Ready to rock when you are. That was the text from Phil, but as O2 weren’t keen on supplying me with a signal to reply properly, the time of my arrival in Killin would remain a mystery. Given the bank holiday roads I wouldn’t want to guess at it anyway. A day later my attempted text did get through to his phone, “Traffic emotional” it read, by that time we weren’t giving a shit, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Waiting for Phil I took a wander into the Co-op for some supplies for camp, a family sized rhubarb pie was my first find, some smoked cheese and then in the outdoor shop next door some more Wayfayrer meals. Pleased.
Phil duly appeared and never a pair to hurry, we immediately made our way to the cafe to sit down for cuppas in the sunshine. It was windy aye, but glorious.
The Ben Lawers visitor centre is now patch of dark churned earth. I have mixed emotions about that, I liked it when it was there and the cafe was open, then over a few years they seemed to make it useless, closed the cafe, opened it for only an hour a day etc, almost like they were engineering a justified closure? Whatever, the car park now has just interpretation boards and guide book dispenser for the nature trail (I had one dispensed for £2, I’m taking Holly later) to preserve the natural ambiance of the area. As long as you don’t look at the car park, the road, the big bloody dam… The building was there, so the environmental mistake had already been made, they should have made the most of it, cafe/bunkhouse/something.
We could feel that the wind was an insistent presence even at this height and the tent choice was made accordingly, sun cream and shades was followed by the extreme joy of trail shoes on dry track. Summer isn’t as bad as I always make out.
Less than 1km in I asked a man “What the hell is that?” Turns out he was a radio ham, talking to Morocco from the summit of Lawers as the conditions were perfect for bouncing the signal off the ionosphere (am I jargon-correct here?). He was carrying what looked like an old-style TV aerial and a car battery, so well done I say.
The little nature reserve is a joy, so much life in there bursting out in all shapes and colours, what would it be like if the whole of the Highlands was like this? We’re so used to the barren slopes now.
We took a left to skirt Beinn Ghlas, I’ve never walked the track in this direction and why should it should be viewed as a descent route I don’t know. The views are magic, the track is ever more interesting especially as you curve into Coire Odhar with your first views of Ben Lawers itself. The final pull up Lawers is steep and rocky, and it was also very windy. We were clocking possible camp sites to retreat to all the way up in case it was just too blowy up top, but when we got there our plan looked to a good one, hide in the rocks to the south of the summit.
There was shelter to be had, just not a lot of tent-shaped shelter. There were a few likely looking spots, so we dropped the gear and assembled the tents. Both were self-supporting so there was the odd sight of the two us use padding around the rocks with erected tents clutched in our hands as they blew around in the wind like balloons on string as we tried to fit them into gaps in the rocks. It all worked out well and decent pitches were found at a reasonably sociable distance. The ring of crags deflected the worst of the wind and the tents were instantly stable once pegged, there was much pleased-with-self grinning around camp.
I set the tent up, got the stove going and realised the sun was about to set on the other side of the mountain. Dinner would have to wait.
In the end dinner waited for an hour or more, we stayed on the top as long as we could stand the cold, the wind was ripping over the top and the clear sky above held none of the warmth of the day. I think it’s important for these moments to have an audience, nature tries so hard, it puts on its best moves when most folk are driving home or switching on the telly, and what moves there were this night.
As we left for camp the colour changed suddenly and we ran back up, the sun was gone and had left the deepest of reds and orange, like a cartoon, like a lighting rig at a show, like someones overly flowery description of a sunset seen on a special holiday, it was perfect. As was dinner, curried chicken with tatties and rice, the Wayfayrer revolution continues.
It got dark, the moorland flames south of Loch Tay could be seen clearly. The smoke had been blown as far as Rannoch since we had arrived, and when I got home I could see that these same troubles were also further afield. Darker still the central belt of Scotland glowed lazily across the southern horizon, Perth, Edinburgh, Stirling, Glasgow, all could be picked out from our seat at nearly 4000ft.
The stars had exploded above, a busy mess of sparkling dots cut by satellites and shooting stars. There was some messing with camera’s, Phil has something new and was getting some amazing stuff with it. The laughter and light faded around 1am at which time I found my sleepmat was flat, a hole somewhere, I stuffed my clothes underneath me, zipped up the bad and went down anyway. The rock I was pitched on fitted neatly between my hip and ribs, I couldn’t feel a thing.
“Brew on… sunrise…”
Why is Phil shouting at me, what time is it? Time to get out there right enough, I fired up the stove and got all my layers back on. Three and a half minutes later I joined Phil on the ridge with my mug in hand. The sun was still down but the horizon was burning. It was light, but a sleepy light, only the ice cold wind still had energy.
The sun broke over the edge and rose quickly lighting the peaks in orange and pressing the nights shadows back down into the coiries with every degree of it’s climb.
A little mist brough a soft definition to the landscape and all around the colours swished and flowed as the world adjusted itself to the daytime.
There is a joy in these moments, and a peace, seeing the world renew itself from the tops brings me a wave of optimism and energy. If I could hold onto that life could be just a little simpler, but then I would need to go back and recharge, so I’ll take the short bursts thanks.
It was a lazy couple of hours, snoozing, cuppas, exploring the crags and finally packing. It was a wrench leaving, it was getting sunny but the strong wind meant windshirt and all we had left to drink was half a mini Irn Bru, but as camp sites go, this had been awesome.
The summit was passed for the last time as we headed to Beinn Ghlas. Early-starters were soon coming towards us, some in better condition on the ascent than others, but all the folk we met over the two days seemed cheery and responded to a greeting. It’s nice that.
We ended up jogging down to the nature reserve which just made me giggle as I took to the grass more often that sticking to the track and my movement was a little random at times, but it gets the grind out of the way. With the Irn Bru long gone, food and drink was next in line, back to Killin was the priority.
Sitting in the sun with haggis and steak pies from the Killin Bake Shop we reflected on events. If you made a wants-list for a high camp it would have sunset, sunrise, starry skies and an inversion mostly likely. We’d got all those, it’s just that the inversion was to the south east and didn’t stretch closer than ten miles away. Anyone on Ben Vorlich at Loch earn or even the Fife Lomonds was on a winner.
For our first camp in ages it was just right, it was damned good for the soul too.