THE battles may rage for weeks but there’s always that pivotal moment when the war is won, when winter is finally defeated and spring emerges victorious.
Sometimes that victory can be sudden and decisive, a massive change in a matter of hours. The most dramatic I’ve seen was back in early May 2005 when I was staying with friends in Glenelg.
I arrived early on the Saturday and set off for a solo climb of two Corbetts, Beinn nan Caorach and Beinn na h-Eaglaise, at the end of the long twisting road to Arnisdale. The weather was warm and muggy and mist and midges were swirling round my head, but it appeared I was being lulled into a false sense of security.
The next day winter returned and despite a sunny send-off from the cars, we were soon in snow and fast-dropping temperatures on Sgurr Mhic Bharraich. When we did get a view however, it was spectacular, a curtain in the cloud lifting every so often to let us see Loch Duich thousands of feet below.
Next day we were in white-out conditions on the Munro, A’Ghlas Bheinn. It was raining on the way up the corrie, and the crossing of the stream was difficult. By the time we were at the col it had turned from sleet to snow.
The whiteness grew bolder and more impenetrable as we progressed up the twisting path, visibility down to zero at times. The summit cairn was a frozen beehive and we looked more like an expedition heading to the South Pole as we trudged back down the ridge.
Two days later it all changed dramatically. We were pushing our way up Sgurr an Airgid above the causeway at Loch Duich, ready for everything this dogmatic winter could throw at us. By the time we had reached the summit we were having to peel off layers as the clouds blew away and the sun started to produce some heat.
It turned into a Scottish weather year in a nutshell, the seasons shifting colours at the speed of light. The change in temperature was extreme, the snow melting away fast beneath our feet as we took in the suddenly expansive views in all directions. Winter had been well and truly sent packing in a matter of minutes.
By the time we made it back to base camp (actually a lovely house on the shorefront) we were in a heat wave. We broke out the beers and sat around on the rocky beach well into the evening.
We headed over to Skye the next day and set off up Bla Bheinn in blazing sunshine. Short-sleeve tees and light trousers were the dress code and the lack of wind meant there little variation in the temperature from ground level to summit. It was hard to tear ourselves away from this promenade, the views stretching out forever, soft focus in the haze.
With the high pressure now firmly settled we tackled the seven Munro peaks of the South Shiel Ridge the following day. We encountered some snow on the ridge but it was now more of a novelty than any serious problem.
A few days later we learned that one hillwalking magazine’s plans to traverse that same ridge just a few days earlier had been abandoned because of the accumulation of ice and snow. It just proves you are always walking a fine line with the Scottish weather.
(First published Daily Record, April 17, 2014)