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Touching Destiny

Two friends struggling to face up to the realities of Father Time are forced out into the Scottish wilderness. The quest; to slow their bulging waist lines with arduous exploration into the unknown, to walk and stumble for 3 days along lofty ridges and over rugged summits. Shod in fell running shoes they once would have floated along such a route in hours, a time when escaping daily to the hills was their reason to rise, now escape to the pub and flatulence their only form of breaking loose. The wild insecurity of the venture dictates that the two old relics should rekindle navigational harmony, once their trademark, endure the rigors and aromatic confines of a nylon eyrie, all desperately far from a pub. The route they must hump their crippling load would be dismissed by the ‘baggers’ for a lack of Munros and thankfully not tabulated in magazines for TV explorers. A delicate though challenging course just 18 miles, rising and falling brutishly through a tantalising wilderness of unbroken splendour. The terrain, distance and allotted time is perfectly suited to their experience and intended pace. A place where more than a zimmer frame shuffle would mean disturbing a fragile environment and every torturous step will hopefully present a unique view and an excuse to stop, and record it on film. Where eagles soar endless ridges in search of prey undisturbed by man and where generations of deer are the only path makers. The whiley old farts secretly relish this chance to gently touch, this area of undiscovered beauty together!

The day was set, a remote railway station car park at the head of a splendid loch. The mountains cloaked in grey cloud, an occasional glimpse of old snow hung in the high dips and corries. Was it to be an extra sweater or a dram of malt to break the camels back, which the more valuable during the planned two long nights high on unpredictable weather swept Scottish peaks? Only a fool would reject the anaesthetic. Young or old, the sanity of a new mountain adventure is always paramount during the first few hours, this was no exception, as we tried to remain vertical under our tottering load. Steep boggy slopes, dripping walls of rock and swollen streams led the way into the mist and rain. With no track to follow 3 hours of uphill toil was enough. We set up camp on a minute perch sheltered from the wind with a grandiose view occasionally unfolding through gaps in the cloud.

After a disturbed night of wind, rain and competition snoring the morning tasks were disposed of quickly, why waste time with chores at this pace; eat, dump and away! At one stage we almost broke into a comfortable stride along a level craggy ridge, laboured breathing soon slowed us back to a senile pace. One side of the ridge a massive void dropped away into a spooky gloom. Only tantalising glimpses of deep cut valleys through thick cloud spur us on. As the rain fell heavier navigation became the only fascination for the route ahead. A steep ridge, craggy scrambling and an untrodden summit at 850 mtrs engulfed in dense murk. Following an uncertain descent, we picking our way down 400 mtrs of treacherous ridge in nil visibility and rain to a notch, punishing already worn out knees. A squint at the barometer, at last a rising tendency gave us the hope we were expecting, coaxing us on to rendezvous’ with our planned goal at just the right time. Shafts of blinding sunlight penetrated laser like through the broiling clouds creating a mottled camouflage effect on our increasingly spectacular surroundings. We were being transported out of our claustrophobic grey environment. A brew stop gave us chance to soak in the improving conditions and diagnose what lay ahead, uphill and back to 820 mtrs.

The effort was worth it, a fine vantage point to spy our route ahead ‘the best was obviously yet to come’. After years of roaming we had found a jewel! Twisted knackered bodies, aching joints and excess belly baggage couldn’t stop us now. We drooled our way closer and closer towards our goal; an attractive rocky ridge snaked skyward for miles into the clearing blue. A distant pyramid summit capped with the remnants of glistening snow and beyond a roller coaster ride of shallow cols and perky tops stretch west as far as the eye could see. Not a path or footprint to be seen. Behind us in the distance the highest peaks to rise out of the Scottish turf were of no appeal. Only the endless views either side attracted our interest and presented a constant test of our Highland knowledge. Like two kids we responded to our scenery vying to be first to identify and name the far-flung shapes we’d once trotted over in our fell running shoes.

By late afternoon our staggering had finally turned to torture and the desire to savour the last summit was kept for the final morning. A windless, clear sky threatened a night of frost at our campsite on an open col. Snuggled down behind a makeshift wall, we devoured a gigantic meal then witness a sunset truly worthy of a day of suffering. Sipping the last dram stars beamed intensely out of a deepening purple sky and a vividly memorable day had been made for the classic album.

During the night listening to a strengthening wind, in and outside the tent, with my face pressed voluntarily into the condensation on the nylon side wall, as my cell mate moved amorously ever closer in his sleep, I tried to avoid thoughts of a return to work, preferring to reflect on our quest and the march of Father Time. Slower progress isn’t a scary end to a high speed youth of chasing tick list hills, but a start for searching for remote horizons, refining an ability to ponder views and enjoying conversations, and silences, on the move with friends. Destiny for a true hills man is an endless book of stories, blank pages to be filled with tales of the moment and the odd rare jewel. It doesn’t matter where this place is, you’ve all been there; last week, last month, last year the fun is discovering a jewel. Whatever the pain a void the pipe and slippers.

Slow progress somewhere in the Western Highlands of Scotland by - Stuart Cathcart of High Sports and Charlie Leventon. 2003.

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