THAT first mountain experience is crucial. A stunning day with views forever and you can be hooked for life, a miserable, wet plod up steep slopes with no views and the moment is lost.
So it was fortunate the weather was on its best behaviour this week when I took my six-year-old granddaughter Ava to the summit of her first hill.
Like so many children of her age, she loves the outdoors. We’ve been taking her to Glen Doll regularly since she was two, and she is always happy exploring in the woods, looking for animal tracks, picking up insects and playing in muddy puddles and streams.
She even surprised us once, trying to make a fire by rubbing two sticks together. When asked where she learned that, she replied: “Peppa Pig.”
Now there’s a Panorama investigation I’d like to see – Peppa Pig: The making of an arsonist.
Last year, during a family break in Blair Atholl, I took her to the Cairngorms to see An Lochan Uaine (the little green loch), and then we went further on to have our lunch in Ryvoan Bothy.
I felt she wasn’t old enough to continue on up Meall a’ Bhuachaille, the hill which sits behind the bothy, especially as the weather was a little unpredictable and we had a longer journey home. I promised we would do it next time.
This year we were based in Aviemore and had a week of blue skies, sunshine and little prospect of rain. I wondered if she would still be keen to tackle a hill climb. There was no doubt in her mind.
The Meall a’ Bhuachaille circuit - around eight kilometres, with an ascent of some 500 metres – is ideal for a first climb. There’s also the lochan and the bothy for added interest and good resting spots.
The lochan is a thing of beauty for all ages, but children particularly love the tale of how the waters are so brilliantly green because the fairies washed their clothes there.
We spent around 20 minutes pottering around there and then headed on to the bothy for lunch. We sat outside in the sunshine, with plenty of people and dogs for company.
Ava was surprised to see how quickly some went up the hill path. She loved the fact that they were reduced to mere specks in the distance. She wanted to be a speck as well.
I showed her how to read the map and use the compass. I adjusted my walking poles for her height and we set off up the constantly rising path.
I fully expected to have to retreat. I expected more moaning and whinging and the constant refrain: Are we there yet?
There was some of that, of course, but I was pleasantly surprised at how half-hearted it was, almost as if she felt it was a condition of the contract of being a kid.
The pure joy in her face when she reached the summit cairn was priceless. This was her first mountain and she loved the whole experience. So did I.
Ava may go on to climb many more hills or she may find another pursuit to keep her fit, healthy and happy, but this was a special moment for both of us.
I wrote her name and the date in the bothy book. Funny to think that many years from now she may be back there and remember that first time.