IF timing really is everything, then my latest mountain outing took on all the characteristics of a broken clock.
It seemed perfect, the first big snow dump of the season leaving the hills buried under a blanket of white, the forecast for clear conditions for a few days.
Midweek had Saturday a seemingly sure bet, while Sunday was improving fast after an earlier doubt. That suited me. I had family and other matters to take care of so I played safe – or so I thought – and plumped for Saturday and Beinn Teallach.
Normally this Munro is climbed along with its bigger neighbour Beinn a’ Chaorainn, but I was on a Munro tidy-up mission and only needed to climb Beinn Teallach this time round.
I picked the wrong day – and the wrong mountain.
South of the road to Spean Bridge, it was looking good. Trouble is, Beinn Teallach lies on the other side of the tarmac, and there it was a different story. The A86 was the dividing line between clear skies and brilliant sunshine and a huge, stubborn mass of white and grey.
It would have bothered me more had I not been ensconced in my end of year malaise. It happens around the middle of November, regular as clockwork. I hit a wall and everything slows down. It doesn’t pick up again until early January.
I used to worry about it, the fear that my fitness was in decline. Not now. It rolls round as depressingly consistent as the Eurovision Song Contest or Big Brother, an unpalatable annual event I just have to endure. It’s as if my body is saying it needs a break. Understandable, I suppose, considering the unrelenting punishment it has taken for ten months solid.
Just a few weeks ago, I was taking on five and six Munros in a day. Now, with the arrival of deep, soft snow and the burden of heavier gear, one mountain at a time is just fine.
I set off from a busy layby, taking a track through scenes reminiscent of a Christmas card, fir trees hanging heavy with snow, pools of water with an icy crust and a bite in the air. When I emerged from the forest on to open ground the mountains were invisible, hiding somewhere dead ahead under a pall of white. I was still confident it would blow away.
An hour later, trudging uphill blindly through sometimes knee-deep snow, that confidence had been eradicated. It was tough going. Reaching the cairns at the summit was all that mattered. As I neared the top, a figure appeared out of the mist, heading down. A quick chat revealed that he had intended doing both hills but had now abandoned that plan.
Another two kindred spirits, Gary and Danny, were at the summit, the only splashes of colour in this sea of white. They had also decided to cut their losses. A wise decision - Beinn a’ Chaorainn is too good a mountain to waste and the traverse can be tricky in less than perfect visibility.
They were cursing their luck. They had travelled up from Leeds and, like myself, were heartened by the clarity of the views en route, unaware that just across the road lay a different land.
I went home reasonably satisfied however, then spent the whole of Sunday jealously watching everyone’s pictures flowing in, the perfect inversion providing stunning views from all over Scotland, including some from Gary and Danny on Beinn a’ Chaorainn. They had been rewarded handsomely for leaving this wonderful mountain for a better day.
The fact that the Monday also turned out nice only added to my frustration. I did get out on Tuesday, but that was mostly spent doing a photoshoot for the new book on Rannoch Moor, and, beautifully bracing though that was, there was no time for an ascent.
And of course, the next two days just had to be stunning, seeing that I was trapped in the less-than-great indoors. Never mind, I’ll be back out next week – I think we can all guess where the weather is going.