It was all fine, I’d climbed out of the shadows and the broken sunlight had just enough heat in it to keep the chill off but not enough to make me sweat. Well, sweat hard anyway. The light was already golden in the later afternoon, it was gearing up for sunset although it was still a couple hours away. I wasn’t complaining, the colours were rich and dark with the snow stark against it and the sky was too blue for this late in the day.
The spring in my step gave me enough energy to fanny around with the camera and timer. I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing that, but today it didn’t feel like an effort to run back and forwards, in fact there was a real joy in it. I was grinning at every trip and slip that saw me fall on my arse while trying to look windswept and interesting.
It was all fine.
But with my eye off the ball and on the scenery I was suddenly on a long steep slope where my next footswing bounced off the snow rather than go into it.
“Oh” I said.
It was steep enough to look down between my legs and see the rocks waving back at me from the bottom of the slope.
“Bugger” I said.
Poles and good intentions were all I had so I sawed away at the solid snow with the side of my boots, sometimes stiff boots are indeed okay, until both feet were more secure and I could swing my rucksack off and get to my ice axe. The forgotten art of step cutting was paid some hasty and sloppy tribute until I got to broken patch of ground where I could get my crampons on and be a bit more suave in my approach to the rest of the slope.
I should know better, and I do know better which is why I wasn’t stuck. But it was a wee reminder of how easy it is to go from happy stroll to be being out of your depth.
My spikes bit deep and securely and the ground was now more broken and less steep anyway, the last part of the ascent was a joy. Patches of sunlight drifted across the hills and the clouds were now growing a fringe of colour as the sun slipped through their layers far out to sea.
I like coming here, it’s an unpopular hill which suits me fine. I also take a route that I’ve never seen another soul on and every step I took was in virgin snow until I was 20 feet from the summit. The summit is rocky and broken, it fits perfectly with it’s neighbours and the views are both awesome and odd, with familiar faces smiling at you from another angle.
It was getting dark and it was cold but I couldn’t feel it. I was skipping around as the light changed from blue to flashes of pink on the snow slopes around me. I laughed out loud. More than once.
The sun lit a gentle fire on the horizon. It burned slowly, catching the edges of the ribbons of cloud and then the flame passed lazily along this wispy chain until it reached the ridgeline to my west where it took hold and found fuel to burn brighter. I pulled on my down jacket and took it all in. If I’d been needing a reminder, I’d found it.
The descent was on more untrodden snow on an unloved ridge, not unloved by me, even though it’s a ridge which has turned me back before. Tonight its craggy tumble and steep snow made me welcome, even if it made me think hard and question my route choice a couple of times.
Two ravens circled and croaked, the only hello I had all day.
Further down a bowl ringed by large boulders cut the wind dead so I set up the stove and let darkness find it’s proper depth. I could see headlights on the road but they were silent, I was still in the hills for a little while yet.
My fingers were finally thawing after I took too long to put on my big gloves and my hot cuppa steamed my glasses as I watched the stars peep through one at a time.
Crampons and axes stowed, I set off on rubber soles and torchlight into the black.
I think I’d been a little lost. But to know where you should be, maybe you have to get a little lost sometimes. It’s good to be home.