#17 — Highlights of 2016

Not in any order.

1. Point 5 Gully and Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis — 23 July

I’ve a long-standing, annoying, and irrational fear of heights. It’s unlikely ever to leave me. So, when Al Todd suggested that we attempt to climb Tower Ridge on the 23rd of July, I was nervous. Scared, even. Described by various people as the best ridge-walk/scramble on the British mainland, it is not for the novice. Ropes, harnesses and helmets are all required. Under Al’s expert guidance I managed this excellent and exhilarating climb, aided by the thick mist obscuring the precipitous drops in and around Tower Gap. The scramble was undertaken directly after we had gone to see the photogenic snow-caverns of Point 5 Gully. Al’s striking photograph (above) now hangs from my bedroom wall, and won Photo of the Week in the keenly-contested UKC website this summer. It’s a bigger deal than it sounds. All pictures here. A fabulous day.

2. Ten Mamores in a day — 3 June

I try not to give over to hyperbole, but seldom has the word ‘memorable’ been so apt for a walk. Having put out a message on Twitter during May that I was considering doing all ten Mamore Munros in one day, the editor of the world’s oldest still-in-print journal (The Scots Magazine) Robert Wight expressed an interest. After a bit of jiggery-pokery with the arrangements, we agreed to meet up early on the 3rd of June. Perfect weather conditions, terrific company, and exceptionally dry ground made this one of the most satisfying and rewarding walks I’ve ever been on, even though there were 23 very hard miles, and 9,500 ft of ascent. An unintended consequence of this trip is that it has changed my perspective entirely of what is possible in a day. Pictures here.

3. Cairngorms with the BBC — July 12 & 14

If I thought 2014 and 2015 were busy with interest from the media on the subject of snow patches, they were as nothing compared to 2016. Virtually every newspaper in the country ran stories over summer on the snow caves that had come to the public attention. The culmination of this interest were my appearances on the BBC’s flagship outdoors/environment programme ‘Countryfile’, and their hugely popular magazine slot ‘The One Show’. Filmed within a few days of each other, I showed the crews of the two programmes around the fantastic Cairn Gorm/Ben Macdui plateau, resplendent with sizable remnants of last winter’s snow. Videos here and here.

4. Observatory Gully, Ben Nevis — 7 September

When you go to a snow-patch location with a reporter, film-crew, or photographer, you have to cross your fingers. Though you might have a reasonable idea of what might be found, a 3 hour walk can be tough if all you get is wet underpants and a few unusable pictures. So, when I agreed to go with renowned photographer Murdo MacLeod to the upper reaches of Ben Nevis’s north-east face to get a snap of some snow caves, I was a tad nervous. September is leaving it a little late in the year for this, given that the best results are generally to be found at this location in July or August. After a long slog up, as we approached the snow, I spotted a small but definite opening: a sure sign of a snow cave. As we entered the opening the snow opened out into a massive, beautiful, sculptured cavern. Murdo let out a little whoop of approval, and I knew he would get some good shots. Two days later he sent me a text message that simply said ‘Buy today’s Guardian and look in the centre pages.’ I duly did this and was treated to a two-page centrefold pull-out of the best photograph of a snow-patch I have ever seen in the UK.

5. Creag Meagaidh — 6 August

The front cover of the book I co-wrote with Adam Watson back in 2010 has a wonderful old photograph on it. It was apparently taken in September 1899 on the splendid hill of Creag Meagaidh. The exact location of this picture had remained a mystery to me. But, armed with unquenchable enthusiasm and a camera, Ben Dolphin and I ascended Easy Gully in early August, and duly found our quarry almost to the square foot. Ben did a lovely piece on it for the Walkhighlands website, and can be read here. Other photos are here.

6. Ben Lawers — 15 March

A weather window allowed for a last-minute walk amid the snowy wonderfulness of the Ben Lawers range. I was joined on this trip by Andrew Cotter and his irrepressible dog, Olive. After doing Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers we skated around to Meall Corranaich. For much of the trip we were treated to fabulous sunshine and inversions as far as the eye could see. For once the Gods smiled on us. And — boy — did they smile. Full set of pictures here.

7. Sgor Gaoith — 28 February

When viewed from Speyside, this hill (pronounced roughly scoor GOOey) is whale-backed and unremarkable. The view from the summit, though, is one the best views in the Cairngorms. The magnificent glacial defile of Glen Einich that day was beautifully white under a layer of thick snow, and Loch Einich — in contrast — looked like a large oil slick, its waters an inky black. So braw was the day that VisitScotland published on their website the video I made. You can see that here, and my pictures of the fantastic day here.

8. Beinn a’ Chochuill and Beinn Eunaich (near Dalmally) — 5 March

This was a day that just got better and better. It started out as most days on the hill do for me (a walk along a track, which eventually gives way a swamp after I decide to take a ‘short-cut’). However, upon approaching the top of the first summit the weather broke and I was treated to some of the most spectacular Alpine scenery you could wish for on the West coast. Pictures here.

9. Aonach Beag — 5 November

It’s always nice to get out on the hill with a fellow chionophile, and they don’t come much keener than Blair Fyffe. An employee of the Scottish Avalanche Information Service, and with a PhD in slab avalanches, Blair knows his stuff. In early November we clambered down the steep coire at Aonach Beag to the long-lying snow patch, some 500 ft below the col. We were treated to a huge remnant of previous years’ snow. Full set of pictures here.

10. Garbh Choire Mor — 1 October

I visited the UK’s snowiest place three times this year, and in truth could have chosen any one of the trips. However, the one on 1 October was the first there by snow enthusiast Ben Boyes. A fine (if long) walk in via the Lairig Ghru was a nice way for us to approach, as you see the snow long before you reach it. This is the most isolated corrie in the Cairngorms, and the most rewarding that I’ve visited. We had a play around on Sphinx and Pinnacles snows before heading back via Sron na Lairig. A day of solid field work.

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