I wasn’t really thinking about the weather, the route, what shoes to wear, where I might get pitched, all I was thinking about was food.
I pulled into Pitlochry to see the guys at Escape Route and pick up some camp food. There was coffee and banter first before the horror set in, the only dehydrated stuff they had was for making 50 litres of tomato soup, the other optionwas Wayfarer. I wanted sorted there and then, if I went into Aviemore or Inverness I’d never get to the hills, with a heavy heart (and dinner) I took two main meals and a pudding. What the hell, it means carrying less water to the top. I’ll just try not to think of the huge bone I got in my chicken “stuff” the last time I had a Wayfarer, what, four years ago?
I hit the road, a road which was kind to me the whole trip but for one incident on the return journey which I’ll come back to. The A9 roadworks are still rumbling on, but what caught my eye more was the Ralia cafe sign. I remember vividly the smokey flavoured bacon toastie I had there when we pulled in there on the way to Assynt last year, impulse, autopilot, post traumatic stress disorder, whatever, I turned in without thinking and sat by the window and had another. A moment of pure joy.
I ignored Aviemore and hardly cast a glance at Inverness. It was warm, clear and quiet, as if the country was breathing in before the Easter onslaught only a week away. Ben Wyvis surprised me and was gone, it had come around very soon, the road flashed by, dark brown peaks with tiny flashes of lingering snow circled in my peripheral vision. Ullapool, not today, I turned uphill and was greeted by a view that haunts me, Ben More Coigach. It’s the only hill that scares me, it’s like a fossilized Mega City One, here be dragons indeed. Big bastard dragons.
This is a wonderland, Coigach, Inverpolly, Assynt, I could feel my spirits lift farther with every mile I drove. When I pulled into the Knockan Crag car park and stepped out, I just beamed at the hills opposite and chuckled away like a simpleton. Glorious.
The blue was a little troubled by some cloud patches, but they were well-spaced, just catching then clearing the tops. My biggest dilemma was what to have for dinner later on. The tourists who I chatted to recommended the All Day Breakfast, but in the end I went for the Spicy Vegetable Rigatoni, I could always fire some jerky in there.
A stuck my windshirt on, it was getting pretty breezy, and ambled down to the road. Fifteen Porsches passed (I’m assuming it wasn’t a coincidence they were all there at the same time), then I skipped over the road and through the gate to pick up the cracking stalkers track into Cul Mor.
It’s a lovely walk, the track is narrow and in good repair, it takes you away from the road in quick style as well. By the time you take a swing to the left the summit is suddenly much closer and the road is a single thread dropped on a tartan blanket.
The bog is soon left behind for all things rocky, but although underfoot is where you should be looking, all around is where the action is. Suilven is surprisingly close feeling, while Cul Beag looks like a sharp alpine peak that’s been dropped into the glen on your left. Ben More Coigach pokes it’s eye round the corner too, just to unnerve me a little.
The rock here is all a bit strange, it is a geopark after all, you can’t divorce yourself from that stuff if you visit the hills unless you’re a soulless list ticker. As the hills erode away, our history comes to the surface to tells us its story. We should listen, too often we’re all about “now” and how important we are, but in the lifetime of the Earth we’re probably of no more enduring consequence than an announcement that the bar is open during the intermission.
The rock here is all a bit strange, the sandstone is very eroded, rounded shapes stacked and collapsed or making huge sheer cliffs of squared blocks. Little crystals embedded in the sandstone tell of a history even older than the sandstone itself. Trying to put a scale of time or physical movement onto that stuff could drive a man insane. One of my favourite quotes “…might be beyond my understanding but it’s not beyond my imagination”.
The cloud was a little more insistant, the strengthening wind was making it so. I hummed and hawed, wandered around the foot of the last steep pull to the summit and decided to pitch the tent. I found a pretty sheltered spot, the views would be awsome when/if the cloud lifted. I was surrounded by little rocky tors, the ocean came and went and the landsacpe around me ebbed and flowed from view.
The tent went up quick, I slung all my gear in and decided to run up to the summit. I could see some pink through the thinner clouds, and if the weather had shat it completely, I’d have checked the last part of my route and I could high-tail it back down tomorrow.
The “run” was a stop-start affair, bloody hell that last bit is steep. The boulder field is a scream too, grippy yes, but also rather mobile despite therocks mostly being on the big side. The wind was ripping over the top and I was glad to hide in the little stone shelter on the summit. Ach, dammit. No sunset, I’m away back down for my dinner.
Descent wasn’t much quicker, them damn boulders again, but the tent was still out of the wind which made me very happy. I got the stove on and waited to see what would happen.
The cloud thinned and broke a little and my boil in the bag dinner finally felt warm enough to open. Angels swooped, birdies sang, flowers bloomed, the dodo became unextict and my broken filling repaired itself by magic. Yes, my Wayfarer dinner was a joy, a mighty joy, not just fuel, but food. Without hesitation I slung the chocolate pudding in chocolate sauce into the still bubbling pot and counted the minutes off until I could open the bag.
I sat there with a hot cuppa and chocolatey fingers feeling very pleased with myself. Seriously, this is a turning point for the summer ahead. An extra gas can for longer boiling over lugging an extra litre of water onto the tops? Yes please.
In the mean time, darkness had been creeping in, the cloud came and went and I could now see the summit come and go. Out to sea the lights of distant Stornaway were visible, closer to home Lochiver twinkled warmly. I could see lighthouses flash lazily too but nothing could compare to the huge orange disc of the full moon that rose quickly to flood the landscape with its cool silent light.
It fought with the cloud, which was soon two sheets moving at right angles to each other, seemingly trapping the moon in the gap inbetween. I got tired, the moon got tired too. Sleep tugged at me and I gave in as the cloud cover spread from horizon to horizon, slipping back into my sleeping bag in the quiet darkness.
I’d got what I’d came for, anything that tomorrow brought would be a bonus. I went down like someone had pulled out the plug.