Not epic in the sense of Beowulf or Lord of the Rings but just EPIC in size. It's probably the longest post I've ever written and the longest thing I've written since I was pupil in higher english. I will also warn of some choice language. If you don't like sweery words don't read on.
I'm in the mood for reminiscing, don't know why. It's not normally like me. Not normally like me to do it here. It may be that I have been regaling this tale at some point to the poor @MrPhilTurner. I say may because the last time I was in Phil's presence a pretty few beers had been drank in the land of my fathers', the 'shire of my birth and the county of my youth.
I'm unsure as to what was talked about on that last meeting it was getting a little fuzzy towards the end (A recurring theme). However it probably doesn't really matter other than it's at the front of my head rather than locked away in the dark spaces of my brain.
The story and the reason for this post, it's probably nothing of interest to anyone but myself, to put it down for prosperity. It's the tale of my first munro, my first hill of the highlands. My first.
The photograph is a give away to those that know. The mighty majestic guardian of Glencoe. Buachaille Etive Mor, 'THE' Buachaille and on that day my nemesis. Goliath versus David. Not so much for it's awe inspiring massiveness. It is massive, lets not kid ourselves, it's a hulk of hill. Or the fact that it is a big climb, 3353ft if I remember correctly. It was more to do with the condition I was in.
Let me paint you a picture, set the scene because I'm probably all over the place with this narrative. It's just the way I am. So let me take you back a few years, Roughly 12 years. I've only just recently left home and moved to the big city, Glasgow. I'm 21. It's the summer. Which month I'm not sure. Take your pick May, June, July. The exact date matters not. It was the summer and the weather was fine and dry. The sun was shinning and all was well in the world.
I know what your thinking 21 and he's just doing his first Munro? true, but I was not inexperienced. I am, for those that don't already know, an Ayrshireman and fiercely proud of it. To that point all my walking was done there or over the Southern Uplands. I wandered here, I wandered there. A most neglected place for those of you that just bomb up the M74 ignoring some great hills, in search of those munro to bag and tick and brag about but that's another post. Someday.
The summer it was and I had been invited on my cousin's stag weekend. We were off to Glencoe. I was not going to get picked at my flat in Ibrox. I was to make my way over to the west end, around Partick or there abouts. To this day I couldn't tell you where. I got lost twice trying to find the pick up point. Not a good start. I was warned be there for X time, if your not there you'll need to make your own way. Like that was going to happen. I got there with the clock running down but as always somebody else is all ways running late. We waited. An excited huddle looking like some sort of Everest expedition. Or at least trying to, except for the crates of booze. Kit strewn all over the pad.
While we wait, I got filled in with what's going to happen. The plan. Two nights in a bothy and some hill walking or mountain biking or whatever you want. Easy, a skoosh. I'm up for the hillwalking. I'm actually really excited that I'm going to do my first munro. Something differnet for me. Something new.
For me this was going to be an interesting weekend on many fronts. Not least the fact I was going to be the youngest there by a long shot. My cousin being a good 8 years older than me and the fact I knew very little of the company he kept after leaving Cumnock. He was now a qualified Doctor and I was still a daft young boy. My thinking was that this was going to be easy, a skoosh, all these doctor and fancy Glasgow Uni alumni types. Qualified people. I'm think 12 pack of Stella Artios. Six for the first night, Six for the second. There's not much drinking getting done with this lot.
The late comer arrives. Eventually. The schedule has slipped like bambi on ice. We all bail into various cars for the journey north. The trek begins and we're off. Nothing much happened on the drive it was all banter and having a laugh. Making your mark, pissing up against the wall, as all men do when they get together. Strangers with a common thread. The rulers were out but it was all in good fun.
For those that don't know the road north from Glasgow to Glencoe is nothing short of spectacular in places. Do it sometime, you won't regret it.
We arrive at the bothy early in the evening. The thing is they call it a bothy, and I've slept in plenty, even back then. They are basic. Your lucky if they have a roof, they're just a shelter from the elements and if your really lucky you can have a raging wood fire to keep you company. The ones that I knew back then were like that.
This particular bothy, this SMC bothy or the Lagangarbh hut to give it it's Sunday name. It was something else. Five star luxury bunkhouse. This was the Hilton of bothies. Hot running water and a shower room! In the name of the gods it had a proper sit down flushable human waste disposal unit! Here was me thinking I would be roughing it all weekend. Well I would be, in other ways.
After a quick tour of the facilities, which mainly involved me dragging my jaw along the floor. We all got squared away and the kit sorted and the drink stowed. Also we got our first warning from some guy. A SMC warden or some uppity prick SMC member (no offence intended to SMC members, except this one. You know who you are).
As more and more guys turned up we were rapidly running out of room in the bunk. Not that it worried me, I'm not the biggest or the widest and back them I was built like a toothpick. If you know me now this could be hard to believe. The decision was taken, for those that had brought them, to pitch their tents out front. This apparently is a big no no. Nope SMC doesn't allow it and so the aforementioned uppity prick informed us in no uncertain terms. Obviously he was ignored. Dick. To which we were then further informed, that he would be reporting us. Reported to the mighty SMC. I have the feeling that he was the type of person who writes strongly worded letters and the like. You all know the type.
To this day I don't know if I'm blacklisted, black balled, shunned or outcast. Maybe I should apply for membership? Just to see? He had ALL our names. It wasn't hard we were required to fill in a fire register or something. Maybe it's my cousin that has been banned, he was the key holder. Really though, who cares. What harm was a couple of tents? Seemingly it would encourage others. Heaven forbid. Right? We're all sensible adults. You can probably tell it still irks me a bit to this day. No one was getting hurt. No real justifiable reason for his annoyance. Maybe his Ron Hill's were just a bit too tight that day and were nipping at his baws?
Anyway much drinking an eating ensued once we were left to our own devices. Remember earlier how I wrote that back then I thought this was going to be a skoosh? All 12 bottles of the gaol juice, wife beater were drank by the end of the first night. Which in the summer means about 2:30am, when the northern sky is finally tinted with some darkness.
It's strange the things that you remember or patch together from a drunken night. The banter was brilliant as it always is in these events. The night was filled with laughter and warm roasting wood fire. Why the fire was on I'll never now but I do recall quite clearly running the gauntlet of fire wood collection but in the name of that's holy and good in this world, this was something else.
The midge, the evil blood sucking Scottish midge. Scurdge of the summer and not just the highlands and Glencoe. It's just they're a different breed or something up there. Man eaters. Winged piranha. Now, normally midges don't bother me or annoy me. I'm not saying the don't bite me. I'm just saying they don't bug me like other people. However these creatures, these wee fuckers, were so dense a swarm it was a cloud of black. Blotting out the sun stuff. Grouped together to from one big hive minded single purpose midge. If it moves and breathes, eat it. Once you'd been out and had your turn, you weren't going out there again. No way. I could swear they were chapping at the windows asking us to come out and play. Maybe that was the drink but they were knocking and I wasn't answering. I was really glad for the indoor cludge, probably wasn't the only one.
Night ended and I crashed out in one of the tents. It was far too warm in the bothy. I double checked the midge had left for his bed before venturing out. I felt fine, if a little lopsided and I'm certain that the zip on both tent and my summer bag were straight out the krypton factor. I had to insert a special key with a 28 digit alpha numeric passcode to enter before I could get to sleep. I was drunk not stupid so I managed it. Eventually.
At some point the sun arrived. Rosey fingered dawn came and went and was cursed a thousand times. I know we don't always get the sun in Scotland and you would think that it would always be welcome. I can assure that it was most definitely not welcome that morning. I'm not sure if you know but waking up in a dark green tent after drinking 12 bottles of gaol juice with Mr Sun and his hat beating down on it, is not a pleasant place. Not by a long shot. Mind you I don't think anywhere would have been good that morning. The tent was warn and boufin. I was stinking worse than the stankiest stank. It wasn't happening. Not good. It seemed that the passcode had changed from what I remembered from earlier that morning. Bad. I gave up and kicked myself out the bag. Fumbled out the tent and gingerly made my way back towards the bothy. I think my problem might have been that my eyes were like dugs baws not the dogs bollocks. It's different. Remember that. I was having trouble focusing. Probably cause my glasses were still in the tent?
Back in the bothy and squinting like bug eyed monster, it was a scene of carnage. It appeared on the surface that I wasn't the only sailor on this particular ship and not the only one enduring some rough seas. Thankfully.
There was a major clean up operation in action. Which I excused myself from, instead heading through the back in search of Hughie only to find dry bouwk in his place. Not good. I've got a hill to climb. I'm trying desperately to get myself squared away and ship shape, to continue the theme. This sailor bagged himself himself a shower, a cold shower. Again I was thankful that this was a 5 star hotel of a bothy. After freshening myself up I felt a little better, I was on the mend. I made my way back to the now spotless galley and was offered two rolls and lorne (sausage), red or brown sauce, yes please and rather welcome glass of chilled Irn-Bru. Life saver. Twenty minutes later and I feel like I can tackle Everest. Ship shape indeed.
I was ready. I was happy. The banter was back and I was in full flow. Pointing out how easy these munro are, FFS you park your car at the bottom jump out and walk to the top. They were that close to the road.
The choice for today was of two routes. The tourist path up on to the corrie or The curved ridge, but that's a bit of a scramble, I was informed. It's a strenuous and technical ascent at the best of times. My response was cool, think I'll just go the tourist path. In my head I was thinking fuck that for a carry on. I'm here to enjoy myself not have the fear. I'm not a fan of the word exposed and I distinctly remember it mentioned several times in tandem with curved and ridge. Not that I have a fear of heights. Not in the slightest. Exposed is different. It's naked and really don't like naked. Especially on a hillside with people I hardly know. I'm also sure I heard a rather large sigh of relief when I intimated my preferred route. Like the bothy breathed. I can't be positive but I'm sure. It was like the whole room went, oh thank fuck.
Looking back I think no-one was really wanting to take responsibility for getting me round the rough bits in one piece. I know for sure that even although I was 21, my older cousins were warned within an inch of their lives that I was to be returned in one piece and unspoiled. I think everyone was happy. It was going to be an easy day.
It was mid-morning when we got going, the weather was fine and warm. Kings may be blest, but Tookie was glorious. O'er a' the ills o' life victorious. It was going to be a great day. Like Bilbo, the road goes ever on and on. Down from the door where it began. Everything was going well. We've taken the path behind the 'Hut' and are making good pace. I'm feeling great. Re-invigorated. I've drunk plenty of water and juice. I've a small pack with enough water to sink a ship. Doctors orders, there was about 5 of them. Plus plenty of food. I was not going to starve on that hill. Not today.
After a bit it starts to get steep and I'm having to drive the pistons harder, which in itself is nothing I'm climbing a mountain after all. As usual I'm at the back, if you ever go walking with me you'll find that out. I'm not tall, so I have a shorter stride, you understand? My other cousin is at the front of our little group and keeps dropping back to find out if I'm okay. I did have a lot of alcohol to drink. I can tell he was impressed, that's my boy. Well not quite he's my cousin not my dad but you get the idea and he was just looking out for his little cousin. I was think your starting to take the piss, now fuck off and give me peace.
Onwards and upwards we continue. The view from a quarter of the way up the corrie is something else and I remember looking over to the Devil's Staircase and beyond to the Mammores and thinking this nothing like the Merrick. Just after this great moment I start sweating. I mean really sweating. Not the sort of sweating from driving the pistons harder. This was another thing entirely. This was not good. Next thing I know Hughie turns up unexpectedly along with this morning's breakfast and the Irn-Bru. Really not good. For some reason, big cuz and the rest of the group haven't noticed my argument with Hughie over breakfast. Probably because they're over a crest and I'm out of sight. Luckily. I continue on after a quick swig of water.
Marching on I catch up, they've stopped. Waiting for me. I lie. I was having a pee stop. Big cuz does not look convinced. On we go and it's getting steeper, it's getting warmer. It's getting harder. I'm feeling worse. Not good. Really not good. I can't tell you how bad I was feeling at that point. I'm turning green and have gills. I am a fish out of water but really I'm a washing that needs hung out to dry. I'm one foot after the other. Step by step. Plod by plod. Inch by inch.
I realise I've fallen behind again and we're about 50 or so feet below a scree slope. Everybody is waiting. It's a huge scree slope. I notice this for some reason. I'm having a hard time focusing. Then I'm jumping off the path, out the road to have another shouting match with Hughie. I'm conscientious like that, wouldn't want anyone having to walk through my bile. After that bout of spew, my cousin comes over and says 'look are you sure you want to go on? It's easier if you turn back now less hassle'. In my head I thinking fuck you, you've now just embarrassed me and you'll tell my dad that I wimped out on this. NOT HAPPENING. My actual reply was 'no I'll be fine give me 15 minutes to sort myself out'.
It's agreed we'll take a break so I get some more water down me and get my head between my legs. Slow my breathing down. Get my body back under control. I'm now cooler than a cool thing and I'm feeling a lot better. Really. I'm a fridge freezer. I look up and no-one is there. Cunts. Seriously there's me a corrie, a scree slope and I'm looking up at a ridge. Cunts. I've been abandoned. I have no idea where I'm heading over this scree slope. I know I'm going up but that's it. I'm seriously pissed off and recovering from a hangover. Not a good mix. I'm standing there. Fuming. I'm contemplating turning round, rage will do that. I'm staring at the scree for what seems like an eternity. Time has stopped. In reality it was probably only 5 minutes. Then my cousin jumps out from behind a rock or something. Laughing like a Hyena. Funny cunt. He's been watching me for the last 5 minutes raging away. I was not amused, he on the other hand thought it was the funniest thing he had seen. I hadn't been the one skipping about like a fucking mountain goat in Ron hills. Never the less, after he was suitable amused he guided me through the scree to where I needed to go.
Finally I've made the ridge. Once your there that's it. The hard part is done. However I felt no elation. Yet. I've caught up with everyone. We head left and to the summit cairn on Stob Dearg. I get there and for the first time I notice the view and what a view it is. It was unbelievable. All the way to the south and the Paps of Jura. Most of the west of Scotland laid bare that day. That's when I realise I've done it. This is it my first munro. It's done. It's in the bag. The hangover was gone too. My nemesis banished, for another day at least. I can't describe the feeling adequately or appropriately. I was happier than a happy thing. I was a pig in mud. You get the idea? It was the same the first time I climbed the Merrick, my favourite hill. For me the feeling is indescribable. It is an awesome feeling. In the true sense of the word, AWEsome. Not like the everyday American vernacular that now gets used in it's place. I can only say do it for yourself. Try it. You might just like and you might just get to feel what I felt.
If you got this far then thanks for sticking through it. It was probably as hard to read as it was to climb that day. Thanks.