Empathy…I don’t do empathy! I’m generally considered to have as much empathy and sensitivity as the average engineering brick. Cap’n Jack can’t spell it and the Fatdog isn’t interested in it as she can’t eat it, so all in all empathy doesn’t come into the equation. This now begs the question why are three of the least empathetic characters in the known universe taking a little pink star all the way into the mountains with them?
It’s all the fault of geocaching and my twisted sense of obligation. Having picked up the star in a cache in Fife and read the accompanying instructions, it fell to me to fulfil another step in the star’s journey. The little pink star wanted to go on a journey and have a story. This journey involved fairies, angels and Portuguese mountains…with photographs please. As rough tough mountain men we couldn’t be seen to be chasing after angels and fairies…at least not without attracting a degree of unwelcome attention, but we could manage mountains and photographs…and we could definitely do a story…
Journey’s End for Me and the Fatdog
Today was a big day for myself and the Fatdog. After two and a half years of walking we would complete our 50th Munro together. While this is not a big total in the grand scheme of things, for us it sees the completion of our original target. When we started I had no idea how we would take to, what was for us, the alien concept of going uphill! I had no idea of how difficult, or easy, it would be to climb a Munro never mind the fact I had a fitness level normally associated with the average chip shop queue.
The target of 50 Munros was based on the assumption that we might do around one per month and that the Fatdog might only be good for 4 to 5 years on the hill…and apart from that 50 seemed a nice round number.
A few weeks ago the Fatdog and I completed a very strategic 49th Munro on An Socath with a view to doing No.50 during a “cherry picked” midweek trip with Cap’n Jack. As it happened we couldn’t have timed it better. On queue a settled spell of high pressure squeezed its way across the country on the appointed week leaving us with a few days of bright sunny weather to choose from. Now it was only a matter of choosing the Munro.
The Mamores, we like the Mamores. Just south of the big lump of rock that is Ben Nevis sits this range of shapely hills, each with its own distinctive physical characteristics. The Mamores are hillwalkers paradise. After a quick perusal of the map I decided upon Sgurr Eilde Mor for my 50th, a easy grade for over 6km with a short sharp clamber up the final 250m of ascent. The trail from Mamore Lodge followed the south face of the hills all the way to the summit thus reducing the amount of snow we would be liable to encounter and, on such a fine Spring-like day, would keep us in the warm sunshine. With the potentially photogenic Coire an Lochain perched at 750m above sea level, at the start of the final run in to the summit, I reckoned the route could be a winner.
The day didn’t start too well…I forgot to bring the little pink star and a geocoin I was going to move on after the walking part of the day. This resulted in a grumpy ten minute trail back to the house. Trying to combine hobbies is not to be recommended unless you are particularly well organised.
I have to admit, as we drove north, I was unconvinced as to the accuracy of today’s weather forecast. The cloud looked a bit thicker than I was hoping for and I doubted whether it would burn off significantly at this time of year, but by the time we kicked off from Mamore Lodge the cloud was above the 1000m level and was huddling on the tops of the higher peaks in the nearby ranges. The air had a warm feel to it so for the first time this year I was starting off in just the base layer.
Having paid our £3 for parking at the hotel, thus giving us an instant 250m of ascent, we strolled eastwards across the southern slopes of Na Gruagaichean heading for the western tip of Loch Eilde Mor. This route followed a rolling track all the way to the watershed (400m) where a narrow climbing path took a left fork towards Coire an Lochain around the south spur of Sgor Eilde Beg.
The path suddenly took a zig-zag upwards then once more climbed at a more shallow gradient. We had been snow free up to this point but now the path cut across a series of short snowfields, some 30m wide. There was a melt along the line of the path where booted feet had cut a plane of weakness straight across an otherwise pristine white slope. Some footsteps met with solid snow others with slush puppy softness as a leg disappeared suddenly up to the knee.
We were about a third the way across when I heard the sound.
There was a clearly audible swishing sound from above. It was the sort of sound from films and documentaries…the sort of sound that represents snow on the move. The snowfield we were crossing stretched some 50m above us. With some degree of trepidation I looked upwards. ..
The tiny snowball rolled happily down the side of the hill. It was a fine day and the early spring sun warming the air around his home allowed him a little freedom before the big melt and the long deep sleep until the next snows.
As he tumbled downwards he caught sight of three wide mouthed figures staring straight up at him from the path far below. Two bounces and a dive later he disappeared into a patch of soft snow and peeked out of his hiding place. The snowball waited a few minutes to make sure the nasty looking creatures had definitely moved on before once more resuming his progress down the hill …
It was hardly the stuff of which great adventure stories were made. A small fist sized lump of snow and a trail of small “crumbs” trickled down some 30m above us and stopped abruptly. End of avalanche. I must confess I wasn’t too disappointed. We had now reached the truly magnificent setting of Coire an Lochain.
Coire an Lochain
Taking a Star to Meet the Sky
We had only 250m of ascent left. Up until now the walk had been a relatively leisurely affair with the route from Mamore Lodge to the lochan providing steady gradients, initially along a track then along a narrower steeper path. Now things became a trifle tougher. A couple of passing walkers advised us that we had boulders and small crags to negotiate on the final, steeper, slopes of Sgurr Eilde Mor but nothing at all difficult.
It was fun, hard work, but fun. The Fatdog coped well with the boulderfield. The rocks were not too big so FD had lots of places to place her paws without the threat of stumbling into large gaps. The crags proved a little more interesting as we had to pick routes for her to follow. One step proved particularly tricky when she sized up her options but didn’t like what she was seeing. A shift of a few metres to the right and a series of ledges within paw reach and we were past the crag and heading for the summit. Cap’n Jack, led the way with the little star tucked safely in his inside pocket.
Munro number 50 was soon done and dusted and it was time for the little pink star to have her photo taken…over Ben Nevis!
It had been a day of hazy sunshine and the surrounding mountains were barely silhouettes. Only the nearby Mamores and Nevis ranges provided any degree of clarity. Lochan Eilde Mor and Blackwater Reservoir failed to light up as the sun, now in the west, struggled to break up the thin veil of cloud. But it was difficult to complain, other than a chilling breeze near to the summit the weather had been exceptionally kind.
The little pink star was in a thunderous mood and tapped one of her little points impatiently.
Could these oafs not read? They had clear instructions. Angels, fairies and Portuguese mountains…what was so difficult about that? Why on earth was she being hauled so ignominiously up a mountain in the middle of nowhere to take part in this crass and ham-fisted photo shoot…amateurs…she was dealing with complete amateurs! And what a motley bunch they were!
The young one with the hair could most definitely do with a bath. The grey haired one was old enough to know better and as for the small black hairy one, the star shuddered. It’s smile was cute but the eyes seemed to be permanently checking a lunch menu to see how pink stars would be served.
The little star sighed and settled back down. At least the scenery was good and it was a day out. As the little pink star drifted off to sleep in Cap’n Jacks pocket she wondered where on earth she’d end up next…
Catch a Falling Star and…Take it to the Pub!
Well…we had great intentions of putting the little star into a nearby cache…but regretably we ran out of time. This was mainly because we were heading for the Clachaig!!! But it all ended happily ever after as the little star and the Fatdog got hammered on pints of ale and sang all the way home.
and the Star’s story…