He clung onto the edge of the cable car roof, already bloodied and weakened, he felt his fingers go numb as his chest heaved and his throat burned. The last thing he saw was Richard Burton’s grimacing face above him as his grip finally failed under an onslaught of blows and he was sent tumbling into the abyss.
Well that’s as may be, but there’s a hell of a drop from that cable car to the ground so we thought we’d load up and head north before winter hit the rocks. Winter fought hard to stay up there this year, it seemed only right to soften the landing a little.
It was late when we left, but that was the plan. Phil met me at the base-camp carpark after his day of boating and BBC, where we discussed the relative merits of tiny tents and why I wasn’t taking one.
After a wee while Sandy drove past, and then into, the carpark with Elaina riding shotgun.
After some comparing of notes and gay badinage the gear was slung into the back of the motor and we were away. Quite slowly too with four folk and four sets of kit on-board.
The road was okay, and it was bright and clear and there was a air of frustration mixed with anticipation in the motor. Phil was cursing his luck for being at work all day, Sandy was hung-over but excited to be using his bivy bag, Elaina was glad to be away from the rest of the week and I was hungry.
Aye, we could have been on the hill already, but I felt dead relaxed about this trip and the time just wasn’t bothering me. I felt optomistic in the extreme.
The banter from the unusual team-handed approach, the easy day I’d had, the almost guaranteed good weather, a familiar home for the night, it all added up.
McDonalds in FT Bill it was, a surprisingly unprotested destination. We sat a while and enjoyed the fine cuisine as the light outside softened slowly. After so many dashes north at odd times of day, it doesn’t feel weird anymore to be heading to the hill as the traffic thickens up in the other direction. Just feels kinda nice, and maybe a little smug at times too?
A dash into Morrisons for some stuff and things and we were away again. All eyes were on the hillsides as we saw the golden band on the upper slopes slide upwards as the sun dipped lower and was gone. It had looked like we might make the start of the route before night.
Not any more.
We pulled into the side at Loch Garry to see Gairich silhouette against a rust coloured sky. A glorious sight that had us all out with our cameras.
That’s something worth mentioning, cameras were swapped about so much over the next two days that I think it’ll be impossible to ever decipher who took what, most of the ones of my are by Phil, but I think it’ll have to be “Photies by Us“.
Our destination wasn’t so far away from that peak in the distance and it acted like a marker as we swung towards it along the twisting road to Kinloch Hourn.
As the colours changed to soft purples we stopped again. The air was colder now. Night-time was tying its boot-laces.
As soon as we crossed the bridge over the neck of Loch Quoich that stretches North towards Alltbeithe we were scanning for parking places and found one round the corner, right at the start of the stalkers track.
We all fell out onto the crinkly old tarmac and immediately felt the cold, so shorts were ditched for hill-gear, packs were straightened out and snacks added to pockets. The night was clear so we set off without the aid of torches. The sun was long gone, but the sky was a patchwork of blues from indigo to ice and stars pushed though with every step. There was enough light for now, as our night-vision kicked in as best it could.
We skipped up the track and the temperature seemed to be rising with us, we all found it on the balmy side and the frequent stops were accompanied by unusual bouts of honesty “Ahm knackered”, rather than “Oh, look at the view”. Well, it was dark.
We met a fella coming down by headtorch who was camping nearby. We chatted for a good while and he seemed less suspicious than most at our “…camping up there somewhere” plan. Friendly old boy, I hope he’s enjoying his holiday.
The chance meeting burst my night-vision though and when we parted I switched to red light as a half-way house. This seemed like a sensible ploy and soon we were all looking a little more Sci-Fi than before.
The track wanders up an easily angled ridge and gets a little more defined at Bac na Canaichean where the terrain strats getting good for camping, but snow was still thin on the ground. We stopped a few times, but my eye was forever upwards as the ghost of the summit was stark against a flood of stars. It look both miles and inches away and I wanted to creep closer.
The grassy ridge was broken by huge areas of stone, at first flat and then increasingly angular with vertical plates and chunks that looked like piles of Holly’s books that had been pulled out of the bath and dried on the radiator.
The rock on these hills was a feature all weekend, and a fine one.
We settled on a great spot at the foot of Sgurr Coire nan Eiricheallach, some flat ground, huge snow-banks for water and hopefully something to look at in the morning.
The last half hour had seen fingers of black spread from the north and block out the stars as it grew. From walking a carpet of twinkling pinpoints where we saw shooting stars and tracked satellites we were now in a sea of utter darkness. Cloud cover now hid every detail and there was no impression of height or distance. I think, had I been solo that could have been a little unnerving.
Camp was set up quite fast despite the team’s unfamiliarity with a lot of the kit. The next step was the sound of stoves lighting one after the other. A symphony of pure delight.
No one was very hungry after our dinner pitstop in Ft Bill, so it was snacks and cuppas, and I supposse it now being 0100hrs might have been a factor in my not really wanting spaghetti bolognese.
Phil slipped away first and by 0130 we were all in our sleeping bags. I was happy and comfy, I felt like I’d come home. I had space to move, stretch and breath, I was wrapped in warm down, I couldn’t even feel that sharp rock I’d pitched on and tried to blunt with a pile of stuffsacks…
I put on some music and drifted off without a thought left in my head.
I stirred sometime after 0500 and it was bright. The thin tent fabric was diffusing the soft light and it’s warmth matched my own as I shifted onto my back and wiggled my toes. I unzipped the inner door and had a peek under the flysheet.
The cloud cover had broken and morning was coming, a firey horizon was climbing up a pale blue sky towards us.
I tied open the outer door and snuggled into my sleeping bag as cold air brushed my face. Morning grew as the minutes ticked by and I lay and watched it.