On the hopelessness of trying not to climb a hill

Apologies to regular inhabitants of the ukbothies forum, but I just came across this wee story I posted on there two or three years back and, in my own modest way, rather liked it. So here it is, for your delectation. A wee bit out of season – it was written in late spring – but the hills are familiar and will have snow on them soon enough anyway. So here goes…

With that well-known gang of ne’er-do-wells, better known as ‘the usual suspects’, all away to Staoinaig, Friday night in Bob Scott’s was a lonely affair, although quite toasty, because the bothy was still noticeably warm from Neil and Walt’s Thursday night blaze, and I had a couple of firelogs to save going looking for my coal.
My plans had been vague, but were centred on the presense of an unusual amount of snow for the time of year and a forecast that said the freezing level would be around 3000ft. Perhaps, all going well, I might go into Coire Sputain Dearg and climb one of the easy gullies. Or perhaps not: did I feel up to it?
Still unsure on Saturday morning, with a forecast promising evil weather in the afternoon, I packed crampons and a single axe and set off. Enthusiasm was low, but I supposed I had to do something.
Even in the lower reaches of Sputain Dearg I could see that… well I could see that I couldn’t see very much at all: the cloud was low and obliterating all but the lower part of the cliffs. Good enough for me, thinks I, I’ll abandon that plan and just go up McDui – haven’t been there in, oh, maybe a month or two.
But the danger of not having a hard and fast plan is that you haven’t got any hard and fast willpower either. I got a few hundred feet up Sron Riach, looked at the cloud coming down to meet me, thought about the Grey Man, thought (more practically) about spending the rest of the day feeling my way by compass and seeing nothing but stones, and thought: sod it. Plan two squirmed out of.
However Calvinism will out, even despite atheism, and I knew it was way too early to go back to the bothy. So perhaps if I just, instead of going back down the path, dropped down off the side of Sron Riach and over the burn to go up Carn a Mhaim… The top was in cloud and therefore excited no enthusiasm, but I’d always promised myself a close look at the east-facing slabs.
And that’s what I did: I traversed round under the slabs, had a look at (not very) possible (and too short to be worthwhile) routes, found a wee corner out of the wind to have some grub, and traversed further round to join the voie normale up the hill. And that’s where it might have ended, but the sun came out, you see, and I was shamed (Calvinism again) by the sight of two people heading upward and, well, even if the top was in cloud, most of the way up was clear…
So yes, despite turning back twice, I was heading upwards again, and kept going upwards until I reached the cairn erected on top of most hills as a sign to Munro baggers that they have to stop climbing and start going down again. And I did go down, but – well, the cloud had lifted, and that ridge along the length of Carn A Mhaim is so nice, and maybe I could just do that and drop into the Lairig and walk back that way.
But of course it doesn’t work that way, because once you start along the ridge you see the big beetling mass of McDui, now in sunshine, lovely white snow on top, and you think, well, it wouldn’t hurt, would it?
Well it would, and it did: you have to be a lot fitter than me for climbing big beetling masses without it hurting. But, oh, the views: to the front, alternating between lovely granite boulders and crisp snow, and when you turn, that peerless panorama from Devil’s Point (with snowy Bhrotain and Monadh Mhor behind) round the coires and peaks of Cairn Toul, Angel’s Peak and Braeriach. Heaven under a blue sky!
And that was it. a chat at the summit cairn with a bloke and his 12-year-old son, and plunging down through soft plateau snow and over to the top of Sron Riach, standing on a boulder perched on the very brink of the precipices above still frozen Lochain Uaine. Down again that knee-knackering descent (pausing to direct the binocculars into Sputain Dearg, where I see a huge horizontal crevasse splitting the gully I’d planned on climbing) and the long trudge (then cycle) back to Scottie’s, much anticipated dinner and a fire that was to consume numerous logs and a bucket of coal (and keep me awake with the heat half the night), all the time wondering: Aye, it had been a great day, but how come I’d decided twice not to climb a hill and still ended up doing two Munros?

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3 Responses to On the hopelessness of trying not to climb a hill

  1. “Well, it wouldn’t hurt, would it?” Now where have I heard that before!
    The pull of the high places, just got to be done at times despite best intentions to do otherwise.
    Fine wee tale Neil that I’m sure has been repeated many times.

  2. RickyM says:

    Hi Neil

    Fine wee tale.

    The best cloud inversion days and brocken spectre sights I have seen on the hill have been when the tops were clagged in on the way up and I couldnae be arsed continuing upward but continued anyway. Sure have a full memory of rain lashed cairns with no view at all tho.

    R

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