Friends, collies, leather pawed dogs,
Staying at the ski centre was meant to have given us a great advantage, hopping straight out of my van and onto the path which heralded the start of our walk. However, I wasn’t feeling right but couldn’t quite put my paw on what it was. Before we had got to the end of the car part B had turned back and then it dawned on me. My tummy was EMPTY. B had FORGOTTEN to give me my BREAKFAST. Having averted the mood altering drama that could have unfolded, we were then on our way for what promised to be a v. v. v long haul and the possibility of 6, yes SIX more Munros, in an increasingly heavy bag. Today we were heading off to conquer the Munros that sit on the east side of the ski centre by the A93, having done those on the west during our first 2017 weekend. All the skiing tackle, described in my last blogs, littered these hills too but we were soon up above it all, turning South to traverse the grassy flank of Glas Maol’s western aspect, with Creag Leacach, our first target well in view. As we approached grass gave way to rock and, by the time we were flogging up to the summit, my toes were ouching every time I put them to the ground.
Imagine, if you will, a bone china ornament in the shape of a dome. Now pretend it has shattered but a sticky core remains, supporting the top of the dome. All the splintered fragments have tumbled down over each other, sticking to the sides like a skirt fanning out in the breeze. Now magnify the image by about a million times and that’s what my paws were having to contend with as I approached my first summit of the day. Up on top the wind was fresh and strong, though not unwelcome. Bits and pieces of blue were gathering pace and beginning to dominate the sky and, if it weren’t for the cooling properties of a stiff breeze things might have been hoting up just a bit too much.
As we retreated, the grassy prominence of Glas Maol was a blessed relief, much like walking off the chippings of our forecourt and onto the carpeted interior of home. This time our route took us over the top and that was No. 2 in the bag. Now all we had to do was hop up and down a few hundred metres another 4 times, while we marched across another 10 or 12 miles, then we were home and, hopefully, dry. Onward and upward then to the highest point of the day on a northern trajectory. The Cairn of Claise, whose summit cairn seems to grow out of the very wall that crosses it, stands at 1064 metres. From here both Tom Buide and Tolmount, the next two on our itinerary, could be clearly seen beckoning us on. Seen from this elevation, lower in height by more than 100 metres, they looked too diminutive to be Munros but they were in the book and… if they’re in the book… you bag them. What they did seem was a very long way off and far apart. Apparently, this is nothing by Cairngorm standards but I wasn’t going to think about that today. My legs were already feeling tired and we were only half way around.
Now a crow would just have flown east, swooped down 100 metres and landed on old Tom’s cairn. But me and B had to descend further than that as we stuck off in the direction of No. 4 and then consequently, clamper up again to gain the top of the beast. So far the paths had been reasonably dry but I could sense a bog in the depression and what with the achy legs and splintered paws, I couldn’t own up to attacking this part of the walk in a burst of joyous humour. However, we were saved from the worst of the wetland by the services of a half descent path and hence I escaped the indignity of a beautiful tri coloured collie turning into a mono shade of murky brown .
Having introduced ourselves to Mr Buide we were four Munros up and the last two now seemed well within our compass. Setting off again, after the photo shoot, I was light of heart and fleet of foot, geared up for the next descent and ascent, eager to great our penultimate summit in the fashion of, ‘hail the conquering hero’. The journey had got a little more spongy but nothing a meandering path couldn’t skirt around and so, with our 5th in the bag, I felt on top of the world and began to fantasise about my dinner bowl and some lovely zzzzzzzzzzzzs.
Oh, silly old Ben. Who spoke too soon? They say it’s never over until the fat lady sings. Well that could be a very long time in the Munros because you don’t get too many fat ladies up there. Fat ladies not withstanding, we weren’t home and dry at all and had the worst to come. Descending from Tolmount had been a piece of cake and we turned to the west to meet the ridge that would take us towards Carn an Tuirc. All day we had struck out on reasonable paths, not all of them the nice big tracks that I favour, but you could decipher their direction and, with the high cloud base, all had been plain
sailing walking. Just here though, in the hinterland circled by Munros, on the last leg of our trek, we were pathless in a swamp. Me and B were trudging through muck, making for a ridge that seemed to get further and further away. Suddenly, the days endeavours caught up with us in the extra effort this took. From a state of near euphoria we were suddenly overwhelmed by fatigue, as we plunged in bog hole after bog hole, of feet sucking peat.
The hags, that interspersed the bogs, gave more substance to the ground but their classic mounds meant lots of ups and downs, like mini Munros, but more of them. They had another function though and we were soon utilising it, as we slumped down on one for a well earned rest. Sitting here a little forlornly we wondered when would we ever reach the ridge and was that really the next summit way across to the north west. Wondering and munching went hand in hand to refill energy banks that had gone well into overdraft and, though a little snooze would have been a wonderful experience, I was trying to do my bit as buddy to let B know that, when the chips are down, we are in it together. Of course, had there been any real chips about it would have been my head that was down, buddy or no buddy. Though the temptation to linger was compulsive we knew that we had to prize ourselves from our perch and tackle the rest of the pathless moorland, hoping for something dryer and more defined on the ridge, if we ever made it.
In fact, in less than twenty minutes after alighting on the ridge we were capturing the happy faces of four companions at the summit cairn. Then they, in turn, took our mug shot as we looked – for all the world – as if bog, slog and near exhaustion had never been a feature of the walk at all. Well, what would you expect. We had done all six and were smug in our achievement, only short of a bottle of champagne to shake and offer to the gods in a lava of fizzing celebration.
That may have been a tad premature though, because it took us over an hour to follow a delightful path, descending by one of a clutch of streams that ran off the mountain side into Cairnwell burn, in the glen below. Tumbling waters, gurgled and splashed as they gyrated and diverted over and around rocks in the river bed, like gymnasts going through their paces. They had an energy to spur us on to what was very nearly the end of our walk, at the car park 2 kilometres north of the ski centre.
Now the sad truth of the matter was that my van was still at the skil centre. There really was nothing for it but to put two paws in front of each other, with the other two behind also going hammer and tongs, for the extra half hour it took to follow the road back up the hill. The main road through from Blairgowrie to Braemar was something of a culture shock after the peace of the hills. A constant stream of those noisy four wheeled things sped past us at a rate of knots. However, they were nothing compared to the vehicles that were two wheels short of a chassis. I started to tense as their mounting volume approached till as they past us, and several cars, in a roaring crescendo of turbo charged testosterone, my nerves were shot to bits. Half an hour can be a v. v. v long time in the life of 3 year old border collie with a nervous disposition.
Of course we did get back to my van eventually and the sight of it (though it might be considered a little tight of space in the sleeping department) was – after what I had just endured – pure heaven on earth. 9.5 hours after nearly not getting my breakfast I was tucking into dinner with a gargantuan appetite and, before the 10 hours were up, guess where I was?
Oh dear, you know me too well know.