March 2002

Part the first

A lot of water of has flown under my boots ( and into them) since 2002, therefore it's not going to be easy to turn the clock back thirteen years and write in detail but I will give it a go. The personnel for this little sortie was a duo consisting of myself and the local legend of the era the often copied but never equalled Rocksteady Eddie, collectively we were known as the Rocksteady Crew.

For our expedition we targeted some isolated hills on the north side of Glen Affric that by nature of the distance from the nearest road meant an overnight stop at the remotest Hostel in the U.K, Allt-Beithe. Sad to say Blogfans, there are no photos in this little dissertation. It was the age of the S.L.R and the results of my transparencies were awful so photographically speaking I came away with nothing.

However as Neil Peart said ''although it's just a memory some memories last forever'' well this little gem keeps coming back to haunt me and what I remember the most are the funny incidents. It should have been obvious right from the outset that the whole escapade was going to be couched in humour due to the fact that both characters in the play were not conventional people. When we checked in at the Loch Ness Youth Hostel in Drumnadrochit we assumed we had the Dormitory to ourselves, not too much to ask for being midweek at the end of March. Despite the contrary when we returned from the Pub after a meal and a couple of pints, we weren't exactly quiet and putting the Dorm light on gave half a dozen German Backpackers a rude awakening!

That wasn't an easy one to recover from, as we burrowed into our beds we both kept getting cameos of groaning swearing Germans, the thought of this consistently kept triggering off the giggles in both of us like school kids. I did eventually get into the delta zone only to be abruptly dragged out of it when Eddie dropped his phone from the top bunk on to a laminate floor, in the dead of night it was like a shotgun going off in an echo chamber! Everyone woke up with a jolt, apart from Eddy who I think could sleep through an earthquake. Sleep alluded me after that, I think I was too worried about the prospect of being dragged out of bed, taken round to the back of the Hostel and being blindfolded then shot!

In the morning we were on the road well before first light. Prior to that, with fear and trepidation Eddie groped around in the dark for his phone but to no avail, putting the light on was out of the question! We were sure that the warden would find it and the two would be reunited when we popped back in on the way home. Our only concern now though was that neither of us had watches and we had only one phone between the two of us, not a major problem I suppose. Little did I realise the stage was now set for an 'el classico' that will go down as one of the funniest walks that I have ever been on.

I ought to mention at this juncture that this was a very curious era in my walking experience as I went through a spate of losing compasses! I must have lost at least half a dozen. I recall being on a walk with my young lad and he had the map case upside down, the flap came open and we lost two at once! On another occasion trampsing over hills on a peninsular in Wester Ross I had the compass wrapped round my wrist but when I reached a trig point  it had inexplicably vanished! Thankfully I'm over that problem now, I maybe lose one about every couple of years.



Part the Second

In my opinion Glen Affric is the Mother of the Glens. It stands deep and spacious but at the same time taut and focused. Tree lined straths adorn meandering streams like fur on a ladies coat. We headed in on the minor road that runs alongside Loch Beinn a Medhoinn to join up on the east- west through route, an ancient droving track on which the Hostel lies.

  When we reached the second gate, the one that leads to wild open country, I happened to glance down at my map case and sure enough the compass had escaped! I couldn't believe it we hadn't been on the track five minutes. Eddie was straight on to it ''I'll find it'' he asserted, slung down his sack and off he went to retrace our steps. He had only gone a few metres when I noticed it was right near my feet! I continually shouted him at the top of my voice reminiscent of an Alan Partridge sketch but my words were lost on the wind. Obviously he returned empty handed about ten minutes later but I wish I could have captured his face on film when I produced the erstwhile compass!

I wouldn't say that dawn had ascended that morning but rather it had become light. That lurid glow was all pervasive, a luminescence that never yields anything good. A preponderance of bulky hills stretched upwards into rolling mist. Undeterred we zig-zagged up to the summit of Mam Sodhail with more optimism than sense. The views it has to be said were more tonal than colourful but nonetheless in this closed shop mountain sanctuary, a certain kindred austerity procured that I found most enthralling.

It took us a fair stretch to regain height and bag the next peak Carn Eighe as by now those fresh bounding legs had grown weary due to endless sections of thigh deep snow. Our bellows struggled to supply haemoglobin to the parts that urgently needed it most, in other words we were just about exhausted. We were hoping of bagging Beinn Fionlaidh but eventually our limit of tolerance was reached and we wisely opted for a retreat. That was a pity because Beinn Fionlaidh is an outlier. It towers over Loch Mullardoch and it's Munro's, well it does if you can see it.

Throughout the whole trek I was constantly doing a safety check, just feeling the outline of my phone in my Craghoppers under my waterproofs. The most important factor at this stage of the game was that we had access to the time, our exploits on the slender sections between Carn Eighe and the following bealach were piling on time, at this rate we were going to be on a collision course with darkness and we didn't have Head Torches! Begrudgingly we angled down to the track that wends through Glen Choilich and eventually intersects with the track that leads to the Hostel. A peso of sun illuminated our path through the unmitigating whiteness, we were on our way. We sat down behind a strategically placed rock and enjoyed a brew and a couple of energy bars. We reckoned that the undulating and deep snow had trebled our energy output!

All was well with the world as we trundled along the track to Allt-Beithe when I thought I'd better check the time just once more, to my abject horror the phone was no longer there! Retracing my steps was futile. What a sorry looking pair we were turning out to be, neither of us had watches and now we had both lost our phones! This was not good. While Eddie continued to lament the loss of his precious mobile I reprimanded him, at least there was a very good chance he would get his back, it would take a police search to sweep through the snow laden Glen to find mine! No I consigned myself to the fact it was gone forever.

It was only three hours later than we anticipated when we finally reached the Hostel. The first thing we needed to do was extricate ourselves from our restrictive damp body armour. What happened in the course of that was bizarre. First allow me to set the scene. I have this good friend who used to pass me on his cast offs but there was a valid reason why they were cast offs. In my walking arsenal I had antiquated crampons, a cagoule that looked more like a trench coat, a head torch that would just decide to turn off for no apparent reason but the prise possession were Kuflach walking boots. These were made of solid plastic, totally rigid and closely resembled a ski boot. Inside the main boot was a flimsier inner boot so they were in effect two boots in one. I used to call them my Moon Boots! When I took them off on this occasion steam continued to puther out like pressurised water vapour used in steam engines! Eddie was overwrought  with laughter. I became visibly embarrassed as people popped by to say hello and still the vaporous exhalation continued. Much to Eddie's amusement.

( Just an aside on the Allt-Bheitt web site on the part where it gives directions to the Hostel there is a 'typing error' where it say's you have to cross several 'streams' it say's steams! I think this could be a veiled reference to this incident)

Staying at the Allt-Bheitte Youth Hostel is an unforgettable experience in itself. A former Stalkers Bothy, eight miles from the nearest road, now an Eco-Hostel and the closest thing that you will get to an Alpine Hut in Scotland. Its location of glorious isolation elevates it's pride of place notwithstanding it does have it's quirks, the shower is in a closely confined space as I realised once I got in there and tried in vain to get organised . From the outside it may have sounded like one of our tribal totem ancestors having a rain dance but from the inside it was the exhausted Author jumping in and out of the shower as it fluctuated between normal, scolding hot and freezing cold. To top it all as I exited the shower, protected only by a towel and a bundle of dry-wet clothes, I forgot it backed directly on to the kitchen, the social hubbub of the Hostel. Eddie declined the opportunity of a shower.

Having put that experience behind me, we had a pleasant evening dramming and yarning the night away with fellow walkers. Maybe I ought to hone in on the word 'yarning', tall stories were flowing.One gregarious walker gave his take on the mountains Eddie and myself had just done. Front pointing up ice clad slopes, crawling on all fours fighting ninety m.p.h gales, heroic navigation locating the cairn in a whiteout! Was this maybe achieved at at a different time to us perhaps? Well we followed him into the Hostel. Never mind it was good entertainment.

Now at this particular nook the Rocksteady Crew were at a decided  disadvantage. On close inspection there was nothing in the Hostel that gave any indication of what the time might be. As I have already mentioned we neither of us had watches and we had both lost our phones! We needed to be up at 5:30a.m prompt and away. Forsooth the only way out of this was to rely on the Author's gift of getting up at whatever time  he programmed his alarm clock of the brain to awaken him. It was our only chance.

Well after a good nights rest my eyes flicked open. It felt like it was about 5:00a.m. You could clearly make out the indigo outline of the Five Sisters in the silhouette of mountains. Yes it would appear that the first traces of dawn were waking up Glen Affric, now for the formidable task of waking up Eddie! After whispering, talking, shouting and prodding I finally resorted to shaking him vigorously. At last his eyes popped open ''what time is it? '' he groaned, ''it's gone 5'' I replied in a confident tone. At this point I heard someone rustling about, maybe they too were up for an early start. I wondered if this could perchance be a sensible person, someone with a watch! I went to enquire '' Excuse me would you by any chance have the time please? '' '' Yes it's ten past one!!! ''
Life was good!

Poor old Eddie! When we finally got up properly it was lovely to see deer munching grass outside the kitchen window. Curiously it felt like we were in their space not them in ours. We made good time on the walk back to the car, not because we had become super fit overnight but because I made an entry in the visitors book which made good use of insulting humour! I alluded to 'tall tales' amongst other things. I didn't want any of the incumbents to catch up with us and take us to task over it.



Part the Third

The Warden at the Loch Ness Youth Hostel was an Australian gentleman. When Eddie excitedly enquired about his missing phone he replied in a trademark Aussie accent '' well actually I've found a couple'' the other one was mine! What! How could this be possible, my phone was languishing knee deep in snow on a remote slope on a mountain in Glen Affric. Can you figure out what happened? Well my Deer Blogfans  this is how it all worked out... When I kept doing the safety check in my pocket, what I didn't realise was this was actually two energy bars. When we sheltered behind a rock and I ate the energy bars my 'phone' disappeared, well it would have done because it was never even there in the first place!

On loading up the car (Peugeot 206 estate) we only just managed to fit everything in. I embraced my map case c/w compass and laid it out of harms way on the parcel shelf. It was a pleasant drive home, I've never been a fast driver, I just like to get the music on and get in the zone. That is precisely what the Rocksteady crew did, five hundred miles of alternating between Classical music and Heavy Rock.

A peculiar thing happened the only time I ventured into the dreaded third lane, the hatch flew open! I kept my cool and eventually managed to pull over on to the hard shoulder. Eddie's response was interesting: Take one, turns round see's hatch open, returns to Led Zep 4.Five second pause. Take two, turns round see's hatch still open, returns to Led Zep 4. Five second pause. Take three, turns round, hatch definitely open. '' Mark the hatch is open!!! ''

Once on the hard shoulder, a quick inspection revealed everything seemed to be in order but alas it wasn't! The only item to get swept out the car and go bouncing down the M180 was the contents on the parcel shelf, my map case and compass!!! The import of this hit us instantly and we were in hysterics. How could this happen?!


Conclusion

You might be thinking by now, is it safe to let these two chumps loose on Scottish mountains? Well you can be forgiven for thinking that. The French have a beautiful saying, ' le cambrioler est dans le mouchoir' which translates ' experience is the sum of our near misses'. Point being, as the lure has lasted we have upped our game in all departments since the early days.

There is one other vital factor that has helped us all to improve, that dreaded organisation 'The court of the Golden Crampon' have introduced the 'Whipping Boy' award for the person who does the daftest thing on the walk. As a consequence of such everyone tries to avoid receiving this accolade at all costs, leaving us no choice but to improve.

If you could turn the clock back and present the Whipping Boy award to one of the Rocksteady Crew,
who do you think would receive the Golden Crampon? Well it would be Eddie... wouldn't it?


K.T.D.A

Mark.