I LAY in bed listening to the rain pounding on the roof of the remote hostel at Alltbeithe with a mixture of satisfaction and relief.
The satisfaction lay in the fact that we had got the weather window spot on for a Munro-hunting expedition into Glen Affric.
The relief came from the knowledge that just 48 hours earlier we had come within a whisker of pulling the plug on the trip which would have meant missing out on two fabulous days.
The plan had been drawn up eight weeks ago. We would leave the Cluanie Inn around lunchtime on the An Caorann Mor path, traverse Mullach Fraoch-Choire and then drop down to Alltbeithe for the night.
Next day we would head up Coire na Cloiche and then go our separate ways – some for Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, some for Mullach na Dheiragain and An Socach, and some for all three – and then return to the hostel for the two and a half hour walk-out.
It looked good on paper. But then it always looks good on paper. The problem is when reality arrives in the shape of dark, thundery clouds and unpredictable conditions.
We have been spoiled recently by a spell of clear, dry weather, so I suppose it seems churlish to moan about some much-needed rainfall. But for a trip of this length, a little more certainty is needed, and there was little sign of any late last week. The initial forecast for the middle of this week was settled. By Friday that had changed to heavy, constant rain. We decided it might be best to call off.
I was due to do the Black Mount traverse on Saturday, but there was no point in doing a classic ridge walk in rain and wind with no views. Instead we did a shorter day on Stob a’ Choire Odhair and Stob Ghabhar, and, although we did get wet, it was only for a couple of hours in the middle of the day, not the constant deluge that had been forecast. There was even sunshine and blue skies on the way out.
Maybe that influenced my change of heart the following day - that and the fact the forecast had changed again. We now had a 20 per cent of cloud-free tops on Tuesday and 60 per cent on Wednesday. Not bad odds - the big walk was back on.
The Clash nailed it: Should we stay or should we go? It’s always harder to make a judgement call for a group. Make a decision to quit too soon, and you can be sure conditions will improve; stick to your guns however and there’s the chance everyone will end up hating you.
In the end, we agreed unanimously to take our chances. There would be rain, but there was a suggestion of enough windows to crawl through without getting horrendously wet. In our favour, there were no river crossings; against, the ground would be saturated. And those familiar with An Caorann Mor will know it’s not a pleasant prospect in the wet.
The five-minute showers were arriving on a conveyor belt during the morning and we sat it out until 12.30. No sooner had we got going when the rain came on, and stayed on, for around 20 minutes. Then all of a sudden it stopped, and the peaks started appearing one by one. By the time we approaching the summit ridge of Mullach Fraoch-choire, we had 360 degree visibility. It stayed with us all the way to the hostel.
The grey closed in around 9pm and the rain hammered down for the next six hours. We didn’t care – we had made it in relatively dry with views we hadn’t thought possible. By the time we rose at 6am, the rain had cleared. An hour later and we had perfect visibility all round. The way over to Dheiragain from the col was obvious, the continuation to Ceathreamhnan required the shedding of layers and waterproofs as it hotted up.
All that remained was little An Socach, the comma is a very long sentence, and then a drop back to the hostel for a cup of tea and change of socks before the inevitable bog walk out. If this was 20:60 vision then I would be happy to take it every time.