The Twilight of the Dogs

2015-07-25 21.31.12It’s probably fair to say that this weekend didn’t have the most auspicious start; I’d originally been planning a visit to Arran, opted to cancel that on Thursday in favour of taking some work that should have started Saturday morning, then had the job cancelled on Friday, leaving me with a sense of frustration and a hole in my diary.

I had a quick look at my “Munros I’ve yet to visit” map, and the cluster of dots on the south side of Loch Quoich caught my eye; Gairich and Sgurr Mor were obvious contenders, and the westwards continuation of Sgurr Mor’s ridge line also contained a further threesome, finishing with Sgurr na Ciche, giving an ambitious, but potentially achievable weekend trip.

Cat was working from home on Friday, which made the logistics of heading north slightly easier, but it’s still a long haul in the car, and it was past 11pm by the time we pulled into the parking area just past the Quoich dam and shouldered our packs to get going. The plan was to walk into the eastern shoulder of Gairich and find a spot to camp for the night, before an early start on Saturday. The aim was to drop our camping kit on the bealach between Sgurr Beag and An Eag, before making the out and back trip to Sgurr na Ciche, camp where we’d left out gear on Saturday, then walk out Sunday.

The plan started to go a bit pear shaped from the outset; the path that leads south from the dam is fairly rough and wet, and Cat was finding it hard going in the dark. The 2.5km journey took over an hour, and by the time we’d climbed partway up the eastern slopes of Gairich and found ourselves a reasonable spot to get the tent up, it was after 2am. Rather rashly, I stuck with my original plan of setting the alarm for 6am, and the early morning wake up call found us both a bit short of sleep as we dragged ourselves out of the tent and into a bright, if blustery morning.2015-07-25 07.16.47Making our way up to the summit of Gairich gave the first hint that the ambitious plan A was a bit of a non-starter; Cat was struggling a bit with the combination of a lack of sleep and a heavier than normal rucksack. The steep drop and 600m re-ascent between Gairich and the Corbett of Sgurr an Fhuarain took a further toll on both our energy levels, despite a detour to make use of the remains of the old stalkers path up the north ridge. When we eventually arrived at the summit, I admitted defeat and, after layering up with my down jacket, I rearranged some of the stones on the summit cairn and went off to sleep for 45 mins.

We toiled on up the equally steep Sgurr Mor, in weather conditions that varied wildly between baking hot sunshine and bitterly cold squally rain showers, arriving at the top in this year’s now customary grey murk.15-07-25 Gairich 30 - Version 2It was clear that we weren’t going to be tagging the summit of the remaining three Munros today and, as we made our way down off Sgurr Mor, I had to admit that I was quite keen to find somewhere to get the tent up and pack it in for the day. Although our original plan had been been to climb over Sgurr Beag and camp on the bealach between it and An Eag, the sight of a flat mossy spot nestling between some rock outcrops at the base of Sgurr Mor proved too tempting, especially with the the faint sound of running water nearby. As is often the case, it was pretty breezy between the two peaks, but the rocks provided some shelter  and we soon had the tent up and the stove heating up water for a brew. After rustling up some hot food, I succumbed to the lure of my sleeping bag and cuddled up with the dogs for a wee nap. 15-07-25 Gairich 35Waking up and hour or so later, I gradually became aware that the wind had died down and the frantic flapping of the tent fabric had stopped. Climbing out of the tent, I stepped into silence; no wind, no birds, nothing but the faint music of water falling over rocks. The sun was sinking low over the Glen Shiel hills to the north, lighting up the underside of the clouds with a vivid orange glow.15-07-25 Gairich 62 - Version 2While I often find time in the hills gives me valuable space to reflect on life, I don’t generally find myself having much in the way of mystical experiences but on this occasion, sitting in the silence, I found myself reflecting on the old Celtic notion of twilight as “the time between times”, when the veil between the material world and the spiritual becomes gossamer thin. In the quiet, with nothing moving but some deer on the distant hillside opposite us, it wasn’t hard to understand why this would have seemed like a time ripe with transcendent possibilities to the people who lived here. It was hard to drag ourselves away from the scene in front of us, but eventually the chill air began to bite through my light down jacket and we retreated to the tent for a last brew before settling down for the night.

I woke up around 6am the following morning to the sound of the tent flysheet flapping in a blustery wind, which had now backed round and was coming at us from a SW direction, rendering the rocks we’d pitched behind the previous night useless as a shelter. I lay quietly relishing the warmth of my sleeping bag for an hour or so until Catriona stirred, then put the stove on for breakfast while we chatted about our options for the day. Although we both felt well rested, nether of us had much motivation for the epic trip out and back to Sgurr na Ciche followed by the long walk along Glen Kinglass; after last night’s calming twilight, we were both in more of a stravaiging mood, and we opted to investigate the campsite from our original plan for future reference, then take a fairly relaxed stroll back out to the car, brewing up on the stove a couple of times, and stopping for a bit of easy bouldering on the ‘erratics’ scattered about the glen.

Not our most productive weekend in terms of Munro-bagging, but as we arrived back at the car and sorted our gear for the return journey, we both agreed that it had been a much needed chance to experience  nature’s nourishing touch that John Muir so often reflects upon in his writing;

“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

…and speaking of nourishment, I wonder what John Muir would have made of the Real Food Cafe?