A 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.
I 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.
This 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