge…plunge… Andrew was in front walking along the ridge silhouetted by an unpolluted deep blue backdrop.
Distant Munros encroaching in the peripheral of your vision
with the warmth of the sun hitting your skin. To his right a cornice protruded
out into thin air, leading your eye into the distance over the never ending,
tranquil, vastness of the Highlands.
There were no clouds in the sky, no sounds, no human
intervention, just nature. We felt humbled, spectators to one of the greatest
shows on Earth. No chat, no Insta, just immersion in the moment through every
sense the body has available.
That’s why we take ourselves to these places and push our limits - for the moments. Sharing experiences with your buddies, seeing sights that others see only on postcards and keeping the inner child - keeping the buzz of living - alive.
Anyway, back to the ridge, as we had reached the pinnacles.
It was time to put the brain in gear.
We went up, down, up, sideways, around and finally up. Our
crampons biting into the rock as we negotiated the pinnacles, using small lumps
on the rock to put a crampon spike on as you moved over the undulating ground.
Climbing up the last pinnacle was an exposed first move looking down a gully.
Place the axe high, left leg high and roll weight over, right leg out placed
delicately on a small clump of snow, move axe up and slowly move around the
corner. Kick, kick, axe, kick, kick, axe, I emerged over the last of the pinnacles
with a beaming grin.
This was the last tough section of the route which posed a
few moments of mental trickery as I moved along the edge of the ridge. I had
taken authority and command of this mental state, imposing a positive mindset -
resulting in a growth of confidence, mental resilience and self-belief. This is
why I was grinning like a Cheshire cat!
Although this was the last of the climbing on the ridge the day was not over. The ridge wound down the pass and we looked down upon Glencoe Village from the final peak. We all turned and said, “Which way is the Clachaig?”. We descended the ridge, walked along the road, which seemed never-ending, and sat down for cake and medals…. that’s a well-deserved basket of chips (there was no cake) and a pint if you are new to the expression.
Day one in Scotland was nothing short of incredible. We all had rosy faces, laughing, smiling and were living the moment, with no distractions. Today we had experienced a moment that only Andrew, Peter and I would ever hold, and no one would ever repeat.
Unfortunately, it was the only day of climbing we had this trip, but Scottish Winter is a love affair that requires as much patience as grit. After this heavenly display the Gods of Scottish Winter decided we'd been blessed enough, and the following two days were a different story. Still, one out of three ain't bad.
Take what you will from this blog, and I don’t mind if you just like it as a piece of adventure writing, but I’d like to leave with one message….never let go of your inner child for exploration, adventure and finding joy in little things. I sometimes feel we all get very serious about our activities and lose sight of the big picture. Are you a runner? Then find joy in hopping between rocks on a trail while out with friends. A climber? Then remember the joy you got from completing your first ever Trad route and the smile you had learning with friends at the local crag.
Take it seriously, progress and develop but don’t let it overpower and diminish the reason of why you began…
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