The tent was dripping with condensation, none of it had penetrated the inner to any great extent, but brushing the walls started to get most stuff in there a little damp, and I was thankful for the clever fabrics protecting all the down kit from my carelessness.
It was bright, properly bright, and as I stuck my head out I could see a patch of blue sky above me. The wind was whipping the clouds by at a fair rate, but this was the stuff I was after. I could see the top of Stob Coire na Cloiche, the first rise on the ridge, and down into the glen to the North where a bright patch of sunlight ground its way through the murk along the flanks of Mullach na Dheiragain.
I pulled on my down jacket, lit the stove and looked at the map. Harvey’s know their stuff, you can tell people made this map, and people who love the hills at that. I had 2½km or so of ridge to the summit, and it looked fantastic, narrow, rocky and high. As Munro #22 Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan doesn’t have too many loftier, or indeed remote, places to stand on these islands.
I had breakfast and a cuppa and then a wander around the coll, taking in the welcome change in atmosphere and enjoying some views for the first time. What a place to wake up, in the heart of the mountains, well away from any road with a pair clucking Ptarmigan in the rocks behind me letting me know that I wasn’t alone, and yes it was their hangout and I’d best be on my way.
I broke camp, packed and hit the trail. Just as the cloud descended again like a tidal wave of grey, misery-flavoured marshmallow.
I crawled up the ridge, taking as much time as could, absorbing the detail and features, hoping for a break so I could get the camera out. It’s wonderful terrain, rocky, increasingly narrow and even this late in the year it had unavoidable snow slopes.
It was freezin’ in the wind, it may well be Spring, but as ice formed on the damp grass and rocks I could see that nature isn’t overly fussed by what we say, prefering to do what the hell it likes, and very convincingly too.
Moving so slowly I was bound to get a bit cold, my fingers were numbed and stiff as I was getting close to the summit. I stopped to mess around with my layers when the cloud slipped off of the summit ridge in front of me in a burst of blue and white. Then I was jogging uphill, still putting my pack back on when I reached the top, but the moment had gone and that was the last time I saw for more than 20 metres until I fell out of the cloud into the glen.
I passed the summit and carried on to the West Top. Truly a spectacular stretch of ridge, very narrow and twisty, precipitous with some cracking short scrambling sections before you reach the little domed top, only 8m lower than the summit proper.
I looked around, the haze was at times eye wateringly bright as the light diffused through the vapour, the clear air was so close above, but it might as well have been miles away.
I was now cold, hungry and descending.
The ridge South down to Beinn an t-Socach starts narrow and widens all the way down, it’s boulder strewn, sometimes in bands, and it eventually opens out into a wide grassy skirt of surprising steepness.
I sat among some of the highest boulders, surprisingly still at 980m after what seemed like a lot of descent and had some lunch. I had my down jacket, hat and gloves on, and the chicken Cup-a-Soup I had was the best thing I’d ever tasted in my life. Honest. And the added benefit of the thermally inneficient single-wall titanium mug is that you can warm your hands on it.
It was very exposed to the wind all the way down to about 600m and I was glad to be getting lower down, dropping out of the cloud I could see the Allt Gleann Gniomhaidh flowing right below me and realised I’d strayed a little from my intended path and found the steepest slopes instead of the easiest ones.
It’s the steepness that you can’t see down, as it only unfolds as you walk towards it, there’s only the first few feet and then the bottom. Knee wrenching and nerve pinching all the way to the deer fence.
I found a crawl gate and slipped under the fence into the enclosure where they’re trying to re-grow some native woodland. When Holly’s my age this place will look wonderful.
I picked up the path back to Alltbeithe and made good time back along the pleasant track. The shot below is looking back towards Fionngleann with the end of Beinn Fhada’s East ridge to the right of centre. The cloud was breaking up all around, but Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan resolutely wore its grey shroud, its height and bulk defying any attempt by the cloud to get away and about its other business.
I strode South in increasing brightness, the cloud breaking and dispersing from all but the highest tops. I looked back over my shoulder constantly, Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan never cleared, Even as I crossed over the high point of the pass it was still a monolith of solid grey.
I stopped and had a cuppa and a snack below the rocky ridge of a’Chralaig. I was surrounded by wonderful mountains, the sun was beating down and I was only a handful of miles from the motor.
This is how it should be, relaxed, just taking it for what it is. I looked at the pointed top of Ciste Dubh and had no desire to be up there, it was enough to see it from my rock as I sipped a Cadbury’s Hot Chocolate. The clouds that remained were pure white, soft and benign, only a glance North revealed a shade of grey. I pondered that as I walked downhill to the road.
I’ve (re)learned a valuable lesson here, you can’t force, or expect the joy of the mountains. It’s always there if you accept it on its own terms, deadlines and schedules mean nothing.
The wee bugger below was making the best of the sunshine, it’s hair a fine mix of gingery brown with some flecks of white, always a good colour scheme…
Hitting the tarmac again is always a melancholy time, but today it was only good. I could see down the length of the South Glen Shiel Ridge, hot food not out of a foil bag would soon be mine and I did feel that I’d been on an adventure of sorts.
The ruined bridge on the old road caught my eye just before the last turn around to the Cluanie Inn, it looks like the burn just runs through it, but it drops alarmingly as a waterfall on the other side. A lovely wee spot and well worth a shufty if you’re passing.
I met a boy at the carpark who’d been running around the Cluanie hills for the last couple of days, ten Munros in two days, all of them in cloud apparently. He seemed happy enough though.
I got changed and started South. Music and shades on, the miles disappeared, but it was late and I didn’t fancy my chances of making the Real Food Cafe at a reasonable hour, so I pulled into Ft Bill’s McDonald’s for a brown paper bag (oh the irony…) full of tasty horror which I enjoyed far too much as I texted and phoned all interested parties in the carpark.
I pulled over and took a photie of a wisp of cloud over Loch Linnhe. Darkness chased me down the road and by Rannoch it was black, and it seems like I was home ten minutes later.
I screwed this one up, I missed the moment by being a dick and having an “agenda”.
Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan is the prize that the guide books say it is, and I feel like I’ve just touched its handle at the start of the race and never got to embrace it. I’ll go back and enjoy it, and I’ll walk the ridge to Mullach na Dheiragain this time. There is much joy in there waiting to be claimed.
I did a bit of searching and found out that the aircraft on the hillside was a Vickers Wellington, Mk.1C T2707 bomber, coded as JM-Z of 20 Operational Training Unit flying from Lossiemouth. It crashed on February 13th 1942 on a final training flight prior to leaving for the Middle East. They lost an engine, and knew that they were coming down as the single remaining engine couldn’t keep them above the hills, the crew and instructor bailed out and they all survived.
The engine below shows where the cylinders were torn from their mountings. It’s a sombre reminder of its time indeed.