The great thing about heading for the hills is that even your failures can turn in great days.
Last weekend I was bound for Lochnagar, to the Gelder Shiel for the area meeting of the MBA. You’ll all be absolutely riveted to hear the minutia of bothy maintenance and administration issues we discussed on Saturday afternoon (to be fair, no-one actually fell asleep this time), so I’ll pass quickly on to the evening.
Which turned out to be rather a jolly one. The craic is always good at these meetings: catching up on old friends, gossiping about friends not there, enlarging on obsessions, swapping hill and bothy yarns and generally (and increasingly, as the cumulative effects of those modest libations take hold) blethering a whole lot of drivel.
Enlivening proceedings further was the music. These days there’s always an MP3 player about, with someone else’s music selection to slag off, but the make-up of the Eastern Area MBA is such that live music is almost guaranteed. This night Bill was there with his guitar and huge repertoire of songs, John Gifford from Callater can play guitar and sing some great antipodean songs, Hugh and Marlene from Faindouran both sing and Hugh plays guitar and a mean moothie, Ian Shand had his pipes with him, and even I got to squeak away on the penny whistle. Stan sings a great folk song or three, as does Kenny Freeman – and the rest of us all make varying qualities of noise as chorus singers.
It was all just so damned fine that I’ve no idea what time I went to bed, nor what time I ruined an already tired OS map of the area by throwing up on it, but I do know it was hardly past 7am when that heartless troublemaker Neil Findlay came in from his tent to fling his dog Alfie onto my head and tell me it was time I was awake. Thanks pal. Feeling like death would have been an improvement.
No point in trying to get back to sleep though. I’d already decided Sunday would be a hill day and the cold but clear weather outside was irresistible, even in my tender state, and after rummaging about to find some food I could get down and pack a rucksack, I was heading off for the hill.
I wasn’t, initially, very successful. Suffering more from lack of sleep than hangover, I’d only been on the go for about half an hour and just a little past the end of the landy track when I stopped at a large, flat rock and succumbed to this temptation of the only dry area in sight to lie down and doze for a time, enough clothes on to fend off the chilly air, drifting in and out of consciousness to the sough of the wind and the chuckling of grouse.
Only slightly refreshed after half an hour of this, I was still moving with an ‘auld mannie’ slowness which gradually convinced me that the original plan of climbing up the north side of Lochnagar’s corrie was never going to happen. I was too slow, too hazy in the head and could see that the wind was blowing fiercely up high, fresh snow smoking off the ridges.
There followed one of those swithery days which saw me lunch at the outlet from Loch Lochnagar, admiring the cliffs, still winter-clad with a rim of large cornices. Looking round to the eastern lobe of the corrie there’s a great plume of spindrift clouding across the blue sky.
Leaving there I think that rather than retrace my steps I’ll cut across to the landy track that comes over from Loch Muick, but my trail stays high and gradually starts gaining height as I’m drawn towards the white rocky cone of Meickle Pap. Foreshortening does its usual trickery and I decide I can at least get up there. And of course I can, steepenings and rocks adding occasional interest, with snow varying between soft and deep to crusty but taking a kicked step, until finally I’m staggering up the final few feet, battered by a wind that’s increased markedly with height. The views are tremendous though, with the awesome sight of Lochnagar convincing me I’d climbed the right hill after all – no views like this from Lochnagar itself.
The day hadn’t stopped giving, with the path down from the Pap giving me my first sight of the year of a lizard. Below the snowline, but not by much, it was soaking up the sunshine when my arrival caused it enough fright to cross a patch of snow to get to cover.
So, yeah: hungover, blown sideways, walking dead slow and stop, failed to climb my intended hill… but, hell, I was happy. A good hill day.