Two days in the valley

A small window of escape presented itself… I had a look at the weather forecast …. and I was off up to Glencoe again for a couple of days, hoping to banish the memories of a soggy Christmas.

I guess it would be another of those holiday/work/photography trips. I’ve no idea which is which any more.

I was however camped out the back of the Kingshouse Hotel, so I guess the potential was for more holiday than the other two.

I awoke on day one to a soft pitter patter on the tent, at first fearing more rain, but then realised it was too gentle. This was the hushed dance of tiny snowy feet.

A pallid veil obscured the surrounding summits, so I decided to spend the day wandering at lower levels.

A quick exploration of the Allt a’ Bhalaich revealed dwindling water levels and weak cascades. Nothing much was catching my eye, so I chose to head for Glen Etive instead, where even a walk down the road feels like a fully immersive highland experience.

Last time I’d been here wind and hail had been battering down the glen, the swollen river a background torrent of rage. Walking had been tricky enough; photography impossible.

Today the light flurries of snow were barely a suggestion of precipitation, the River Etive a gentle babbling undercurrent as I meandered down the road.

I decided to circumnavigate my usual photographic prey by carrying on down the glen and returning back via the Lairig Gartain – a full round of Buachaille Etive Mor.

A good walk around its flanks would be a nice warm up for the next morning’s plans – a higher level dawn view of this iconic mass of rock from Beinn a’ Chrulaiste.

I had pondered a wild(er) camp on the summit, but reasoned that the forecast windspeeds would probably cause me even more disturbance than a 4.30am start from my existing low level pitch. With some reluctance I crawled in for an early night and set the alarm.

There does need to be some photographic motivation to walk up a mountain in the dark – an activity that essentially takes all the joy out of walking up a mountain.

A few twinkling points of light in the overhead void were enough to encourage me to make that hardest step – the first one to get out of a cosy sleeping bag and into the winter night.

After that the rest are easier (if occasionally a little clumsy) as long as there is hope of photographic possibilities at the end.

Although there’s no real distinguishable path in the upward clamber amongst Beinn a’ Chrulaiste’s rock and heather, I’d been up a number of times previously so even following a confined pool of headtorch light I was confident of not going too far awry. My landscape memory is strong enough to withstand occasional moments of disorientation.

As night retreated and a navigable ambient light emerged it soon became clear I might not get my burst of dawn light. A battleship grey mass of cloud was skulking on the horizon, and despite clear skies overhead and biting winds it didn’t appear to be inclined to shift.

It was bitter enough on the summit to need to keep on the move, so I kept circling around, one eye out for possible compositions once the sun emerged into the clear territory overhead.

Belatedly the sun emerged, casting a weak glow across the brittle frozen foreground, and my work for the morning was soon over.

After a swift descent with an almost perceptible scent of a waiting fried breakfast wafting up from the hotel, I needed to make plans for the rest of my day.

Heading for the Buachaille and getting on it rather than looking at it would feel like a fitting conclusion to the mini trip. And so I found myself pottering down the Old Military Road under swathes of blue, forgetting all about Glencoe rain.

Heading up into Coire na Tulaich, the banked up snow made the ascent steeper than usual, and there were soon many stops being made to admire the view and refrain from expiring completely.

The day was racing away, and as I hauled myself onto the ridge in lowering cloud, admiring my ascent tracks, I decided to call it quits there. Navigating in cloud and descending in the dark would be an unnecessary complication to a fine day out.

And boy that run back down the corrie in deep snow was going to be utterly magnificent.

I returned back via the banks of the River Coupall, the mountains once again shrouded in grey.

Passing the three deep tripod holes at the usual view  I was surprised to find it deserted, but then I realised someone had turned the waterfall taps off. Maybe it needed some more rain after all.




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