The rain was battering against the windscreen as I came over Slochd. I clicked the wipers up a notch, then another. Man, it’s heavy. I clicked once more and still it got heavier. I went for another and realised I’d run out of notches. The cars in front slowed right down and so did I. We trundled down into Inverness at a crawl. This did not bode well.
By the time I got to Drumadrochit there was a hint of brightness to the sky, by the time I hit Cannich, it was turning into a decent evening. Ah Scotland, never change your wily ways. I pulled into the Affric car park and fell out of the car, 4 hours of driving is about my limit these days. I started to get geared up, slowly at first and then with increasing urgency as thousands of tiny vampires stirred from the woods and set about desiccating me. I love the Caledonian Pine forest in Affric, but it’s a very effective wind shelter which just encourages the little buggers to hang out in the car park and ambush passers-by like a tiny motorcycle gang. Suitably drained of blood and loaded with gear, I hit the trail around the north side of the loch. I was slightly taken aback by how developed things were since my last visit. I’m fairly sure the first time I was in the Glen, Affric house was pretty much it and in subsequent visits that slowly expanded with fences, but now there were houses and hardcore and JCBs and high voltage cables. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
The pace was fairly quick until I gained enough height to get some of the breeze. It was late on the Friday of a long week, and I wasn’t overflowing with energy, which is rich given that I had been toying with idea the Mullardoch round. My plans had been adjusted, purely because I knew I wasn’t fit enough. Plan B was a partial circuit and I had intended to camp up in the coire, but I knew that my ‘only camp above 800m’ sorta-rule was about to be broken. I picked a nice breezy spot and hunkered down for a brew with a view. Sometimes it’s nice to push on and sometimes it’s nice to sit down and have a cuppa. I put the tent up.
Come morning, I was scoffing my porridge when an ATV trundled along the trail, heading up into the coire. I packed up and followed suit. It didn’t take long to find the abandoned vehicle with the occupants continuing on foot. I passed as they sat in the sun on a wide boulder, watching the waterfall. Not a bad spot to spend some time.
The heat was building and I was sweating like a Sun reader at an IQ test. It was hot. The pace was kept up by the clegs, every time I slowed or stopped they would bite me through my baselayer. Little pricks.
It’s a lovely coire, and somewhat deceptive, green and verdant in the upper reaches with pleasant wee burns burbling; I had to take a second glance at the altimeter when it said 900m. It would have been a fine place to camp, if I’d had the gas the night before. I didn’t get myself too much of a telling off for taking the easy option, I still had a decent walk ahead of me.
Once I got onto the ridge, I was into wispy clouds, with breaks showing a wee bit of the hill at a time. By the time I reached the massive cairn on Mam Sodhail, it was breaking and reforming, so I could see the ridge in glimpses. It’s a wide and spacious ridge, and I’d forgotten that these hills are more about height and distance than craggy character. I climbed into the shelter inside the cairn, wondering how many people had been here and not realised that it was there. An ideal spot for a cuppa and rowie. You can take the boy out of Aberdeen…
The cloud came and went as I supped coffee. I left my pack behind and walked over to Carn Eighe. There was no view to be had, so I set of back to retrieve my kit. By the time I’d got back to the luggage, the wind had lifted the cloud in the glen and there it was, green and pointy and right there: Sgurr na Ceathramhnan. Despite all of my wanders around the area, I’d only every seen the top of the that hill clear of cloud twice. It takes a long walk to get there, so I always wanted a day when I could see the view. Today might be the day. Would I get the much sought after view from Ceathramhnan?
I set off along the ridge but my eyes were fixed on one hill, the lure was strong. By the time I’d rounded Coire Coulavie, things were looking good. Oh yes, it’s on.
I ploutered my way along the ridge with only occasional breaks to scout for water sources. It was so warm I was getting through it at a decent rate. I’d been summit camping with Jeff and John the weekend before on Stuc a’Chroin and despite there being ‘HEATWAVE’ headlines for weeks, I was still surprised by just how much of an effect the recent weather had on the water sources. On that night, I’d had to descend 250m to pick up supplies for camp, and I was keen to not have to do that again.
I sat and supped a cup noodle for lunch on An Socach and admired the big old hill at the end of the ridge. It’s a proper mountain, remote and serious feeling even though there’s nothing technical about getting up it. There’s much to admire about Sgurr na Ceathramhnan.
I passed the approach from coire na cloiche and a string of visitors from Alltbeithe started to appear. One couple having ‘an easy day’ on An Socach with bigger plans for later in the week, others coming back from Ceathramhnan with reports of splendidness. Suitably sustained I carried on. As I picked up that last climb of the ridge, the cloud started to drift over, and by the time I plodded to the summit, I was met with a view I was only too familiar with. Bugger.
I set the stove up on a lovely wee spot just below the summit and waited. And waited. Messed about with the camera, and waited some more. It wasn’t for clearing. I pondered pitching the tent on that grassy ledge and waiting it out. The forecast said that it would be pishing down overnight and the next day. Humph.
After an hour or so, I declared both victory and defeat. I’d been meaning to come here for ages, and here I was, it’s just the view was somewhere else. Next time Gadget, next time.
I mulled my options; camp on the ridge, head down to the glen, carry on to Mullach na Dheiragain? What to do. The forecast had dimmed my ambitions, I wasn’t up for a total soaking. To the glen it was.
I stopped to cook some dinner beside the river just below Alltbeithe, with the accompaniment of the midgies and clegs. A cuppa with forty-odd midge corpses in it sealed the deal. I was off down the trail along the south side of the loch. By the time I made the car, I was feeling the 23 miles I’d racked up but I had room for a bit more. Maybe not as unfit as I thought.
When I get in the car I like to play the shuffle game. I plug the phone in, fire up the music player and push shuffle. It’s a wee roulette moment that can really set the mood for a trip. I fired up the motor and thumbed the button, and couldn’t help but laugh out loud. The first line of the song:
Sittin’ on a mountain, lookin’ at the sun
Ha. It was clear the god of irony was on duty that night. As I drove up the glen I was grinning, I’d had a day of ups and downs, both literally and figuratively, but I was a happy camper. I’d been on the move for 14 hours, bashed out the miles with a fair bit of uphill with an overnight bag and was feeling fine, so as a test of capacity I was chuffed. I’m back in the game. I’m going back for that view too.