Skip to content

The long microseason tail of a fantastic winter

Alex Roddie
Alex Roddie
4 min read
The long microseason tail of a fantastic winter

Late March is always a strange time of year for me. I think I become more aware of the tension in the landscape as winter peels back and spring tries to do its thing, and this tension manifests itself in various subtle ways. For me it's about microseasons.

This winter – my first full winter living in Scotland since 2011 – has been, in some ways, the best winter for mountain adventures in my life. It feels weird to write that. In my head, the 'Winter of Legends' (2009/10), back when I was living in Glen Coe, can never be surpassed. But when I look back through my hill diary and compare the actual trips I've done, this winter arguably meets it in terms of both quality and quantity. Maybe exceeds it! This will lead to some rewriting of internal mythologies later on down the line, but I'll cross that bridge when I have to.

I'll be writing much more about all the fun I've had this winter in the Scottish hills, but not yet. The reason I'm not writing about it now is because the winter isn't over yet, not by a long shot. This post is about the weird personal microseason I find myself in now, and the funny little tidal forces that act on me as it plays itself out.

In the Scottish hills, March is basically a winter month. Snow cover may be sporadic, especially in our era of climate change, but I have experienced some of the most savage conditions imaginable in March, from blizzards to deep frost. April, for that matter, is often a pretty wintry month as well! May has its moments, too. And yet most of us who spend time in the hills don't actually live up on the Cairngorm Plateau. We live at the bottom of the hill. Where it isn't quite winter any more, but signs of spring can be slow to emerge.

It's all further complicated by the existence of the ethereal microseason I think of as 'Scottish Alpine spring'. You know what I mean. Glorious sun-baked névé, warm rock, ice axe and shirtsleeves and sunhat, birds singing in the glen and a bittersweet swansong for the vanishing ice. It feels like you're living in a myth. You can glimpse this microseason all the way from March to June if you play your weather and location cards right. Right now, as I write this, it's nowhere to be seen.

And so the weird tensions pull our brains this way and that, leading to impulses that confuse and conflict. Conditions are good – break out the crampons, because you don't know how long it'll last! Oh look, the sun's out... now I'm yearning for hot, dry mountains, trail shoes, and a lighter pack. Hawthorn bushes just starting to burst into leaf only accelerate this peculiar seasonal maelstrom.

Perhaps I feel this seasonal swirl all the more strongly because I have spent most of my life living way down south, where the seasons are more predictable (and the handover from winter to spring takes place as early as February). In the grand scheme of things I haven't actually been up here in Scotland that long. Last time I didn't stay for long enough to really get used to it; this time I've only been here for a year. Give me time.

Today, snow is dumping on the mountains again and winter is most definitely Back On after a mild spell. But it's winter with hard work and grey murk and wet feet, not the benign magic in the pictures above. Winter with teeth, in other words.

I'm thinking about where I want to go and what I want to do at the weekend. My head tells me to take advantage of the winter while I can. Cairngorms, maybe. I still have tents and ice axes that need testing for TGO magazine. But my heart is pulling me back towards sunnier, drier trails, and I feel a distinctive reluctance to head back out into the cold and the dark once again. Rationally speaking, why would I want to go camping in the snow when I could enjoy a bivvy somewhere nice and mild?

None of this is rational, though, is it? Anyway, roll on Scottish Alpine spring.

Notes

Alex Roddie

Happiest on a mountain. Writer, story-wrangler, digital and film photographer. Editor of Sidetracked magazine (I make the words come out good).

Comments


Related Posts

Members Public

What survives in the record: a Glen Coe hill day from 15 years ago today

Every now and again, I dip into my Lightroom library and journals, curious to see what I was doing 10, 15, or 20 years ago on this day. On the 6th of April, 2009, my brother James had just arrived in Glen Coe and was keen to experience these mountains

What survives in the record: a Glen Coe hill day from 15 years ago today
Members Public

Some phone pictures from a sunny hill weekend (and a few thoughts on photo note-taking)

And now for something completely different. If you want to understand my approach to photos as a working outdoor writer then 35mm film (which I gush about on this blog all the time) is only a third of the story. Another third is my full-frame digital camera – no surprises there.

Some phone pictures from a sunny hill weekend (and a few thoughts on photo note-taking)
Members Public

Maybe the web used to be better than it is now

I am spending less time on Instagram and more time in the old-fashioned blogosphere (via my RSS reader) once again, because I increasingly dislike what Instagram does to my brain. And I increasingly wonder if the internet was actually better and more diverse when more of us posted updates regularly

Maybe the web used to be better than it is now

Mastodon