The last few weeks of the Munro Round have been fantastic. The weather has been great and I could hardly have asked for better conditions. Today I made my first steps into the Central Highlands with Beinn a' Chlachair, Geal Charn and Creag Pitridh, and I inch ever more closely toward the west coast.
Dad was up for the day, and he dropped me off with the bike by Loch Laggan at 1pm. We'd got up early enough in Boat of Garten, but we spent the morning sorting out gear and getting rolls for breakfast in Aviemore. Two days away from the longest day, I'm not worried about starting out late and anyway, these hills shouldn't take long.
I cycled up to Lochan an h-Earba; an amazing place. Framed by mountains and a sandy beach exposed by the dry weather, I shot some photos and film. Under the sun, it seemed like an ideal camp for the future.
I then headed up the shoulder left of the Beinn a' Chlachair coire; a long slog up an arm of heather and boulders. The summit views were amazing, the Cairngorms look far off now and the west, very near. The elegant Alder peaks were just across the glen. I remember being a week or two into the Round, looking at these mountains from the south and thinking; "imagine being there, so far on into the Round". Predictably, it isn't quite as satisfying as I've had imagined from that more lowly vantage-point, but I do appreciate how far I've come.
Typical for the west coast, I noticed that for the first time in ages, the rain was sweeping in from the Atlantic. I got Beinn a' Chlachair ticked off. Then under sunny skies, I scooted off to #2, Geal Charn, with the wind to my back, telling of worse weather to come.
I got off Chlachair and began climbing to Geal Charn. On my left-hand side, low cloud and showers swept the Creag Meagaidh range. On the right; the Alder range. Beinn a' Chlachair had developed it's own cloud cap and I raced up Geal Charn to try and get the summit before the heavens descended on me.
I made it in time, although I expected to get rained on any moment. I headed to the last Munro, Creag Pitridh, hardly a Munro at all, but still a quirky and independent afterthought to the bulkier, hump-backed Geal Charn.
Then the weirdest thing happened; the rain completely disappeared. Sun shafts broke out over Lochaber, and bit by bit, sunlight seemed to be returning as I made it to the top of Creag Pitridh. No need to rush, then... After yesterday's big day on the Cairngorms, I hadn't felt as wasted as I might have expected, but I did feel sluggish. And the precise, sharp focus that guided me over the Cairngorms was noticeably lacking today.
But I didn't need to worry too much, I'd done three Munros in spot on four hours and all going well, I shouldn't be too long back to the car.
These hills are another range I haven't been on in a very long time, but I've noticed that the Munros just don't feel quite as big or wild as they used to. I've done big rounds of hills before and made big linkups, but it has taken a huge trip like this to really change my perception. The first time I did the Chalchair trio, they felt like wild hills and I remember the anxiety of being in such an exposed position.
Now, despite incoming bad weather, I felt much calmer, much more able to move freely over the hills without worry. It is liberating, but I can never get away from the immense challenges ahead. Today was Day 49. I plan to finish on Day 98, and thus I have completed half of my scheduled days. I'm also pretty sure that I passed the magical 1000km mark today, (I'll work it all out in detail later) and the half-way point in terms of Munro count will be in a few days time and on schedule.
I headed back down the glen from Creag Pitridh, picked up the bike and hightailed it back to the road where dad was waiting. I got back at 6:05pm, just over five hours after starting out.
From now it seems like the weather will break down a little, which is a shame because I'm about to enter some superb mountain regions. I have some big days planned and all going well I'll sneak in a rest day here or there, no doubt.
I'm in Aviemore now (at La Taverna) and tonight will be my last night in Boat of Garten. Tomorrow I'll be in Lochaber at last, no doubt chopping and changing plans to the tune of the weather. I'm looking forward to the following section and fearing it in equal measure, no doubt a good sign. This is how I felt about the Cairngorms before I blasted through them and had the time of my life. As for tomorrow; the Creag Meagaidh 5 is the plan, in the rain, and then I'll work out what to do from there.
For now, back to Boat of Garten and sleep!