When no pictures were taken

Horrible weather in Corrie Fee, Scotland.

“That’d be a nice one for some bouldering!” I shout. “What?!” the girl walking next to me shouts back. “THAT’D BE A NICE PLACE FOR SOME BOOOULDERIIING!” I repeat, pointing at a big boulder close to the path. Hoods up, our chins and mouths pressed into our jackets, goggles covering our eyes, we are walking through a snowstorm back towards the tree-line. At the beginning of the last academic year I had signed up with my university’s outdoor club to explore the Highlands, to walk, trek, mountaineer, climb and discover more of this beautiful country. I got terribly lost on my first trip with two others and almost had Mountain Rescue called on us (thank god we finally found our way back, how embarrassing that would have been …), but three semesters later, here I am, in beautiful Corrie Fee, of which little is visible in the low-lying clouds and driving rain. We have just returned from the corrie’s mouth via which we had attempted to climb the two Munros Mayar and Driesh, until a steep, precipitous slope, covered in deep, wet, unstable snow, forced us to turn around and descend back into the corrie.

We reach the the forest and have lunch in the cover of another boulder. While everyone gets their sandwiches, tea and biscuits out I get my camera and walk back to the tree-line to take a picture of the corrie. As soon as I step out I am hit by sleet, driven into my face by what the Mountain Weather Information Service forecast to be 35-60 mph winds (gusts up to 90 mph). I do not even have time to look for a proper composition – a snapshot needs to suffice, and already my lens’ front element is covered in sleet. I love the Scottish Highlands. As a matter of fact, I love them so much I will probably publish a detailed post some time on how much I love them, and why. I especially enjoy capturing their beauty in images, but sometimes they make it very, very hard. Sometimes you fight your way through what feels like a hurricane just to end up drenched and cold, without a single picture to show for it. But sometimes they reward you with views out of this world.

This day it was not supposed to be, so we return to the bus and drive back down the glen. But we have not given up yet, of course not. So we park the car at the Glen Clova Hotel and discuss the next steps. The rain has ceased, the clouds are starting to clear and there are even glimpses of sun. So we decide to walk up the path to Loch Brandy, a little loch nestled in a mountain corrie. We have walked for five minutes when the winds and sleet return, slowly turning into snow as we gain height. At one point, as we traverse a field of deep snow, a snowball appears out of nowhere and swishes past my ear. It’s on! After an epic ten-minute battle that includes long-range bombardments, heavy artillery, direct charges and combat in close quarters, we lie in the snow, exhausted but thrilled. We pick each other up and continue until we reach the loch.

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Standing on a frozen shoreline we overlook a vast expanse of water. The opposite shore is shrouded in clouds, the surface just loses itself in the mist. The atmosphere is magical, I should take a picture. I look down on the thick gloves that contain hands that have just barely warmed up again. I would have to take the gloves off, put the backpack on the ground, unzip it, take out the camera, fumble around with it … I hesitate, then decide that it is just not worth hit. Warm fingers trump great images, at least in this one instance. Instead I grab a bit of snow, form it into a snowball and throw it into a water. It causes some ripples, floats for a bit, then sinks. But where it disappears a curious phenomenon takes over. Right at the shore the lake is covered by a layer of ice, thin as clingfilm. Now the ice starts to extend out onto the lake, as if stretching a slender arm, until it reaches the spot where the snowball disappeared. It hesitates for a bit, then slowly grows in all directions. I can only assume that the water temperature had slowly sunk to just above freezing, and my snowball had given it the final push over the edge, serving as a starting point for crystallisation. We observe the process for some time, then turn around and walk back down to the bus.

Making my way up a mountain in the midst of strong winds, with horizontal sleet in my face, I often wonder why the heck I do this voluntarily. Sitting in the bus on the way back, drenched in a mix of sweat and rain, my feet stuck in clammy boots, I wonder what possessed me to choose this over a normal Sunday activity like having breakfast at noon or going to the cinema. And I do not even consistently get good pictures in return. But I just keep signing up for it.

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