The Simplest of Things

Thu, Oct 8, 2015

Sgurr nan Each

The forecast was good but the hills were clagged with atmospheric drifting vapours, so I just went out for a walk. I didn’t mean to end up on the top of Blaven.

I just started off up the path, maybe heading for An Stac, my thinking ground, or up onto the Clach Glas ridge for some cloud shots but I was just in one of those moods. The Romans called it ‘solvitur ambulando’ and I just wanted to keep walking. Up and up and up.

I had a chat with the John Muir Trust chap working on the superb new path then headed up into the mist. First the big boulder. Should I go left or right, or perhaps even up? Up I went, into thicker and thicker clag. Up slippery scree with day-glo walkers milling around the bottom. From the way they were hunched round each other I suspected they were navigating but I didn’t see them again.

Before I knew it I was at the lunch stone on the bealach, sheltering for a brief moment from the blasting cold wind. Munching on a sweet apple I started ascending again. Through bands of wet, dripping, slippy as soap basalt. Up eroded dirt flanks and perched on airy soaking slabs, with an occasional brightening of the murk which never materialsed into views.

Dripping nose, hat and gloves on, cold smirr coalescing from the clag onto exposed fleece. Autumn.

I was taking a breather from the storm and contemplating food stocks. I had none to speak of, not having intended to come up here. It was then my hand brushed against the rucsack pocket and a rustling sent me looking in curiosity. I pulled out a distingrating bag of nuts and raisins, most of which immediately fell into the mud but I managed to grab a handful and cram them back in. Inside the pocket was another handful staring up at me saying “bet you didn’t expect us!”.

It’s been a long long time since I was so pleased with such a simple thing. Nothing shiny, nothing new, nothing technological. Just a couple of handfuls of food. I smiled and nodded and smiled again, wider this time. I looked up into the scudding mists that were tearing themselves apart on the rough gabbro and laughed. The best pleasures come from the simplest of things. I now had more food than I could have imagined. The day was saved. The summit awaited.

Why I was high on a wild mountain, in wild weather on the very edge of Europe, with an Atlantic storm blowing in, and zero visibility did occur to me. Because I just felt like it was the answer. Not intending to come this far, I had no map, no compass, no GPS and no phone. I did have a stove, some water, a wee container of coffee and a banana. I felt very John Muir-ish. And then I had a bonanza of fruit and nut, most of it on the muddy ground but enough to make me grin like a Cheshire cat.

Brewing up on the summit of Blaven

Eventually I reached the south summit and slithered down the chimney and across to the main top where I brewed up a nice cuppa and munched on my banana. I kept the last mouthful of nuts for the descent.

There was nothing to see but rocks, alpine ladies mantle dancing in the gale and mist, both from the sky and my stove. I had no technology on me apart from a dead phone. It was utterly liberating. Of course, the lack of navigation equipment was offset by the number of times I’d been up here and I knew the route like the back of my hand but still, there was a frisson of excitement and the day felt entirely different from all others over the last few years. I felt like I’d come home. I felt the presence of that youngster who’d first started out on his solitary mountains 30 years ago. It was a wonderful feeling. As Wordsworth said, “wilderness is rich with liberty”.

Autumn light on the west face of Blaven

The descent was in that eery late autumn, halloweeny light that I love. The day begins to end half way through and the mist was adding to the scene. Crags loomed out of the murk, gullies fell into it. I sat below the Great Prow and remembered past rock climbs. I imagined belaying on the sloping, soaking wet shelf then working my way up the face. Would that crack take a runner? Looks exposed. There was no world other than here. The rest was kept out by the mist, the light and my imagination.

Two ptarmigan picked through the lichened rocks. White underbelly and legs their seasonal barometer. I was tempted to follow, see if I could get some pictures but to quote Richard Mabey in ‘Nature Cure’:

Truly wild places should be for the wild creatures that live there, and only secondarily to give us revelatory experiences.

I watched them hop and jump out of sight, ‘bubbling’ to each other.

It was grand day out.

Golden autumn beneath Blaven