Psycho-analysing a hillwalker


Kate was reading psychology at St Andrews University, she told us.

She’d always loved the hill walking life and belonged to a little club run out of the uni.

She’d taken a few weeks off to do a sponsored charity walk, over all the Munros, in a one-er! “It’s not a Hamish Brown job,” she confessed, “I’m using a little V.W. sleeper van to get me from range to range. But, then my time’s strictly limited and it’ll still be a big achievement if I accomplish it.”

We agreed wholeheartedly. Not only that, she’d brought a bottle of whisky, and Sandy was teetotal.

My day’s interests lay with the Lancet edge of Sgorr Iutharn and the three hills associated with it. Kate, too, was going to do the same as me, but with the addition of Carn Dearg, behind us. I set off with the sound of the Allt a’Chaoil Reidhe, happily singing in my ears.

Though the dawn had promised so much, I was annoyed to see thick cloud rolling down from both Ben Alder and Sgorr Iutharn; was it to be yet another day of compass work and stunning views of boots and blades of grass? The lower few hundred feet of the Lancet Edge are comprised of steep, rock studded grass, but by getting my head down I was soon on the broken slabs and ribs of the arête. Like the Leacas, across the Bealach Dubh, the way up is easy, yet far more interesting than a simple walk.

The mist came to rob me of any open views, yet every now and then it would shred momentarily to tease me with a fleeting glimpse into the depths below, once it even let me gaze down to the corrie floor below the Diollaid a’ chairn, from whence, like the dark eye of an ogre, Loch an Sgoir glared back at me, black, menacing!

And then, before I’d hardly gotten started, it was all over. There was the little cairn; I was standing on the arrow’s tip with grass ahead, and beyond, a gently rising field of boulders.

With compass in hand I steered a course through the fog to the summit of Geal Charn. Nothing to write home about, except that the breeze was beginning to stiffen. I didn’t hang about. A well defined grassy ridge with an obvious path had me down at the next bealach in no time.

Aonach Beag, the next summit west, is another easy climb, though made the more interesting by virtue of its stonier stairway. For a short distance the path traverses just below the skyline, above steep Choire a’ Charra bhig. I could see nothing, but, through the thick smoke of this deep cauldron, there drifted up the chatter of the water that rushes down to join the Uisge Labhair.

There is only just room enough at the summit for a cairn; almost immediately I was plunging down again, this time above the corrie of Lochan a’ Charra Mhoir. Alas, unlike Lochan an Sgoir, this lochan chose to stay in hiding. The stony path wove itself around the horse shoe ridge of Beinn Eibhinn, who’s beautiful cliffs fell away unseen below my feet to the north.

Summit visited I turned and retraced my steps to the cairn on Aonach Beag. Here I almost went astray! I set off downwards through the gloom, but within seconds I had the feeling that something was amiss, that I was going in the wrong direction; I sensed something unfamiliar in the grass.

Best check the compass. But there was no need. Suddenly, and for no more than two or three seconds, the cloud rent asunder to reveal the ridge below. It was broad and green. The ridge I’d come up was narrow and rocky. I was heading down north instead of east!

No harm done. I was soon racing down to the bealach below Geal Charn. By now the wind was blowing a gale, it was freezing; I was glad to be descending.

But not so quick! At the saddle, just below the path, were some big boulders. One of them was lilac! And it could talk! “Come and share my rock, Frank.”

It was Kate. We huddled together, grateful for the shelter, and shared a sandwich and a drink as we compared notes on the day so far. Kate seemed a little dispirited. What with the biting wind and the cloud, she wasn’t sure that she wanted to do the entire round that day.

Yet even as we chatted we became aware that the cloud was beginning to thin. The steep western flanks of Geal Charn suddenly came into view, and stayed in view. The Coire a’ Charra Bhig, below us opened up its steep grassy slopes, green in the way that only much rain can make them.

“That’ll be my way off, I think. I fancy a walk over the Bealach Dubh,” I told Kate.

It was a steep descent on wet grass, and then a rough, pathless struggle along the playful feeder burn into the pass. At one point I went down into a hidden, goo filled bog hole, up to my knees. Somewhere else, whilst testing the depth of a suspicious looking peat hag that barred my way, I was astonished to find, on retrieving my deeply buried trekking pole, that its basket had been sucked clean off by the thick black ooze. I usually have to hammer the things off!

When I eventually reached the path from Ossian, the sun was shining fiercely and the only cloud in an otherwise pristine sky, was plonked fat and square over Aonach Beag’s crown. Looking west I could see Loch Ossian, stretching away like a huge blue banana. Beyond, far across Rannoch Moor, Buachaille Etive Mor, rose like a Matterhorn and the Aonach Eagach’s notched ridge ripped the sky like a saw.

The climb up and over the bealach was the last exertion of the day, but it was easy and short lived and the waters of Allt ‘Bhealach Dubh, offered me both refreshment and joyous company.

For the rest of the day the sun shone and made the walk back to the bothy a pleasant afternoon’s stroll. Above me, on my right, the dark, waterfall riven crags of Ben Alder’s northern corrie towered skywards. Across the glen, Sgor Iutharn rose sharply and stonily towards this morning’s first summit.

There came a point in the path when I recognised my own footprints going in the opposite direction. The circle was closed, another half hour would see me back at the bothy enjoying a much longed for brew.

About an hour and a half later, Kate burst into the room and flung her back pack down by her sleeping bag. She was obviously done in, yet she still looked happy, and well pleased with herself.

After I’d left her at the col, she’d gone on to Beinn Eibhinn and then back tracked to drop down to the Diollaid a’ chairn, for Carn Dearg. “Where’s my dinner?” she demanded playfully.