It seems surreal that only three weeks after returning from the Highlands, we sit under lockdown for a virus that no-one can see, taste or feel, until it has its hold upon you. At first I didn’t feel much like writing, but as a long time diarist, I feel that records must be kept.
The weather forecast had been up and down, storm after storm had blown in and out and a virus was on the horizon. It was more than a typical winter week in the Highlands. I’d been invited by the Bassetlaw and Hill and Mountain Club to join their annual meet and headed north under initially sunny skies.
Rain poured as I entered Glasgow and it never ceased. I pulled into the tiny hamlet of Ardbrecknish and ran a gauntlet of monsoon like conditions with my kitbags. The smiles which greeted me were a welcome sight indeed. The club had booked into some local apartments which commanded a wide-sweeping vista across the beautiful Loch Awe.
With little time to waste we set off the next morning hoping to summit Ben Cruachan, Stob Daimh and return via Stop Garbh. Conditions were far from ideal as there had been a huge melt over the past few days and the wind was forecast to be buffeting upon the summits. ‘The best laid plans of mice and men’ were soon changed as we ascended. The snowpack was wet and sugary, the wind picked up as forecast and visibility closed down. We summited Meall Cuanail and decided to retreat. Time was rushing on and a sane decision had to be made. I assessed the shorter and more tempting route down towards the Cruachan reservoir, but a large and unstable cornice blocked our way. We had little choice to head west, down Coire a’ Bhachaill and skirt the contours back home. All this was excellent navigation for some of the less experienced in the party and a great deal of learning was done by all. Just because a day doesn’t go to plan, doesn’t mean that it’s classed as a failure. We can always get something positive from it.
More rain was forecast and I joined Dean and Jim for a shorter day up Cruach na Gearr-choise. We practised navigation to the extreme, honing our well learned skills on the hill. It’s all too easy, passing a qualification or test, to them let the skills wander. Once again, the wind picked up and we had quite a battle returning home through dense forest and babbling burns. I adore trees. The way they pattern sunlight, cast shadows and fill the air with their fragrance. We fought through undergrowth reminiscent of the Guyanese Rainforest, before breaking out into what I can only describe as a Wasteland. I’d recently seen the film ‘1917‘ and can only say that harvesting trees looks similar to a WW1 battlefield. What a scar on the land, all in the name of sustainability.
More poor conditions followed, so Oban Distillery was visited and a well needed day off was enjoyed. The COVID-19 virus then struck cancelling a skiing trip to Italy and a country wide shut down seemed inevitable.
Conditions improved allowing a much better winter ascent of Ben Donich with Dean and Neil. For at least a while, the sun shone and we enjoyed spectacular views well past the Arrochar Alps to Ben Lomond. I did a fair bit of bum sliding as we descended, before returning via a forest track to the van.
We had hoped to climb in Glencoe the following day, but the winds were awful. Imagine four lads with climbing kit in an estate car rocking in the breeze halfway up the Glen. It wasn’t a day for the mountain, but we practised our ice skills at the Ice Factor in Kinlochleven. Not quite the day we expected, but better than sitting around.
Unfortunately my week had to end there as work called. Typically the next day was bright and sunny and I drove home through snow capped and brightly lit Monroes and Corbetts. Work pays towards my trips and I cant alway escape the professional life I need to lead.
So another trip to the Highlands was done. My thanks to everyone at the Bassetlaw Hill and Mountain Club for their kind invitation and time away. Now is the time to #staysafe and fight COVID-19 so that we can all enjoy the mountains again…