I was supposed to be heading to Sweden for Haglöfs 100th anniversary celebrations but some family stuff came up at the same time and the trip got canned. But talking to Gus brought about a sort of consolation idea, we’d head out with a bunch of new season Haglöfs kit to test, have a bit of a laugh and take some photies.
I was heading to Skye anyway, it all seemed like a good fit. I’ve known Gus for years and for all the outdoor talk and gear we’d never managed onto a hill. Good plan, easy and straightforward.
In the run up to the trip the weather looked good for Sunday – Monday – Tuesday with some last minute doubts over Tuesday. So, with little or no thought as to the consequences, a Sunday start was decided upon. Gus was at the Highlander race based at Glenfinnan all weekend and that was where I headed. Mallaig is not too far up the road, getting the ferry across to Skye would save time. fuel and be fun.
The road up was slow, the strange human subspecies of folk that only drive their cars during holiday weekends still lurked around every corner from the easter break, eager to find a burrow to hide in until the next bank holiday, but dangerous when cornered too, so quite likely to unleash an unpredictable attack of swerving or sudden braking causing chaos and mayhem.
However, the skies cleared as I went north and by Ft Bill it was glorious. I stopped off for some camp food and headed up to Glenfinnan.
I parked at the race village with the confidence of someone who was supposed to be there or didn’t know that they weren’t supposed to be there and wandered down to the finish line to see what was happening. The winners were in, you could tell that by the amount of limping skinny people around and bless them all I say. I know the hills beyond well and tackling the slopes at any time can be a task, but chasing a prize while the sun was beating down and ticks are chewing at your ankles deserves our consideration.
I shot the breeze with some familiar faces while working on a venison burger and the prizes were awarded. The local laird was one of the speakers at the prize giving, I’ve met him a couple of times and he’s a proper character, all tweedy and Victorian but cheery and seems to have a realistic and forward thinking approach to the land and it’s various uses by “them and us”.
There was no pressure, but an eye cast on my watch said that time was getting on. I decided to shoot up to Mallaig and sort out the ferry, phone back down the road and take it from there.
The road up does its job. The old single track horrorama is gone and replaced by a fast but largely bland thoroughfare that misses out all the lovely spots at Arisaig and Morar. However, it gets you to the picturesque hamlet of Mallaig in good time. I kept a straight face there, where’s my cheque Visit Scotland?
I went to the ferry office where the folks were all dead helpful and booked us onto the next and last ferry which left at 6. It was well after 5. Hmm.
I shot back to the car park and phoned Gus. He was standing hands in pockets in the sunshine gabbing with the teams and whatnot.
Ah He said.
Indeed I replied.
I’ll leave now.
I’ll be ready.
I unpacked the £100 Ka (I love this car, it is the mountain rollerskate of ultimate joy) and stood on a rock at the seafront counting down the minutes and watching for Gus. I talked to the girls which distracted me, as did the stunning views, but when I looked back at my watch it was leaving quarter to six. I texted Gus 15… 14… 13… I know he knew the time, I just wanted to share the stress a little.
Five-to he shot into view and then into the car park. Hysterical giggling took over as we crammed my kit into the car and raced for the ferry. The same young fella from earlier was waiting for us at the still open ramp. He smiled at my distress as I just handed him the sheaf of tickets and looked helpless. We parked up, the ramp closed and we laughed away the cold sweat as we climbed up to the rather nice lounge for the half hour sail across the Sound of Sleat.
Hearts beat slower as the boat reversed and then leisurely cruised to Armadale. All was well.
The cloud that had been moving in stayed on the mainland as we twisted the slow road towards Broadford. Skye looks very different without pissing rain, wind and cloud. I was enjoying this.
Fuel, sun cream and some extra bits and pieces at the co-op and a quick stop at Sligachan for the views were all that was between us and Glenbrittle campsite, a place where I really must take the girls.
The sun was going down and we still had to pack. I needed a rucksack and clothes as well, so it was all a little improvised, but as Haglöfs sample size large fits me perfectly I just picked the colours that I liked. All of them at the same time. Nice.
The tops above us were burning red and orange as the sun slipped away, how glorious that would have been from the track to the coire. We compressed, rolled, folded and squashed, then we were ready to go.
The sky and the land had become blue-grey and our rainbow coloured figures worked our way into the middle of it. The going was good on a fine path and the Cuillin although softened by the dusk still presented a dark jagged outline before the rounded bulk of Sron na Ciche and then darkness left us standing alone in a pool of torchlight.
It was here things changed for us. The moonless sky, the hazy memories of the terrain, the GPS at odds with the superior Harvey map and the suddenly steep, loose and rocky terrain, it has us discussing and thinking.
We back/side/downtracked a little and found ourselves on the edge of a huge slab which curved away and down into the darkness. It didn’t seem right, but there was signs of use at its edge where it butted into the crag which rose sheer to our left.
It felt exposed, our two spots of light floated in a darkness where it felt like the light was flowing past our feet into an abyss. I’ve spend a lot of time on night ascents, but this was different.
It was warm and a little waterfall distracted and cooled after the previous ascent on a mineral vein which was the safest apparent route across the another iffy section of polished slab. The glaciers had no thought for future visitors when they carved this place up.
Next in our torchbeams were sheer rock walls streaked by black, water run-off that sprang from nowhere and disappeared back there. It was unnerving. We took our time and looked for routes as best we could in the torchlight.
The rock was good and we clung to it with both hands. The scree slope was invitingly easy looking, but we didn’t want to climb Sgurr Sgumain tonight so we stuck to the rock. It was late, very late and we were getting hungry and tired. Every climb upwards was topped with another wall of rock and route finding problems and the following scramble.
It was fantastic.
There was no question of stopping, no suggestion that we were in trouble, we just bantered away, working through the endless scrambling with the perfect mix of humour and experience. It was clear from the start that Gus was good company on the hill, he’s able, knows his stuff and knows how to laugh.
The last scramble took us to a broken crag with steep scree and the GPS said we were nearly at the loch. We climbed again while the sound of water fell away below us. We stopped and shone into the darkness below. A ribbon of dark grey then a black void beyond. We’d climbed quite high above the loch. Oh, the irony.
We tumbled down the boulder field to the side of Loch Coir a Ghrunnda. It was well past midnight and we were shot, it was time to relax a little and the realities of the time and effort spent getting there overtook us.
We walked the banks of the loch and picked a spot for the night. We found some nice big grooves in the rock to keep us put, we were bivying – it’s no place for a tent up here, and got to unpacking and setting up camp.
It wasn’t too cold, just nice with some light insulation on and a cuppa and some soup was just enough, it was too late for a big dinner. I pitched a tarp over the cooking spot and where our heads were, just for a little extra protection. As clear and windless as it was with stars sparkling above us, you just never know.
We settled down, the sky had lightened, Bloody hell, 3am. Aye, time for bed.
Who knows what the day would bring.