There is one activity us mountaineers don’t talk about much. It gives us such joy that we’re afraid that if we let the cat out of the bag thousands of people would head for the hills just to take part in this, one of our favourite parts of winter hill climbing. I felt, however, that it is perhaps time to own up to what gives us such pleasure. I am referring, of course, to what is known in the trade as snow plodding.
There’s nothing quite like it, it goes something like this. “I take one step forward and my leg disappears into the snow. I put my weight on my foot and it vanishes further, sliding back behind my other leg so that I am, in effect going backwards.”
I’ve been doing this for an hour now, several thousand times and, if you look really closely, you’ll see that the boulder I set off from sixty minutes ago is at least two meters further way than when I started. I step forward again and this time the snow decides upon a merry jape and collapses complete projecting me face down into the snow where I get a whole mouthful of the white mush that has become my world. My heart fills with song.
It’s a long time since I visited the hills above Loch Quoich and it’s my first time here in winter. It’s a huge area; the little road that sets off from the main road between Invergarry and nowhere in particular runs for about 22 miles before it gives up trying to find somewhere to go and dives into the sea at Kinloch Hourn. Loch Quoich, I remember, is not to be trusted, it’s the sort of expanse of water you shouldn’t turn your back on, in fact, it shouldn’t be where it is at all.