Mountains in the Mind


I’ve been looking at a lot of geo-porn recently.  In moments of weakness I’ve been fantasising about what it would be like to walk along a distant ridge and head into the clouds.  I’ve been picturing myself conquering remote hills, standing heroically beside a summit cairn before a back drop of snow covered hills or sitting, content, before a roaring bothy fire after a long day’s trek.  Such are the secret, wicked, pleasures of the hill goer.

I might spend an evening leering at glossy pictures of hills and mentally imagining the views from their summits or the feel of their gravel beneath my boots.  Or I can use the Internet to find accounts of others ascending the mountains I lust after, vicariously experiencing the hardships they endured and the triumphs they enjoyed.

Geo-porn or, to give it its full title, geographical pornography, is everywhere.  Open any climbing magazine and there are mountains flaunting their good looks like the shameless hussies they are.  Ben Nevis teases us with the verticality of its north face, Cairngorm tempts us out with its vast artic plateau or the Skye ridge beckons to us with pert jagged peaks.

Hill Walking

Maol Bhuide Bothy Photo gavin MacFie

There are so many different ways to be lured towards the hills these days.  Google Earth allows you to make a virtual visit to any mountain you like.  You can stand in cyber space, beside any mountain bothy you like and enjoy the remote hills around you.  I notice that everywhere I go, Google has made the skies cloudless, the views endless, and there is not a breath of wind on any simulated trek.

It was only recently, whilst planning a little trek into the distant Highland bothy of Maol Bhuide, that I became aware of the dark secret of my indulgence in geo-porn.  In my mind bothies are always warm and the views from hills stunning in their beauty.  I know that, when I actually go there, I’ll stagger through the bothy door, my legs spent and my back aching, hurl the burdensome rucksack I’ve come to hate passionately, to floor and collapse, on some cold wooden bench, a mixture of relief and resignation running through my mind.   Relief that the walk in is over and resignation with the fact that I’ll have to do it all again on the way out.

Maol Bhuide is possible the remotest bothy in Scotland and its inaccessibility goes a long way to explaining why I’ve never been there.  After pouring over maps for hours I was unable to decide the best route in and asked advice on http://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/ I find these forums pretty useful as they are the combined knowledge of hundreds in the climbing fraternity.  I’ve found answers about historic knots and telephone numbers for boats across Highland lochs in the past all within minutes.

When I asked about Maol Bhuide I was directed to the excellent blog of Gavin MacFie, 57 Degrees North.  Here he describes in graphic, and rather worrying detail, several winter jaunts into the bothy.

Here is Gavin’s diagram of three different ways in.

hill walking

Image Gavin MacFie

It was when, in his blog, he said, speaking of two previous trips “Both times we arrived between 0200 and 0300 on Saturday morning, very tired and pretty close to the ends of our tethers.”  I grew concerned.  Now, personally, I don’t like the sound of that.  One reason for that is that Mr MacFie sounds pretty fit and to have a fairly long tether and if he was nearly at the end of his I suspect I’d be off the end of mine.  I’ve no idea what happens if you go beyond the end of your tether but I doubt if it’s much fun.

It’ll probably be February before I shoulder my pack and begin the long trek into this bothy.  After much deliberation I’ve decided to take the green route in which is probably the shortest if you are not using a mountain bike to cover the land rover tracks.  I was thinking of the red route but that might terminate with a difficult river crossing only a short distance from the bothy and I’m too much of a wimp to relish the prospect of a long walk followed by a soaking.  Thanks to Gavin for his images and advice. Take a look at his great blog http://gavinmacfie.blogspot.co.uk/

I’m off to London next week to perform my play about mountaineer and occultist Aleister Crowley, so hill trips will have to wait.  http://www.londonhorrorfestival.com/whats-on/aleister-crowley/

I suppose Maol Buidhe will just have to remain a hill goers wet dream until then, I’ll let you know if fantasy measures up to reality.

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4 responses to “Mountains in the Mind

  1. Yep – green route if not biking – but definitely blue one up Glen Elchaig to Iron Lodge if biking – it’s a beautiful route. The Attadale one was too hilly for my liking!

    You’re right about bothying though. I really love to look back on my bothying trips – they’re my favourite trips and I read my posts about them most. But the reality, at the time, is pretty different I suppose. It’s the old Borthwick thing – ” ‘men’ are unable to distinguish between things they enjoy doing and enjoy having done!”

  2. Ahhhh I don’t know what I’m doing on your blog. Well I saw the mention on hills and hot chocolate. But I’m technically what’s called a “wimp” when it comes to the hills. I wish I were brave enough to attempt some tamer ones in clement weather but I obviously don’t belong here!

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