When I got back to the motor I had sunburn, apparently the summer Buff doesn’t create a sunlight repelling forcefield around you, it’s just good on the bits it’s actually covering. That’s no bloody use, a cardboard box could do that.
The irony here is that the whole reason for being there was to photograph a route over Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, and in the 24 hours I spend sitting on that hill waiting for the cloud to lift as forecast, I saw almost nothing but cloud.
But I’m getting ahead here.
I didn’t tell the guys I was going, it was too last minute and I didn’t fancy dragging them on another wild goose chase. This time the drive up was later in the day and in clearing skies, in fact by the time I was strolling across the busy carpark at Morrisons in Fort William there was blue skies all round and my mood was buoyant to say the least.
A late breakfast, a wee bit of grocery aquirement and I was back on the road, and soon enough at the Cluanie car park. Here the cloud was sitting at about 600m and there was a fair wind blowing. I felt that the weather to the South just hadn’t arrived here yet, although the wind coming from the East didn’t fit with that reasoning, so I left it out of the equation.
Turning off the short road section from the Cluanie Inn and passing the sign with the disheartening distances, I marched North up An Coarann Mor. I soon passed the point where we turned back two weeks ago, but even though the way ahead was misty and grey it was a different kind of day altogether.
But soon the grey turned to a light drizzle, my windshirt was enough to thwart it and my Buff kept my ears warm enough so I kept on.
Where the solid track disappears into the bog that becomes a constant for the rest of my journey, I stopped, had a drink and looked around. I was getting a little bit cold and maybe the drizzle was too much for a windshirt. I stuck on my mini gaiters, my waterproof, sighed heavily and headed into the bog.
There is no fun to be had on this terrain in this weather, the poles kept me upright and heading forwards but already I had a vague feeling, the voices were saying stuff at the back of my mind, but I wasn’t really listening.
After you cross over the highest point of the pass, you travel parallel to the Allt a Chòmhlain and down into the flat plain where the four glens meet, each with a wide river, three running in and one taking the combined flow East as the River Affric.
It’s a wild, lonely and on this day, a desolate spot. It’s been a while since I was solo on a trip like this and I think I was a little unsettled, I wasn’t seeing any mountains here at all and was beginning to wonder about the odds of getting what I’d came for. But, the effort, logistics and time spent getting here, meant that I couldn’t, wouldn’t have another shot at it, and that kept me going forwards.
As Alltbeithe youth hostel came into view I stumbled upon some twisted aluminium shapes, low on the NW slopes of Mullach Fraoch-Choire, which were obviously parts of an aircraft. A search around revealed engine cylinders, crankcases, a propeller, an aileron, a flap and various other recognisable and unrecognisable assemblies and parts of what looked like a twin radial engined aircraft of most likely WW2 vintage. This meant a crew, not just a pilot, and as I looked around this lonely grey spot I felt such a mix of emotions. The aircraft was wrecked, destroyed, I had no knowledge of the history of it and it was in my thoughts until I came home and I found out more.
I crossed the bridge to Alltbeithe and glowered at the cloud which had lowered even further to meet me.
The Hostel was devoid of life other than the sticky aroma of damp hiker so I kept onwards and upwards into the cloud on the track leading to the coll at Stob Coire na Cloiche.
It’s a lovely trail, following the Allt na Faing with some little gorges and waterfalls all the way into Coire na Cloiche. Here the terrain changes, it’s a small high plateau of sorts and the skyline ahead is jagged, high steep snow strewn slopes to your left indicate that I’d passed from trail to mountain. I could see all this because the cloud had blown open, it still bubbled and cartwheeled at the rocky edges all around, but for now it was letting me see a little of why I was here.
I reached the ridge at the coll, which is not hard to miss as it falls rather steeply away into the Coire to the North, and here I had a think.
The light was fading a little, and that with the cloud would make getting any good shots tonight impossible, so I’d stay the night around here somewhere and get the photies of the ridge, the summit, all the tracks and inspirational mountain shots in the sunshine tomorrow. But, An Socach was only 1km to the East, and it would be bad manners not to visit it before dinner and make it feel wanted, as Munros go it’s not the most obvious qualifier as it’s really just a bump on the ridge (what’s its name in Gaelic, the snotter?).
I wandered along the ridge to the summit, now exposed to the full force of the wind and was consequently blinking and wiping tears and snotters away the whole journey. A dismal spot and I didn’t linger, but I hadn’t stood there before so, it was a wee positive for sure
I came back down to the coll and after fannying around for half an hour trying find a find a place to camp, I pitched on the wee flat spot I’d already clocked as looking good on the way up. Trust my instincts maybe?
Plenty of snow to melt nearby (I’d brought and extra 100 gas expecting this), no view as the cloud and darkness descended together, but I was cozy, I was well fed and I had metal on the iPod.
As I lay in my sleeping bag though, the doubts had free reign, fuelled by my occasional peeks outside which saw the cloud’s thickness increase to that of wallpaper paste. It got much colder as well.
I had an awful feeling that I’d screwed it up and that this was a complete waste of time. I thought of home and how nice it would be to have been there instead.