Winter on Beinn Ghlas

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I found winter from Beinn Ghlas.

White mountains look peaceful against the pink soft morning sky. Gradually the sky turns blue and the mountain peaks tint to pink and orange as the sun climbs higher. I have woken up well before the sunrise to bike to the campus where I met my fellow mountaineers for the day. Now, when we are driving towards the southern highlands, the day lightens up promising bright and chilly weather.

It is Valentine’s Day but I am not planning to fill the day with roses and pink hearts. Instead, I have pair of crampons and an ice axe in my pack back and I am going to learn how to use them properly. A St John Scotland Mountaineering instructor will take us up to a Munro, Beinn Galas, and teach us to use the winter gear in practice. I have done Beinn Ghlas before, but never in winter conditions. I am excited.

After sorting out all the gear, putting on extra layers and going through the plan for the day, the five of us heads to the hill. The clock says 9.40. Other hill walkers are enjoying the day as well: Red, balck and blue dots move up and down the snowy slope. There is plenty of room for all of us and we pass people nodding and smiling. “Grand day, huh?”  Closer to the top two men greet us on their way down. They have red cheeks, puffs pulled up to the chin and snowflakes on the eye browns. “It’s a fine day. The view on the top is not the best, though”. The footprints on the snow indicate the path but we keep our maps near just in case. After all, one of the rules on the hill is that you should never trust blindly on the weather or other people’s decisions.

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Before continuing to the steeper slope we stop to practice some ice axe techniques. Soon the small patch of the slope next to the path is filled with footprints, axe holes and sliding marks. We shake snow from our clothes and I replace my wet mittens with my spare pair. Now I know how to lean on an ice axe when the slope is very steep and I also know how to stop or at least slow down my fall is I slip. “Remember that this is a skill you should not need to use” our instructor says, “the goal is not to slip”.

We strap our crampons on before the icy climb to the top and continue our way. 10 spikes chew the snow and ice underneath each of my steps. The path is not very difficult and it would be manageable without crampons, but we are here to practise how to use them and I rather enjoy having inch long spikes attached to my feet.

After walking for a while we dive into a cloud that covers the top of Beinn Ghlas. That is where the map and the compass prove to be handy. Because of them we know that the pile of stones on a seemingly highest point of the hill is not actually the peak. Whiteout makes it impossible to see the real peak to this stone pile but we study the map carefully. One lady nearby overhears our conversation and lingers around as she obviously does not have a clue where to go. She secretly follows us when we make our way to the top. There where we smile, notice that the guys we met were right: the view is really not the best today. Everything is white as milk.

We are back to the cars around 3.30pm. Tired drive back to the university feels like forever. The sun is already setting and the mountains wear their orange suit again. One day of winter on Beinn Ghlas ends up with rain falling on me while I bike back home through green fields.

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