WELL that was a week to remember: Five days on the hills, 15 Munros climbed and a friend’s ‘compleation’ party.
It’s amazing how much you can achieve when the weather behaves. Four great days out of five in Scotland isn’t a bad return.
I started the ball rolling on Monday with the four Ben Cruachan Munros, the early mists rolling away to leave the peaks clear by lunchtime. Next day the sunshine stayed the duration, four more ticks on a ten-hour traverse of the Bridge of Orchy mountains.
Three days later, the fly in the meteorological ointment. A promising forecast failed to materialise, the front moving in faster and fiercer than predicted, and an adventure on the Mamlorn mountains turned nasty.
Still, all was soon forgiven 24 hours later with a stunning outing in the Cairngorms for a final Munro party on Sgor Gaoith, guard of honour, piper and Champagne for 40 with the sun splitting the sky. And as if to make up for its earlier treachery, the weather the following day exceeded expectations for a sensational round of the four Beinn Dearg peaks near Ullapool.
Meat Loaf was happy to settle for two out of three, so four out of five would probably have made him explode (I’ll leave you to decide whether that would be a good or a bad thing).
Despite that, there’s a kind of perverse argument that the most satisfying day out was the worst one. I know what you’re thinking: Is there no pleasing this man? Four days with views all the way to the horizon and conditions pleasant enough to sit and drink it all in has got to be better than one involving a battle against driving wind and rain on mist-shrouded slopes.
Of course it is, and when we pulled into the car park in Glen Lochay on Friday we were hoping for several hours of decent weather to allow us to reach the summits of Creag Mhor and Beinn Heasgarnich before conditions deteriorated.
We knew we would get wet at some point, but a soaking on the way down was a price we were happy to pay. We had expected clear skies at the start but the cloud was low and brooding. By the time we were halfway up Creag Mhor, a fine drizzle was being whipped across the hillsides by a unrelenting wind.
Leaving the summit of this mountain needs care. It is guarded by a line of steep crags, and you have to outflank them before descending. We could barely see six feet ahead, and, as so often happens when playing safe, we over-compensated on our line along the ridge.
There’s no path at this point, but we thought we were on course for Beinn Heasgarnich. We were actually adrift in a sea of grey, every blurred rise or drop an enigma to navigation. We were being battered by the wind and the rain was showing no mercy. Everything was sodden, water running everywhere, so we decided to cut our losses and leave Beinn Heasgarnich for another day.
We took a reading and headed down. A few things happened in quick succession. First, the compass did a complete spin. Then I saw a huge mountain wall on our right - it didn’t equate to the map. Then, as we dropped below the cloud, the kicker; a big loch far in the distance.
Somehow we had become turned round in the grey and were blindly heading down the wrong glen. We readjusted and ploughed back into the mist, sticking rigidly to our compass line. An hour later and we were back on the inward track.
We had managed to circuit Creag Mhor. I still have no real idea exactly how we managed it, but it seemed we had overshot our original descent and, as often happens in a terrain with no landmarks, a miniscule mistake had multiplied rapidly. The relief that followed our escape from the grey was immense.
Running around chains of mountains in fine weather may be the preference, but you can’t top the feeling of satisfaction from taking on the elements and emerging unscathed.