The Great Outdoors (UK)
I USED TO FIND it very difficult to muster anything positive to say about the months between October and April. Surely this is just the season of darkness and drudgery, of streaming noses and scything winds; where the sunlight is frail and frigid, if it even appears at all; where the days are so short they can hardly feel like days at all? Nope. Give me blue skies, sweat, sunburn, a swim in a cool mountain pool, and a glistening amber pint in some appropriately quaint and flowery Lakeland beer garden; that’s all I want from my hillwalking endeavours, thank you very much.
Then I experienced what it’s like to go hillwalking on a mountain covered in snow and ice. That mountain was Stob Ban in the Mamores, and the atmospheric details of that exceptionally cold and snowy December day – the deep satisfaction of crampons crunching into névé, the blue depths of the snow, the cold fire of the wind on my face, the alpine spectacle of the Lochaber mountains arrayed around us in golden sunset light – still feel fresh and vivid, even though it was a decade ago.
This is the power of great mountain experiences: they endure with us, like a collection of yesterdays we can easily pull off the shelf years later, even when the ‘normal’ days around them have long since blurred into the fog of time.
Despite – or perhaps because of – the darkness of the season they take place in, it is those snow-dazzled days in the high places that often shine the brightest in the memory. So with the snowy season looming, this issue is a bumper celebration of the extra layers of intensity, spectacle and achievement that ‘proper’ winter conditions add to the experience of hillwalking (indeed, when those conditions arrive fully, they turn it into something else – as the well-worn instructor’s adage goes, ‘there’s no such thing as hillwalking in winter – only mountaineering’.)
Our free winter skills magazine rounds up the best advice and know-how we’ve published in the last few years; a fantastic introduction for newbies, and a handy refresher for the more experienced. And here in the main mag, the Lochaber mountains appear twice: in our lead feature (p30) where a host of enthusiasts share some mouthwatering stories and imagery, and in Alex Roddie’s feature on the Glenfinnan Munros (p42; winter nut Alex has also done a great job as guest editor of our skills special). Elsewhere, Vivienne Crow walks us through some gentler Lakeland terrain (p50) – swinging ice axes isn’t for everyone, after all – and James Roddie delves into a resurgent forest (p58).
There’s a lot more where that came from, of course – but I’ll let you explore!