Endings and Beginnings, March 2018.
The sign at the start of Glendessary
The wind roared in the trees drowning out any noise of traffic on the nearby road, airborne crows tumbled and wheeled as they struggled to maintain any kind of direction as they sought shelter in the leafless trees, the rain coursed across the field in sheets bringing a softer focus to the grey landscape.
It hit my face and ran down inside my waterproof making me shiver, my gloved hand held onto a strap with a grim determination, my booted feet shuffled to maintain balance against the weight I was holding, across from me my nephew held the opposite end of the strap, between us my mothers, his granmothers, wicker coffin was held above a gaping hole in the ground awaiting the final words of the vicar.
My two sons stood at the head of the coffin in a similar position, a sombre day in fitting weather for a meadow burial.
The words spoken, the coffin lowered, we all took turns at placing some Fife earth in the grave, dirt from Betty’s home county and country, a reminder of her roots as we laid her to rest in a field a long way from her home.
She would have liked this, a simple ceremony in an unmarked grave in a natural field, never a woman for ostentatious displays, surrounded in the end by nature and natural flowers we have yet to plant.
This event still dominates a great deal of my thoughts and emotions some eight weeks later, it creeps up on me and takes me unawares, her corporeal presence gone but the memories of her as a mother all the more vivid for it.
I looked up at the stars still in the sky above and thought of her as I made my way into Glendessary from the end of the Loch Arkaig road, a 21 mile long single track that started at the Commando Memorial above Spean Bridge. My first solo trip of the year, time at last to find space in my head to reflect on many things. My thoughts leapt from my loss and went back to the last time I had walked this track some ten years previously, again I was on my own, a beautiful cold March morning, the river that hand railed the road towards the lodge was frozen then, the ice sparkling in the morning sun. No change in that respect, the ice lined the side of the sluggish water, the boulders wore a hat of snow covered ice, this time however the sky was grey, the landscape muted, sounds muffled, it was no warmer, the grass was frost covered and sparkled as a rent in the clouds let in some early morning sun, I smelt the herd of deer before I saw them, they scattered in a leisurely fashion as I breached their zone of comfort. I reached Glendessary lodge and struck out north to climb into the the wide col between Fraoch Bheinn and Druim a’ Chuirn. Snowflakes started to fall leisurely around me, drifting down in a gentle and unhurried fashion.
Suddenly I had other things to think about, my thoughts turned to the task I had set my sights on and my own personal safety, the sky was heavy and glowering but the forecast I had checked yesterday had been generally OK, there were however Red and Amber warnings of snow forecast for eastern Scotland, squalls being forced in by a Siberian front dubbed ” The Beast from the East”. Driving in to the road end the night before to ensure an early start I had been unable to get an updated forecast, my current position being in one of the more remote areas of Scotland, a place where mobile phone signal is non existent never mind 3G network coverage.
Looking towards the rough bounds from the summit of Sgurr Beag
Once on the coll the wind picked up driving the snow into my face, the wind was bitter and I lost all feeling in my nose and cheek. I knew that in order to get to Sgurr Mor I had to cross the coll and drop down into Glen Kingie before actually starting the climb, I erred upwards on the LHS side of the broad coll towards the Druim a Chuirn, the ground steepened and became hard frozen snow. I ventured into a steep slope and reversed it quickly to put my crampons on, continuing on spiked and firm feet.
It was a mistake to venture so high, I only had to drop further to pick up the path on the other side off the glen, thats what you get for trying to take short cuts. Once over the frozen river I took a direct line up a grade one gulley to gain the ridge below Sgurr Beag, the snow had stopped now and the sun was out beating down on my back. The gulley steepened and I sweated my way in a zig zag route taking as much of the sting out of the slope as I could. I reached the top of the ridge and was rewarded by clearing views into the rough bounds of Knoydart and a stinging Siberian wind coming straight out of the North East. The sweat on my face froze, my beard was covered in ice inside a minute, I donned every layer I had in my rucksack turned face into the wind and bent to the task of crossing Sgurr Beag and thence to the final 250m of climbing.
Looking back towards Sgurr Beag sheltering from the beast in my lofty lunch spot
Spindrift swirled around me, stung my face and found every crack or small gap in my clothing, it got into the sandwiches I was trying to eat and digest cowered in a small reentrant seeking some shelter from the wind just below the summit. I gazed out at the view into the rough bounds, one of the best views in Scotland I think, real isolation, far from any road that does not terminate in a car park in the wilderness. I gloried in it as I chucked the bag back on my back slipped the leash of my axe over my gloved hand and made my way up the rather alarmingly steep and brick hard neve to the summit, amazingly the summit was dead calm, I gloried in it for about two minutes till a bank of cloud engulfed me in an eerie silence and virtual whiteout. Compass directed I made my way East and back down via speedy snow slopes to the floor of the seemingly warm Glen Kingie and thereby back over the col to the van.
Looking down Glen Kingie
Once again I felt alive, freed for a while from my reflective state, cutting edge things to focus on and free my mind from introspection, a day on the hill in whats left of our wilderness areas is a remedy for most things mental, it just takes a bit of effort to get up and do sometimes.
However that was the start of my 2018 wanderings, I am now left with only 10 munro’s to do till I have done my round, its the final countdown, but to what ?
20K, 1000M of ascent