Tuesday 14 November 2017

Book Review: Among The Summer Snows by Christopher Nicholson

Summer snow, the remnants of previous years’ snowfalls, is a rarity, found only in a few places high in the Scottish Highlands. Most years a little of this snow lasts right through until the next winter’s snow begins to fall. This year it didn’t, for the first time since 2006 and only for the sixth time in eighty-four years. For it to disappear in 2017, the year this wonderful book by Christopher Nicholson was published, is somewhat ironic as one of the main themes of the book is about loss and the symbolic importance of summer snow to the author’s well-being. As I finished reading the book I wondered how different it would have been if Nicholson had searched out the last summer snow this year rather than last before writing the book. On his final visit to Garbh Choire in the Cairngorms late in the summer of 2016 he writes ‘I needed to know if the snow had survived’ and then when he sees the last patches ‘oh good, good, good, a thousand times good’.

Nicholson’s fascination with summer snow and the significance it came to have for him are the core of the book. Mixing accounts of his trips to find the snow, stories of summer snow from the past, and personal reminiscences that are both sad and uplifting this is an unusual and thought-provoking book and one to savour slowly, taking it in gradually, rather as the summer snow slowly melts away. Beautifully written, it is both elegiac and optimistic, a meditation on life and death. The descriptions of the snow patches are wonderfully detailed, the determination involved in reaching them familiar to anyone who walks in the hills.

One of the best outdoor books I’ve read this year – and it has been a good year for them – Among The Summer Snows is, I think, destined to become a classic of mountain literature. Superb.

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