So I didn't blog yesterday. I had a good picking of hills and was very tired when I got down last night.
Steve, Jen, Struan, Andy and I stayed at Glencoe ski centre two nights ago where they have those circular micro-cabin/hobbit-houses. It's a great place, complete with cafe and restaurant that I didn't know existed. The entire gable end of the restaurant is a window looking straight onto the Buachaille Etive Mor, last night brooding and black. So cool!
Yesterday morning, I moved south from the Coe/Etive region. I had six Munros left in this area: all around Bidean nam Bian and Blackmount. Both areas were still covered in snow, both will be left until a later date, when the snow melts and conditions improve.
Steve took me to Crianlarich where I hoped to find less wild peaks. I'd found I was actually getting sick of the Etive region! (Too much of a good thing) I set my sights on Ben More, Stob Binnein, Cruach Ardrain and Beinn Tulaichean. I've done this group before on two occasions and had a good idea of what to expect.
So I booked myself into the Crianlarich Youth Hostel and set off along the road. I tried hitching; some tosser stopped and as I approached, sped off to a two-finger salute in his rear-view mirror and no doubt a laugh. The pinnacle of humanity, eh?
But what's an extra 40 minutes along the road to Ben More?
I shot over these first two hills, up Ben More in 1h 40m and across to Stob Binnein in 50m. (You can tell I'm getting comfortable when I start timing myself across hills!) I also listened to music all day and Colossus by the Afro Celt Sound System played on shuffle as I descended Ben More. Listen and imagine: the mood was one of you're doing this, this is happening, this is brilliant.
The weather was pretty dreadful, but Steve had dropped off thermal bottoms and at last I was climbing mountains in the rain and staying warm and dry at the same time. It was all I needed. I felt brilliant. I also came to realise that in the time since I last did these four Munros, I'd grown stronger. In 2008, I was seventeen and staggered over these in fat-burning pain, no pace and no tactics. Now I was absorbing the miles. A good feeling.
Cruach Ardrain involved some tricky navigation through towers of rock, cliffs, clefts, all lurking out of dense mist. Pounding wind and rain belted across the ridge and if I hadn't been over these hills before, I wouldn't have done what I did. A bit of familiarity goes a long way, and I picked up the huge path between Ardrain and Tulaichean. Cruach Ardrain was gained; one of the most testing hills so far, in navigation and nerve.
The skies exploded in colour across to Tulaichean and for the first time I could see colour-washed villages down by Balquhidder - very attractive. But before long, the next batch of rain was arriving from the west and I headed back to Crianlarich in another shower, running low on patience and getting drained in the legs.
Beinn Tulaichean has always been one of my favourite mountains. It lies in relative obscurity out the back of Cruach Ardrain, it's hardly seen from any road, it's one of the first Munros I ever climbed, age 10 - one of the first places I ever responded emotionally to mountains. It's always been a quiet hill in my mind, always gazing out to sun-washed south. I've always thought about it this way. One day I'll camp on it's summit.
However, Crianlarich couldn't arrive fast enough, and I got back to the hostel at 8:05pm, sore and tired with just enough time to cook up pasta, a cup of tea, dry clothes off, and go to bed.
Today, (Day 12, May 13th) has been my first rest day.
I woke up this morning to a colder-than-normal bed, and between snoozing heard fellow dorm-occupants say "snow on hills". The snow really was on the hills: down to 1000-1500 feet, with cloud racing through a turbulent sky with rail, sleet, snow and you-name-it falling down with alarming frequency. Last nights printed-up mountain forecast looked awful; it was all true - apart from the lightning bit (phew).
Last night, I'd sat and worked out how many peaks I had to do in the Southern Highlands and how long I'd have to do them. I realised that with some tactical advantages (aka car-access!) I could gain a day or two on schedule. So it made sense to take it easy today, bum around Crianlarich drinking tea, hijacking WiFi (kidding) and let the muscles and mind recover. I'm sure that if I went up a hill, I might make one summit and retreat - a waste of energy, since I'd just have to go back again (The Bidean situation). Conditions today were too extreme, I was too tired to fight that hostility.
Then I called mum, who only an hour away, suggested I come home for the evening.... digs sorted, access to a computer, lots of free food! I'm not a continuous-Munro-round-purist as you can tell, so I'm at home for the evening until I'm whisked off tomorrow morning to continue the Southern Highland bagging campaign.
As I said before, my old schedule for the Southern Highlands is in pieces at the moment. Contact me if you're interested in joining me on a hill, and I'll let you know where I am! Ben Lomond will be the same date because I'm already doing this with a couple of people.
I've got the Rush gig coming up on the 30th May, and this is built into my schedule. I want all the Southern Highlands done by this point, ready to move on to new mountain regions. This will be a third of the Round complete and a major section overcome. Many of the Southern Highland hills are topographically very isolated, so I'll try and combine some: perhaps the Loch Earn pair and Chonzie in one day. I'll do The Lawers Range to Schiehallion in two days, and once the isolated ones and Lawers are mopped up, I've got several big groups of four which I'll climb sooner or later.
But for now, I'm going to process some photos of the trip so far, and work out what's coming next.