I WAS under the snow-streaked summit tors of Ben Avon taking pictures with my phone when it started ringing.
I told the caller: “Hold on, I’ll ask,” and then turned to my four stunned walking partners to pose the question: “This guy wants to know if anyone here has had an accident recently.”
That brought hoots of laughter. I had planned to then advise him: “No, but if you could you give us a few more hours we might have some business for you,” but he had rung off.
It appears there really is no escape from these phone pests. Personally, I blame Sergei and Co. Life was so much more simples before meerkats were invented. Phone coverage in the mountains is patchy but these people can seemingly reach the places where even the emergency services can struggle to make contact.
Normally the phone would have been buried deep in my bag, switched off to save the battery for emergencies. But my camera had been playing up in the cold and the phone was called on for picture duty.
The irony of the call wasn’t lost on us however. We were sheltering behind the rocks on the plateau before taking the plunge back out into the icy, blasting wind. The wind and snow swept plateaux of the Cairngorms are places where accidents can, and do, often happen.
We had taken five hours to reach Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe, the main summit of the sprawling, multi-topped Ben Avon, the most easterly Munro in the range.
Our plan had been to also climb its neighbour, Beinn a’ Bhuird, by dropping back down to the gap known as The Sneck and then heading west to the summit. But the wind was cutting across with an increased ferocity and Beinn a’ Bhuird’s heights lay invisible under thick cloud.
The wind would be even worse up there, the snow deeper, and we would need to navigate with pinpoint accuracy to pick out the small cairn - if it wasn’t buried beneath feet of snow - in this vast swathe of featureless ground.
But the main factor that made up our minds to leave it for another day was the cornice, the big overhang of snow which was blocking the exit to the ridge. It may have been okay, but judging by the depth of the snow pelmets perched precariously for about a mile above our approach walk, we felt discretion was the better part of valour.
Ben Avon and Beinn a’ Bhuird are not hills for the casual walker. They are a long way in - the circuit trip to climb them from Keiloch off the Deeside road is around 25 miles - so you are unlikely to find them swarming with people like many of the honeypot Munros.
The good new is that like so many of the walks in this part of the country, the paths are superb. On a long summer’s day this is a round to be savoured.
I have been in this way half a dozen times and I never tire of it. The continuing changes in the landscape makes sure you are never bored.
There’s the early approach through fields of green and mixed woodland, then the darker pine forest with its eerie silence, then open moorland before the path takes you up a delightful little gully to the remains of Slugain Lodge. From the confines of the ruin, you emerge into a vast landscape of sculpted cliffs and soaring slopes, an amphitheatre of rock magnificence that reminds you of the insignificance of man.
It’s a landscape pitted with hidden howffs, giant boulders and a wealth of myth and legend. The disappointment of having had to curtail our walk was tempered by the fact that another visit is not too long away. Simples.