Thursday 13 January 2022

Book Review: The Vanishing Ice by Iain Cameron

For many years Iain Cameron has been recording snow patches in the Scottish hills that last into summer and sometimes right through the year. From noting patches for his own interest he has become an expert researcher, writing regular reports for the Royal Meteorological Society and co-ordinating other snow researchers, mostly via social media. He’s appeared on radio and TV and his work is featured in newspapers regularly as interest has grown. Now he’s written an excellent book about his passion.

The Vanishing Ice is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary subject. Just why would someone take a tape measure on a risky walk into remote mountains to measure a shrinking patch of old snow? This book gives the answer, and will I’m sure inspire many others to join the author’s band of snow patch aficionados, of which I confess I am one though without the dedication or expertise of Iain Cameron.

A book on snow patches might appear to have a narrow focus but that’s not the case and the book is wide-ranging and full of interest. The story of how the author became intrigued by snow patches and how he began to record them is fascinating. Laced throughout the book are many exciting often hazardous adventures in the hills visiting snow remnants located high in hard-to-reach gullies and lying on steep icy slabs. Checking snow patches is not easy work but it does take the researcher into spectacular, rarely visited places and the author’s love of these shines through.

Iain Cameron’s mentor, the late Dr Adam Watson – scientist, environmentalist, and snow researcher - has a chapter to himself, as the person who encouraged the young snow researcher and set him up as his successor in snow research. Like Adam Watson Cameron has strong opinions and isn’t afraid to voice them too. In a chapter entitled ‘modern perils’ he lambasts the trend for risk aversion and outsourcing responsibility to others. “The authority of self-appointed guardians of our hill safety must always be questioned, and never be allowed to become received wisdom …... I cleave to the dreadfully old-fashioned view that personal responsibility is the single most important attribute a person can possess.” I agree whole-heartedly!

Inevitably in a book on snow climate change rears its head and the author covers the decline in the survival of snow patches, showing how the data demonstrates this clearly. This is a sad, reflective section of the book. Overall, though, the tone of the book is life-affirming and positive. This is someone doing what he loves in the mountains and making a contribution to knowledge as he does so. This particularly comes out in the chapters on the areas where snow lies late, both in Scotland, and south of the border. From Aonach Mor to a cave in the Peak District (yes, really!) the author takes us on a grand tour of snow patches, with much geographical information and historical research thrown in.

The book is illustrated with excellent photographs showing snow patches and the remote, awkward-to-reach places many are found. Especially dramatic and beautiful are those of snow tunnels.

The Vanishing Ice is an outstanding book that I really enjoyed reading. It’s highly recommended for anyone interested in the hills and in snow.

This review first appeared in The Great Outdoors.



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