I felt terrible: bleary eyes, sore head, grumbling stomach. I sat with a cuppa, chin in upturned palm, and looked at the MWIS (the weather service for people who go to the mountains during office hours only) forecast, tomorrow was looking good and there was some talk of the cloud breaking up in the evening. I was packed anyway, so I got my shit (slowly) together and rolled onto the A82 one more time.
I don’t think my driving was so good, my concentration was askew, but the rubbernecking holiday makers kept the pace at a whiplash inducing 25mph, so no ill became me. I paused at Tyndrum for fuel, for the motor, not for me and my next stop was the Morrisons cafe in Ft Bill for a hot plate of heart assaulting tasty spirit liftingness. I felt a bit better after that, but a walk through the rain to pick up some food for camp didn’t fill me with optimism.
The road beyond was the same tarry rope again, up which I made slow progress, and it was with great relief that I parked up at the Cluanie Inn. The clouds had indeed broken, there was blue to be seen. I pulled out the kit, chose a pair of mids at random and headed west. Within 200 metres I was pulling on a sheath of Paclite, the rain was battering down, and as I walked the water ran from my cuffs and peak. Hurrah.
I slipped in fine comedy style, both feet up in the air and landed on my hip. I lay there in the grip of a mossy trampoline and screwed my eyes tight shut. That was sore, Salomon and their gripless bastard footwear. I fell back onto my feet and limped on a few steps. I was fine, just pissed off. The rain didn’t even blink.
I love it here, I’ve had the finest and the pishest of days on this map, and I’ve learned not to expect, just top accept. So with a more cautious stride my journey into the murk was with a quiet ambivalence to the conditions, I was prepared for this.
The Steall Bhan waterfall is a hidden gem, a long white swishing tail swinging from the coire above, and with a hint of ridgeline above too. The shielings around here are brilliant, perfectly round, like giant stone piecutters left lying around. From above they look very odd indeed. The ridge was so steep that I enjoyed frequently turning round and admiring their symmetry.
The cloud broke briefly into low, clawing, stalking mechanical shapes, climbing over the contours and then flashing into nothingness, I could see the peaks of the South Glen Shiel Ridge over their spiny backs before the solid ceiling of fuzz above me descended once more and stayed there for the night. My head went down and I climbed some more.
Just before the summit of Aonach Mheadhoin there’s a little shelf on the east of the ridge with the third of three tiny lochans hiding in it’s corner. With the wind rising, and the rain tagging along, the summit looked like no place for a quiet night, so I sneaked into the little shelf and made myself at home.
I was a little light-headed when I got into the tent, in a giggly “Ha ha, look at me” sort of way, it was dry, the wind was only tickling the top of the tent a little and I was moments away from getting the stove on. The grey blanket outside didn’t worry me, I wrapped the sleeping bag around me as I sat cross legged and ate my lasagne and drank my Krüger coffee. I stretched out after that and made the mistake of falling asleep. Well, it was still early.
The bleary eyes were back, maybe more misty I think this time. The cool evening had swapped jackets with a hot night and I was stripping down to my boxers and unzipping the tent to get some new air in. It was well after midnight now, but still light as the full moon set the cover aglow. The outer zip snagged. I leaned further out and tried the other zip, it went so far and snagged too. The door was still shut. I pulled, tugged, cursed and grimaced. The zip had most definately shat the bed, so I pulled apart some of the teeth at the top to make a vent of sorts and went back into my bag to sleep the light sleep of someone who’s not as tired as they were and are a just a little bit annoyed. All things considered, at that point I’m much rather have been at home doing a Disney princess jigsaw with Holly.
It was nice and light at 0700, so I fell into a proper sleep until ten to ten to celebrate.
I tore the door open and stuck my head out, the cloud was still whirling around, but it was bright white. It was on it’s way out. The deposit I’d paid last night had got my arse into the best seats for the day ahead.
After scaring away the band of deer peering down at me from the summit, a pee, clothes, breakfast and some wandering around with a cuppa was the order of business. I could hear voices too, the path on the ridge just above me had some of the days first walkers on it and they’d missed me altogether. One fella got a surprise when he looked back and I went up to have a blether. He was heading along the ridge to the Morvich camp site, a big day. Turns out he lives about ten miles away from me.
I went back and packed up slowly, I was soon down to my t-shirt as the cloud gave up the fight and retreated to other hills nearby. I met a pair of folk on the short pull to the top, they were full of banter and were doing the round over to Saileag and back down, which is where the clouds were lurking, not lurking actually, they really did look as if they were getting ready to launch themselves this way again. Wee buggers.
The summit of Aonach Mheadhoin is a delight, it’s a wide dome and is surrounded by the shapes of the familiar. The mountains here all look likes kids drawings, swooping pointed shapes with a strip of blue above. The boggy approaches fade, but that skyline, the character that each peak has, the ridges that stretch before me, that’s what’s stayed with me for the past 20 years and why I’ll always, always come back here.
The descent to the coll was in sunshine, a light breeze and on a rapidly drying path. It’s narrow in the middle, but not exposed, and it’s rocky too. The dug and then the owner I met here were all smiles as we passed, even the German couple (one from Berlin, one from Dublin, don’t call me out on the detail of this stuff okay),who’d also spent last night in a tent were happy enough, even though we crossed paths several times that day and I kept on taking their photies.
Sgurr an Fhuarail is an even better top I think, a rocky wee place with Ciste Dubh chained to its ankle to the north. I broke out the stove and got a cuppa on the go as a felle from Inverness joined me. We talked about this and that and the time passed nicely.
So often I’m alone up there, but not today. Not one miserable face did I pass, smiles and welcomes all day. I was in danger in having me opinion of the human race softened there for a minute.
The descent and reascent to the little top that looms over the Cluanie Inn was a joy, my mood was as light as the clouds that remained above me. The tall skinny cairn that waits for the visitor made me smile too.
I met my German friends again, they were heading for a hot shower and dinner below. I was planning to take some shots of the front of the building and no more, but after the long trek down that steep grass, in the heat from the undilited sun, the thirst that had crept and and the hunger that was growing within sent me through the door and into a chait with a menu in my hand.
Haggis, neeps and tatties in a pool of gravy, washed down with a pint of Irn Bru. My eyes were misting when the last forkful went in.
If I could have put my feet up and fallen asleep right there it would have been a perfect day.