Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A jogged memory (posted by James)

On Ben Lui on the 20th January 2011

On sunday morning I started the long drive back to my parent's home in Suffolk, back for a few days over Christmas. Rannoch Moor never looks so fine as when under a cover of snow with a clear sky ahead, and on sunday morning it was magic.

I had that pang of sadness upon leaving the glen, even though it would only be for 9 days. Leaving my current home for a previous one.

When we got past Tyndrum I pointed out to Nicole the sight of Ben Lui standing proud and magnificent at the end of Glen Coronish. Totally buried in snow without a single rock breaking through its depth, and just starting to catch the eerie glow that comes in the minutes before sunrise.

It's strange, what happened in the next few following moments. Tiny details, flashbacks and recollections from a day 11 months ago all came back in the space of a few seconds. I usually remember events by the photos which I've taken of them….and here, all of a sudden for a few moments, came back one of the little things that was impossible to capture.

The 20th January 2011, and I was breaking trail up the South East ridge of Ben Lui. A scene of singular grandeur was opening up in the view below me… a cloud inversion was quickly forming, billowing through the glens and extending from Glasgow to Knoydart. The sense of height, space and scale exceeded anything I've experienced even on 14,000ft Alpine peaks in Europe.

The blueness of the skye, the depth of snow, the crispness of the air above this layer of cloud…..In 6 years of climbing in Scotland, England, Wales, Switzerland, Italy and France, various things combined to make this the single most beautiful day I have ever seen on a mountain.

Some of the photos I got on that day are amongst the best I've ever taken. But in those few brief moments on Sunday morning when I saw Ben Lui on the journey home, the first thing I remembered wasn't anything I'd captured on camera.

In a rare gust of wind, a tiny tornado of snow twisted it's way a few metres over the summit. As it reached the gigantic cornice overhanging Central Gully I saw it dislodge a tiny piece of snow which fell off the face. I watched it…the air so clear that I could still make it out even after it had travelled a long way down the icy slopes of the corrie. And then it stopped.

I'd spent a while on the summit, soaking in the scene of perfection around me. Apart from that tiny snow tornado and the falling bit of snow, nothing else moved. Such an amazing lack of complication in those few minutes…time had stopped and was irrelevant.

Strange, that that's what I remembered first in that flashback on my journey back to England…somewhere that I associate with complication. Often I think Frederic Chopin was correct. "Simplicity is the final achievement".


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