Equinox

Munro since diagnosis #141

14:15 – Carn an Righ (M102), 3376ft, 1029m

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Ever since my clamberings on Buachaille Etive Beag I have been aware that the next summit I reached would bring me half way to compleation. It would have to be a fine day that I could enjoy, an epic adventure to an isolated peak, and solo. Some interesting suggestions from friends and acquaintances were tempting, but Carn na Righ kept nipping at my heels – as it has been ever since I decided not to climb it on the same day as Beinn Iutharn Mhor and Glas Tulaichean back in June 2015 because it was too windy. Even as I began the ascent of Tulaichean, looking towards Carn an Righ I regretted not climbing it, for it was so close by, and yet I know from many other experiences of wind that it saps energy and deadens all determination but to find shelter. Then, I had parked at Spittal of Glenshee, so the quickest way back to the car was from Iutharn was in fact via the summit of Tulaichean. Now I do not regret it at all.

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This morning, I parked at the old bridge about a mile beyond Enochdu on the road to Pitlochry, hoping to be able to cycle over the pass towards Fealar Lodge and then ascend via the west ridge of the mountain. Rounding the corner into Gleann Fearnach, I could already see that this was not going to happen. On the way up the strath, I met a man in a LandRover who asked where I was going and when I told him said: not with that you’re not, looking at my bike, the pass is teuch. Even though I do not remember ever hearing the word, I immediately understood what it meant. I would get as far as the farm at Daldhu no problem, he continued, but after that it would get difficult. We chatted awhile and agreed that this amount of snow is not going anywhere in a hurry. Just past the farm I decided that it would be a lot easier walking uphill through snow than cycling, though it was not as far as I had hoped and would add hours to the day. I locked my bike to a fence and followed the indentations made by some sort of tracked vehicle, firstly along the estate track and later, towards the narrowing of the pass, over deep hard snowbanks.

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Rather than pursue my idea to climb the west ridge, I headed straight for the summit, intending to use the great banks of snow on the southern flank to aid my ascent. Dipping down into the valley I encountered some much more icy banks and realised that this would be the perfect day to test my new micro spikes. The snow was of variable quality with different layers, blown from different directions, piled up and partially frozen into each other, all bathing in the heat of the spring sunshine. On the ascent, the upper layer of snow had turned into a glass-like ice, which tinkled as it shattered under my feet and cascaded down behind me, while the substance of the snow beneath seemed to be disintegrating from below, slowly melting into the scree. It was a tough and much less stable climb than I had anticipated. I stopped for soup about half way up, gazing out over the frozen landscape and preparing for the final push.

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I reached the summit at about quarter past two and sat awhile in the lee of the monstrous lump of ice than had engulfed the cairn. Apart from The Wee Man’s wee man blackening the entrance to the Lairig Ghru in the north with its sheer crags, every peak I could see was blanketed in white.

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Surrounded by magnificent and familiar peaks, I did not want to return, but time was getting on. The views were absolutely spectacular; Beinn a Ghlo in particular shone like a diamond, standing out from its neighbours.

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The descent of the same snowbanks was even less secure than on the way up. The snow was beginning to break up in places and yet remained solid in others. After once losing all footing and reacquainting myself with the reason I carry an ice axe, I realised both that under proper control this would make a excellent method of descent, and also that I was risking it a bit, coming down steep slope of unstable snow on the south face of a scree covered mountain that had been bathing in the heat of the sun all day long. And so I continued more carefully and reached flatter ground without mishap. Looking back I could see my tracks both up and back down the mountain.

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The return journey was uneventful, but long. Many hares ran about, startled by my presence, and as soon as I stopped to watch, they too sat still, watching me back.

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As the sun fell behind the ridges to the west, I saw herds of deer silhouetted, surveying me from above. The sliver of a new moon was barely visible.

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I was glad to find my bike safe where I left it and to take advantage of gravity and superior bearing technology for the last five miles or so back down the glen. I was back at the car before six thirty, taking the total time for the trip to nearly nine hours.

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Author: duncanspence

Mountaineer, retired bicycle messenger, philosopher, wordsmith.

One thought on “Equinox”

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