Published 22nd July 2022, 08:27

    A NIGHT foray in the Cairngorms 26 years ago, setting off just after midnight from Glen Feshie to bag Monadh Mor and Beinn Bhrotain.

    By the time we reached the featureless expanse of the Moine Mhor, the rising half-light we had enjoyed on the initial ascent had been snuffed out. Now we were securely locked in a grey room.

    We managed to locate the insignificant Munro Top of Tom Dubh and were confident we could navigate easily from here. Two hours later and we were still going uphill. It seemed endless.

    Eventually we found ourselves on a high ridge with a good path along the crest. It didn't feel right. Somehow, we had managed to walk over the side of Monadh Mor and up on to Sgor an Lochain Uaine.

    We made the most of our error by taking in Cairn Toul but despite this probably being a far better walk than the one we had set out to do, we walked away with a distinct feeling of failure, one that I just couldn't shake. So much so, that I made the same journey a few days later to rectify that mistake.

    Sometimes that single failure will linger in the mind far longer than a series of successes and, until it is put right, it will continue to gnaw away at you. And it's a more common phenomenon than you may imagine. A member of our club revisited Ben Avon at the weekend, almost a year to the day since he had an accident there which kept him laid up for months. Although he had reached the summit that day, he refused to count it as completed and was determined it would be one of the first hills on his to-do list when he recovered.

    One friend insisted on returning to a certain peak in the Ben Alders as soon as possible because she wasn't convinced she had hit the summit first time. It turned out she had, but she couldn't relax until it was confirmed. Another remained agitated for years after he realised he hadn't made it to the correct summit on Ben Lui. To be fair, we didn't help by constantly reminding him of that glaring miss.

    I headed into Glen Tilt the other day with a similar mission, an exorcise regime aimed at making it to the top of Beinn Mheadhonach. I had been forced to turn back just below the final ascent of this Corbett in February, the combination of deep powder snow and heavy winter gear proving too much for a post-Covid body.

    Walks like this always start with a slight feeling of trepidation, the thought that you may fail again very much to the fore. But as the morning brightened, so did the mood. The water of River Tilt sparkled as it ran under a succession of old stone bridges with the sun starting to break through and the cloud caps lifting to reveal all the surrounding summits with their reflective bands of screes.

    Beinn Mheadhonach is a long whaleback squeezed between the deep clefts of Gleann Diridh and Gleann Mhairc and the summit is always further away than you expect. The few members of our group who did manage to keep going in the snow took a commendable four and a half hours to hit the summit. This time, I was on the top in less than three, a similar result to that of my last successful visit 20 years ago.

    There are two cairns vying for the highest point; the second, smaller one is reputed to be the winner, but from either viewpoint, as is so often the case, the other appears higher.

    The advantage with steep slopes is that doesn't take long to drop down, and the same applied to the controlled slog up the opposite side of the lazy waters of the Allt Mhairc to Braigh nan Creagan Breac.

    The glittering silver cap on Carn a' Chlamain was beckoning, a shining jewell standing out in the broad expanse of the more muted plateau. The walk across the boggy channel was dry underfoot, the heat now gathering momentum. 

    The lively winds that have been a burden on the higher reaches in recent weeks were most welcome for once. Despite the beating sun, it had actually felt chilly at times on the final push up Beinn Mheadhonach. Sitting on Carn a' Chlamain's summit pile, I could see the heat pulsing from the rocks. Five hours in and I still hadn't met another soul, strange in such fine conditions. It was almost disappointing when another walker appeared on the horizon as I started down.

    The aesthetic brutality of the track heading south is offset by having Beinn a' Ghlo as a constant companion, its sheer bulk and muscled slopes more imposing from this angle.

    The wind was missed in the glen, the pace slowing as the heat intensified but the hard work had been done. The exorcism of Beinn Mheadhonach had been completed.