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.
There 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.
It’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