I AM always drawn to photographs from bygone days in the mountains. One fleeting moment, never to be repeated, captured in a split second.
These snapshots can reveal so many fascinating stories, as I discovered again from this picture of two climbers during an ascent of Buachaille Etive Mor, published in The Munro Society’s 2016 Journal.
The young lady in the photograph is Nan Rae, then Miss A. D. Miller, one of the oldest members of the society. It was taken in July, 1954. It particularly resonated with me because that was the month and year of my birth, and on the mountain which has played such a huge role in my love affair with Scotland’s peaks.
Every year, we meet in early July for a walk up the Buachaille. This started as a birthday celebration, morphed into a testing ground for potential new club recruits, and then tragically changed again, after the death of our friend, Trevor Walls, on the mountain.
Even now, the walk continues to evolve. For many people it has become a touchstone for their own memories of great times and loss, so this Sunday, for the 20th year running, we will head up the Buachaille.
There will be the ritual pouring of a dram into the stream, the moment of reflection at the col, then the ascent to the main summit, Stob Dearg. If the weather is favourable, some may continue along the whole ridge. For others, it will be a case of straight up and down for a drink at the Kingshouse.
Looking back through the photos of the walk reveals an ever-changing cast. There are the veterans who have been there from the beginning and others who feel the need to check in and pay their respects whenever they can.
And there are always fresh faces, some experienced but new friends, some rookies. The Buachaille will forever be a magnet for new recruits. It is a real mountain, in stature and in shape. If you don’t fall in love with this mountain, there’s no hope for you.
It’s one of the reasons I find this picture of Nan so fascinating. While I was arriving, screaming no doubt, into this world, here was a young woman whose Munro journey had just started, wearing that expression of serenity so many hillgoers can relate to.
Pick any decade. The meddling of man aside, the mountain and the view will likely look the same, it’s just the people, the styles and the gear that differ.
We all record our pictures for posterity at nature’s landmarks, a long line of different faces with the same backdrop going back hundreds of years. We will all fade away but we are captured forever in that moment. We may all travel different roads at different times in the mountains, but at some point, like this picture shows, our paths will cross in one way or another.
Nan’s love affair with the mountains started when she read an article in the Sunday Post in the 1940s by the legendary Davie Glen, in which he told of his plans for a night walk up Lochnagar and invited anyone who wished to join him. Nan took up the offer and a long life in the hills was under way.
She honed her skills in the Perth section of the Junior Mountaineering Club of Scotland, and in 1954 she began her quest to climb all the Munros (there were 277 listed at that time). She ‘compleated’ on An Teallach in 1960 to become Munroist No.39, a feat which was recorded in the Perthshire Advertiser with a headline typical of the era: Girl Mountaineer’s Notable Record.
Nan was a member of the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club, and was the second woman to to all the Furths (the 3,000ft peaks in England, Wales and Ireland). Nan is still an active member of The Munro Society, and this remarkable lady can still manage to walk up her local hill most days.
And her favourite mountain? The Buachaille, of course.