A backcountry adventure in the Scottish Highlands • Snowshoe Magazine

It was an unusually warm February morning when I set off with Jamie, my fellow snow hunter, looking for a mountain that still had a reasonable blanket of white matter. A few months earlier there had been so much snow that I had snowshoeed in central Edinburgh, but since then warmer weather had descended on Scotland and the snow line has grown. was quickly withdrawn into the mountains.

With a large amount of gear, including snowshoes, trekking poles and avalanche transceivers, we set off from the Scottish capital, heading north, to the Highlands. We didn’t have a definite plan. If we saw a mountain that seemed to have enough snow to go up, we would stop, climb it, and climb it. However, it was some time before snow was seen. The thaw had really taken its toll and we started to worry if we would find something workable. But as we drove further north along secluded lanes, past cold lochs and through tiny hamlets, we began to see signs of winter on the mountain tops, and our spirits were lifted.

We ultimately opted for Ben Lawers, one of the tallest mountains in the Southern Highlands at 3,983 feet. Over two hundred years ago, a group of men spent a day building a giant cairn to artificially raise the height of the mountain to the magic number of 4000 feet; unfortunately, their efforts were ignored by cartographers. Still, Ben Lawers was tall enough to still have his head and shoulders snow today, and that’s all we needed.

Arriving at the parking lot and getting ready, we felt heavily overdressed. The mountain was dotted with patches of snow on its top half, but other hikers were only equipped with crampons and small backpacks while we were loaded with snowboards, backpacks and heavy boots. Feeling slightly shy about our seemingly excessive gear that we were carrying, we set off in the late winter sun, following burns, then ran over boulders and through bogs and marshes.

The Scottish Highlands are renowned for their harsh and changeable climate. Arctic storms can howl in an instant. It is not uncommon to see bright sun, rain, sleet, and mist all in one day, even in summer. Luckily today a beautiful sun warmed our backs as we started to climb, enjoying the views over Loch Tay as we went.

After about an hour we hit the snow line and switched to snowshoeing. I was delighted to test my brand new pair of MSR Lightning Ascent shoes. I have to admit that I had been guilty of believing that one pair of rackets was little different from the others. How wrong I was. Compared to my old Stellar Hybrids, these things were like a pair of Lamborghinis! The racing yellow frames weren’t the only similarity. The beautifully designed frames were sleek, light, and fast, biting through hard snow and floating easily on sugar crystals.

The biggest advantage was the four strap attachment system. My old Stellar bindings had often loosened halfway through, but the MSRs held my feet perfectly. And then there was the nitro boost – the “ergo Televator” – a little bar that pops up to support your heel and makes taking inclines as easy as climbing stairs. While the frame of my old shoes had rounded tube edges, the frame of the MSR is cut from a solid section of metal with teeth that resemble those of a Mako shark. The result was incredible traction in the hardpack on steep inclines.

After a brief break for lunch in a sheltered hollow, we made the last swing to the top. As we neared the top the wind started to blow. At the very top we had to crouch down to avoid being knocked over – having a snowboard strapped to your back like a sail doesn’t really help your aerofoil! However, we do it well, even if we don’t hang around for long. The wind is strong and quickly robs our body heat, once we stop moving.

We switch snowshoes for snowboards and begin our brief, but surprisingly fun descent. The sugary snow is intact and this “poor man’s powder” is a lot of fun to ride. It was an excellent experience, although too short, and we want more. Indeed, Jamie has never used snowshoes before and is so enamored with the experience that he insists on reattaching them and back up for a second run. As the sun is still shining and we are in no rush, I agree, and we get back to snowshoeing, this time stopping a bit before the summit.

Again we shoot, making wide arcs over the corn snow, but alas the ride just isn’t long enough, so as the end of the snow line nears we decide to see if Scottish moss can be overlapped. It turns out that it is possible, and surprisingly well! We jump from patch to patch of snow, navigating the wet grass that connects each area of ​​snow, and manage to descend much further into the mountain than we ever imagined.

Finally, the slope flattens out and we stop. The boards get back on our bags and we head back down to the parking lot, reaching the car just as the sun is just starting to set behind the mountain.

Even though it’s not yet until February, it’s the last race of the season. The snow came and went early this year. But as we head back to Edinburgh, I’m only thinking of the next chance to get my MSRs out again.

Coming next winter.

Sam Baldwin is the author of For Fukui’s Sake: Two years in rural Japan – for more information see: ForFukuisSake.com.

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