I can recall most any day spent in the hills in some capacity, photies do help with a prompt, but a map or a dog eared copy of SMC’s Munros starts the wheels turning too. Even years after my last walk, I can describe almost every step of the West Highland Way.
Sometimes it’s the little things that stick though, not just the wow views or the near miss that gets hairier with every retelling. This axe is one that stuck.
This is the cairn of Carn Mor Dearg which I visited on the fun way around to Ben Nevis on a fine winter’s day in the late 90s, I think it was ’98 so we’ll go with that.
It’s a photie of a printed photie which now I see it on my dark mode (Aye, dark mode. “Oh my eyes” folk used to say when the read stuff on here, now any site that doesn’t have dark mode it circled by snarling Gen Z’s. I am totally assuming the told you so high ground and also claiming an early adopter shoulder stripe for my uniform.) I haven’t cropped very well, but what the hell.
So, it’s an old wooden ice axe, stuck deep into the cairn. It was clean enough, no rot or too much rust on the head so I felt like it hadn’t been there long.
I barely saw anyone all day and the internet wasn’t what is now back then so I had no wider world to ask about it.
It just looked, I don’t know, enigmatic, poignant, mysterious, even funny. Without context there was no way to know quite how to react.
But it just looked magic where it had been placed. The light catching the head, the broken leash hanging loose suggesting tales of glory and a hard life lived and all on a glorious clear day where cloud lazily poured in thin waves over the low point on the CMD arete. But, it’s the axe I remember most.
It’s not there now of course, I’ve been back many times to check. And that adds to the mystery, did the owner reclaim it, did it slip away with wind and weather or did someone with not quite as much heart and soul as you or I take it home for themselves?
The hills have so many stories to tell. They have their own history as living, breathing islands of both delicate and harsh nature and wonder and then they have what we have woven across and through them over the years to tie them onto our sea-level lives.
I think that’s why so many of us long time hill goers treat the hills with an unthought respect, we see it as that precious, fragile environment, not an entertainment venue.
I hope the many new feet of the past year passing through the contour lines of our wonder high places learn to see the difference sooner rather than later.