I’m getting soft, I realise, as I stand looking at the icy waters and contemplating the idea that I may actually have to wade into it to cross the river and get to the path on the other side. The thought of getting my feet wet does not appeal. “Why did the mountaineer wade through the river?” Answer, “Because he’d forgotten that there isn’t a bridge.”
I quite like water, I drink it quite frequently and sometimes, actually bath in the stuff. But that’s a different kind of water from the swirling conflagration I see before me now. You see the water I get on best with is tame water, water that’s been raised in captivity and has good manners. The water I’m looking at now is wild water. It’s the sort of water that has no respect for its betters. The kind of water that will rush into your boots if get too close to a puddle. This is the type of sly water that will seep into your tent when you are not looking, soak your sleeping bag, and then run off giggling when you get up in the morning.
Tame water sits in bottles and does as it’s told. It comes out of the tap at home, when I call for it, and not, when I least expect it. The water I like is far too well-mannered to creep down the back of your neck in a thunderstorm and head for your underwear. The most important difference of all perhaps is that tame water usually turns up at a nice temperature, if you are going to get into it, it’s nice and warm, if you are going to drink it, it’s chilled as you would like.
The problem with this water is that it has just fallen several hundred feet from the Cairngorm plateau and, as far as I can see, it’s not best pleased. To be fair it’s had a shock, not too long ago it wasn’t water at all, it was solid. Put your-self in water’s place, it has a pretty tough life. One minute you’re in cloud drifting high above the Highlands, next it’s freezing cold and you fall thousands of feet onto the Cairngorms only to be squashed by a few million mates. You wait a few months, become liquid again, fall over a cliff, get shoved in a bottle, pass through the digestive system of an over-weight German hiker called Gunter and then are ceremonially squirted through a pink sausage back into the stream you came out of and then the whole things starts again. It’s no wonder water can be pretty bad tempered.
It’s late June and I’m trying to find my way south across the Fords of Avon. Normally I might have been able to pick my way through the streams without a wade but this year the winter in the Highlands has lingered later than usual and still clings to some of the higher corries and snow in abundance is still melting high up. Shed from their boots my feet look a little shocked to be caught naked amongst the rocks and the heather. They sit shivering in the sunlight like two middle aged ladies who’ve been caught changing into their bathing suits behind by a group of spotty teenage boys.
I heard about a hill walker in Knoydart who was doing a very similar river crossing with his boots slung around his neck. Half way across the river he stumbled and his boots flew from his shoulders and fell into the river, he watched disconsolately as they bobbed away out of reach and out of sight. He was then forced to walk fifteen miles in his socks. I always think it’s a good idea to learn from other people’s mistakes rather than your own because that way you don’t have to do the suffering. I remembered that story and made sure my boots were anchored securely to my pack as I set off into the swirling maelstrom.
At first it was almost pleasant, the cool water soothed my feet and the bed of the stream was sandy and soft. A little further in, now up to my knees, and the water became a little more aggressive. Soon my feet were comfortably numb and I’d almost reached the far bank when the current picked up and I found myself wobbling alarmingly. Now my feet are protesting vigorously in the cold melt water and I make a dash for the far bank. A few wobbly moments and I was out. My feet looked pale and shocked and I spent a few minutes of agony whilst the feeling returned. Soon my feet were busy snuggling down into my boots and trying to put the whole experience behind them. Now, I have a far greater respect for bridges than I’ve had for a long time.
I headed out of the Loch Avon basin and made my way towards the Hutcheson hut, happy with the thought that the worst of my trials were behind me. Ah how foolish I was for, had I but known it, things were about to get a great deal more terrifying. Perhaps it’s best that we never know what we are about to face because I had an appointment I was unaware of. I was about to meet another Cairngorm wanderer, the legendary spectre of the Grey Man of Ben MacDui.
More in my next blog. (Hopefully tomorrow)
Sorry to my blog readers for the long delay between posts. I’ve been hard at work on my one man play about George Mallory. Now that’s in its second draft I’m taking a bit of a break from it an back to blog writing.