Friends, collies, loch swimmers
(If are new to my blog let me, Ben – a young Border Collie – say a huge welcome. I’m absolutely elated that you have chosen to read my post and not been put off by that old chestnut about people attributing human characteristics to animals!! My blog is all about the trials and tribulations of a young dog on a v. v. v big challenge, climbing lots of mountains in Scotland, called The Munros. You can find out much more about it here Ben’s challenge … the story continues)
Though Saturday afternoon, Sunday and Monday, had all looked like fair weather walking days, the forecast for Saturday morning was less certain. Light cloud symbols decorated the BBC forecast and the mountain weather information service was ambivalent about the chance of cloud free Munros. So – obviously – B was up early and we were setting off at 6.30am, with the cloud banked low over the summits! She is a creature of habit and bending to the mood of the day doesn’t seem to feature within her narrow realm of flexibility. Seemingly B had a theory. Apparently, the cloud would rise with us as we climbed though, to be honest, I couldn’t find any the scientific evidence to back up this notion. More likely it had something to do with that dubious concept called wishful thinking.
We certainly put in the climbing but look how B’s theory worked out at the top of our first Munro that day, both at the summit cairn and with a 360 degree view.
Not only was our view obscured but high winds, from the south, were blowing us about like paper flapping uncontrollably near to an electric fan. We took shelter in the lee side of the summit cairn – constructed for such eventualities – and B tried to kid me on that the wind was a good thing. According to her second theory of the day, it would blow away all the cloud so we could find our way. Well, true enough, dogs aren’t great on keeping time but I do know this, I was getting v. v. v cold sitting around waiting for this latter day highland clearance, and I still couldn’t see a paw in front of me. Me and B kept having a look back, in the direction of the wind, and the sun was doing its best. At first a tiny circuit of light, the size of a saucer, could just be glimpsed through the cloud; then it became a tea plate and even a dinner plate. Nevertheless, whoever it was that made the cloud must have had the upper hand, because all that crockery never penetrated and waves of cloud kept sweeping across those translucent circles of hope, obliterating the suggestion of brightness.
By this time B had a nice hat on, was sporting some lovely warm gloves and her coat was all zipped up. I, on the other hand, had none of these luxuries and I began to wonder about the balance of power in this special relationship. Just as I was contemplating what rebellion looked like, from a young dog on top of a Munro, the sun performed a feat of magic. With one last blast of wind all the hills around us cleared of the smoke screen that had obscured their curves and crevices and, like a farewell to arms, the sun rose in ascendancy announcing its supremacy. It seemed that B’s theory wasn’t all bad after all, even if it was a bit late in materialising. We set off at a fair pace to warm up and make up for some lost time, embarking on Munro number two. Everywhere around us the great dog in heaven smiled down, Illuminating gently folding contours and raggedly exposed gullies. Our senses were ignited with vistas prone to bring on big releases of endorphins and, despite the lack of wind abating clothing, I knew what a lucky dog I was to be up here, running along with the wind in my fur, close to my person; we were so very happy.
As we continued along the ridge the cloud base continued to lift and patches of blue wove a tapestry of promise in the sky. Nevertheless, Creag Meagaidh’s topknot still remained a shrouded mystery, covered in a circumference of stubbornness that wasn’t going anywhere fast.
B, on the other hand, was going up there, regardless of the warnings written in the route we were following, “… difficult to navigate in poor visibility, precipices nearby!”. Having come this far, who were we, she said, to let fear of a few precipices stand between us and our third Munro. Personally, I began to think this use of the royal we a bit over used and, what’s more, the butterflies in my tummy agreed.
In the meantime, we still had to claim the second Munro for our bag and, according to our route, it was at the top of the next steep ascent. Well, me and B popped up the next hill, did a big descent and then started climbing, imagining ourselves to be on the way to Stob Poite Coire Ardair. At the top, we came upon a cairn and conducted our usual summit ritual: drop of malt whiskey for B, big hunk of sausage for Ben, full on photo-shoot.
At this point we had ascended well into the cloud and were trying to find a path to the south west that would take us in the direction of the invisible Creag Meagaidh. Why then, we wondered, did the two men who sped past us at this point seem very intent on heading directly west on, it has to be said, a fairly clear path. B consulted our GPS only to find that the hill we had popped up earlier – while waiting for a steep climb – was, in fact, Stob Poite Coire Ardair and we had walked right on past. This is the only Munro ever where I haven’t had my photo taken.
Heavens alive, she must be getting fitter than either of us thought. The cairn where we did the ceremonial was none other than Mad Meg and, happy days, just a few hundred metres across the plateau was the highest point of the walk, our third Munro today. This was one up for our energy bank and several points down for navigational skills. Creag Meagaidh marked the 82nd Munro and I really did wonder how we had managed to find our way to all the others. What, I also wondered, would the other 200 now left have in store for us. The views from the top were… identical to those from the summit of Carn Liath earlier today!
We now needed to retrace our steps to the bealeach called ‘The Window’. As soon as we had passed and turned our backs on Mad Meg the sun, in a display of supremacy, wiped out the cloud, showcasing a panorama of mountain topography. The battle for the sky had been one at last and for the rest of the day sunrays bounced off mountain rock faces while the jewel in this crown, Lochan Choire, sparkled in a glorious azure of temptation. And, guess what, oh… uncontainable joy, I was going swimming. However, my excitement has let me get ahead of myself.
The steep descent from ‘The Window’ is not for the faint hearted. Here is a tale of brutality, enacted by some angry elemental force that ripped the landscape apart, tossing it’s broken frame about in a viscous storm, before hurtling the pieces down to earth in a crashing torrent. Thankfully, that was some time ago and all we had to do now was find our way through the remnants of that great tempest.
A walker’s path weaves almost miraculously through the pieces, though its traverse is no simple matter and, for me, without sturdy boots to protect my paws, it was a somewhat painful experience. B, even with all her protective gear, was not exempt from discomfort. Old bones are prone to wear and tear, with joints taking the brunt of this anatomical evolution. Today’s complaint came from her knees so that, by the time we got to the loch, B was nearly as excited about having a rest as I was with the prospect of a swim.
For the next 15 minutes or so I ranged about the lochan swimming after my ball, while the shimmering waters danced around me in the sunlight, under the great fangs of Creag Meagaidh’s Corrie, a revered site for winter ice climbing. Beyond the loch we followed the path back to the car park to complete the full circuit. The rest of the day was blissfully simple in the satisfaction of a job done. There were zzzs before dinner, more zzzs after dinner and finally, deep sleep zzzzzzzzs to see me through till morning.