After a busy week at work instructing activities with a visiting primary school, four o’clock on Friday rolled around.
I had been looking forward to this particular Friday for almost three months (since the 20 June)! The reason for my excitement was that this was the first hill walking weekend with Derek, and the rest of the gang, since December last year.
I had packed on the Thursday and arranged to leave work early on the Friday so that I had enough time to drive myself to Ballinluig on the A9 and wait for Derek and Paul to swing by and pick me up. I also managed to pop into the Co-Op in Aberfeldy to purchase some discounted wine.
After transferring my kit to Derek’s ageing, but more than capable automobile, we travelled north towards our destination, only stopping at the Happy Haggis in Aviemore to fill our stomachs with delicious grub. We made good time and arrived at 9:35pm to find a few of our companions, for the weekend, already settled in and relaxing.
More and more people slowly arrived and we greeted each other joyfully until the plan for the next day was discussed. Due to breezy and potentially damp conditions, An Teallach was a bit too risky an option, so the more manageable Fannich’s were to be our aim. Breakfast at 8, out the door by 9. Great, time for some sleep.
The roads up in that part of Scotland are pretty direct and only seem to change course when a mountain stands in its way, so we were quickly at our start point for the walk. The weather was looking clearer than we were all expecting, to the point that I even took my sunglasses with me, but there was a significant chill in the wind.
We started off up the track and we all naturally split into small groups or pairs of different people and chatted about the previous year and all the things we’d been up to.
Soon the boggy path gave way to a more rocky path which also acted as a drainage ditch, so we were still dodging puddles and we followed this path right the way up the glen before a sharp turn left and towards the first summit of the day.
I decided to push myself, as the terrain steepened, to try and catch up with Derek at the front. I found Derek and John waiting at the bealach between two summits and we were shortly joined by Elsbeth and Jen. We all admired the view and then pressed on to our first summit and Munro of the day, Sgùrr nan Each.
The first summit was an optional “out and back” jaunt from the bealach which most of us did. It has helped me towards my Munro goal and the views were spectacular too.
After a snack break and a short wait to let everyone catch up, we set off for the next peak. Once we were back at the bealach we had 300m of height to gain to reach the top.
As we ascended we were transported to an eerie new mountain world as the cloud enveloped us. Navigation was easy and there were limited views but it still felt very exciting to be on the hill that day. I was out with old friends and some new ones too, and we were enjoying just being out in creation and walking around adventuring. When you’re deeply engaged in conversation 300m of ascent happens very quickly and we were soon resting on top of Sgùrr nan Clach Geala, 1093m above sea level.
We waited till we were all together before setting off again towards the third and final peak. The footpath led us along a dramatic ridge with a drop on one side and a gentle slope on the other, one wrong step and well, I’ll let you use your imagination!
Once the path turned left and headed down hill, towards another bealach, we dropped out of the cloud and the views from here were amazing. The group spread out as some pushed on and others stopped for photos (me).
We could see the sea and spent a few minutes trying to identify some of the mountains that we could see from our vantage point. In the bealach it was quite boggy and required some delicate footwork to pass through without a bootful of mud. We stopped once again at the top of Meall a’ Chrasgaidh, our final Munro, and to eat some more food. The wind had picked up a bit by now and with tiredness starting to set in, the wind seemed to cut right through you. I put my big coat on, and others hid behind a small stone wall for a bit of shelter.
Eventually it was time to leave, so we packed up and set off in a slightly round about route to avoid the steep, rocky, southern slopes of Chrasgaidh. We soon found ourselves back on the path in the bottom of the glen, which took us back to the cars. It was a wonderful day on the hill, with wonderful people; we covered a good 19km in just over seven hours and bagged three Munros to boot!
The hostel we were staying at in Dundonnell had more than one shower, so when we arrived back there wasn’t the usual queue. In fact, Derek and I ended up showering at the same time, in different cubicles of course, and were inspired to perform a duet of “The hills are alive” from the Sound of Music. Apparently it didn’t go down too well with the rest of our group that happened to be in hearing range. To clarify, hearing range appeared to be anywhere within the hostel!
The evening flew by, and whilst dinner was being prepped and cooked, I introduced a few people to the joys of Irish Snap, an amazingly fun and chaotic card game. After a delicious dinner and plenty of it too, we relaxed and chatted about all sorts. Someone had popped outside to one of the cars and when they came back in had mentioned that the sky was incredibly clear and the stars were out in force. A large amount of us then migrated outside for a little bit of stargazing.
After a good night’s sleep I woke up to a bright red light outside the bedroom window, and went outside to investigate. After running around for five minutes with my slippers on, I managed to capture a picture of an incredible sunrise. I’ve decided that the severity of the day’s weather is directly proportional to the intensity of the sunrise.
The whole sky was glowing a pink-purple-red, giving a very surreal atmosphere to the morning. The wind was already starting to pick up and you just knew that it was going to be a wild day.
Back inside, everyone started to wake up as the smell of a cooked breakfast wafting through the hostel. After eating our fill, we cleaned up, packed up and hit the road to Aviemore. Due to the extreme weather, we opted for a stroll around Loch an Eilein, which was sheltered but certainly still full on. The trees were creaking and swaying heavily and the waves were surprisingly big for such a small body of water. After a rapid circumnavigation of the loch, we sat down for our packed lunches before heading back into town for a coffee and a browse in the plethora of outdoor shops that are in Aviemore.
After an hour of gear envy and resisting good deals, it was time to go home. Another weekend with the gang over, but what a weekend it was. Thanks to everyone who made it so fun and enjoyable, for all the banter, good food and lifts to here, there and everywhere. You are all amazing.
The countdown now begins for the November weekend, but there are plenty of adventures planned between now and then. So, stay tuned!