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From Dawn till Dusk

This past week has been a long one. Every day has been rammed full. Now that it is the weekend I have some time to myself and I am enjoying today at a more relaxed pace. A lie in, coffee and porridge for breakfast, sit down with some Aerosmith blasting out and write a blog!

So, here we go… Last Sunday Derek swung by my house at 7:20 am, he was picking me up for a day out in the mountains. After a short drive we arrived at our destination – Lawers. We double checked the contents of our bags, laced up our boots and set off up hill. The start of the route is up a marked path pass farm buildings and cottages, through some woods and then on to the open hillside.

The sun was starting to light up the sky with a pink hue whilst Derek and I pushed on forwards, little did we know the effort required to ascend these mountains would be considerably higher than what we were used to. We had the awkward battle with ourselves, do we stop and take a photo now, or carry on for five minutes and see if develops and becomes even more amazing? We had both faced this same question before, on other days out, and had prepared by strapping our cameras to our hipbelts. The solution: take a quick snap, put the camera away and keep moving and repeat as necessary! I stopped a couple more times than Derek did and also had to stop to take my coat off, as I was sweating with it on, so soon dropped behind Derek.

It was super calm but definitely cold, the ground had been frozen from the start, and so I was doing fine in just my base layer top. As I approached the first summit I was struggling, the snow was deep in places and on the grassy slope underneath it was slippery too, which made progress slow and hard work, the wind had also started to show itself. When I reached the top of Meall Greigh Derek was waiting in his warm coat, hat and gloves and drinking some hot chocolate.

Derek wrapped up warm

I dropped my bag, pulled out and donned my fleece, hat and gloves and coat which had now started to turn into cardboard. The wind cut through you right to the bone, gosh it was cold. Derek and I celebrated our first summit with a high-five packed up and got on our way. As we moved off I mentioned to Derek that the last three weeks of eating and relative inactivity had left me fat and unfit, to which he replied “Your not the only one!” At least we were both finding it difficult.

An inversion forming over Loch Tay

As our journey progressed towards our second summit of the day, Meall Garbh, the snow deepened and we sunk deeper into it too. Our route followed an old fence, which had collected an incredible amount of rime ice, to the summit of Munro number two – Meall Garbh.

The most rime ice I’ve ever seen on a fence!

At the top of Meall Garbh the wind was less savage and we stopped to talk to two skiers that were out for the day. The frist chap was loving life, well within his comfort zone and soaking up the glorious views. The second chap was less happy as it was only his fourth time on skis, ever, and he now had to go downhill! I was somewhat jealous of their progress, having skis meant that they barely sunk into the snow, and I secretly wished that I had some skis too.

After they had left, I finished my sandwiches to fuel me up our next peak, An Stuc. An Stuc is quite an intimidating mountain to look at, it is much steeper and sharper than its neighbours. Therefore it is more strenuous and risky too, especially in winter.

An Stuc on the right, Ben Lawers on the left

Derek heading for An Stuc

Looking up the face of An Stuc. Spot the man in front of us for some scale

Soon we were standing at the bottom of the steep face of An Stuc. Derek and I are not ones to underestimate the hazards and difficulties of winter Munros and had come equipped to tackle this beast head on. We strapped on our crampons, put our cameras in our bags, our poles on our bags and clutched onto our axes. “Ready” I said, “Ready” Derek replied. So, off I went with Derek following. Progress was slow, through the deep snow, but we steadily climbed higher. We encountered a couple of more awkward sections where having crampons and axes really paid off and we were soon on the more gentle slope leading to the summit. It passed much quicker than I had expected but I was glad to be at the top of our third mountain of the day with the crux section of the day completed. When I turned round to shake Derek’s hand I noticed he was covered in snow, more so than myself. This was because I’d been disturbing all the loose snow on my ascent, and with him following close behind I had plastered him in the stuff! Derek was happy not to have broken trail up the steep ground though.

Chuffed to be on the summit of An Stuc

We tucked into some more of our food supplies and discussed our options. It wasn’t late in the day and it seemed rude not to go for Ben Lawers, after all, it was only just there. It would be a struggle, we knew that, but we were most of the way there already and we could follow its East ridge down towards the car. Our route was agreed and off we went.

Derek battling with the elements

The windswept summit of Ben Lawers

Readying for the final push

Our approach to the summit was probably the easiest part of the day. Don’t get me wrong, it was no walk in the park, we had already been fighting our way through snow for six hours, climbed three Munros and were now being battered by the wind. However, the wind was also working on the slope itself, stripping away a lot of the soft snow to reveal some crunchy ice beneath it, which meant we weren’t sinking half as far or as often than earlier in the day. The way the wind was whipping the snow off from the summit of Ben Lawers looked to me like a miniature version of the spindrift plume seen on Everest. Soon we were on top of the tenth highest Munro in Scotland and looked West to the incredible views available to us.

Beinn Ghlas in the foreground with Stob Binnein and Ben More on the horizon

It was all downhill from here. A short traverse along the ridge and then head straight for the car, we didn’t want to walk any further than we had to.

Following ski tracks

Are you coming then?”

As it turns out, this was no easy descent, the snow was as soft as it had been all day and with the added momentum that going downhill provides we both found ourselves hip-deep, at times, in snow. The only way out was to dig with your hands to free up your legs and roll out of the hole before trying to stand up as gently as possible!

Looking back at An Stuc and Meall Garbh

The sun starting to set

With the last of our food and water gone we kept going all the while longing for the snow to become less deep. At some point it did relent and the sunset was stunning, but I was too fed up to stop and take my camera out. It was getting dark and we just wanted to be back at the car and on our way home. After nine hours we had covered 19.5km and climbed a total of 1595m up four Munros, the fourth of which we hadn’t originally planned to do, and were now back at the car. Phew, what a day, really hard work, but so worth it for the views. Derek helped encourage me onwards through the day and I am glad to have shared this experience with him. It will be a tough day to beat in terms of effort required and the endless vistas, oh and the company!

The week following that amazing day out started at 6am each day as Kev and I drove an hour and a half to Perth and back each day for a week of minibus driving lessons. It was a mentally draining week, but the hard work paid off as both Kev and I passed and gained the code D1 to put on our driving licences. Our driving instructor Eddy was firm but fair, and I can only thank him for his high standards and guidance to help us pass the test. Kev has picked up one of his sayings: “It is what it is” and has managed to fit it into his regular conversation at least once a minute, which is equally hilarious and infuriating! With a significant qualification under my belt, and a belter of a mountain day, this has been a great start to the year. I look forward to whatever this next week brings and am glad that I won’t have to wake up as early to participate in the events and challenges of each day.

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