Butch and Sundance below have got their trail shoes on and are even into short sleeves.
I dunno if that’s entirely wise, it’s pissing down out there, so I think Spring got stuck in the door of the bus trying get all its shopping bags down the steps and got dragged away to the next stop. Possibly Mars, where having Spring unexpectedly turn up should be quite interesting as they have nothing much to speak of in the way of an atmosphere or water, or inhabitants other than Ice Warriors from out of 60’s Doctor Who.
Maybe Spring will just wait across the road for the next bus back this way, or even jump a taxi. Come to think of it, shouldn’t something as important as a season get some sort of limo service or something instead of having to slum it in public transport? Seems a bit of a liberty considering all the work it does with so little in return “Oh look, daffodils. What’s on the telly?”.
It was all planned. I was fed up pushing my luck with deadlines for Trail Routes, no matter what I did something would either make me late with words and photies or I’d end up having to change the route or some bloody thing and look stupid. So I’ve been glued to the weather forecast for the past couple of weeks, and if a chance came along I was off, regardless of day, customers wailing or any lame personal issues such as injury, fatness or difficulty in matching things with purple.
I got up at 0500 when Rock Radio 96.3 stuck its finger in my ear, and it was a finger with a big skull ring on it too. Well, it would be.
Everything was ready, clothes, rucksack, boots, empty water bottle next to the sink. I dressed as the kettle boiled, it was cold, the heating wasn’t on for a couple of hours yet. A hot cuppa and some toast was more than enough at this time of the day as I sat in the dark living room feeling just a little shaky. Time to go. I kissed the girls and clicked the door locked behind me.
The A82 was clear, the fog and gloom were no barrier to progress either. I sailed through a frozen landscape, through the grey and into the brightness of a new day, everything was blurred by frost.
Rannoch sat on the edge of dawn, a frozen Loch Ba showing no reflection from the snow covered Black Mount behind.
What would it be like to stand here as the light broke the horizon and streamed onto the tops, slipping down the slopes as it rose lazily for it’s southern winter arc. Glorious.
The cars that were parked there meant that the moment would be enjoyed and remembered by someone. I didn’t slow down as Glen Coe sped towards me.
I was the first customer of the day in Morrisons in Fort William. “Is the cafe open?”, “It is now, what are you after?”.
I sat with my rolls on bacon and coffees and did some texting on my phone. Friends were setting off as I looked out of the window at the blanket over Loch Linnhe and the icy car park. The good weather is in the mountains today.
I picked up a pastry, a Dairy Milk and strode back to the car feeling positive about the circumstances I’d found myself in. But I’m the weak link in any chain, my sore knee, that little cough, a rub of the eyes, a knocking sound from the front shock absorber… The doom monger of an archetypal Scotsman that thrives within me tried to throw my aim, but as I kitted up at the edge of the forest while chatting to the old stalker from down the road I knew I had one foot already on the snow.
The Munro’s Guide really needs re-written, not just revised. Some of the routes choices cause me no end of dismay. Here they’d have you struggling up the viewless, endless, soulless northern slopes of Ruigh na Guailainn and Stob Choire Gaibhre. I’ve done it, and although there is much merit in doing the Grey Corries clockwise, this has to be the worst way to ascent the range, so I deliberately went the other way this time. I followed the old narrow gauge railway line which was fun, finding old bridges, sleepers and the like, much better than the nearby forest road of dullness.
There are some bigger surviving bits of infrastructure like the bridge below, both interesting and incredibly frustrating. There should be wee trains running on this carrying hill goers and tourists to tea shops at Loch Trieg. If it was in the Lakes…
Not far from here is a dam with a deep pool behind it and a water crossing that seems to have the potential to be the hariest bit of your day. I got across dry, but I don’t know if I could consistently repeat that successful manoeuvre.
The ridge is nicely angled and pleasant to climb. The views to Aonach Mor pull you on and the contours are passed one after the other with surprising ease. As it becomes more defined with altitude it becomes rockier and cliffs grow to your left on the way to Beinn na Socaich, the first top of the day.
I sat here for a while, had a munchie and looked ahead and around and behind. Wonderful.
It marked a change in the ground under my feet as well, I’d been walking on frozen turf and dirt since I left the motor, the snow patches had been becoming more frequent, but from here I’d be walking on snow until lunchtime the next day.
The wind was light, it was cold but bearably so. The sun was shining and ahead of me was an unbroken snow-slope to Stob Coire Easain.
Half way up that slope I met a fella coming the other way and we stopped to have a blether. The day itself was high on the agenda. He was exstatic whereas I was maybe just buoyant. It wasn’t long after we parted that I discovered why we had different levels of happiness. He had been walking the ridge and he’d been watching what I hadn’t even caught a glimpse of as yet.
When I hit the summit I threw my poles on the cairn, dropped my pack on the snow and breathed it all in as I grinned for Scotland to at least Gold Medal intensity, possibly even world record level.
I paced around the top, the cloud was being sucked northwards in streaks over the bealach joining the ridge to Sgurr Choinnich Mor where it then disappeared into nothingness, beaten by this east-west line of huge peaks where no low cloud could survive, other than the spindly cloak that followed the outline of the lochs to the north which sat there both days, neither flinching nor breathing in or out.
I had come here for a mixture of reasons, but I felt nothing but the simple joy of just standing there.
The wind was a little sharper up here, so I pulled on a windshirt and some headgear. I also swapped poles for axe and crampons. It was narrower from here.
I though about camping on this first top, there was just enough room, but it left a long day two and besides, the ridge was wearing its best winter suit. I had to go and see.
The ridge twisted and turned, rose and fell, and every step was a gem. The Grey Corries are fantastic in their own right, but they views across Rannoch, to the peaks around Glen Nevis and to the grand peaks to the north are superb, and I can’t believe I saw only three people up here in two days. Maybe everybody was on Ben Nevis? What a shame, over here was just perfect.
I met a couple on the first Munro, Stob Coire an Loaigh, and they were all rosy cheeked and smiley faced. I took a couple of photies of them on their camera, I like doing that for folk.
It was only afternoon but the light was slipping away, the days are getting so short. I had to find a pitch soon, the wind didn’t look like being an issue, so I wasn’t worried about being on the ridge, I just needed a patch a bit bigger than me. There’s always something. I looked ahead at the deserted swoops of white crest with its dalmation spots of black rock, and as I munched on a Perrerami and a mini Babybel colour seeped into the white and blue bled from the sky as everything turned pink.
I walked into the alpenglow, my shadow growing longer with every step. I reached the cairn of Stob Coire Cath na Sine and I was at home for the night. Night? It was only half three or something, I was here for a good wee while indeed.
The spot just down from the cairn was perfect. I flattened it out with my SnowClaw and the tent was up. Pitching on hard snow is easy.
I admined my kit and set up the inside of the tent, mat, sleeping bags, snacks, pastry, iPod, mini Irn Bru… It was then I noticed that my 1 litre Nalgene bottle was missing, it was also full and missing. It wasn’t at camp, it hadn’t rolled away as far as I could see. Every time I took my pack off I checked it was still there when I pulled it back on, so where the hell was it? I fell through the snow a couple of times, maybe it git dislodged and is sitting in the snow somewhere? It was more of an inconvenience than a disaster, so I set the stove up, put in a little water and a big wedge of snow. Dinner would just be a little longer than usual.
I went for a wander as the stove roared away to itself.
The loose low cloud had knitted itself together into a patchwork quilt of different thicknesses, not quite an inversion, but something else. It was quite beautiful and time passed at it ebbed and flowed, and after a while broke up and dispersed. I think it knew that most folk had gone home and didn’t see the point of putting in the effort.
A few patches persevered, and fair play to them I was watching at least.
The stove was taking its time. The gas was nearly out, No1 canister was empty (I’m carrying part used gas canisters just now to save the planet etc) and I was having to melt snow to eat and drink until tomorrow afternoon. Arse.
I got my dinner and a hot cuppa though, no problem. I had a wee nap too and awoke an hour later with a plan. I’ll go and find my bottle.
It was late, and dark, no trace of the sun remained. I had some twinkly lights to the north belonging to Spean Bridge, a street light in the distance from Bridge of Orchy and the stars above including some rather nice shooting varieties, maybe the forerunners of the expected meteor shower? I was suited up against the cold with my down gear, I had my headtorch and crampons on, ice axe in hand and handbag slung over my shoulder. Seriously, the Raidlight front pouch turns into a man-bag. Handy if slightly odd, but hey, who’s going to see me up there?
I set off the way I came. I climbed, I descended, I traversed and I even contoured at times. I swung my head from side to side and as I approached the first top of the day again I decided that this was maybe just a little mental and that I should go home. On the way back it felt a little narrower, a little steeper, I felt a little bit exposed at times. I was glad when I got back. I’d make the gas last, the bottle was history, purple or not.
I had a hot chocolate and my vision returned to normal again…
I woke at twenty five to seven after a good night. I had a couple of semi-awake moments, but I reckon I had five or six hours sleep. It was lights-out and music-on about eleven the night before, and the last I saw my watch was about half twelve. I was warm, the wind never grew to tent-rattling velocity and it was all very peaceful. Maybe I was tired after my extra ridge walking too. Idiot.
The horizon was a deep red, and even the slender crescent of the moon had joined in the fun. There was more cloud, but it was high and was just there to lend depth to the sunrise.
The day awoke slowly and I greeted it with a hot drink and a cold nose. Not from sleeping (I kept my head inside the bag this time), just from the sharp morning air. I wandered around the little top, frozen bootlaces still undone. The colours and shapes shifted lazily and the peaks with the most snow began to rise from the haze as the very first rays broke over the parapet.
I was in no hurry, I didn’t even look at my watch again until I was back at the forest track. But as the sky brightened I felt myself responding to it and waking up, tidying my gear and packing up to go.
I cleaned up camp, no coffee or dinner spots on the snow or that sort of thing, I took my cooking stone back to the cairn and filled in the wee hole where it had sat and it was like I’d never been there.
I was still looking all around as I left, so much to take in and all so different from yesterday. I suppose that’s why we keep going back, you never get the same day twice, and the next day will always be the best one ever.
From here the ridge narrows, the slopes seem to steepen and I found myself being careful. It’s odd walking from camp straight onto a snow arete. The joy of camping indeed, no walk-in, straight to the fun bit. The first fun bit ended in a short, steep scramble downwards with a little traverse over a snowslope to the continuation of the ridge. The run-out was straight to the bottom of the coire. I was suddenly very aware of how short the spikes are on Kahtoolas. Kahtoolas are great on ascent on most snow, but here I found my personal limit with them on a descent. I cut a few steps to start me on my way and plunged the axe very deep into the snow in case my feet gave way. I worked my way down and across onto the ridge.
Bloody hell. I’ve been here before, all the scrambling and steep bits in this direction are going to be tackled as descents.
I thought about taking a route north into the coire or down one of the other ridges, but the top of Stob Choire Claurigh was so close, and all the scrambling was on the other side. I’d see how I felt when I got there.
The summit of Stob Choire Claurigh is a wonderful spot, it’s high and towers over Stob Ban to its south. It’s a great shape too, it looks like a cone of sorts from a little distance, but it’s well defined and sculpted, the ridges have crests to delight, or as I found on this occasion, flounder upon.
Beads of sweat popped out on my forehead as I made my way across steep slopes near the top, my feet breaking away beneath me and catching just a little too late to keep my confidence intact.
I was relieved when I reached the crest of the ridge (to the left above), it was easier going, and more importantly, enjoyable. I slip here would still be exciting, but my feet were sticking again and the pace was back to normal.
I stood at the rim of Coire na Ceannain and wiped my brow with my Buff. That had been interesting.
I descended around the coire rim which is a deep bowl with a secretive lochan on a high shelf. It was bright green the last time I was here with Joycee in springtime, today it was frozen, just a pale grey shape in the shadows.
The view across the coire from Stob Coire Gabhre is inspiring when you ascend to it, as it’s your first mountain view of the day. Today it was my parting shot, a glance over my shoulder and the lochan was gone, another glance back and the mountains were gone. A mile of water ice with grass sprouting through it lay between me and the forest road. It was on that road that I finally got to take my crampons off.
I truck pulled up beside me as I tramped down the road towards the motor. “Are you out for the good of your health or are you wanting a lift?”
I was so tempted, but my feet were relaxing after hours of crampon wearing and I was maybe 1km from the motor, “Ah, you’re the silver car?”. I was parked in shall we say a traditional place, which is very much on a private road but is treated with respect by it’s unofficial users and is issue-free, the gates have no padlocks and no tyres are slashed. The friendliness of the estate folk that I met on both days was a joy to discover. It proves that there doesn’t have to be conflict between us and them, or even an Us or Them?
The frost was thick, it hadn’t lifted for days. The glen is in the shadow of many of the tallest mountains on these islands, and they’re keeping the sunlight to themselves.
One last railway bridge needed a visit on the way back. I can see Thomas going over there, pulling along kids with balloons and ice creams, parents glad of a sit-down and muddy hillwalkers happy with a ride back to Ft Bill. Ach.
The day wasn’t over though. The texting of the previous day meant that I was on the lookout for pals, and I found them coming off Buachaille Etive Beag. We compared notes and trail scars and headed to the Real Food Cafe, where I arrived first and another familiar face arrived right after from his camp elsewhere.
We dined like kings upon the tasty fare and it was the perfect unwinding of a weekend which seemed to have had at least 33% extra free.
There are other stories to be heard from the weekend, folk getting oot is magic. These folk in fact: Elaina, Steve and Sandy.
The Trail Route thing? Er, I forgot all about it when I hit that first top on Saturday. It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine…
Petesy, it’s the phone for you.. “Uh… ?”
“Church heating… pump… broken… noises… cold… funeral tomorrow… Aaahhh!… Aaahhh!… Help”
I croaked back something about my own plans and timescale and likelyhood and all the while I was trying to reverse out of it, I knew I was going to try and fix it. I wouldn’t see anyone stuck. I threw on my working gear as I down a cuppa on the hoof and I was out on the road. In the opposite direction to the mountains.
Sometimes experience is the best tool you can ever own. A gate valve is just that, the wheel you turn to open and close it lifts and lowers a gate inside the valve body. One of the valves on the church system turned out have either a stripped or damaged spindle and the gate was lying inside, blocking the flow of water and keeping the heating off. Impossible to spot without an X-Ray or an auld heid. Levers and a hammer got the gate jammed onto the spindle and retracted without having to drain the system, heating on, alright!
I looked at my watch, day ruined.
I headed to my folks to see Holly and have my lunch. The sun was bright, the air and sky were clear and cool. “I thought you were going to the mountains?” Said Maw, “Aye, that was the plan”.
“Daddy, mountains?” Chipped in Holly hopefully.
“I suppose, I could just go somewhere nearer…”
Hey, if you can’t get away, you can just play at home. I headed home, grabbed my gear and fired up the road to Arrochar and my favourite hill, Beinn Narnain. Unclimbed by me in 2009? That’s just not right.
It’s just up the road, but it was late, the sun was low. I thought about parking and where to do it. The houses, maybe next to the garage? It took the gamble and abandoned the motor in the carpark. The payment machine was broke and I was running out of daylight. I’d worry about it in the morning.
The quickest way up is the new track, and the shortcuts on it are fairly consolidating themselves. Some are waterways (well, ice floes right now) and some at just light paths, so it’s not the disaster it could have been. Which is good because I took the shortcuts this time.
It was warm in the sunlight, I was wearing baselayer and shades as I joined the track to the Narnain boulders. I strode along and passed a couple of stoney faced folk in full alpine mode, the hills must have made them sad today.
The coire is showing increasing signs of developing a track, this route misses out the “wow” moment where you first see the summit rocks from Cruach nam Miseag, but it’s a wonderful, rough trek through steep, rocky, wild scenery. It’s alsa a great place to dodge rocks that detach themselves kamikaze style from the huge crags, so no camping please folks.
Emerging from the coire onto the coll brought me back into the disappearing light. I’d made it just in time, I was happy enough.
The snow all around was pink, the rock glowed orange, the sun was a weak pinhole of amber light sinking away far to the south. I started on the final climb as the Cobbler’s peaks grew sharper and darker to my left.
The snow cover was becoming more constant, and it was getting rock-hard as well. Before tackling the scrambly bit ahead I stopped. I layered up with microfleece, gloves and Buff, and for the first time this winter I strapped on crampons and set off with an ice axe in my hand.
I was grinning from ear to ear as my spikes dug into the hardpack with every footfall, the temperature dropped and the light from the moon grew stronger that the dying rays of the sun.
I didn’t want to camp in the “usual place”, just below the summit plateau, and a couple of places just below the Spearhead crag stuck out as possibles as I crunched over the lip into the snow-filled hollow. It’s a dramatic and atmospheric spot, but it looks like the rocks don’t fall from the crags and bounce quite as far as the best flat pitch. The pack was off and the down jacket was on. I flattened the area a little more with my Snowclaw and pulled out the tent, which went up very easy considering this was the first time I’d pitched it.
I admined my gear, which included donning my down pants, and got to the important bit: getting the stove on. I had hot Mountain House Lasagne, coffee and a donut. A meal of kings that is.
I slipped into my sleeping bag(s), warm, fed, and I drifted away in total silence, with moonlight lazily drifting though the flysheet, I was in a little cocoon.
I woke up a couple of hours later to find that the world was a very different place.
The inside of the tent was covered in ice, all my kit was white and all my water was frozen. I gingerly stuck a hand outside to find my watch, and just before the display went blank I saw -15°C. I have no idea if it was reading right or not, but the temperature killed my watch and it was really cold.
My breath wasn’t steaming in clouds, it snaked away from me like ribbons of flame, twisting and twirling onto the flysheet, very odd. I stuck on the stove and melted myself a hot chocolate. The steam condensed at the apex of the tent and froze there, I had icicles falling on me until I packed up to go home.
I was now awake, roasting hot inside all those layers of down and it was definitely time for a pee and wander about outside.
I stepped out into a wonderland.
The moon was full and bright, the sky was dark and clear, stars twinkling down at me as the moonbeams caught the snow and twinkled right back at them.
The summit crags loomed dark and still, to the south the lights of the Central Belt twinkled benignly around the lonely peak of Ben Lomond, to the north, the darkness was only punctuated by dimly glowing snow-capped peaks. I threw my hands out and laughed to myself, this is what it’s all about.
I skipped around, bursting with, I dunno, emotion? Enthusiasm?, Pure joy? I was all alone here, and it just wasn’t right, I had to share the moment. I got on the phone to Joycee just to let her hear my footsteps crunching in the snow. I was like a wee boy out to play, but I was a cowboy wi’ nae indians, a jap wi’ nae commandos, I was hiding but there was no one seeking.
I climbed into the crags, they seemed smaller in the dark, the ascent felt easier. This so-familiar ground had taken on a completely new life and I was exploring it for the first time.
I love the hills, I never tire of them and they bring me great joy, but something about tonight felt new, something I thought I’d never feel as much as this in the hills again. Was that a wee lump in my throat, or was that Buff a little bit too tight?
This was simply wonderful.
My watch came to life again in the warmth of my pocket, and it said that I’d been wandering around for two hours. I was cozy in my down gear, wrist to ankle, and I must have been having fun. It was getting late though, and it was time for a final cuppa and bed. A shooting star to the south west was nature’s parting shot. Bless you.
I filled my bottles with snow and melted it down with what water I had left, that was me ready for breakfast.
I stripped to my baselayers, stuck my iPod on and pulled the sleeping bag drawcords in around my head. The cold air and moonlight faded away and fell into a light sleep with dreams of bizarre behaviour to a soundtrack of my favourite music. Restful no, intriguing yes.
I woke at 0200 and had to pee again. There was no argument about it. The bottles were frozen, the Photon is too small for physical contortions, so it was down jacket on and ootside.
Good plan, it was all change again. A high thin layer of cloud had formed and the moon had become a glowing ball submerged in a pool of rainbow colours. The light was weaker and the atmosphere had changed, less friendly, more unpredictable feeling. There was a low wave of cloud climbing up the side of the Cobbler and towards me. It was slow, but steady. It would be here soon.
Behind me, the tent flapped a little as breeze whipped up from nowhere. I’d seen the forecast, I knew what was coming, you just always hope it might be a little later arriving than they say.
I woke at 0615 as the flysheet flapped manically over my head. the proper winds had arrived.
The tent was rock-solid though, so I found my iPod at the bottom of the sleeping bag and stuck it on the drown out the intrusion.
I also discovered that the end of my nose was completely numb. I’d been sleeping inside the bag to block out the light, but I must have been roasted in my sleep and stuck my face back out to get some air. A frostbitten nose in the Arrochar Alps? I’d never have lived it down.
It was getting lighter as well, so I gave in and decided to get the stove on and have a look outside. I showered my head with ice from the flysheet as I opened the door to the frozen murk that lay outside. Ach, cuppa.
I stood the stove up, arranged the windshield and looked for the pot.. Where’s the pot? There’s the lid… Ah!
After I’d melted the snow the night before, I’d stuck the pot in a little hollow in the porch, and it must have still been warm enough to melt itself six inches down into the snow. I had to dig it out with my ice axe. That was a first.
The crags were dark grey shapes lost in fog. All the bare rock from last night was encrusted with ice, the tent looked like stonewashed green denim.
The cold wind whipped the tent, the gear and any bare skin. It was time to go.
Packing was easy, and it was quick. The biggest worry when setting off is always swapping the down jacket for a shell for on-th-move protection without heat-induced unconsciousness, but I got away with it with no chills or unnecessary faffing.
My crampons were back on, and with ice axe in hand (initilally for pulling the frozen-in tent pegs out), it was time to see if my motor was still sitting unmolested in the same spot.
The snow was even harder now, the dirt and turf were frozen rock-hard too. I clambered through the jumble of rocks, relearning how to use my winter feet and finding them to be servicable with maybe just a wipe down with an oily rag at the service station before the next trip. If feels good to out in winter again.
I met a few folk on my way down, most cheery with time to chat as the weather started to clear, some a little bemused and also a couple of po-faced bastards whose bubble had obviously been burst by the gaily attired cheery sort saying hello to them while heading in a downhill direction at a very unusual time of day when real mountaineers such as themselves were taking on a very serious ascent.
A couple of days before the last (and thankfully successful) Glen Affric trip, the folks from Look What We Foundgot in touch. They make boil-in-the-bag meals, and none of your crap either, the names say “bring the restaurant to the mountain” to me: Home Reared Beef in Black Velvet Porter with Potatoes; Mushroom Stroganoff with hand-picked Scottish Mushrooms. Hardly roughing with that in your pack it is it?
Several time this summer I’ve been caused problems through lack of water, routes changes, camp sites a compromise rather than ideal, and having boil-in-the-bag food would have helped me out quite a lot. It’s something worth thinking about, it means carrying extra gas probably, but it;’s not enough extra weight to be an arse burster. Another thing is variety, if you’re out a lot you really have to swap brands and types of food so you don’t get fed up looking at the same thing all the time, and tucking into real food has to be nothing but good. Naan bread, oatcakes and the like will add a bit of dryness as usual and your cuppa is made with the water that just heated the bag. Magic.
The test samples arrived the day I came back from the trip and I’ve had to resist the temptation to eat some on a daily basis ever since. If I’d spoken to them a few days earlier I might have changed my plans on the hill with some of their gear as I would have had 500ml more water the next morning. Interesting.
Field test imminent.
The magic trip to Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan saw a bunch of new kit see its debut.
The Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 was pitched properly for the first time in the rain at 1100m or so, and it presented no real issues. Some rain got onto the inner before the fly went on, but none penetrated and the inside stayed dry from both that and any condensation that dripped onto it from the fly during the night. I probably should have untied the guy lines before I left though, they’d been tied into tight coils at the factory and I was trying to undo them wearing Paclite mitts. I pitched it on crappy ground, so I’ll have a better idea about it next time, but I was quite happy in it.
I used the Brunton Flex stove for the first time on a proper trip, and it too was without issue, fast boiling, small packing, orange… After the first use the folding legs jammed at their pivots, but they loosened and stayed loose with subsequent uses. The dissimilar metals settling in?
I had my big long titanium spoon from Tibetan back from Trail and I don’t care how long and awkward it is to pack, it’s the best utensil I’ve used for eating out of a bag.
Night of the Living Marmots the trip could have been subtitled as I had all the Marmot test kit with me. The powerstretch gloves and pull-on served as well as before, but the Nano Paclite jacket and Atom down bag were having their first trip beyond the Kikpatricks.
The Nano had some surgery before I left, the velcro hood adjuster is rubbish, so I “fixed” it. It now has a bungee cord with a captured cord-lock. I just need to figure out how to tell them…
The Atom is light and very packable, even with a full-length zip, but that stitch-through construction was something that was on my mind. I went to bed, and I went to sleep comfy and warm. I didn’t notice any cold spots at all, even with bare legs and arms. I thought about this in the morning as I waited for something to happen outside, I ran the back of my hand down the inside of the bag and I could feel the warmth reflecting back onto my hand where the down tubes were, and I could feel that the seams were noticeably cooler, but when I was in the bag it was all soft focus delight and Christmas mince pies (the shortcrust pastry ones, not the fluffy pastry ones, I’m not so keen on those).
The Neoair? Is fine, I know why there’s been failures, and why there should be no more. I am not worried.
Chocolate Fish’s Taranaki merino top and bottoms, Haglöfs LIM Barrier Pull-on, Montrail Hardrock Mids, OMM Villain, Mountain KIng Trail Blaze poles were all well used regular faces, but one thing really stood out and that was Harvey’s map. If you’re heading to this way, Harvey’s Knoydart British Mountain Map really is the only one you need, it’s miles better than the pink or orange efforts from OS.
Pit it apt at at atap it apat tat… the rain was still falling, and with my eyes still shut I was warm and I didn’t want to move. I knew it was brighter, and no screwing up of my eyes could shut it out completely. Putting my head into the sleeping bag just made me want to pass out from lack air or heat stroke. I pulled my arm out and found my watch in the pouch above the door, 0836 it said. I’d had at least six and a half hours of completely undisturbed sleep. Outstanding.
I unzipped the doors and made a face at the world outside because it was rubbish looking. I lit the stove and lay on my front watching the rain gather on the long grass outside and run down the stalks when the drops got to heavy. The wind was from behind, I was sheltered and really quite happy as had a cuppa and some porridge.
I thought about my options as this weather was now the deciding factor. I could descend again and be back in the motor in a couple of hours, carry on and retrace my similarly cloud-covered steps of a couple of months back or find something else that was new and would be fun, maybe descend NW and circle around Sgurr Gaorsaic to find the other end of the Loch?
At 1000 I finally got out of the tent for a pee and a stretch of the legs, feeling under no pressure. I even thought about just sitting there and waiting for something to happen, for the weather to either get better or worse and give me a nudge, I had plenty food to sit it out.
The nudge came, and it was like walking along a darkened corridor, opening a door and stepping into a brightly lit room and finding a table with Irn Bru and doughnuts on it. This would also be accompanied by an audible “Boof!”.
A hole in the cloud appeared, I saw the summit, the ridges and into the coire to the north. I just got the camera set up to get a shot as it filled itself back in. This gave me as much a dilemma as the constant rain, what would happen now, would the cloud lift?
I packed slowly, constantly watching all around. Once, the sun burned fiercely and briefly through just thin cloud cover, the corries on both side revealed themselves occasionaly, light playing on their boulder strewn slopes as the sun penetrated elsewhere unseen from my high campsite. I was grinning with optimism as I set off towards the summit over the wonderful knobbly ridge in an ever brighter atmosphere, I could see detail, distance and a chance of doing what I came here for.
Standing on the top this time was fantastic. I could see the north top where I’d just camped and I could see the ridge leading to Mullach na Dheiragain. Too far, too late, not enough water. Right now, I was still walking away from the motor, day two even without the Mullach was twice the distance as day one. I did give several second glances that way as I descended eastwards, I thought about contouring over there via a lochan to pick up water, but as patches of blue appeared and distant slopes and peaks became sharp and clear, I decided not to push my improving luck and just set off with the renewed purpose of finishing a route that had been on my mind for months.
It was still a little windy, still cool, so I kept on my waterproof. The air was fresh, the light was clear. The ground felt good under my feet. These are the hills at their best, standing tall, chest out, hands on hips, very much alive, and today, feeling benevolent. Every footfall was a total joy.
The summit clouded over again, just a wee wispy toupee. But the broken cloud added scale, the notion of the mountains touching the sky, of all nature feeling as one, even I felt part of that for once. Not a visitor or a viewer, but a participant as the day unfolded around me without another human in sight. Spend the night up there and you’ll never see the hills the same again, I hope this never wears off.
It was getting warm as I descended towards the youth hostel, I stowed my jacket and filled my bottle at a little waterfall. The path here is clear and well maintained, but still narrow and unobtrusive. A good model for elsewhere.
I met the hostel warden out for a wander and spoke my first words for 24 hours, always interesting as I feel like I’m shouting.
I looked south at hills I’ve climbed and actually saw them, rather than cloud for the first time from these slopes.
I stopped for lunch by the river, well in the river I suppose as I sat on the warm rocks and had soup as the cool dark water flowed and gurgled around me. I sat for a while and soaked it up, mountains all around me, empty land, miles to go and everything I needed right at hand. Do folk know accessible this stuff is? How easy it is to get into these places, how safe and enjoyable it can be? I wonder how many folk get put off trying by TGO making it look dull and Trail trying to sex it up? As ever the truth is in the middle somewhere.
Not far from Alltbeith you find Camban bothy, and a cracker it is too. Two big rooms with two-level bunks and I found it in a pretty clean condition. No sign of folks having been there and the fireplaces were empty, but in its wonderful position between Beinn Fhada and the north Cluanie hills it must be well frequented.
The track from Camban to Gleann Lichd is wonderful, and the very reason I wanted to do this route. There’s a gap in there that I’d never walked, only seen from the summits and walking through there on its lovely, twisting track surrounded by high tops, I found myself also surrounded by memories of trips and friends now long distant, of a younger man exploring the highlands for the first time, and also an older man who’s found that his love and simple joy of placing one foot in front of the other in this beautiful country has never faded.
The mists of time and the misty eyes of a sentimental auld eejit? Maybe, maybe. But my heart swelled just to be there, and to be there on a such a day as this where nature never rested, never stopped trying new ways to set itself in a new light, and with every attempt found something just a little more special.
I’d never seen the waterfall. The path contours round the deep gorge, and I kept looking around to say to someone “Isn’t this just stunning?”. But this was a very solitary trip, I think it had to be. Unfinished business, not with the mountains, but with myself. The mountains don’t care, they just are. You can’t expect or demand, but what you come away with is all the better for it.
The walk out behind the Five Sisters of KIntail is long and on a landrover track. The further you get the more the land changes its character from wilderness to countryside.
I stuck my iPod on, and the first track that shuffle mode found was Slayer’s Jesus Saves. I laughed out loud at the surprise of its genius choice and immediately started playing air-guitar on my trekking poles. It was on good form and fed me one cracker after another and I slipped out of the glen in into the motor on the crest of a metal wave, beaming from ear to ear.
I stopped in Ft Bill, and a MacDonald’s never tasted so good. And an ice cream with a flake in it was never so appreciated.
The sun sank behind the Ardnamurchan hills and bathed the Glen Coe hills in a pink light, the traffic was light late on a Monday night and I sped through the velvet landscape, eager to get home and see the girls.
My one stop was to get the camera out near Loch Ba. A wonderful spot which never fails to surprise me with how many moods and colours it can find.
This was a trip that I will hold dear in my memory. The hills, the trail, the weather, my head, it was all right.