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Mountains and Rests

I have had a tough couple of weeks, trying to keep energy levels up and maximise fun without burning out. It’s hard, when there is good snow on the mountains, to deliberately not go adventuring up high, but there have been some great alternatives lower down and with less physical effort required.

After taking some of the guys out to learn about and play with crampons and axes, I gingerly made my way to the Petries. Carefully, because we were just coming out of the other side of “The Beast From The East” and I didn’t want to discover a snow drift at speed or ice for that matter!

I arrived safely and after a good chat and a glass of wine I headed for my bed.

The Petries spare bed is, quite simply, exquisite. I sleep so well in it that I often oversleep which is exactly what happened this time. After a morning of sorting through photos, so that I could return Derek’s camera, it was soon lunchtime.

The afternoon’s activity was already planned – snow clearing at the local primary school. Having had three days with the school closed, the parents had been rallied to dig out the school so that the children could go back on Monday.

Needless to say there was lots of help and vast areas were cleared in minutes. Another restful evening with some more wine and conversation and it was time for bed again.

On Monday, I left after lunch and made my way home before MR training that evening.

Nearly one week later and I’m able to leave work at 4pm on the Sunday to shoot up to Nethybridge for a couple of days. I meet up with Sam and Roald, with Amanda joining us shortly after.

What was the rush? We had tickets to go and see Andy Kirkpatrick in Inverness that evening.

We made good time, parked and went to find our allotted seats. I was super excited as I had been wanting to go for a while but hadn’t committed to a particular venue. I have Amanda to thank for suggesting this particular evening and booking the tickets before they all sold out. The others could see it on my face, as the evening started, that I was a happy man.

It was a long night full of stories (quite a few poo based stories) and humour, most of which was past the line!

It was interesting to hear directly from Andy some of his struggles and joys. He was entertaining for sure, but it seemed that the goal was to always seek out harder and more dangerous situations to feel more alive… and to belong… He finished quite late which meant the queue to meet him was short. Not short enough for my compadres, as is evident from this picture I snapped of them waiting for me.

Well, a firm handshake, a short conversation and a signed book later, it was time to go back for bed, and boy was I ready for it.

Monday was very calm and overcast. With no plans until the evening, I popped back to Inverness for fuel and food. I’m not sure where the time went, but it was soon evening and I called in at Amanda’s for the evening to cook dinner.

Last time I was at Nethy, Amanda blessed me with some high quality leftovers, and so I was repaying the favour.

Food munched, wine sipped, chats about this, that and everything in between, the hour grew late and again my eyelids were heavy. Tuesday was so calm and peaceful that once I was awake I went to join the birds tweeting outside and just bimbled about for two and a half hours in the local woods.

It was really refreshing to have some solitude and a chance to process thoughts free from technological distractions. As much I was keen for a hill day, I knew I was taking Greg and Jess out for some training the following day, so I kept the height gain low and pace slow.

I stopped in at Nethy to help stuff and seal some envelopes for a mailing before lunch, said goodbye and then hit the road home.

An ML training day with Greg and Jess was the order of the day for Wednesday. With high winds forecast we drove to nearby Acharn for a lower level walk. Low level does not mean low quality. We had snow, steep ground, low visibility and good quality navigation all day. Fortunately there were some stalkers huts on our route which were open. They provided a welcome break from the savage wind and allowed us to eat lunch and have a break in relative comfort. I didn’t know they would be useable and wasn’t even sure if we’d actually go past them, but they were great.

After a good stomp around the hills, we descended back to the van and drove home for tea and medals.

I’d been developing a cold for a few days now which probably came about from just being over active, getting stuck in with everything… and the cold weather still hanging on.

Nevertheless, Thursday was MR training and it was a short evening, but packed full of activity. A line search in the dark, casualty evaluation and stretcher evacuation. We packed a lot in and I learnt the difficulties of being in a line search with no radio. Instructions were shouted and whistled, which would’ve been fine, but I had my hood up to keep my ears from getting cold! I had to find a balance between hearing instructions and staying warm. Challenging, but doable.

The weekend soon rolled around and Sunday was very much a static day. Films, TV series, homemade soup and some washing but not much else. Splendid.

Anyways I had plans for Monday. As it happened, loads of us had the day off and the weather was forecast to be resplendent, so Phil, Callum and I hatched a plan to summit a local Munro, Cruach Ardrain, via a grade 1 gully known as Y gully.

The weather on the day was even better than the forecast and the conditions were perfect.

We hiked up through the forest before taking a more direct approach straight for the foot of the mountain.

The snow was firm and supportive but not too hard to make progress awkward and we made good time to the bottom of the gully, despite spending plenty of time admiring some magnificent snow drifts.

We stopped just before the shadow of the mountain: we were going to cash in on all this lovely warm sunshine. We donned harnesses, helmets and crampons, munched some grub, armed ourselves with axes and attacked the gully. It was hard work but we kept moving forwards and upwards. The snow was superb and I was well within my comfort zone and having an absolute blast.

Taking a direct line up a mountain is deceptively difficult. Whilst it is shorter and often more fun, it is steep!

Even so, when Y gully split into its left and right branches, we opted for the left, as it is longer and more direct, simply so that we could enjoy the experience for longer!

The effort put in was paid off with incredible views as far as the eye could see. The islands of Arran and Jura, The Ben, The Arrochar Alps. Uninterrupted, 360 degree, cloud free, vistas!

There was a cold fresh wind that greeted us as we arrived at the summit. It helped to cool me down after a sweaty slog up the gully and also added to the whole mountain experience that day.

The three of us separated slightly as we each absorbed the scenery on our own, before meeting up to descend back down to the valley bottom and out to the car.

We walked and slid our way back down through the shadow and into the sun. By now we had all come to terms with the fact that every thirty seconds, or so, one of us would say wow, how good a day it was or just that they were having a great time, but it wasn’t until we were on our way back and down that I put my finger on why.

At Ardeonaig, groups come and as part of their stay can do the John Muir Award. Each morning a kid dons a beard and reads out a quote from John Muir. This is one of those quotes:

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” – John Muir

Phil and I identified that whilst this wasn’t a physical rest day, it was a spiritual rest day. We had been refreshed and met with God through his creation. He had blessed us abundantly and filled us up to overflowing. That was why the day was SO good, we were satisfied at every level!

On the walk out, the mountain was behind us, but we kept turning around to check that what we had been playing in all day was real. The ground in front of us was even more amazing than on the way up, scoured by the wind into all sorts of beautiful patterns.

We made it back to the car despite falling into several deep holes and slipping on ice, resulting in much hilarity. Our laughter could probably have been heard for miles!

In conclusion, I’m aware I need the discipline of physical rest days. There is only so much my body can handle, and it is amazing to have places to go that I can “get away” to, to recover and recuperate.

But, I also need to be spiritually rested, and that isn’t necessarily at church.

The mountains are free from worldly distractions, liberating in fact, and to share such an experience with my fellow brothers in Christ was an honour indeed. Here’s to the next rest day!

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