Tomorrow’s Dream Vol 10

Above was taken on whatever low res camera loaded into the Sony Ericsson phone I had at the time, below was taken on whatever borrowed camera I had at the time, and just before the solitary battery died too leaving me with just the phone to capture what I have to say was an absolutely perfect morning.

Easter, space year 2000 and something and it was like yesterday in my mind. I was camped on Carn Dearg, north of Rannoch Station, an easy walk and a fine pleasant camp, but with that morning, oh what a morning.

I was in a first gen Alpkit down bag the night before, Alpine Dream was it? Great warm bag with a shite hood that was barely a pillow, glad they changed that. It was frosty but that sun was instantly warm and the glens, hell the whole landscape, flooded with fog as soon as the first rays broke the horizon, just over a wee bit from Schiehallion if memory serves me right.

That was a multi cuppa breakfast, I didn’t leave until the mist lifted and the sun was high up. The run across to Sgor Gaibhre does not linger sharply, I think I was still stunned by the preceding hours, but I do remember gladly reaching water in the coire and seeing the first of the days’ fresh feet ascending towards me. Too late folks, you missed it all.

Now, I wrote that first bit above over my morning coffee before I went out to meet a client. By the time I got back to base everything had changed.
Travel restrictions are being lifted on Friday this week, not on the 26th.

This has spun me right onto my arse, the dream is a reality etc. But I’m getting my first jag on Saturday and I’m expecting having some sort of reaction to it, I don’t see me getting anywhere right away.
It’s not theoretical anymore, I’m planning for reality. It’s like an out of body experience, what do I do, I know what to do, what did I forget, what do I need?

Bloody hell.

That big grin below, he had no idea what the next few years would bring to him in the outdoors. But now I’m looking ahead too. Time to make a brand new grin to catch and keep with all these old ones.

 

Tomorrow’s Dream Vol 9

This is still borrowed camera time and also my first iPod days, so I think it’s spring 2008. I know exactly where this is, the Laserlite above is parked on the ridge of Meall Coire Lochan (ish) west of Meall na Teanga above Loch Lochy.

I remember this one vividly, mind you I think if you show me any photie it pretty much all comes back as I’ve discovered these past few weeks.
See, that’s why we should take always photies, that’s why we should blog. Memories might bring mixed emotions but there’s a real joy in it, and I don’t feel any stronger inspiration that realising what I can do myself after so long of not doing it.
Seeing others adventures can be aspirational, seeing my own makes it all feel accessible. Sometimes that’s just enough where you’re a bit rusty.

It was raining all the way up. I’d dumped my pack at the bealach to run up Sron a Choire Ghairbh and then enjoyed a little clearer air on the fine traverse over Meall na Teanga.
I had music on in the rain, metal in my earbuds and I had Celtic Frost’s then recent new album on repeat. Singing Os, abysmi os in my best death metal voice as I went. Can’t believe that detail has stuck so fast in my mind.

I was damp getting in the tent but warm enough, staring out to a distant Fort William as the sky darkened. I only saw the sky by accident and it had me scrabbling for wet shoes and my jacket to get out and see it.
Vivid red out to the west with a window to a pale clear sky that had been hidden all day. It kinda makes it all worth it, these wee moments.

I must have slept well, I have no horror stories of wind or rain, animal attacks or seismic events to recall. It was a lovely morning too.

I feel it’s my duty to point out that the fuzzy pastel scenes here are exactly as seen on the day. I haven’t done that, it’s a combination of cheap camera and actual weather conditions.
Mist on Loch Arkaig, the last of the snows clinging onto Ben Nevis’ gullies. I sat there for hours, it was nearly lunch time before the rising sun burnt off the soft sheen and I descended in unexpected bright sunshine, bare skin cooking well before I got to the treeline.

The trees are gone now, Gleann Chia-aig having been dynamited end to end for a hydro scheme. I was there with Gus a few years later and the whole place was devastated.
I do remember walking down through the tall pines on a winding trail, rushing water below and the occasional whisper of wildlife far above. Now I just immediately think of bare rock and bulldozed slopes.

That’s another reason to go somewhere, to take photies and to write it down. Some bastard is always ready to take it all away.

Tomorrow’s Dream Vol 8

Scoutmaster. That word will forever have a meaning for Z, Helen and I after our Knoydart trip.

It was a mission with a purpose back in 2007 I think, we were there to retrieve the Wilderness ARC adventure race electronic check in point that was bolted to the trig point on Ladhar Bheinn. If ever there was an excuse for a wee jolly this was it.
We had just made the tide for the the boat from Kinloch Hourn and were gloriously late as we sat in the bothy for a cuppa. We were camping though so late evening found us high on Stob a Chearcaill in two Laserlites with the cloud scraping my head if I stood up.

I think that’s Bachd Mhic an Tosaich across from us below and I think that was the only patch of sun we saw until we started descending next day. We didn’t care though, it was a joy from end to end and Ladhar Beinn without a view is not a lesser experience at all, under your feet and hands is awesome every stumble of the way.

The walk out though, that was maybe the best of all. There was a scout troop who were leaving around the same time as us for the 10km or so walk back out from Barrisdale and their brave leader didn’t like the look of us one bit.
We hit the trail, we spotted wildlife, dealt with a blister, we laughed etc and all the while, we caught glimpses of the scoutmaster peering at us from the distance to see just how far ahead we were.

It’s a glorious trail by the loch, but it is long and we soon found ourselves fully immersed in this game of cat and mouse to help pass the time. Every time they got closer we horsed on and widened the gap. Scoutmaster rallied his troops and whipped them forwards in his hopeless task to assert his domination over the trail.

I can imagine the poor kids red, sweating and miserable faces and the curses uttered underneath. I can also imagine that they clubbed to death and then buried the scoutmaster in an unmarked grave by the loch and then went feral for they never were seen again after Skiary…

From that day on, between us and soon also our once tight knit wee group of adventurers, to Scoutmaster *verb, meant to push hard, to beast in, to race for the goal.
And so it remains.

Tomorrow’s Dream Vol 7

I learned very early on that failure is an option. It’s never bothered me either.
I’ve stopped in my tracks, ran out of steam, changed my mind or crashed and burned many times. Sometimes its weather, sometimes its energy, sometimes it’s the environment like a bank-bursting river and sometimes I’m just plain not feeling it.

This was a little of all of those. We wanted to walk the West Highland Way fast and light over a weekend with a wee wild camp or two on the way. Z, Brian and me.
It seemed like a good idea, we were all fit and lightly kitted out, but by Bridge of Orchy all our feet (especially Brian’s who have seven Compeed blister plasters on…) had come apart due partly to the fast pace on the cobbles so er, we had to be rescued.

But it was still smiles, and now it’s smiles at the memories. I don’t feel my feet at all, I just remember the banter, the laughs and that it gave me a lingering love for the WHW.
I did such a lot with these two wonderful characters back in the day and now we’re all in different countries. Bummer.

In the spirit of the style we often conducted ourselves where we could could have an entire conversation that made complete sense to us based purely on movie quotes, I give us the Eiger Sanction:

Meier: You’re very good. I have really enjoyed climbing with you.

Hemlock: We’ll make it.

Meier: I don’t think so. But we shall continue with style.

Misquoting the same movie a little:

Maybe someday we’ll do more climbing together.

Maybe.

Bless you boys, wherever you are. Well, I know exactly where you are and have spoken to you both in the past 24hrs, but that’s far less dramatic.

Tomorrow’s Dream Vol 6

I think I’m wearing fleece pants there. Funny that’s the first thing I noticed before I realised that I had hair and that it’s dark brown. When the hell did I take this?

Bein Ime from Beinn Narnain, I can feel my feet there right now. My favourite hill.

That’s it really, no rambling insights, no tortuous ruminations on past deeds or melancholy observations, just an old photie.

Ach, I’ll maybe explain that last bit though. I got some very good advice once by Matt Swaine, the editor of Trail mag back in the day and a man who made a lot of sense, had great imagination and encouraged me a lot.
He told me to put myself in my photies after I submitted some landscapes to go along with something I’d done early on in my time there. He explained his reasons and I agreed once it had been pointed out.
I can easily tune out of looking at landscapes unless they’re unusual and different, but I can flick through my old mountain guide books again and again. That’s because there’s folk in the shots more often than not and I think that shows me subconsciously that I can do that, that I can be there too.

It won’t work for everyone, some folk want that blank canvas. Me, I want to be that figure, so I am. Or was? No, will be.
Also, I’ll admit there’s a certain joy at looking at the younger skinnier me. Oh if only he knew what was ahead.

Take photies, and get yourself in them. Capture yourself in the heart of the moment and give yourself a smile looking back in 20 years time.
Just don’t trip running for the timer.

Tomorrow’s Dream Vol 5

I’ve always had a willingness to turn on a dime and do that instead of this if it looked like a) it would be fun and b) I would get away with it. How many customers have heard “Ah, I need a #3 plato fumtertron, I’ll nip into Glasgow and try and get the last one at the suppliers” followed by spinning truck wheels heading north the A82?
I have of course never left anyone in the lurch, in fact it’s just the opposite which is why I’ve had many of my customers for 35 years and they know me well. Unfortunately a lot of them now know exactly where to find me on the internet so I just say, oh the weather’s looking nice and they know, oh yes, they know.

These old photies of older prints took a while to tie down but I can now place myself right there, right now. But then, right?
Winter, late afternoon, mid 90’s high on Ptarmigan Ridge on Ben Lomond. No idea who they other two are, but they’re perfectly placed, so I thank you from across the years and I hope you are well.
It was a midweek escape and it was a dash for either Arrochar of the Ben, it usually was. I used to take Ptarmigan because it was quieter, it’s not so quiet these days, but it’s still a better ascent so I’ll still chose it first. Besides the tourist route is a fine saunter back down in the dark, a time when it’s definitely quiet.

I’ve had a lot of time on Ben Lomond at night, either in the passing or in a tent. It’s a very different place then, it grows upwards and outwards, the well worn paths and familiar features change shape and fade and it becomes exactly what it still is at its core, thousands of feet of ancient highland rock. Makes my heart sing does that.
It brings me its share of the unusual too. Walking a Chilean women with just an umbrella for weather protection down to the carpark, walking two tourists in street clothes down to the carpark in heavy winter snow, sending an already lost group the totally wrong way when they followed me miles of the track in deep fresh snow because they followed my footsteps to where I was trying to get a pee in peace.

There’s another one that I still think about. I was unusually going up the tourist track in the near dark when I met an old boy coming down and I saw straight away he’d taken a tumble. He had a bruise on his cheek and a fat, bleeding lip and I stopped to check on him and chat. He was lucid and had a lot of mixed emotions. He was angry at himself because he’d taken his crampons off too early and had slipped and he was more than a little rattled.
He rested as we chatted and my thoughts raced from one side to another. I was on no special mission, just another after work dash up the Ben, coming straight back down with the old boy was no problem at all. But, and this is where I’ll never know if I did the right thing, if I took him down, would he see it as hand holding, would he think he’d been rescued? Would that affect his confidence and keep him at home the next time he thought about the hills? I would have hated to do that to him.
He was well up there in years, he had old and well used but quality gear, he obviously knew his stuff and had been there and done it over the years. I was so torn by it.

I was straight up with him, I’ll walk you down I said. He protested, I asked again, he protested again but I wanted to to know he’d be okay. no no he’d be fine he insisted. I let him go and I still don’t know if my head or heart won with that decision.
I sat on a rock and watched him all the way down to the tree line, including him catching up to a couple I’d seen earlier, so he was moving okay. I knew he’d be safe, but would he be okay? I didn’t know then and I never will.

If I’m honest with myself looking back now I know my choice was made with the best of intentions but I think I got it wrong. I should have walked him down and made light of it with banter and whatnot. I should have done more.
Maybe he shrugged it off, another spill like so many he had before, maybe he hung up his ice axe. I think of it sometimes and that experience has informed some of my decisions since.

Every hill has its ghosts, some are its own, some are the ones you bring yourself.

Getting it right tomorrow? Maybe you have to screw up yesterday.

Tomorrow’s Dream Vol 4

Vol 4 was always going to be a tricky one, I have to try and tie in the band, the album and the song for my own amusement and by a very slim, very tenuous but rather happy piece of luck the old photie above does have a slight echo of Vol 4’s cover in both colour and pose.

The pose though is a conundrum, I know what I’m doing but not why. I’m looking at the OMM chest pouch attached to my Villain pack, or maybe in it? What I was after I do not know but this was obviously before I got better at taking selfies with a timer. Not smooth, but definitely natural looking.
Above is the night before the morning below which was a very fine night indeed spent on the summit of Gairich by Loch Quoich. This is another clear and sharply memorised trip where it was late when I left and subsequently the last pull up the rockier ridge to the summit was in fast fading light with cold hands and sweaty brow.

The view I scrambled to get to as I could see the colours above me looking west over Knoydart and to the Cuillin was one of the moments that I’d only really seen in the guide books and it became part of why I kept going back.
All these miles traveled for often short ascents to sit on the top for twelve hours just to look, to listen, to sit with a cuppa on a rock and just be there.
Utterly pointless, endlessly glorious.
In our 24hr racket of modern life to find a place that just stops you dead and that freezes time in what can be an unexpected perfect moment is so precious. But also so accessible, you just have to go and claim it.
Though, if you’re one of the good guys, you’re currently waiting to redeem your ticket to joy.

I can’t help but smile at a memory of the way down next day. It was early summer so I was up early with the sun and heading down after breakfast, quite happy with my lot.
I met a stern faced crew of three on their way up and the leader’s face told a story. They’d left early, they’d got the best parking spot at the dam, they’d be first up today, wait, who the hell is this guy? It looked like I’d kicked their ball into the neighbours garden, eaten their last sweetie and left toast crumbs in their butter all at the same time.
The two followers were smiley and chatty, but I bet they weren’t allowed to stop until they got to the top.

I will never understand why folk take this stuff so seriously, it’s supposed to remove angst not fuel it. Try twelve hours on a summit, that’s soothe you just fine.

Tomorrow’s Dream Vol 3

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.

Tomorrow’s Dream Vol 2

We had made an attempt at this camping spot by going over Stob Coire Sgriodan but it took so long to just get the start point at Fersit with much fannying around on the way that by the time we got to that first summit on the route, Beinn na Lap was just too far away to reach with any joy to spare before it got dark with a big descent and reascent and we just couldn’t be arsed with it so we spent the night there. Which was no second prize at all by the way.

I went back a wee while later and looked at it another way, sometimes the long way around is the quickest, or at least possibly the most fun.
It was a long walk but it sticks in my mind vividly. The weather wasn’t great, it was raining some of the time and the clouds sat low and dark, scraping the summits ahead of me, Beinn Eibhinn and Aonach Beag.
Looking back I wasn’t scared as such, but I felt I had to be focused because I was a little bit out of my comfort zone, making new steps towards the many summit camps and solo adventures that would follow.

It was exhilarating.

It had calmed considerably by the time I got to the summit and it was dry now too. I got 360° views and even though I don’t necessarily remember it, I just know I was grinning from ear to ear. I am certainly grinning now thinking back anyway.
I do remember what I had for dinner though, Travellunch Chicken Noodle Hotpot. I had a lot of those back in the day. Would I eat that now? Ha.

I don’t remember the night itself, maybe I slept, I think a night of misery would have left its mark. I do remember a very fine breakfast, I was out of water on the top and had to descend after making a cuppa with the last drops. I sat in the sun on warm rock by the Allt Féith Thuill boiling water scooped from the fast flowing burn.
It was a glorious feeling, feelings indeed.
Apart from all the flowery adjectives I could apply to my state of mind then, it was also very rewarding, I felt I’d earned that moment of bliss, I felt free, light of heart and soul. I suppose that sounds like a hippy thing, it’s a natural high man. But it’s more grounded than that, it was an exchange of joy for effort.
I think that’s partly why exploring the hills especially with overnight stays is a very complete activity, you put effort in and you get something back.
I mean, it’s not always instant gratification of course, sometimes I’ve payed in advance by sitting in a tent or worse in the truck in a layby in the pissing rain waiting for it to stop so I can get out and enjoy even a wee bit of the day.
Then I’ve lucked into more Broken Spectres than I can count because of that, so aye I’ll sit in the rain sometimes.

It’s all about taking the chance I suppose, being willing to take a couple of days and risk it coming to nothing. But it never really does come to nothing, wet and cold misery is a stirring tale to tell, it also leaves a deficit which you burn to make up for next time, that next trip which you plan on the way home as your pile of wet kit steams the windscreen on the long way back down the road.

Taking a chance? Aye, I can do that.

Tomorrow’s Dream Vol 1

I had a nice question in the comments this week about the last post title and I realised that in nearly 15 years of post writing I’ve rarely had a relevant title, in fact I don’t think there’s much on here gives a clue as to any of the actual content. Ha, I like that.
So. with that in mind I’m starting a wee series of posts as lockdown grinds on called Tomorrow’s Dream. It’s a Black Sabbath song (of course) but it’s also a very real hope. I’ve hit the wall, I want out there and I can physically feel the tension now.
I didn’t think that would happen, I thought I was in control etc, but no. To choose not to go to the mountains because there’s more important things at hand is one thing, to be barred from going by factors beyond my control has finally got to me.

So, I’m closing my eyes and going through 20 years of photies with a few words alongside to just touch my feet onto the ground, back then and right now.

We’d climbed a fence and a wall to find a path through to the lower crags. I was doing a route for Trail Mag and I had assured them I had one for Ben Nevis that I’d never seen published. We were now looking for that, one step and pencil mark on an A4 printed cropped and enlarged map at a time.

It was fine spring day and there was much banter from Z and Brian as we climbed the long drag from the glen up the south of Nevis to find snow and surprisingly, people for the first time that day.
So much scree and boulders, but also views. The Mamores were wreathed in cloud but also streaked with sun and the grins stayed wide. My face was tight with sun, wind and snow when I got back down. That’s a sign of a good day.

The route ended up a good one, I took in the CMD too and told the readers to walk back up the Glen to the Polldubh car park if they had to return to the start point.
I know folk did my routes because I got frequent feedback. One bloke on another route I wrote complained that my distances were unrealistic and he’d had a rough time, I’d walked it in deep snow while stopping to take photies and make cuppas, and he was there in summer. I learned a lot from feedback, didn’t change my approach though. This stuff should sometimes be aspirational, not always easily accessible.

I’ve often thought of going back and repeating the route, there were views that you just don’t get from anywhere else. Seen from high on Nevis the Mamores level out, on the southern flank, they look just awesome, the peaks stand out individually and impressively.

This was still on borrowed camera time, above and below. Below though that bigger pack show me arriving at camp on the summit of Carn Dearg to the north of Rannoch Station.
This was an early summit camp for me and it’s still fresh in my mind for what I woke up to the next morning, which I’ll probably get to when the photies pop up in whatever folder they’re in.

“Are you not scared?” I’ve been asked a lot and no is the answer. On any summit in any conditions I’ve always felt at home despite some hairy moments such as wrecked tents or a blizzard trying to bury me in the night.
I hope that feeling comes from an understanding of my situation built from knowledge and experience and not just bravado wrangled from stupidity and being lucky. I’m going for the former, I think I know my shit by now.

That moment there, the arriving at somewhere new, touching the rock, digging the tent peg in and hearing the stove roar into life.
That moment there, that’s tomorrow’s dream.