Thursday, 16 August 2012

A very different Scottish summer

One of many perfect summer evenings in Glencoe

Last year it rained for 311 days out of 365 in Glencoe. The summer months arrived and with the onset of July also came the gloom, low cloud and mizzle that is so strongly associated with Highland summers…and I cemented my reputation as the grumpiest bugger in the glen until the winter arrived.

Evening sunshine on Stob Coire nam Beith

I'm not sure how things could have been any more different this summer. Whilst England has suffered one of its wettest summers on record, up here our smiles have slowly been growing wider. At the end of a period of glorious high pressure in May I remember thinking "that'll be our summer over then"…and didn't dare to even whisper the idea that, maybe, just maybe, we would actually get a proper summer.

But a proper summer is what we have well and truly had so far. For me it will be defined by dry rock, warm days on Aonach Dubh climbing new routes, vivid sunsets lighting up the West Face at dusk. Long walks over remote hills in the middle of no-where, lazy days in the sun on the Clachaig meadow, exploring new parts of the Highlands with my girlfriend.

Dry rock on Aonach Dubh

I've always tried hard to believe in "clouds and silver linings". I've often been guilty of not succeeding, bad life-experiences and pessimism sometimes getting the better of me. But the last few weeks have been an eye-opener, and I've managed to find real positives in an injury, something that usually defeats my optimistic side.

A golden eagle on a fine day in Glenfinnan

A foot injury from hill-running has been the catalyst that I needed to reignite my love of hill-walking, something that had increasingly become replaced by climbing and running this year. I stopped running for a while and focused on some of the longest and finest of Scotland's hill-walks, and reminded myself how to do 20-milers after no sleep.

A sunny afternoon in Coire nam Beith

It seems a bit unreal…how many hill-days in good weather is it possible to have in a Highland summer? 

But perhaps the thing that defines it most for me is that for once I have enjoyed the summer for what it is, not just as a period of time to endure between winters. It is hard not to become intoxicated by the warm sunshine and the promise of more to come, to indulge in the pure pleasure of climbing on dry rock or lazing with a beer in the afternoon before a busy weekend at the Clachaig.

A stunning dawn over the Aonach Eagach

But there it is…as usual…mid-August, and my attentions increasingly turn to the next winter. Even before the best Scottish summer I've had has ended, I can't stop it from invading my thoughts. I can hardly wait for new winter adventures, nothing inspires me more, but before that I have my next big challenge.

In two weeks I leave for Switzerland again, and during September I'll remind myself of the very different mountaineering environment of the Alps. But I've no doubt that my coming autumn and winter in Scotland will never be far from my mind.


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