THERE’S snow on the tops and a delicious aroma of bacon drifting through the Highland community of Fersit. For a man who’s just eaten an unappetising pan of muesli made with cold water and powdered milk in a freezing tent on the outskirts of Fort William, this is torture indeed. Nothing smells finer to a hungry hiker than bacon frying in a pan. I am tempted to seek out the source and knock on the door like a desperate David Balfour. But I don’t. Englishmen prefer to suffer in deferential silence . . .
Stob Coire Sgriodain and Chno Dearg appear cold and distant as rain begins to fall. There’s an icy wind and a wintry feel to the morning – but then the sun breaks through banks of cloud and patches of blue appear. To the west, Ben Nevis is lost beneath a great brooding blackness.
It’s a slog up Stob Coire Sgriodain from Fersit. The streams make it interesting, though. Whereas big streams usually start as lots of little streams that join together as they tinkle down the hill, the streams on Stob Coire Sgriodain turn the rule on its head. One big stream flows out of Lochan Coire an Lochain, then splits into three as it tumbles down the mountain. One of these branches splits again, just for good measure.
Well, I thought it was interesting anyway.
Stob Coire Sgriodain is a frontrunner in the mountain with the most false summits competition. It’s up there with dear old Schiehallion. I lose count of how many times I think I have reached the top, only to stagger over rock ledges to find another series of crags rising before me. But the views along Loch Treig are reward enough. And on the summit – the true summit – there is not a breath of wind.
Stob Coire Sgriodain’s south top has a cairn made from beautiful white quartz rocks that look like huge lumps of Kendal mint cake – and would certainly do as much damage to your teeth if you bit them. I resist the temptation. I do not intend to disturb the muesli.
The summit of Chno Dearg is my final call after visiting Meall Garbh, its southern top. Most of the morning’s snow has melted, but on the horizon to the north and east, the mountains are still white. Sitting there behind the cairn, as wind whips the stones and clouds begin to roll in bringing rain and misery, I realise I have not seen a solitary soul all day. I’ve had the mountains to myself.
On the road back to a heavily-overcast and dreary Fort William I stop at the village store in Roy Bridge for half a dozen eggs and a packet of bacon. Bugger the muesli.
NUTNOTE: Apparently, muesli was invented by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner as a health food for patients at his Zurich sanatorium. Do you require any more information to put you off it for life?