I realise I must have lapsed into unconsciousness as the icy downwash from the rescue helicopter, hovering above, brings me round. Peering through the swirling snow I can see a metallic shape emerging. From above a loudspeaker crackles into life, “This rescue helicopter is brought to you by YourNumber’sUp.com, the best in online gambling,” an American voice drawls, “Before you are winched on board please have your credit card, insurance details and climbing permit ready for inspection. Have a nice day.” Underneath the chopper is painted a huge face, grinning inanely, I realise that it’s Keith Chegwin leering at me and giving me the thumbs up. It’s the horror of being rescued by Cheggers that finally brings me sweating out of my nightmare and into the cosy reality of my bedroom.
I don’t usually write about my days on the hill before I do them but this time I’ve been forced give more thought to preparation than usual and in planning my route I began to wonder if my intended outing was possibly the most serious walk in the UK. It’s certainly serious enough to get my attention. There will be no carelessly hurling a few tins and a sleeping bag into my sack this time I’m going to have to plan it and success is far from given.
The plan is simple. I’ll walk in from the Cairngorm ski road to Corrour bothy through the Lairig Ghru. Even at my advanced stage of decrepitude I’m pretty confident I can manage that. I’ll stay the night there. I recall my last visit there was when there was still an earth floor and those of you who know the place will realise that that was a very long time ago so I think this most popular of bothies is overdue a return.
It’s what I plan the following day that worries me. If the weather is good, and the forecast has been incredibly consistent for a week or so, I’ll start out by climbing Cairn Toul and from there head back towards the ski road passing by the wells of Dee and eventually heading over the summit of Braeriach. I would have included a map in this blog but I’m not clever enough. I’ll be alone, carrying my sleeping bag and stove, and a little nervous. The country between those two summits is perhaps as high and remote as you’ll find in Britain. A twisted ankle would present a serious problem as you are a long way from anywhere and exposed to the worst the Cairngorms can do in terms of weather.
Is this the most serious walk in Britain?
The term “serious” might have many definitions. All the way from it being too far from the shops to nip in for a packet of fags to near death situations. There is no scrambling on the route and the danger of falling from a great height, providing you don’t walk off the edge of a cliff, is fairly limited. By serious I suppose I mean that were even a minor mishap to occur, like the old faithful twisted ankle, the possibility of getting any kind of assistance might be remote. Getting lost in bad visibility could find you heading off into some very remote country. Compass out all day I think. It’s hard to say if I’ll see another party on that section, so there will be me and a very big mountain.
I’ve even taken a very careful look at my kit to bring the weight down. I’m conscious that, about half way through the walk I’ll be very aware of every ounce. I did think of not taking an ice axe and crampons at all as I’m pretty sure I won’t need them but then I thought of the headlines. Inadequately Equipped Walker falls to his death in Cairngorm plunge. I’d never live it down.
Steps taken so far,
New lighter sleeping bag weight saved 1.5lbs
Lighter ice axe. .5lbs
Not carrying whisky a few ounces, (Much suffering)
And the big one.
Not taking my old primus stove 2lbs (I love my ancient primus but, full of fuel, it weighs nearly 4lbs and a new gas stove weighs less than half that inc. fuel)
Just in case I don’t make it I have my excuses ready. These are all in code, I’ll just translate them.
It was the wrong snow. Meaning. – I was knackered after the walk in and couldn’t face it.
The weather looked dodgy. Meaning. – I chickened out.
I had problems with my knee. Meaning. – I was gasping for breath after 100 yds. and came home.
There were technical problems. Meaning – I’m incompetent.
This is a young guy’s game. Meaning – All of the above
I’ll be heading off on Monday, this could be my last blog, wish me luck.