a night on the mountain

Sun, Aug 24, 2014

It seems summer has fled for another year up here. The rowans are heavy with berry and the bracken is brown and wilting. The meadowsweet has turned the colour of rusted iron and there’s an ochre tint to the landscape, blotched with the purple of heather. So before the snow comes I thought I’d scratch a long held itch to camp on the summit of Blaven. Before, in the words of that worthy, self styled average mountaineer, Quintin Hogg, my wine would run to ruin.

I kept the best wine till the last, only to find that I had lost my capacity for enjoyment

So yesterday afternoon I headed up that oh so familiar path and into blasted rain and lowering black clouds. Damn the forecast! Up into the coire, load up with water and make my way to the south summit, as intermittent heavy rain and low cloud drifted round the crags. Nothing to see, so keep moving.

I dumped the gear on the south top, amid unfamiliar surroundings. The clag made the main summit look vertical and alpine and the chimney was soaking and slippy. I wondered how long the big block at the bottom would stay in place as the gully beneath seemed to be much the worse for winter wear. If the big chockstone goes, the link between the summits will be raised a few notches. On the other side I spotted a cracking wee spot just big enough for the tent so it was back to the south top and haul the gear over. Not easy in the confines of the narrow route through the cliffs but once I had the tent up and sheltered from another icy blast of cold rain and cloud, the evening light showed the Red Cuillin in their wonderfully raw and rocky state.

Then it clagged in permanently and I went to bed around 8pm. Cold seeped into my wet feet but once snuggled up in the winter bag I was warm as toast, listening to music until half ten, when there wasn’t a sound to be heard all night. The northwester was being shunted over the summit by the vast west face and I heard nothing all night. Until I was woken by the rising sun.

I leant out of the tent to see the eastern world awake under a cold clear sky

and I made preparations for a snack from a very beautiful breakfast bar.

Once out, barefoot and windproofed I ran around like a dafty, whooping with delight as the day took shape and wind destroyed my phone. When I turned it on it had full battery. After literally 2 minutes at the summit in the cold nor’ wester, it died. A few minutes in my pocket brought it back to life with full battery again!

I just couldn’t believe the spot I’d got. It had been too clagged in to see much when I’d pitched but the morning was clear and golden and the Atlantic stretched out before me in a vast blue challenge to the imagination.

The Isle of Eigg came to life as I lay and contemplated this and that and not much else, watching the steam lazily meander from the pot, like a genie exploring new surroundings.

The golden dawn brought out the detail in things around me and it was so peaceful to just lie there and look.

Of course the Black Cuillin couldn’t be ignored, even though they shouted loud and clear that no light would soften their manly outlines.

Unlike the Red Cuillin who couldn’t get enough of the morning light.

Porridged up and full of soup I wandered for an hour up and down the mountain slopes, sometimes standing at the top of the west face and feeling the cold icy blast come down from the north, others, walking very slowly through a calm and completely silent world of rocks, ravens and a wonderful tiny wee shrew. It ignored me as it quested for food, leaping from tussock to rock to fissure. It’s wee snout sniffing this way and that and its wee back legs splayed out almost horizontal when it leaped down the slope. I glanced up at the sudden sound of slipping scree as a wild and scraggy sheep made a sharp exit on the south summit.

On the way back up to the tent I spotted movement in the rocks on the edge of the precipice and there, looking at each other in newly whitened legwear and emerging downy feathers were two ptarmigan. Winterising.

Eventually, at 9am I packed up and got ready to head down.

As the clouds began to boil round the summit.

On the way down I counted 21 folk heading up. It was a bank holiday after all. At the burn crossing the heat of the sun was too much and I had a very cold dook and another look at my home for a night.

It’s not a bad place!