Days Like This, No 23: Slioch – The Unseen Mountain

slioch 1A LONG drive through the night to a lay-by on the shores of Loch Maree. A snatch of sleep broken by an airless dawn. Noodles and tea for breakfast while midges sting eyelids and ears. Then to gaze into an impenetrable clog of greyness searching for a mountain that isn’t there, in a world that isn’t there . . .

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 . . .

According to The Munros, Scottish Mountaineering Club Hillwalkers’ Guide Volume One, Slioch (981 metres, 3,218 feet) is “a magnificent Torridonian sandstone mountain rising like a huge castle above its foundation of Lewisian gneiss”. Today the castle is besieged by mist that spills from its garderobes and rolls damply about its feet. Fortunately, I have glimpsed Slioch on better days and can appreciate its architecture. Unfortunately, I have chosen today for an ascent.

I tramp uncertainly through the sleeping village of Kinlochewe and follow a track around the loch’s north-eastern shore. The weather is oppressive: low cloud and mist raking the treetops, and a torpid warmth that stifles enthusiasm and soon has my T-shirt plastered with sweat.

But hey. On the bright side, the world is spinning fast. In five days’ time, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta join the European Union. Old borders are crumbling. East is meeting West. The air might be thick and sluggish here in the Highlands, but fresh winds of peace and optimism are blowing through a united Europe. It’s good to be alive in these changing times.

slich 4I climb the unseen mountain with sweat stinging my eyes and dripping from my nose and hair. Every step is laboured, every breath an effort. Then, at about the 800-metre contour, I become aware of a barely perceptible change in the cloud cover. There is a brightness where once there was slabby grey. I shuffle higher and the brightness assumes a bluish tinge. Higher again, and on the ramparts of Slioch – suddenly though not unexpectedly – I step into a world of sunshine above a sea of dazzling white.

slioch 2This is why we do it. This is why we huddle in damp tents, knock the willingness from our bodies, eat unappetising food and battle with the elements. It’s for accidents of weather and moments like these on the summit of Slioch.

Unseen on Slioch, May 10, 2004

slioch 3

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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 Camping, Climbing, Footpaths, Hiking, Mountains, Walking, Weather and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Days Like This, No 23: Slioch – The Unseen Mountain

  1. Hanna says:

    The spot heights are a little close, aren’t they? I can understand your shirt stuck a bit, Alen. Sadly midges find that delicious 🙂
    When are the low season for midges in the Scottish Highland? If there are any.

    Liked by 1 person

    • McFadzean says:

      Ah, the horror of midges. They can drive you mad if your’e not prepared for them, Hanna. The peak season is July and August, but I’ve been attacked by swarms as early as May. Some people (a small minority) claim not to be bothered by them, but I come up in big itchy lumps. I once saw a platoon of Scottish soldiers driven into their tents by midges and resort to chain smoking in a bid to drive them back. It failed. You need to be prepared and that means resorting to dangerous chemicals.
      Cheers, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dave says:

    Hanna, this won’t in itself be of much help, but if you piece together enough bits of information a picture should hopefully emerge.

    Yesterday (14/08/2016) was still very much high season in Glen Einich. I have the itchy red spots as evidence.

    Oh, and Hi, Alen; top stuff, as always…

    Liked by 1 person

    • McFadzean says:

      Oh, hi Dave. Glad you dropped in. Jungle Formula works for me, and I do believe it is used by Forestry Commission workers. But if you’re at the itchy red spot stage, it’s of little use to you.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  3. The shaded contours of that map make the area look fascinating in a topographical sense. (Follow the wall then turn right into the narrow corridor before the climb to the left.) The scenery in the last photo cries out to be walked.

    It reminds me of when I walked out of the mist from Esk Hause onto Great End and saw Great Gable’s scalp poking above the cloud across an ocean of fluff. Inversions!

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    • McFadzean says:

      That sounds like a magical moment, Chris – Great Gable across an ocean of fluff. I would have liked to have been there to see it. I’ve found that inversions are usually quite unexpected, but sometimes you just know you’re going to get above the clouds – particularly on cold foggy mornings.
      The map is courtesy of the OS. I can’t get the standard internet Land Ranger format over here. There’s probably a way of doing it but I haven’t worked it out yet.
      Cheers, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hope you walked right around the ramparts and included the Munro Top further around – it’s a great promenade that. I also included the ridge along the left-hand side of the corrie on the way in as it has nice little summits and lochans along it.

    We were certainly sweating on our return along the loch shore – not only did we have a lovely, hot, sunny day, but 4 young lads arrived behind us just as we were setting off back to the carpark after a break by the river bridge at the start of the track. I can’t let people past me, especially young people or men, so off I went like a rocket trailing Richard behind like a tail. He was pretty annoyed but, for some reason, kept up with me (he could just have taken his time and I’d have waited at the car). That carried on for the next 4 miles and I honestly thought I was going to drop dead. Suddenly, all 4 of the young lads collapsed in a heap on a bank at the side of the path so I’d won! 😉
    Carol.

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    • McFadzean says:

      I hate it when you look back and someone’s behind you, and then you look again a few minutes later and the gap has grown smaller. It takes all the enjoyment out of it. Luckily, I didn’t see another person that day. And I don’t think I did the Munro Top, so that’s a black mark against me.
      I don’t remember much more about the day at all, except the clouds dissipated later in the afternoon and I had a beautiful evening camping above Little Loch Broom at Badcaul.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  5. I thought it was common knowledge that Avon’s ” Skin So Soft ” smelly liquid for ladies was the best midge repellent ….. HM Army use it during training and occasional wars in Scotland !

    Adrian Bowes Co Durham

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Off the bench in South Shields and in a queue to try and get back to ‘The Kingdom of Northumbria’ Never mind Brexit this happened quietly, I bet it’s that butler bugger behind it. Sadly the only book not borrowed from the camp was a Red Indian dictionary. Flicking through it I came upon ‘Kemosabe’ (vulg.) Apache expression for back end of a horse. This completely ruined my memories of The Lone Ranger. It just gets worse. Meal to- night a Valium sandwich. Pip pip Peter.

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    • McFadzean says:

      There was a joke involving Tonto, the Lone Ranger and a snake that had the pay-off line: “You going to die, Kimosabe.” It was that old they were probably telling it in Northumbria.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

      • South Shields calling. I am on route to British West Hartlypool ( I do not know how to spell.) Could not gain entry to The Kingdom of Northumbria so the adder/kimosabe joke remains a complete mystery. I asked a chap in the local if he knew it and he whispered ‘You can see me?’ Time to hit the road. Here is killer for any pub quiz : what is the name of the actor that partnered the Lone Ranger? Jay Silverheels they shout! Wrong. Despite being the son of a Mowhawk Chief, he was called Harold Smith in real life. Further ,may I ask you what was the name of comedian whose catch-line was ” To rrrrisky ? With the accent on the risky. With this question answered I can enter Vallhala (via British W H ) pip pip Peter.

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        • McFadzean says:

          The Hartlepools have always confused me. Some people refer to it in the singular, some in the plural, and others east and west. Life’s complicated enough without all that palava. I’ve ony been there twice and that was enough. It reminded me of my hometown of Barrow, only a bit more glamour. Harold Smith would have felt at home.
          I Googled Too Risky and all I came up with was Jim Davidson. You need to seek out Mr Memory, of The 39 Steps fame. Incidentally, I watched the Kenneth More version last night on Youtube.
          Cheers, Alen

          Like

  7. South Durham calling. I got the same from google, it was not Jim Davidson. It was about the time of Bread Winner Hogg.(with Peter Eagan in the lead role) It was so violent a series it was shown very late at night. Probably, it’s now on the children’s TV! I will seek further on this matter. ( I do read your blogs but I seem to be constantly digressing) pip pip Peter. (Lastly I think he was Jewish,not Peter Eagen,but the “Too RRRisky bloke) There I digress……..

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    • McFadzean says:

      No, I looked a bit further but didn’t come up with anything. I’d never heard of Bread Winner Hogg but I see Timothy West starred. Kept him off those canal boats, so that’s a good thing.

      Like

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