As I eagerly assembled my kit the night before our adventure, I realised that I was packing very similar things to a day of "fast and light alpinism". A light walking axe, aluminium crampons, my XL Apogee jacket, gloves, hat, sunglasses, emergency shelter, snacks and water. It all packed snuggly into my Alpkit Presta Rucksack, and as I looked at the minimalistic load it struck me how much I love these days of simple mountaineering. Somewhere in between walking and climbing, there exists the paradisiacal terrain that is challenging enough to enjoy some problem solving and interesting movements, yet easy enough to forgo the burden of gear, ropes or fear. The type of ground where you can keep moving and stay warm, without having to stop and belay, or get cold and scared. That sweet spot is where my passion lives and my heart soars, and I went to bed like an excited child before Christmas.
I met my friend Nicky in a layby on a cold, crisp and beautiful January morning. We geared up by headtorch, and by the time we were ready to leave, the rising sun bestowed the perfect amount of light to guide us safely across the snowy heath. Surrounded by vast mountains in the heart of Glensheil, our objective was to climb the North Ridge of Aonach air Chrith. We could see the dark rocky ridge sketched out on the giant mountain that lay before us. From here it looked steep and foreboding but we knew from experience that as we got closer and our perspective changed, the angle would look less intimidating and we would find a way to tackle the ridge one bit at a time. Isn’t this also how our challenges look in life, scary when they loom far above us, but less frightening when we get closer and break them down into little pieces?
Upon reaching the scramble, we chose our route according to our appetite for excitement. I love the motions and movements that come with winter climbing. Swinging an ice axe into frozen turf and feeling it become an extension of your own arm. Dusting away snow to look at your options for feet placements, then carefully trusting your weight onto reassuring crampon points. Transferring weight from one ledge to another, wiggling and dancing upwards through a giant puzzle of nature.
All the while, the weather battered down on us, blasting spindrift into our faces. I loved the feeling of being wrapped up against the elements, impenetrable to the relentless wind, as we continued up, up, up. We reached the summit in a whiteout, and took a compass bearing to keep us on track as we continued West along the ridge. Now it was hard work, breaking trail through knee-deep snow with the wind pummeling into us, whipping up snow around our faces.
Until suddenly, for a moment, it cleared. The mist dissipated and the clouds parted, while the low winter sun cast eery and beautiful light upon us and our surroundings. The ridgelines came alive as the light reflected off the shapely windswept snowy crest, creating the magical artwork that only nature knows how to master.
And soon, it was over. The weather engulfed us once more but our souls had been fed and our spirits were high! With a little injection of sweet tea and mince pies we persevered onwards, heavily trudging through the deep snow, while lightly soaring along the ridge.
At last, we reached our final summit and now it was time to descend. The snow was the perfect form to let us run effortlessly downhill. Initially we followed a compass bearing through the mist but soon we broke out from beneath the clouds and could see all the way back to our cars. We were also now sheltered from the wind, and it felt like we were in a whole different world. Peaceful, joyful, relaxed, we meandered downwards, enjoying the final chapter of our day.
And it is that sense of journey that I love most about a day in the mountains. The planning, the anticipation, the excitement, the nerves, the elation, the achievement and the joy. Slogging through deep snow, scrambling up exciting ground, being battered by the wind, being kissed by the sunlight, dancing along ridges, and descending back down to the ordinary world. Holding onto memories of an extraordinary journey.
Anna is a fully qualified Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor and offers guiding and instruction in the Scottish Highlands. For more info visit her website: www.rocksandtrails.com