Friends, collies, sky diving dogs,
Oh jeepers-creepers what a day. It started at 5.00am, if you please. Soon I’ll be getting up before I’ve gone to bed, if you follow my drift. Still, I had a big day in store with just a few hours in the morning to devote to our next Munro. Meall Chuaich sits fairly close to the road and is reported to have a clear path all the way. Speedy Gonzales – alias, Steve Kew – reckons it would take 4 hours. I knew it would take us at least another hour: what… with the age thing and all the minor injuries and the general level of fitness. Even so, we could be up and down by lunch time – bagging number 46 – and ready for my big excitement in the afternoon but… all that is for later.
What had been forecast as a mainly dry but cloudy day, in our parts, started off somewhat better than had been predicted. Sunrise cast a magical glow across the mountains, bringing a sentient awakening to herald the new day.
The first indication of what lay ahead, in our own new day, came when we parked in a lay by on an exposed section of the A9, near Dalwhinnie. B was preparing my breakfast at the back of the van (always her first priority), when suddenly she was face down in the bowl. The howling wind had whacked the door shut against her back adding yet another injury to the litany of physiological ailments that inhabited her five foot frame: hips that wanted oiling; knees that needed an infusion of diazepam; calf muscles, sometimes gripped in a vice and now, a back that was hurting… a lot.
As the wind – in defiant mood – continued to whip and whistle all about us, recommending flight rather than fight, we weighed up the chances of achieving today’s target. Knowing this would be our windiest walk ever we really did consider giving it a miss, but… we had done so well in the last two days – against the odds – and we just didn’t want to go home (like last time), with one route uncompleted. We could just ‘nip’ up this… ‘straight forward’ Munro, even if it meant getting a bit of a battering. And, after all, there were no dangerous ridges to consider.
When me and B approach the hills it always starts our heart racing and today was no exception. Their spectacular contours, woven around a majestic amphitheatre, entice us on encouraging their closer acquaintance. Today the walk in – as we Munroists say – was long, flat and accompanied by the questionable companion. Mister blowy wind, coming up from the south, was trying to get a tad too pally-wally for my liking. In fact, he was a vicious sort of imposter, assaulting my person and giving me a v. v. v bad hair day indeed. If this was his attitude at 300 metres, what the heck was his frame of mind going to be at over 900 metres.
Before long we came upon a network of tracks with too many choices of direction and, of course, we went off on the wrong one. We knew this when the private wooden bothy (“always locked”), appeared as a newly constructed concrete structure, complete with alarming signature. Seemingly, getting lost in the Munros is the least of our problems.
What on earth, I pondered, is embedded generation? Perhaps there is a whole decade of Munrosa incarcerated within this innocuous building. After a 180o turnaround we were, 25 minutes later, back on track. This is more like it I thought, till a peep in revealed a retreat for hunters with a nationalist passion – a different sort of embedded generation… time for us to go.
Not far ahead we could see our path snaking north up hill, which we duly followed. After consulting our route, downloaded and printed – from the ever wonderful Walk Highlands website – we duly turned east to avoid the top of Stac Meall Chuaich, as instructed. Regretfully, we did this too soon and the path we turned onto eventually petered out. Once again we were in unpleasant – but familiar – territory; trampling over pathless heather to find our true path higher up.
Back on course, our unwelcome fellow traveller had upped the anti, giving my right flank a clobbering that I confidently predicted would be repeated on the left side when I descended. Of course, had our path meandered up the north side of Meall Chuaich – instead of the south – we would have been nicely tucked in all the way, invisible to our so called friend until he let loose his fury at the very top. Still, at least – when we turned east on the ridge – he wasn’t punching me in the face, stopping me in my tracks and then pushing me down hill with dangerous ferocity on my return. As it was, upon reaching the plateau, just below the summit, I really thought I was going to be swept off my feet and sent flying at a rate of knots, in the direction of Aviemore. It seemed that luggage – in the shape of B’s rucksack – might be coming with me as it was buffeted away from her back pulling at yet more muscles, which joined the company of complainants that inhabited her determinative frame, and who were beginning to crowd our Munro adventures.
It was such a relief to see a big square summit cairn where we could cuddle on its north side and gain some shelter. I was all for waiting until it was Mr Wind’s bedtime but… sadly, I was reliably informed, this wasn’t going to happen anytime this side of next week. Therefore, within two minutes, and a very truncated Munro summit ceremony, my left haunch was getting the pummelling I had predicted from an increasingly angry beguiler still intent on getting me to Aviemore. Descent was – to say the very least – swift; it was also rather musical with B’s oohing and arring putting up stiff competition against the noise emanating form the wailing beast of Chuaich.
Despite it all, back at my van, we were jubilant. We had kept going though under siege and we had – at the end of this weekend – achieved all we set out to. Everyone, but everyone, that has ever written about hill walking and mountaineering insists that turning back – in adverse conditions – is a sign of strength not weakness. And yet… and yet… me and B know the pull of the hills too well. We suspect that – like us – these writers have all been enticed on when common sense would suggest retreat. If not, there would be no true adventurers. Sometimes – just sometimes – “against my better judgement”, is the best judgement of all.
Coming soon – my afternoon adventure, with no dangers at all and… on the flat, but… oh, so exciting. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
Lots of love