journal / Outdoor Adventure

Right place, Right Time

A bluebird morning up high above the Glencoe Valley

We met for the first time in northern Italy last summer, Sam Rogers and I, whilst hiking and camping in the Dolomites. Sharing a love for the outdoors and photography, we hit it off immediately, and vowed that our next trip would be somewhere closer to home. With Sam never having gone further north than Manchester, I suggested we broaden his horizons and explore an area of Scotland I’ve become somewhat familiar with over the years: the Western Highlands. With an itinerary roughly together, a load of walking routes scrawled onto paper maps and a list of munros (Scottish mountains above 3,000 feet) ready to go, two months later we set off for our week-long trip in mid-January.

As our trip loomed, the weather forecast looked mixed. Heavy rain, maybe some snow and high winds, would make hillwalking interesting. Our plan of hitting a number of munros was a bit scuppered, so we decided to go with the flow and keep a keen eye on the weather. We arrived in Glencoe on a typical rainy Scottish afternoon as the light was beginning to fail. We were offered a few glimpses of the unmistakable gnarled peaks that line the valley before they were quickly shrouded in thick dark clouds. We checked in to the hostel and hoped for better weather the following day.

We woke the next morning to huge snowflakes pattering against our window and stared out to find a clean white blanket swaddling the glen. Giddy and excited, we bounded out before the sun had yet fully risen. Our grand plans to explore the upper section of the valley, however, were thwarted by a jack-knifed lorry dramatically cutting off the only road up the valley. With risky conditions in mind, Sam and I spent the day on the coastal road visiting nearby castles. The plan had been to explore a rounded but bulky hill opposite the magnificent Buachaille Etive Mor, which I’d noticed on my last visit to Glencoe. This understated hill could easily be ignored, overshadowed by its neighbour, but after I’d picked it out on a map as Beinn a’Chrulaiste, I found a few photographs from the summit and the views looked astounding. Despite thick snow and icy conditions, I pegged this peak a doable summit for Sam and I.

The following morning, we set off again, no lorries this time, to the head of the trail. In the low, blue-tinged light of predawn we noticed a low bank of fog lingering in the valley – an inversion. We quickly switched into hiking boots to race up the southern flanks of Beinn a'Chrulaiste.

With all evidence of the trail buried beneath the snow, we were guided by limited markings on the map and a few descriptions of the route we’d found online. There was a sense of urgency to reach the summit for sunrise, and we quickly downed our bags to shed a few layers and grab a drink before continuing our upwards stomp. As the first rays of sunlight doused a powder-pink hue on the distant snowy peaks, our excitement mounted and our pace quickened.

When we reached the summit, we were treated with spectacular views across to the Buchaille as the fog filled valley down below. We enjoyed a friendly chitchat with a couple of locals who told us of the rarity of the morning we were so keenly enjoying. They’d been chasing these kinds of conditions up the hill for years, they told us. They shortly left to go warm up down at their car, leaving Sam and I alone on the summit. In height, the Scottish mountains may be measurably slight compared to their counterparts in the Alps, but, in my opinion, their majesty and grandeur is no less and on days like this the views are unrivalled. Soft morning light now flooded the valley creating a magical and peaceful scene. To my surprise, the wind was almost non-existent and the valley assumed a tranquility at odds with the rugged highlands of Scotland. We took a seat for a while to soak it all in.

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