Highlights of 2020
Like a lot of people, I’d probably have said off-the-cuff if asked that 2020 was the worst year ever, what with lockdown and everything that it entailed. A closer reflection of the year, though, proves that initial impressions can sometimes be misleading. In point of fact, looking through some photo albums and remembering the experiences, 2020 has been one of the most memorable in a very long time.
It goes without saying, though, that these experiences can be styled as those that were B.C. (Before Covid), and those which were A.D. (After Delimitation). The lockdown period itself, where few people ventured more than a few streets from their houses, was a write off.
The following photographs may not necessarily be the best that I took this year, but they mark 12 unforgettable experiences that rank as good as any I’ve had the pleasure of in the Highlands. The first three are B.C., with the rest being A.D.
- Ben Lui, February 2020
A first for me, by completing a recognised winter route (Central Gully (I), Ben Lui). In the photograph, climbing buddy Andrew Cotter tops out into clear blue skies and views as good as any in the Southern Highlands. There may even have been high fives exchanged.
2. Chno Dearg, March 2020
Another trip with Andrew, in which he completed his first ever ski tour on Scottish snow. A short carry with heavy equipment to the snow-line was the price to pay for a day of unbroken cover. Needless to say, the world-famous Olive and Mabel joined us. This picture isn’t the best I took that day, but it captures the atmosphere better than the others. Olive’s left ear flapping shows the strength of the wind, if the spindrift flying across the ground didn’t already. I don’t know what Mabel is looking at, but then she probably doesn’t either.
3. Aonach Mor, March 2020
Yet another trip with Andrew, just a few days before lockdown in late March. We skinned up from the gondola station to the summit of Aonach Mor before touring around to Aonach Beag. The views were simply sensational. The term ‘Alpine’ is overused when describing Scotland’s hills, but on this day it was absolutely justified. Unbroken snow in every direction we looked. A day of days. (No dogs this time, alas.)
4. Carn na Caim, July 2020
A trip up to the hills above Dalwhinnie with the BBC Scotland ‘Landward’ team to film some snow tunnels resulted in a much better one than I expected. Some stunning hues of blue and green were present, against the scalloped walls of the water-and-air excavated tunnel. My over-excited ramblings can be heard here, at 21mins 30secs.
5. ‘Mullardoch Round’, July 2020
Twelve Munros in one very long day. The so-called ‘Mullardoch Round’ is, realistically, the biggest day a normal hillwalker can have in Scotland. The experience of standing at the summit of the first Munro at 5am, watching the sunrise against a palette of astonishing colours, is something I, nor my companions Robert and Graham, will never forget. Not only a highlight of 2020, but one of the most satisfying things I have ever done.
6. Ben Nevis, August 2020
Point 5 Gully at Ben Nevis holds, arguably, Scotland’s most beautiful snow tunnel. It shows off its best side around mid-July to mid-August. I went up in early August, in hope rather than expectation. I wasn’t disappointed.
7. Ben Macdui, August 2020
A visit to the Feith Buidhe slabs on Ben Macdui with Dr Sarah Laurenson as part of some research she was doing for a piece. A stunning day with tremendous weather. The views down Loch Avon from the slabs were really hard to better, especially from inside a snow tunnel.
8. Snow survey from an plane, August 2020
Not even being sick into a paper bag over the Cairngorms could spoil the memory of this day. We took off from Prestwick in an RV8 and landed in Oban 25 minutes later. We then flew up Glen Etive in formation, from where we covered most of the Highlands before flying back to Oban. A truly special day, where I navigated the whole trip using nothing except my memory and knowledge of the hills.
9. Aonach Mor, September 2020
A summit camp with a special view. This sunset picture was taken about an hour after the second photo, which shows the amazing snow formations of the so-called ‘Protalus’ patch, a peri-glacial feature. Two different experiences, but both utterly memorable.
10. Ben Macdui, November 2020
After coming off the hill from a snow-patch count, the cloud lifted just for a second down the Lairig Ghru, showing this most famous of mountain passes in all its moody glory. An unforgettable view.
11. Ben Lui, November 2020
There is no finer hill in the Southern Highlands than Ben Lui. On this day, me and a couple of friends went up in thick mist, hoping that it would lift. It duly did, revealing the bulk of this stunning hill under a dusting of fresh snow, which only added to the beauty. I had my drone with me, which I managed to fly and get some of the best footage of the year. I can claim no credit. Ben Lui deserves it all.