Winter walking above Glen Coe amongst sparkling snow…

I recently headed up to the Scottish mountains with a group of mates, ready to hit the hills and make the most of the snow. Actually we’d booked the bunkhouse a couple of months ago, so we were incredibly lucky to have such stunning weather and beautiful snowy conditions. I’d not been to Glen Coe in over a decade, so I was looking forward to the prospect of some proper Scottish mountain action in this weather.

It had been very icy (minus 12°c on our first night) so the snow was covered in shimmering range of sparkling ice crystals, and thick ice coated many rocks. The plan was to get some good height and walk along the ridge, eastwards in the opposite direction to the classic Aonach Eagach. Although I’ve always wanted to complete that particular route we were a mixed ability group and we started later in the day than would’ve been advisable, so that was quickly discounted as an option. We started off near the pass of Glencoe at Altt-na-reigh and climbed very steeply up Coire an Ruigh.

After we hit the snowline the ice axes had to come out to make progress possible: my legs and lungs were on fire and I started to realise that snow goggles or sunglasses are more than a mere affectation in bright sunshine on a snowfield. I was definitely suffering from a lack of practice at winter walking, and was further encumbered by my pack and photo gear. This first panorama was taken to capture the view as our first destination beckoned up the steep sides of the coire. Every time I looked back I saw the stunning view of the other side of the glen, everytime I looked forward and up I just saw steep snowy tracks and sweat running into my eyes. Taking this pano allowed me to catch my breath, get my bearings, and test how easy it is to shoot a panorama on a steep-sided mountain in the cold (it probably took me about 4x longer than usual to set up and shoot). Good practice for later in the day, and a great view to boot.

Click below for a fullscreen 360° view of the scene in Flash, or for more info in Google Earth and Wikipedia.

We topped out on the bealach (saddle) between Am Bodach and Sron Gharbh, and decided to stop for lunch and a chance to catch our breath and marvel at the view. Actually I forced the issue a bit, feeling my blood sugar levels drop rapidly. Mind you, I was carrying the heaviest pack (all the photo gear Visibility was superb: you could easily see north towards Ben Nevis and the Mamores, south-east to the Trossachs, and along the southern line of peaks in Glen Coe itself. Bidean nam Bian looked suitably ominous and foreboding with thin wispy clouds skirting over its peaks, but generally the cloud cover was light, providing just enough respite from the glare of the sun to avoid wearing goggles the whole time. Here’s a group shot of us looking suitably pleased with our progress. Not sure about the laser lens flare going on around my person though…

Click below for a fullscreen 360° view of the scene in Flash, or for more info in Google Earth.

We pushed on along miles of undulating snowscapes, often running parallel to mountain hare tracks, marked with their distinctive loping gait. How anything lives up here in the depths of winter is beyond me though, those hares must be tough. As the sun started to drop, the light took on a golden hue and the snow and peaks around us were lit up with a stunning intensity. The low light refracted off the ice crystals in the snow, and we all marvelled at the spectrum of colours. One of my mates said it was like walking on a field of diamonds in the sky; we’d never seen anything quite like it.

I kept dropping behind, eager to take loads of photos, and had to rush to play catch-up with the rest of the group: I felt like a kid in a sweetshop and only the cold and sudden loneliness of standing alone on a snowfield refocused my mind from the distractions of shooting the views. This shot captures something of the raw, magnificent wilderness of these peaks in the late afternoon sun.

Click below for a fullscreen 360° view of the scene in Flash, or for more info in Google Earth.

We picked our way along the ridge and took in the last minor peak, Stob Mhic Mhartuin, before dropping down to meet the old military road of the Devil’s Staircase, just as dusk started to fade, and we approached the car just as darkness fully set in. My calves were complaining for days after the trekking – walking in snow massively enhances difficulty and demands placed by the simple tasks of climbing and descending – but it was one of the best day’s winter walking I’d ever had in Scotland, and we were all buzzing as a result. I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to capture these views for posterity at any price…

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