Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of this story were published over the last five days. If you haven’t read them, briefly, @ian_bec and I have travelled to Scotland for a mountaineering holiday. Yesterday, I described Ian’s first experiences on a Scottish mountain. Today I take him up something higher.
Emboldened by his experiences on Stac Pollaidh, Ian threw himself into the plan of attack for the following day’s peak: Cul Mor. Cul Mor is a technically straightforward mountain to ascend but is quite a bit higher than its neighbour Stac Pollaidh and, on a good day, it affords superb views over the land around. Once again we had the benefit of my folks for company and you’ll notice a step change in the quality of some of the pics in this post. That’s because my Dad – Iain Roy – took them. Check out his landscape photography (which you can buy). First up, here’s the mountain itself, standing astride the landscape like a sleeping giant. Well worth clicking on this pic to enlarge it.
We’d explained to Ian the night before that this mountain would involve a longish walk in before the climbing began. (When I say climbing, I am not referring to rock-climbing.) Ian said, “Surely you mean, the walk out to the mountain?” “No“, we chorused, “the walk to the mountain is called the ‘walk in’ and the walk away is called the ‘walk out’ – once you’ve done it, you’ll see why.” The reason for this apparently reverse terminology is, of course, because after a mountain has captured you, it feels like something you need to safely get out of. At least, that’s the way I’ve always understood it. Either that or it’s just plain old tradition to say it like that.
The walk in begins with a well formed stalkers’ path. This is not, of course, a reference to a pervert’s parade but a route which the deer hunters use. After a roughly a couple of miles, the path crosses into the inevitable peat bog and where it loses itself, reappearing again for feint sections before disappearing again. Picking your footsteps gingerly around this sort of early and extended obstacle is a frequent feature of Scottish hill walking. At the time, it always seems like a labour of love but in fact the process warms your limbs and limbers up your muscles for the slopes ahead. Soon enough, we came upon them. Wanting to record Ian’s efforts in their true perspective, my Dad motored ahead up the steep slope and pointed his camera back down at the rest of us coming up from below.
My Mum walks slowly but steadily. She brings up the rear. I haven’t known many people who would take on the ardours she has tackled and none as hardy as her. It was rather windy, the clouds swept around us. We kept our heads down and our conversation lower.
Ian said he was finding this pathless slope “bloody hard work“. So was I. It seemed like a good moment to explain to Ian that mountaineers are master of the understatement because such talk never got anyone anywhere. “Instead of saying ‘bloody hard work’, we might say instead, ‘slow going’“, I explained. He looked doubtful. I could hardly blame him.
The wind picked up. “You have a go,” I suggested, “describe the wind?” He made a decent stab at this newfound conversational technique, “It isn’t a hurricane!” We chuckled. It was time for a rest. We found some convenient sandstone slabs and settled in for a nice drink of water, which we’d collected from a burn further down.
After a while, my Mum caught up with us, with a look of grim determination on her face. The wind increased in speed and nearly blew her over. Unluckily for her, my Dad caught this moment on camera. Despite her evident fear from nearly falling over on this steep sloped stone field, she just said, “The air’s a little fresh today.” I could see Ian making a mental note of her collected manner and superb understatement.
Just after this point, we reached the shoulder before the final slope to the summit. There was a bit of a drop here but my Dad carefully led Ian to it, so that he could see that it was really another false horizon, guarded by an outcrop. Even with the wind, it was a safe place from which to admire the view. This was a panorama that few photographs do justice to. Also, the clouds got in the way a bit. Here’s my favourite mountain in Scotland, poking its hat above the clouds in the distance, Suilven.
These mountains are notable for their quartzite caps, which catch the evening sun and radiate bright pink and orange reflections for miles around. This is the reason they stand alone in this part of the world: apparently, during the last ice age, the glaciers gouged the rest of the rock away but it when it met quartzite bubbles, it could not break it. Instead, they just travelled around them and left the mountains standing underneath. When you see a map of the area, you can see the mountains all point in similar directions, making this theory easier to understand. The best way to understand the geology is to walk all over it. Here’s my Mum, Ian and myself resting on the boundary between the ‘soft’ sandstone and the hard quartzite, near the summit.
Knowing the special sensation of reaching a summit first and keen to convert Ian into a fully fledged mountaineer, we let him go first. My Dad followed close behind, encouraging him onwards. As they looked over their shoulders, they could see my Mum and me following in their footsteps and yesterday’s hill, Stac Pollaidh below us!
Without the mountain to shelter us, the breeze ‘developed’. It caught me by surprise.
At last, we made the summit, where there is a handy horseshoe cairn and a trig point. My Mum headed straight for that, Ian texted his Mum and I just stopped.
After a look around, we got our priorities in order. It was time for lunch!