05 Nov 2014
“A long walk at high altitude.” I announced looking at the perfectly clear blue sky from our breakfast table. According to the weather app, today will be our only day without rain.
It was with great excitement that we climbed into our new outdoor gear and packed for the walk. David cradled his shiny new boots, fresh out of the box. I shall call him: New Boot Boy.
Yesterday we spent an easy day in Fort William’s outdoor gear shops looking for proper Gortex rain coats and pants, and David could finally buy new hiking boots; his last pair are 15 years old.
The drive from Fort William to Glencoe follows the dark water of Loch Linnhe and winds through pretty forest of turning leaves. Our journey was delayed by three patches of roadworks but we’re in no hurry. Where Loch Linnhe meets Loch Leven the views across the broad wide water are magnificent with a backdrop of broad stout mountains.
After Passing through Glencoe village, the road turns east and runs through a spectacular valley (Glen) carved by the River Coe. The mountains loomed in the windscreen as the valley closed in; the road cut through rock face and past hundreds of waterfalls. Words can’t describe this awe-inspiring place.
“Which car park do we need?” I asked my trusty navigator.
“..Erhm…” He scanned the map. Uh-oh. “I should have marked it on the map” he said after a minute. I pulled into the next car park, which lo and behold, was the correct one!
While David booted up, I wrestled with our walking map and resorting to folding it into the section we needed on the warm bonnet of the car. Booted and zipped we set off into the valley following the damp stony path along a gentle incline. We thought of our friends Jim and Ceiney, and Ross often on this walk. We walked through this valley with them in winter 2002/03. As we climbed the gentle ascent we reminisced about the time we’d spent with them that trip. Fun times.
We were climbing Stob Coire Raineach, 928m. A Munro is a Scottish mountain over 3000ft/ 914m. So we were bagging a Munro! In Mary Welsh & Christine Isherwood’s book Walking Glencoe, Lochaber and the Great Glen, this walk is described as “A delightful climb for seasoned fell walkers.” We’ve been jogging twice a week and walking every single day. We’re ready for a climb.
After a fork in the path we left the valley and started a rising traverse across the hillside. Passing crags, and narrow running streams our route turned more directly up the hillside and started the assent to a saddle. The mountains surrounding us glowed gold in the sun.
“How are your boots? I can hear the leather creaking.”
“They are the best boots known to man.” He responded happily.
It wasn’t long before the path changed to steps and effectively stayed this steep until reaching the saddle.
The beauty of alpine vegetation is all in the details: pebbles frozen in a thin puddle, crystals formed on a blade of grass, tiny frosted plants, the satisfying crunch of partly frozen ground. The sound of mountain streams danced around us, rounding a bend one stream vanished replaced with another.
David climbed on ahead, stopping frequently to keep an eye on me. I knew this walk would be all uphill and downhill with little flat ground, and I was determined. It was leg-burning lung-busting going. We took it slowly stopping frequently to drink in the view and catch our breath.
Suddenly a cold headwind picked up and I knew we approached the saddle. The ground was more icy in the shadows and slowed us down but as soon as we reached the sunny ridge, it was much easier going.
At the saddle we met a woman walking with a shaggy black dog he was wearing harness with a handle on his back. He loped over for a sniff and a pat from us and then back to the woman. She kindly offered to take a photo of us, before calling her dog and continuing on her way.
Now for the hard part: the final assent to the peak. I checked the time, we have limited daylight hours: it’s dark at 4:30pm. There was time.
The final leg of the walk was steep, rocky with some loose scree climbing. Slowly and steadily, making every step count we picked our way up, until finally reaching the pinnacle! Woo Hoo! Munro bagged!
And the view! We stood ogling in every direction at the pattern of peaks and glens, lochs and rivers. Tiny cars glistened on a snaking road, there was a damn in the distance.
“That’s the peak we climbed with the gang.” I said pointing west into the sun, to Stob Dubh.
“That’s right, I filmed it and then accidentally taped over it.” He remembered with a chuckle. Those were the days.
The sun warmed us and there was no real wind to speak of, so we sat comfortably on a rock taking it all in. I felt good.
A black raven circled around us, landed and hopped a little closer.
“Look at the size of that raven!” Glossy, jet-black and as big as an eagle.
“That’s not a raven: that’s a Wizard.” He sounded almost matter of fact, making me snort.
The raven stared at us and we stared at him.
“If I had a sandwich, I’d give it to you.” David said to the wizard as he lifted his camera.
I turned back to the view looking down along Glen Coe to the pale grey Loch in the distance.
“He’s sneaking up on you.” David said quietly.
Slowly turning around, I saw the raven perched right on top of the cairn marking the peak. It hardly seemed fair, we took hours to get here, through some hard climbing and here he sits looking like he owns the place.
“He is a wizard.” I agreed. What a beautiful bird: black glossy eyes, black legs. With a shake he fluffed out his feathers to keep warm. Too bad we can’t offer him a juicy worm.
Eventually we pulled ourselves away from the excitement of the peak, and started on the decent.
“It isn’t over yet,” said Dave “now we have to make it down.”
Downhill is a different sort of pain to uphill.
Retracing our steps down felt like a different route to coming up. The valley was laid out before us offering a different perspective to the view. Descending the main peak back to the saddle was quite difficult and involved a little scrambling on all fours. It was a cross between controlled sliding and walking in places of loose scree.
Reaching the saddle and the icy patch just below, kept us concentrating on each footfall. I managed to slip over a couple of times; no harm done other than to my pride. And then the stairs. Down, down, down. We made good time and started gaining on a trio of walkers below us. So we stopped to rest our burning knees and watched the changing afternoon light on the Munro’s around us.
A lone walker shuffled down the stairs from behind us.
“Making the most of the good weather!” He said cheerfully through a thick Scottish accent, as he went past without slowing.
“Gee he’s really moving” I said surprised.
“Look how he’s moving; little springy steps, bouncing on his toes.” We watched his technique for a minute before he was out of view.
Our knees were tired from stomping down the unruly stone stairs so we tried his technique. I was surprised at the difference it made. Much smaller fasted steps, keep moving, a sort of controlled falling, less resisting gravity perhaps. “I am a coiled spring”. In is manner we were down in no time and feeling good.
What an adventure. I’m sure we’ll be stiff tomorrow, but it will have been worth it!