Not everything that is good is fun.
I must say, that's pretty much how I felt about life last night. I battled to the summit of Slieve Bearnagh yesterday for my first snow of the season. The forecast had suggested the snow line would be around 400m and, with showers expected over Friday night, there was a good chance the summits of the Kingdom of Mourne would be sprinkled in snow.
And indeed they were. The snow was fine. You can walk in snow. It was the ice on the way up that very steep and boulder-laden final push to the summit of Bearnagh. The rivulets of water that cascade down off the side of the mountain had begun to freeze as we pushed on up from Hare's Gap. As we went higher and higher, the froze more and more solid. At first, only the top of the water was frozen; but as we went higher, it all froze. The water, trapped in a never ending moment of time, clinging to the surfaces of the boulders - and making picking your way up arduous and treacherous.
And then there was the wind. The Met Office had said that, with the windchill, the temperatures on the summits would be a bone-chilling - 11 C. I had gone up prepared, layered up so much I looked like the Michelin Man! But even with all the gear, the wind was bitingly cold. If I took my gloves off at all to work my camera, my hands were getting numb within minutes. I could feel my cheeks beginning to tingle in the cold. I kept moving around, partly to take various photos, partly to keep warm!
Then there was the cloud. The tops of the mountains were shrouded in cap cloud, formed as the winds were forced up and over the peaks. Sometimes, the cloud gave hints it would clear, and hints of warm light came in from above. But it never did. Instead, here we were, wrapped up in this other world of snow and wind and cloud, enveloped in a land that felt far, far away, despite its familiarity.
This was not a time for the grand vistas - we simply couldn't see that far! Instead, I busied myself with trying to capture the mood of sheer brutality we were experiencing. Scenes draped in snow and ice, close up shots of those ancient granite tors, encrusted with ice, as they have been countless times over the millennia they have stood proud and resilient against the harshest of elements.
The Freedom of Constraint
I'm happy to admit that I'm a great fan of the grand vista shot. But, what happens when the cloud that has closed in on top of the mountain means you can'r see more than 30 metres away? There's no chance of any grand vista shots.
Sometimes constraint can be the very thing that bring liberty. In this case, the cloud forced me to look closer, at things that otherwise I might have overlooked. In this case, it was the forst encrusted tors. The patterns and shapes, along with the tonal contrasts of the dar baslat and the ice crystals, made for intruiging subject matter.
So I set about looking for lines and patterns and shapes, details hidden in plain sight.
Then it was time to descend. If the ascent had been hard, the descent was even more so. The icy conditions meant that every foot step had to be placed oh so carefully; routes had to be decided upon to avoid the frozen streams and had to be navigated with great care. We were so relieved to make it back down to Hare's Gap. But, of course, from there, there's still a good hour's hike back to the car. By now, it was getting dark, so the head torches came out. And so did the snow and hail. As our head torches shone into the falling snow, driven by the wind howling up the valley, it was like we were travelling in hyperspace in some spacecraft as the snow whizzed past us, stinging our cheeks for good measure as it did.
And finally we go back to the cars, too tired even to feel much by way of relief. As I sat in the car, quickly processing one of the shots I got on my phone, I was sore. I was cold. I was weary. I was not having fun.
And yet, I felt great. It was undoubtedly one of the most challenging hikes I've had up the mountains. And that's part of what made it so rewarding. Sometimes you can simply drive to a location and great a great photograph. But sometimes you have to push yourself, endure experiences that are painful and hard. And, if you do, the reward is even greater.
Not everything that is good is fun - and I wound't have it any other way!