I'd been swithering all week whether or not to head out with a tent. The weather was so changeable and the forecasts I was reading only served to confuse things further. I took a day off on Mon as I have a few spare days accrual up my cuff and anyway...holiday's are for enjoying right? The “weather window” I was being taunted with kept moving further out (and also seemed to be heading east) every time I consulted MWIS. So with a frustrated sigh, I gave in to the lure of a few real ales and went to the pub followed by the couch on the Saturday. On Sunday the wind speeds didn't look favourable for a quiet wild camp either so I resigned myself to a single day in the hills on Monday...but where to go?
I've a few routes, ideas and plans for this year but I'm saving some of them for good weather where I know I'll get the views. I was thinking about this and that's when I got to thinking about routes I've done in the past that have been given up on or abandoned whether it be for poor weather conditions, lack of fitness or some other reason. I decided on Binnein Beag. It's a long walk in and out so should be a challenge and it would give me an idea of where I am in terms of my “hill fitness”. It would also be attempt number 3 at this hill.
I left later than planned which seems to be a trend these days but it meant I missed the worst of the traffic. In fact I'm tempted to head for the hills midweek when most folks are work more often. I flew up the A82 in record time for old Daphne and never stopped until I was turning right onto the steep single track road up to Mamore lodge. There were signs on the gate and fence stating that the hotel was now closed and warned against parking there as the gates could be closed at any time. I couldn't face parking in Kinlochleven and the extra ascent so I ignored the signs, thinking to myself...
“Ach, screw it. I drive a Landy. If they lock me in I'll drive along the Landrover track to Ft Bill!”
Probably not the correct attitude and I'll sit back and await the criticism....lol
Anyway, I parked up at the now spooky and empty hotel, changed my shoes, shouldered my pack and set off. I footered about with my trekking poles until I was happy with the length and continued striding off up the track gaining height and winding my way around the base of Na Gruagaichean towards Loch Eilde Mor. I was eating up the miles and enjoying the feeling of walking by myself. I soon settled into a comfortable pace and found it easy to get used to the poles again. On the Arrochar meet I tested some Leki's (Proper review on it's way) which was the first time I'd used poles in a long while. Either I'd forgotten or had always had a crap pole technique but remembering the pointers I'd got from John from Ardblair and Phil had me seeing the benefits again...especially the ones involving stability when crossing rivers!
The cloud was clinging to the tops and kept closing in and out bringing with it drizzle and light rain showers. I was wearing my new (well new to me anyway) Rab VR stretch top and found it to be coping admirably with the changing conditions. In fact I had pulled it on in the flat before I left and it never moved until I was pulling it off to get in the shower later that night. That's gotta be the sign of some great kit!
Following the stalkers path that contours its way up and around Sgor Eilde Beag the mist closed in behind me and cut me off from the landscape below. The wind had picked up and I could feel the dampness seeping through the back of my light trousers as the drizzle was blown at me. I wasn't cold or uncomfortable though, as I was still moving and generating heat. In fact I felt as if I was moving at a decent pace too given the state of my ruined lungs. I'm sure if I'd been out with others though the difference in pace would have been noticed, but I was happy trundling along at my own pace and in my own wee world.
I wouldn't say that I'm struggling (at the moment anyway) with this Sarcoidosis but it's always there and I'm always conscious of it now. I know that I'm slower than I should be but I'm certainly not going to stop going out. I don't think that would help and besides, I'm way too stubborn to just roll over. The steroids the doc has me on definitely shifted the persistent cough I had and made my breathing noticeably easier within the first few weeks. Easy enough to start forcing myself to run round the local park and put in the miles even when I don't want or feel motivated to do so. I'm starting to feel the benefits of those miles now I think as I really was enjoying the steepness of the slope I was on and all too quickly I found the gradient ease off as I reached the shelter of Coire an Lochan.
I stopped for a quick bite to eat and a drink as Sgurr Eilde Mor loomed out of its misty shroud. I remembered the last time I slogged up those scree covered slopes cursing every footfall that seemed to slide backward in a hail of stones making forward progress almost seem impossible. I was glad I wasn't headed there again.
Cutting through the pass I caught my first glimpse of the target, Binnein Beag and remembered that this was attempt number 3 for me. The cloud base was just catching at it's top and seemed to taunt me. Drawing me further in in anticipation then the next big puff of mist would roll by and the hill would disappear again. I began to hope attempt 3 would not be another DNF.
Attempt number one is the one that annoys me the most as it could quite easily have been “bagged” that day. We set off late and camped below it, planning to leave the tents at the foot and watch the sun go down from the summit. We had lingered on the walk in though and didn't pitch up until dark. “Ach, we'd do it in the morning then.” The hangover from half a bottle of Laphroaig and horrendous conditions that had blown in overnight put a stopper on that idea the next day! Attempt number 2 was just down to a lack of hill fitness on both my part and the fact that it was Louise's first Munro. The long walk in was taking it's toll on Louise's feet and the driving wind and rain weren't comfortable. We decided to leave the main group to go on that day while we tackled Sgurr Eilde Mor instead. Still, it's also a fine Munro to be your first I think.
Dropping down into Coire a Bhinnein I crossed the stream and dropped below the cloud base, the mists rolling over my head again. I rested up a little while I faffed and pointed the camera at the ever changing scenery as the tops were briefly obliterated from view and then drifted back into focus. Setting off again, I began to savour the re-ascent on the other side. My poles were “tick” “tick” ticking away as I propelled myself up the path and soon the shoulder I would be climbing to the summit hove into view through the swirling mists.
I checked my watch. I wouldn't be setting any records. In fact I was at the outside of the timings according to the book routes but I was feeling strong and fit out here. Slow but capable, and confident in myself and my abilities. It's been a while since I've felt “in tune” with my body of late. It's a new tune right enough but it's at least playing a merry wee jig in my head just now.
Off I set, slowly, and keeping my pace measured. Careful not to let my lungs feel like they were on fire. Slow and steady was the objective here as I wanted to avoid that horrible wheezing I get when I tax myself too hard. I was looking up and all around me, drinking in the views as the swirling cotton wool lent an almost surreal edge to the place. I glanced down to look where I was putting my feet and nearly trod on 3 ptarmigan huddling in amongst the boulders! We eyed each other for a few tense seconds like a group of wild west gunslingers. Each waiting for the other to make a move. My nerve broke first and I went for my camera. The movement set them off. They exploded in a shower of feathers and a flurry of wings. F*ck! I couldn't get my hands out of the trekking pole loops! I fumbled with the camera and nearly smashed it off the boulders in my hurry. Click, Click, Zoom, Click! Got them!...well two of them anyway.
I holstered the camera and set off again. My heart still beating like crazy from the feathery encounter. As I gained the last few hundred meters of ascent the clouds closed completely and I was enveloped in the eerie silence. White nothingness hid the view. I knew where all the pointy bits should be but there was nothing to be seen except the wind shelter made from the summit boulders and the cairn in front of me. The breeze was picking up and dropping periodically so I decided to get into the wind shelter and get the stove on to have a cuppa whilst I waited to see if the clag would lift out. It wasn't to be. I spent nearly an hour up there, wandering about, drinking another cuppa and dunking my cookie in it.
Ach well! I made the summit, and with relative ease too. I could always come back for a fourth attempt but this time just for the view. To be honest it would be no hardship. I like the Mamores. They're a great range and one where I cut my solo hillwalker teeth. I've a few more trips in this area planned before the year is out anyway.
Reluctantly I set off again, back the way I'd come up. I stopped and took another video as soon as I started to get below the cloud base. I wanted some more evidence of the views. If for no other reason than it's simply great to look back on old trip reports. You could take footage or photies everyday of the same hills and come up with something new as the play of light and the interaction with the weather makes it constantly change. I'll never get bored of walking in the hills and I'll never stop as long as I'm able.
Pausing briefly in the Coire a Bhinnein again, I took some more photies and spotted some deer grazing on the opposite side of the Coire on the lower slopes of Binnein Mor. Onwards I climbed up the last uphill section for the day towards the pass between Sgurr Eilde Mor and Sgor Eilde Beag again. The clouds began to finally lift out (albeit briefly) and I felt the warmth of the weak sun on my face. The day was getting old and the light was beginning to change subtly from late afternoon towards early evening. I was beginning to tire myself and I was starting to feel the length of the walk in the soles of my feet. Still though, as I settled into the rhythm with the trekking poles again the miles just disappeared behind me.
I was a happy Bigbananafeet and I smiled to myself as the curtains of cloud closed one last time around me as I descended the path I'd climbed that morning.