The first day with my new car.
I picked up the car around about 11am, but with packing, procrastinating and cups of tea, I didn't get away until mid-afternoon. Strangely, I wasn't too bothered. As long as the hills were done at some point that day, I was happy.
I started from Balsporran at 5:20pm, and pushed a hard pace to Geal-charn, the first Munro of four. The weather was fair – quite cloudy but no rain, for the moment. The one disadvantage of starting late had been I would probably get hit by a front around 10pm.
I got to the summit in under an hour and kept up a great pace over the hills. One of the highlights for me was to see Ben Alder across Loch Ericht. This enormous and remote peak is in the heart of the Central Highlands, and it was exciting to see it so close up. For so long, I've been thinking about reaching this point of the walk. It's surreal that I'm finally taking steps towards it, as small as those daily steps may seem.
The weather began to deteriorate on Munro #2, A' Mharconaich. I reached the summit in spitting rain and clag, a couple hundred metres behind another walker who seemed to get to the summit then simply disappear. I sat here with mist blowing by, trying to drum up motivation for the other two hills. To descend back to Balsporran would make a short day out, but it would commit me to making a second to trip to the other two.
I took the non-lazy option and turned south toward Munro #3, Beinn Udlamain. Mist blew in and out and views opened and closed. The lifting clag meant I didn't have to navigate the majority of the distance, which was a minor relief.
I kept a pace going over this hill to the summit - more mist. After ten minutes on top, I descended down the south side. Views opened slightly, down to Loch Rannoch. Except there were no hills there, just a black wall of mist and rain, coming straight in my direction and swallowing everything in its path.
Oh. My. God.
I looked at it, trying to work out it was the dark shores of a loch or something. But no – a wall of rain was heading straight for me. It's amazing how the adrenaline kicks in at these points, even though in reality a wall of rain is no threat at all, simply a minor inconvenience when you've got waterproofs.
The sky around me visibly darkened in moments (despite being around 8pm – still very light). Rain began pelting down as hard as I've had it so far on this trip.
In situations like these, one half of my brain responds emotionally. It's quite pathetic: “It's cold, the summit will be claggy, the rain is hammering down. Come back another time, please?” It somehow perceives danger when there is none. The other half says this: “No, you've got waterproofs, you're not in danger, and you're definitely not coming back again for a reason that amounts to laziness.” I suppose the real art of mountain climbing is listening only to the rational side of the brain, except when the emotional side is communicating true danger. You can go a long way if you switch off the moany side!
The decision was made and Sgairneach Mhor was dispatched with ease. I had some fun navigation with a map and compass. (It's more fun than just walking up in the clear). In general, I've missed the subtleties of working with the compass. It's been a while.
The hammering rain had stopped by the time I got to the summit, and the wind wasn't too high either. Obviously this rain hadn't been the feared front, just passing showers. I was on top of Sgairneach Mhor less than four hours after starting out, at Drumochter you can get away with this! Then I started the long walk back to the car.
There isn't a whole lot to say, except the summits cleared of their mist and I got a dry walk down the glen back to the A9, and then up the main road to the car. I kept in touch with dad who kept me filled in with what the rain was doing. A front was on it's way, and for a while I felt like I was racing it back to the car.
But all was fine: I got back to the car in semi-darkness, just as the first spots of rain fell. I stayed in Boat of Garten, put on a curry (as ever) and got a pretty late bed.