Days Like This, No 11: Above Clouds on A’ Chràlaig

A Chralaig 1

ABOVE the shores of Loch Cluani the slopes of A’ Chràlaig rise steeply and without respite to its 1,120m (3,674ft) summit. From the crest of its south ridge I expect to behold fine and uninterrupted views across the western Highlands to the Knoydart peninsula and north to Kintail and beyond. To the south I’ll see the Nevis range. God knows what lies to the east. For now, that’s an unknown country . . .

This is a retro post for Because They’re There. It’s a letter from the past featuring a memorable walk and the contemporary events surrounding it . . .

There’s ice on the windows of our holiday cottage in Ratagan and freezing fog fills the valley. It’s the kind of dark and dreary morning I’m tempted roll over in bed and climb dream mountains instead. But I make the effort, and soon the car is motoring slowly along the A87 towards Loch Cluanie.

The radio news tells me George Galloway has been expelled from the Labour Party because of his views on the Iraq war. Here’s us spreading democracy abroad while curtailing it at home. I think the rationale is that once they find Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, and Alastair Campbell’s dodgy dossier has been proved to be a beacon of truth, and all those questions over the mysterious death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly have been resolved, and Iraq settles down to a prosperous and peaceful future, George Galloway will be obliged to eat his words.

I park the car on the banks of Loch Cluanie. If there are mountains around here, I can’t see them. All that exists is a foggy greyness, cold air, and the gurgle of water in unseen ditches. But being a dedicated hill-walker, and faced with an alternative of being dragged around the shops and coffee bars of Inverness, I lace up my boots, hoist my pack to my shoulder, and begin the slow climb towards heaven.

I’m taking a direct north-east line from the start of the An Caorann Mòr track because that’s what my guidebook advises. It’s a no-nonsense route that ignores peripheral stuff such as gravity, gradient and terrain. If I ever climb A’ Chràlaig again, I decide, I’ll follow the track that zigzags up the south-east ridge.

The fog thins. The greyness becomes whiteness. I feel a sense of anticipation, and I know that soon I will burst through this barrier of fog to enter a world of lofty mountains and clear blue skies. Sure enough, minutes later the fog tears itself apart in gleaming white tatters as I emerge into sunshine.

A Chralaig 2A Chralaig 6A Chralaig 4A Chralaig 3There is a freezing wind on the summit of A’ Chràlaig. It blows me north along a fine ridge to Stob Coire na Cràlaig. And from there it is tempting to continue to Mullach Fraoch Choire and the end of the ridge, but I don’t have time. So I slide though deep snow to the shadows of the valley.

A Chralaig 9It’s a been another memorable day in the Highlands. And I’ve learnt a valuable lesson: on bleak icy mornings, pull on your boots because things can only get better. Actually, that’s not always the case.

Climbing A’ Chràlaig, October 23, 2003

                                                                                                                                                                     

 

Advertisements

About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Climbing, Footpaths, Hiking, History, Mountains, Politics, Walking and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Days Like This, No 11: Above Clouds on A’ Chràlaig

  1. The urge to stay in bed must be one of the strongest the human body can manifest. If that urge could be used to climb mountains instead there wouldn’t be enough hours in the day.

    Great photos. I often wonder how long the self-timer setting is on your camera. Your poses always look so natural, none of this one ‘ankle slightly too high above the ground’ where the timer caught you before you’ve sat down properly.

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hiya Chris. Those pictures were taken on my old Praktica SLR using either Kodachrome or Ektachrome slide film; the self-timer was about twenty seconds so there was plenty of time to assume a gentleman’s catalogue-style pose.
      My digital cameras have ten-second timers and that poses a real challenge. I’ve tumbled over several times in the rush to get in the picture – on one occasion nearly falling into a waterwheel pit.
      There is a good chance that, when my time comes, and I die in the mountains, the event will be recorded for posterity.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  2. James Webb says:

    Beautiful! A great temperature inversion by the looks on some of those photos.

    Like

  3. My hubby has recently purchased a Canon camera (a small, compact digital thing) specifically because it has a 30 second self timer, and will then take up to 10 shots once it’s going off. That way, he usually has at least one of himself that’s respectable…..

    Like

  4. Hanna says:

    Hi Alen. I think the Middle East is like an ecosystem. It is possible to intervene in the system, but the system is made up by so many factors that it is impossible to know the outcome.
    It’s a great view you have over the clouds that must have been amazing.
    Maybe A ‘Chràlaig is not particularly high with its 1,120 m. But in the mountains I have learned the importance of which way you choose :/
    May they forever be excommunicated those terrible guidebooks that ignore the law of gravity
    I have heard of a famous climber, who suffered a very serious fall. He was flown to a University Hospital, where competent personnel receive him. Everything is checked and double-checked in preparation for surgery. He can see on their faces that they don’t think he’ll make it.
    He becomes desperate. So when they ask if he is allergic to something, he answers: Yes!!!
    For what? The atmosphere is hectic, but now all personnel stands still awaiting his response.
    The law of gravity, he shouts. The staff laughs, and when they continue to work, he knows that he has increased his chances of survival….the story popped up when I read the word gravity 🙂
    All the best,
    Hanna

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hanna, you’re getting good at story telling. And as for guidebooks, I agree with you on that one. Nowadays, if I’m up in Scotland climbing Munros, I read the guidebook then look at the map, then make my own mind up as to which route I will take. It’s a more enjoyable way to climb mountains and it adds a sense of adventure.
      All the best, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  5. rthepotter says:

    Looks like a wonderful day. Often wish I had taken better notes of some of the walks I’ve done in the past – or do you just have a very good memory?
    Your dry political cynicism made me think of this blog, which sometimes makes me smile: http://www.networks.nhs.uk/editors-blog/the-key-to-losing-the-next-election

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hello there, Mrs Potter. Thanks for the link. I enjoyed that and I’ll add the site to my favourites.
      I have the type of memory that tends to embellish distant events. But a huge collection of slides helps (about 3,500 at the last count), and flicking through these always dislodges stuff that would otherwise have been forgotten.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  6. It’s great when you think it’s a horrid day and almost don’t bother but then you got up and find that above the cloud! 🙂 The zig-zag stalkers’ path up the SE ridge is much, much better – I couldn’t face your/the usual route myself.
    Carol.

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Carol. Looking at the map, the south-east ridge is the obvious choice, and it would probably have made a more scenic route as well as an easier route. I was looking at it last night on a satellite view, and there’s a really good path.
      I might do it again sometime because I’ve still to climb Mullach Fraoch Choire.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  7. David says:

    Cloud inversions are one of the best experiences you can have in the mountains. Setting off with the anticipation that the grey murk in the valley will transform into a day when you tread the clouds is a wonderful feeling. The skill is to spot the conditions I suppose.

    Being just inland the Picos mountains in northern Spain are a great place for morning temperature inversions that slowly fade into blue sky afternoons. Some years ago 4 of us had nearly a week of them. Returning to the valley after a couple of days climbing up there, we got chatting to some walkers who were moaning how bad the weather had been. They noticed the look of confusion on our faces, and it was only after they said they had not bothered going high because it was so cloudy and damp each morning that we were able to enlighten them to the joys of an early start. There were big cheesy grins all round when they came back next day full of their wonderful morning above the clouds.
    David

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi David. Two of the best days I’ve ever had for cloud inversions have been in Kintail, and at different times of the year. Climbing through cloud into the sunlight is a fantastic experience, and you sort of know when it’s going to happen as you get higher and higher.
      I was on the summit of Ben Nevis in thick mist once (the only time I’ve been up there, as it happens), and I could tell the cloud was only a few feet deep because the sun was trying to break through. But it didn’t. I could almost see its disc, but the cloud held firm and that was it. A very frustrating experience.
      Thanks for the info on the Picos. I intend to return there for some serious walking. I’ve driven through those mountains and camped beneath them, but not had the opportunity to get on the tops.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  8. ossroad says:

    Alen, those are some of the best inversion shots I’ve seen anywhere: like David, they’re one of the best of occurrences for me. My attempts at using the self-timer were* for comedy value only – I’ve got a couple of myself tripping over and several where I’m gurning, and that’s about it.

    * I’ve given up on it

    Like

    • McEff says:

      It’s so exhilarating to emerge from mist and suddenly enter a world of brilliant sunshine and endless views. I suppose it’s one of the highlights of mountain walking.
      Someone should organise a competition for self-timer shots that have gone wrong. I might even give it some consideration myself.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  9. Jo Woolf says:

    Fantastic pics, Alen. I will get to see a cloud inversion one day! It just looks so surreal. Love that cairn on top, too – it looks big enough to camp in!

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hiya Jo. I witnessed my first cloud inversion in the Langdale Pikes one Christmas holiday during the mid-70s. They are few and far between, but foggy days are always a good bet. If it’s foggy in the lowlands, head for the highlands. You don’t have to climb too high to reach the sunshine.
      All the best, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  10. EchoohcE says:

    Hi Alen, I like your ‘retro’ blogs, and your photo’s. I must crack on with copying my old slides and photographs.
    The best cloud inversion I saw recently was Christmas day 2006. It had been cold, easterly winds and gloomy low cloud in Harrogate for at least a week. For some reason I had a yearning to see if I could get above the cloud, so I drove to the top of Park Rash above Kettlewell and walked up Great Whernside. I popped out of the freezing fog at 2000 feet, and enjoyed warm sunshine and a vast expanse of cloud in all directions. Just the very tops of the highest ‘Dales peaks, and Cross Fell, and Scafell Pike were visible, to remind me I was still on Earth.

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Mike. That’s a great way to spend Christmas Day, and a bonus to witness a cloud inversion. I’ve noticed that living near Darlington there tends to be more fog in the North-East than the North-West, and occasionally driving over the A66 to Cumbria it’s possible to pop out above the clouds and into the sunshine.
      I bought a slide converter last year but I’m not over impressed with the quality of the reproduction. If you’re considering buying one then I’d advise you to do plenty of research first.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  11. alan.sloman says:

    I’m not a fan of Gorgeous George, but by God he was spot on.
    Lovely pictures, Alen.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s