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Somewhere, out in the dark, the Old Mann of Storr was waiting. The occasional, accidental clink of a dish rang out uncomfortably in the space of an unusual silence. I winced each time. Outside the tent the fearsome winds that normally battered us during our month on the Isle of Skye were conspicuously absent. Deeper inside the tent Lisa was dreaming her two-year-old dreams, saving her noise and her motion for the daylight. At 4:30 AM, only the sizzle of breakfast and the zipping and rustling of the camera bag broke the still of the night’s last hour. Jake and I wordlessly prepared for our hike.
When breakfast was ready, we woke Lisa up and fed her a hot breakfast. Still in her pajamas, she clutched the bowl in her little hands. She pouted, but to our relief, she ate. Jake and I ate too, as the dark of the morning began to give way to a gentle pre-dawn glow. The forecast called for a clear morning, but through the plastic window the sky looked gray. It didn’t matter. We had learned by now that on the Isle of Skye, neither the computer models, nor our own eyes could be relied upon to predict the weather more than an hour ahead. We were going up, and that was that.
On the way south from our campsite, Jake drove slowly down the narrow winding roads that are ubiquitous on the Isle of Skye. This early in the morning, there was no car behind us eager to pass. Our main goal was to get to our destination without making Lisa carsick. It was still unclear whether we would have a view. One valley we passed was whited out under low hanging clouds. Another was clear. One mountain stood stark against the sky, another was completely hidden. Though the weather was unpredictable, and the mercurial nature of a toddler made photography an exercise in both patience and spontaneity, we knew what our photo would look like. Well, more or less. Eventually. We had read our guides. We had studied seen the photos by pros and amateurs who had climbed before us. We had done our scouting.
Jake no longer needed the GPS to direct us to the trailhead. This was our third trip to the Old Man of Storr. The three of us had climbed halfway up (just high enough to see the path we would take) before being repelled by cold and wind. A day later, Jake climbed on his own to pick his angles and find the best routes for a photographer, a two year old girl, and a mother in a dress with an acute fear of heights. After so many months of travel together, we trusted in one another like never before. I know he’ll keep us safe, and he knows I’ll push myself when it gets rough. Lisa trusts us both more than anyone should, because that’s what babies do.
When we arrived, we did a final check of our gear, and strapped Lisa into her new chest carrier on my chest. I lookedat Lisa and I could tell she was still tired. One moment she was fussing to get down. The next moment she was burying her face in Jake’s jacket as though she wanted to sleep. I imagined for a moment that we were back in our sleeping bags, warm and cozy. The mountain wasn’t warm, and it wasn’t cozy, but it was special. When we were planning our trip, pictures of those spectacular blades of rock were our inspiration for our long journey to Skye. Being here at the foot of the mountain, it felt like the hardest part was already over.
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The hike up to the Old Man of Storr is the most popular one on the Isle of Skye. When Jake climbed up a week earlier to scout on a sunny afternoon, the photos he took were filled with tourists climbing up and down the slopes. Today the trail was empty, except for ourselves, a few sheep, and some midges. The sun was starting to peer out through the clouds, and without the wind we were beginning to warm up as we made our ascent.
Sometimes, we work hard on a photoshoot and never get cooperation from the weather. But the Old Man of Storr must have known what we were looking for. After nearly a month of camping in the wind and the rain, and multiple attempts on the mountain, we were rewarded with a display of meteorological splendor. The clouds parted to our east, allowing the bright morning sun to shine through and bathe the me, Lisa and Storr in glorious light and raking shadows. I picked up Lisa and Jake took the photos we had been hoping for.
Lisa and I hurried back and leaned over the back of the camera to see the photos. Seeing that we had gotten what we came for made me feel warm inside. It washed away the chill of all those mornings, and made me forget about the dirt under my nails. It was better than hot cocoa, better than a long shower.
But the sky had one more treat for us. As Lisa and I played amongst the rocks, a small cloud, no more than a few hundred feet across, drifted by the mountainside. It engulfed the Old Man of Storr, changing the mood from the glittering dawn into one of eerie, gloomy magic. It reminded me of the amazing fog cloaked mountains that are so famous in China As soon as we had taken a few more photos, bigger thicker clouds began to roll in, and soon the entire mountain was cloaked in gray. The final reward for our hike was the knowledge that we owed all of our success to the extra effort we put in.
As we made our way down, the tourists were starting to make their way up. One by one, and then two by two, they passed us, until eventually there was a steady stream of traffic climbing over the rocks. We were grateful that we had gotten what we came for, and for the experience of enjoying a morning together in a magical place. We were even grateful for the tourists who were just there to enjoy their hike. One of them chased us fifty feet down the mountain to return the boot that had fallen off Lisa’s foot. She had fallen asleep on Jake’s chest and we carefully slid it back on. She didn’t flinch as I gave her a kiss on the cheek.
We stopped in Portree before returning to our tent. The breakfast I’d made in the dark had warmed us up and carried us up the mountain. But now we had built up an appetite. The mountain and the sky had rewarded us for our efforts, and now it was time for us to reward ourselves as well. Lisa played with the salt and pepper shakers as we waited for our second breakfast in a small second floor cafe. As I watched her, I wondered if she would remember our climb to the Old Man of Storr. Would she ever remember camping on the Isle of Skye? I suppose I won’t know until she’s old enough to tell me. In the meantime, we’ll just keep taking pictures and let her make of it what she will.
Lisa’s new baby carrier courtesy of Ergobaby Omni 360.