The 13th of March 2020 unfolded into one of the most remarkable winter mountaineering days; transformational and life affirming. Little did we know we wouldn’t be seeing the mountains again for a while. Coronavirus; social distancing and staying at home to protect our wonderful NHS and the unsung heroes who keep our country going takes front seat. End of.
We’ve been running collaboration with a small Scottish film company to try and capture “Ocean Vertical”. Not so much who we are, but more of what we stand for, what we and the Ocean Vertical community believe in, and what it means to us to be in the natural world. Experiencing nature and wild places, living and loving life, and passion for our silent sports; mountaineering, paddle boarding SUP, coasteering, surfing and climbing. And now more than ever, a love for our wild places demanding actions in the fight to save them.
We kicked off early 2020 with the film crew to capture the winter mountaineering season in Scotland. Like all our adventures the weather always plays its hand, and boy did it fire us some epic conditions; from blizzards and avalanche conditions, to the most whiter than white blue bird alpine days. Just spectacular.
We had an “atmospheric” day filming on the Tarmachan Ridge and Meall nan Tarmachan with a band of like-minded adventure lovers. Deep snow, blizzards, moments of piercing blue sky and a few fogging issues with the film gear. But hey, that’s what making a real adventure film is all about. No careful stage sets, no “acting”, and certainly no actors. Just raw, real and authentic.
And then we hit the Cairngorm Plateau on a ghostly snow-white day; almost eerie in its calmness. There’s a presence up there beyond those frozen Northern Corries, call it what you will. If there is a Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui, Am Fear Liath Mor, he was very close to us that day, breathing his icy chill down the back of our necks.
We skirted the rims of Coire an Lochan, Cairn Lochan and Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and made our way across the plateau to the buttresses above a frozen Loch Avon. The views impossible and vast. Almost incomprehensible. And then in a breath an icy mist would consume us, and a few moments later disappear into the snowy wilderness. No fogging issues on this trip and the drone finally took to the air, along with the Ravens who haunt the crags and cliff faces in unnerving solitude.
And then to the 13th of March 2020. We had a call from the film crew on the 11th saying the conditions in Glen Coe on Friday the 13th were going to be epic – and this was our chance to capture the sun rise over a frozen Glen Coe. And of course, we wanted to experience this from the summits, not the valley floor. No problem; the alarms were set for 12.45am in East Lothian. There’s no way we were going to miss this.
The day. 12.45am porridge and peanut butter. Gear all packed yesterday. Hit the road and pick up our fellow early rise adventurers. It’s a silent drive up with most folks dozing. We eventually hit Rannoch Moor with a lid of a billion stars across it; the full moon dances and flicks over lochans as we ghost by, a spec in this black wilderness. Somewhere in front of us is Buachaille Etive Mor; and then, framed for a moment in time we see the Crowberry Tower silhouetted against a giant moon. Then it’s gone. Perhaps never to be seen again by any of us in this lifetime.
We pull into a frozen and icy car park at the base of Buachaille Etive Beag. Its 4am and -10 degrees. The film crew greet us in the dark and we share a quick coffee. Then quietly we distribute kit and share out crampons and ice axes. We aim to be at the coll for 5.30am.
As we set off its absolutely still and silent. Ice crystals drift pass our head torches. The only sound our boots on the frozen snow. Overhead a trillion stars join the moon. This is a privilege; more than any of us could have dreamed of. Before long we stop and fit crampons by head torch. It’s a surreal experience, the sound and sight of your own frozen breath in the utter stillness of a winter’s night.
We hit the coll between Stob Dubh and Stob Coire Raineach in good time. Time for another coffee. Time just to absorb this. The sky is turning cobalt blue in the east. Somewhere behind Buachaille Etive Mor the sun is gradually reaching out over the frozen wilderness.
At this point we split teams – climbers and film crew. We ascend and the film guys hang back with the drone. It’s starting to happen; in the west the tips of Bidean nam Bian and Stob Coire nan Lochan gradually turn pink, the dark cobalt sky is receding into the west and the stars and moon fading with it. Somewhere 36,000 feet above us a transatlantic jet leaves its pink vapour trail across the wilderness; inside perhaps they are sipping coffee or champagne on their way to New York, Tokyo and beyond.
The horizontal rays are now on us as they break the crest of Buachaille Etive Mor; we are now in a frozen world of pink snow, ice and dreamy sky. This is why we are here. This is why we love the mountains and the natural world. Right now nothing else matters. We are specs in Natures amphitheatre of life. And we are grateful, humbled and glad to be alive. Perspective comes with experiences like this; what matters, what really matters, as we live out our lives with 7.5 billion other souls. Friendship, love and kindness. Respect, courtesy and eternal gratitude for nature and the natural world that surrounds us. Friday the 13th of March 2020; for life.