Ok guys! Hero Pose!
On the summit of Ben Ledi I was joined by three others, Lily, Tam and Nigel. Lily delivered her best ‘Blue Steel’ look while Nigel and Tam struck out their best power stances on the cairn.
Lily is a friend from university and part of the Outdoor Education tribe, she is also one of the enthusiastic ‘keen beans,’ the newest edition to the Outdoor ed collective. Tam and Nigel I had met more recently at perhaps the most adventurous festival to ever grace a Sussex field. Just before beginning my journey I had been lucky to receive an invite to speak at ‘Yestival’ where I spent a weekend being inspired and making new friends. Organised by the legendary Dave Cornthwaite who has turned the motto ‘Say Yes More’ into a lifestyle, his message has spread far and wide. I was looking forward to getting to know Tam and Nigel better, they were two people actually saying yes more to life and had driven all the way from London to be here.
By sheer luck, we had picked a perfect day to explore the hills. Ben Ledi and Ben Vane were the aim for the day offering a long ridge wander between each summit and spectacular views all around. Far from the usual London streets the day began with an introduction to winter hillwalking by finding a short, safe slope to practice the use of Ice axes, a crucial skill that is fun to learn but better avoided by careful route selection.
I was aware that while Lily and I were both already mountain fit where Nigel and Tam coming from ‘the big city’ were definitely going to be a little ‘pushed’ by the long day and deep snow. Pristine conditions and their ever wavering enthusiasm gave us the chance to see where we got to and to start what we hoped would be an exciting few days together. Accepting we would finish in the dark we worked as a team to reach the second summit arriving just before sunset.
I could see drive burning behind tired faces as we broke out of the shadow and into the blazing light of the setting sun. It was clear that considerable weariness was aching a few legs but the reward of going that ‘extra mile’ to reach a summit lit on fire was worth it. The snow had shuffled in a short flurry of wind overnight and gifted long stretches of hard-pack wind slab to teeter across, every now and then our weight was just a little bit too much and we would fall through with a soft crunch.
We made it! Called Nigel at the top as I followed from the back. Arms were thrown into the air and exhaustedly triumphant hugs given all round. We had made it just in time to watch the last rays disappear over the horizon.
My favourite moment of any winter day isn’t the sunset but the ‘blue hour,’ the moment just after the sun has set. The whites of the snow seem to glow as the sky fades into a tissue paper pallet of vibrant purples, the whole world seems to become muffled into a delicate peacefulness. Walking into the glens under a radiant sky we descended with the darkness, our footsteps now motivated by chocolate in the car.
The next day I was alone again, Lily had gone back to University and Tam and Nigel were too stiff to wander much beyond their hostel. Hoping to venture further into the Trossachs and tackle Stub a’ Choin and Beinn Stacach I started early hoping and be home before dark. Life however was about to deliver a fairly swift lesson. Following narrow roads in minus conditions before the gritting lorry has passed = van in ditch.
Feeling Alice start to slide as I tried to clear a short patch of ice I realised quite quickly that I was going to skid albeit very slowly off a steep slope, I had been driving about 10mph all morning. Acting fast I pulled her into the ditch on the uphill side only to realise I had then got myself totally and utterly stuck. A hidden culvert behind me stopped the reverse escape I had planned and the ice was too thick to drive forward- so much for an early start.
Thankfully in all his wisdom, my dad had thought of this eventuality and lent me a hand operated winch and a long length of static line. Two and a half hours spent figuring out how to use it and then setting up a complicated system to pull the van forward and simultaneously sideways to stop her sliding off and I was back on the road- this time proceeding on foot. Oops.
It was now almost mid-day and I turned my goal to just one hill rather than two, anything extra would be a bonus, but I soon found myself pushing hard to get to the top via a punishingly steep slope. The reward for a lot of effort in wading through snow was a superb visa, in the distance I could see Ben Nevis rising over a clear horizon. Once on the top I paused to look at my map and devoured a tin of beans with my compass (I forgot a spoon). In a sudden burst of bean fuelled motivation I figured I might as well go for the full ridge and tackle the other peak, what would the keen beans do? I figured.
Exhausted I plodded past the sunset on my snowshoes, I was by far the most tired I have been on the trip so far and had hit ‘the wall.’ Far, far in the distance was the rounded ridge I was aiming for, I would reach it long after dark. Alone with the grouse on the moors I watched the sun set into the beautiful ‘blue hour’ pausing only to take a few photos as I went into ‘head down, feet forward’ mode.
Utterly shattered I clinked my ice axe onto a very welcome trig point. Done! I thought with a satisfaction. A quick selfie and a long walk out was all there was left to do.
This time I was the one who was walking with stiff legs. Tam and Nigel had re-joined as we drove together toward Sma Glen. I knew this place from my Mountain Leader training a few years ago and more recently from leading Duke of Edinburgh groups through the valley. Knowing exactly what to expect I looked forward to a long flat walk into Auchnafree hill and an easy climb along a good track to the rounded summit. Enjoying each others company as we passed lines of stalkers shooting pheasant we joked one less bird- everytime a bang echoed down the glen.
Yet again we would finish in the dark. This time on the track before the sunset we joined the herds of sheep to follow our way slowly home. Setting camp in the forest we settled in for a quiet night with a wood fire and whisky.
On our way to Loch Tay the three of us drove under cloud inversions with the hope they would burn off before the tops. Another benign Corbett, Creagan na Beinn was an easy walk in on a lovely (if a little icy) track. Slow and steady we walked through the now quickly melting snow to the rounded top. Nigel joked to Tam about my use of the word ‘quick ping’ when describing the 200m steep bit- sure enough they both plodded with rosy cheeks.
Watching as they turned to descend back to the track I left on my own to jog for a second sumit (Creag Uchdag). Our plan was to meet at the bottom to head to the pub for a farewell drink and goodbyes. So far they had been the longest company I have enjoyed on the trip-our four short days together felt longer, so much had happened in them. I would miss them but promises of a return trip before the end made parting easier.
Slianché we cheered, chinking glasses in the pub. To continuing Saying Yes More.
Looks like you had a great week for it, Will (& friends). Superb pictures once again, particularly in the ‘blue hour’ – it just seems so other-worldly.
I now can’t get the thought of you eating beans with a compass out of my head ! And what on earth were you doing with a tin of beans in your rucscac anyway ?!