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  • I went into Coire Mhic Fhearchair in the winter.

    I'd been there in July, and needed now to obtain images that would show the contrast. Between the soft moist warmth of summer and this season of arctic blizzards.

    The main roads were all closed. I'd driven the Land Rover down the snowy glen to where I could take off uphill on foot. Nobody else about. For miles.

    Spindrift blew around my feet, and high above on the crags snow whirled off in gusts. Cold smoke.

    The wind increased as I went higher. Resenting my intrusion on this howling day.

    I leaned on my poles. And rested. I'd had a serious injury a couple of years back, a severed cruciate, repaired, but botched by a careless surgeon, then repaired again, but in doing the repair, infection, complications, 18 months of recovery and no work. I thought I might not ever walk properly again.

    And then this job was offered. I said yes. Unhealed. And for the past eight months had carefully walked amidst these mountains and slowly felt the strength return.

    Clouds raced across a leaden sky, more snow. More wind. I hoped the coire would be sheltered, but knew a westerly gale is head on there, and no respite. And so I trudged on up and up and up. Past contorted ice confections, that in normal places would be icicles, but here, water spun on wind they grow sideways, and up, and down again. The windstory written in ice. An essay on winter. A harsh tale.

    The coire was astonishing. The small loch at its heart was partly frozen. And where it was not, and still liquid, near the front, the wind was barrelling off the crags, and looping down again, whipping the water off. And coating every surface in a skin of crystal ice. Everything, coated, caked, rimed, frozen.

    I put my crampons on. Carefully. Their steel teeth giving me purchase, against the wind trying to push me, and the icy slope pulling. A tug of raw.

    I pulled against boulders, to make headway in the bigger gusts. Ice pellets racing across the frozen water went airborne, some landing in the water, others whistling past me like bullets. I sheltered my face behind the camera, on its tripod. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!

    The wind softened a bit, and I moved on. More pictures, but things looked indistinct, fuzzy. I rubbed my eyes. Still fuzzy. I cleaned the viewfinder. Still fuzzy. I looked at the front of the lens and found a smashed, crazed filter, glass shards folded in. It was a bugger to remove, with bare fingers. Cold numb.

    And then I walked across to the close edge of the loch, still wet and fluid. And gasped. Every blade of grass, each single one, coated in a jacket of crystalline ice. Windblown moisture in the unrelenting gale slowly slowly slowly building up. To this. Harsh, killing conditions, creating delicate confections of unimaginable perfection.

    I walked off in the moonlight, wind whirling around me, spindrift dancing skywards through the moonglow.

    Carrying a gift, to me from the mountains, because I had dared to carefully share their harshness. And their wonders.
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