I’m afraid there’s no way round it. I’m going to have to tell you, and you, dear reader, are just going to have to cope with it. Last Thursday I was walking in glen Affric on what has to have been the Perfect Hill Day. I set off in the morning through the sparkling hoar frost and watched as the sun rose in a cloudless sky…
Stop, stop, stop. They don’t want to hear about this, they want to hear about you getting lost, falling flat on your face and a dramatic life and death struggle with the elements. They want to hear about a man battling for his life in the wilderness. Don’t tell them it was a fantastic sunny day with incredible views and the snow was rock hard making walking a joy, and they, at work in some awful office or home with the kids or the measles missed it, don’t tell them that!
I suppose I could tell them about the exploding ice. Now you’re just making things up. No honest it did. Okay, tell them about that then.
The photos speak for themselves, it was bright sunshine all the way up Sgurr Na Lapaich and I walked alone to the summit. Here and there I saw faint human tracks and a fox had passed just below the top earlier that day but, apart from those few signs, I could have been the only person on the planet. Looking west I could see for perhaps thirty miles. In the distance Ben Nevis sat like some great white brooding giant, white clouds billowing behind.
The hills looked almost Himalayan in scale and my eye was drawn to the long elegant ridge that runs parallel to the loch from the hill I was climbing to the white triangle of Mam Sodhail. Had I known how good the snow conditions were I would have arrived earlier and walked that ridge but, too late, I had stepped on to rock solid snow and realised how easy it was to get around that day. In a previous blog I covered the joys of snow plodding where your leg vanishes to the knee with every step and progress becomes purgatory. This, however, was the opposite with the snow crunching hard beneath my boots.
I took my time descending to Loch Affric, walking past the deserted lodge, as the light faded and the heat of the sun began to wane. This was not a time to hurry. This was a moment to savour the silence, the moonlight and the stillness of the loch. I passed a small camper van, ablaze with light, parked beside the road after a mile or so. This was the first sign of life I’d seen all day. The van had a chimney incongruously bolted to its side, which belched wood smoke. I wonder how you get a wood burning stove through the MOT. Perhaps there is no section in the test on having a metal box full of burning wood rattling around in the back. Even as I glanced at the van I could see gallons on water running down the inside of the windows, must have been condensation heaven in there.
As I walked beside the frozen loch the temperature began to plummet and the ice on the loch began to groan and yawn like a giant trying to rouse himself from sleep. As the cold increased huge sheets of ice were expanding and pushing against each other as the pressure grew. Then they began to shatter, sounds like gunshots you could hear half a mile away, sending shards of ice high into the air to come tinkling back down on to the frozen surface of the water. An ancient sound this. Resonant of ice ages passed, of a time when bear and wolf walked this glen, a time before we humans tamed the earth.