THE first snow of the new winter season always brings a heightened sense of excitement for mountain lovers.
That first coating of white across the higher regions turns the ordinary into the awesome, the splendid into the spectacular.
It doesn't matter if it's the 'right' kind of snow: it may be unconsolidated and awkward for walking, but it's a tantalising taste of the delights we hope will follow and build all the way through to spring.
One of the pitfalls of this initial wintry blast is that often the blinkers come on, and ambition can overshadow reality. Walking in deep, soft snow is tough, every step an added effort.
Suddenly, those chains of mountains you skip round in summer conditions become so much tougher. One Munro needs more energy, and reaching the next one becomes a more time-consuming exercise.
Last weekend, we came in from the north intending to climb Ben Vorlich and then continue over to Stuc a' Chroin. The snowline was high and as soon as we hit it, the pace slowed.
There was no regularity of footfall. One minute the ground was solid, the next it collapsed with the leg disappearing up to the knee. We took around 45 minutes longer than normal to reach the summit of Ben Vorlich.
Due to transport issues, we had a fixed turnaround time. After a struggle across the col and a frustrating, laboured push up the snow-filled gully, it slowly became obvious we wouldn't be able to complete the circuit in the allotted time. Reluctantly, we called it a day.
Nevertheless, we had enjoyed our first snow outing. It was tougher than we had anticipated, but it was stunningly beautiful, perfect clarity, the low sun following us round the horizon, laser beams of light sparkling and shadowing the cirque.
On days like these, it's easy to forget that not everyone is a fan of winter walking. Our club sees numbers for the higher routes drop off dramatically, some due to a lack of confidence or experience in winter skills, some because a 5am rise in freezing, dark mornings is simply unpalatable. Many go into a form of hibernation until the snows have gone.
The beauty of the mountains in winter is not in dispute; the desire to be up there certainly is, especially for those with chionophobic tendencies. The fear of snow can appear irrational to those who revel in these high, white days, but it is all too real for some.
The great outdoors may be healthy for mind and body, but there are many aspects of the natural world that make some feel nervous or fearful. At the more extreme end of the scale this can become a phobia, a fear that is excessive or out of proportion to any actual threat.
Apart from chionophobia, winter can also spark cryophobia (the fear of frost, ice or cold) and cleithrophobia (the fear of being trapped under snow).
Some fears are more understandable than others. For instance, most of us have a healthy respect for thunder and lightning (astrophobia) and I suspect the fastest growing fear will be acarophobia, the fear of ticks and mites, with the recent explosion of the little blighters and the upsurge in cases of Lyme Disease.
Shorts are fast becoming a no-no in the outdoors, unless you are wearing them in sub-zero temperatures, although I suspect that would be widely regarded as just a different kind of problem.
It's unlikely you would find anyone on the high tops who suffers from acrophobia (fear of being in high places) or dystychiphobia (accidents) and anyone with ombrophobia, the fear of rain, is unlikely to ever get anywhere in Scotland. The same goes for hydrophobia (water) and anemophobia (wind). However, you may be fine with heliophobia, fear of the sun, most of the year here.
I certainly wouldn't have gotten far if I had suffered from achluophobia, noctiphobia or selenophobia, the fear of darkness, the night or the moon, in that order.
It seems there's a phobia for everything. You name it, we've got it; forests, trees, plants, reptiles, insects, snakes, amphibians, birds, the list goes on. It really is a jungle out there.
You can even be a phobophobe – apologies for sounding like one of the Flowerpot men – that's the name for someone who is afraid of phobias.
So what worries me, apart from none of the above? The thought of being unable to ever again get out into the winter mountains. That really is scary.