Only one hundred to go!

that giving up is not healthy is always reaffirmed by not doing so

Munro since diagnosis #182

13:30 – Beinn Ime (M118), 3317ft, 1011m

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The view two weeks ago of Beinn Ime from the summit of Beinn Narnain reminded me that mountains do not go anywhere. As I clambered down to the bealach I was already planning what turned out to be today’s adventure – my first solo outing since visiting the Grey Corries ridge late last August.

I was walking away from the expensive parking facility operated by Argyll and Bute District Council at about ten thirty. After much zigzagging through the forest, I emerged onto the Cobbler path rising slowly into cloud between odd shaped boulders the size of small buildings. It was busy with many parties and individuals heading for one or more of the three peaks accessible from this path. After about an hour and a half I stopped to guzzle down my flask of warming home made soup and insulate myself against the cold swirling cloud with down and windstopper. After this early lunch it was a short step to the bealach where the path splits in three directions and from which the summit of Beinn Ime seemed tantalisingly, almost to be clear of cloud.

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There is a gate traversing the col before the path to the summit, after which it is strewn along its route with build builders’ bags full of very large rocks, torn and useless now for anything but laying under the aggregate of the path. It is easy to see why volunteer path makers are working on this popular mountain, for this section is eroded, unimproved, and slithery. After a few hundred meters, the path makers’ equipment – assorted pick axes, shovels, crowbars and a motorised barrow – was lying waiting for their return at the point where they stopped work. Here, a sturdy path of gravel and culverts continued under my feet. I plodded on upward through the gloom, paying careful attention to the ground and where I was putting my feet. On the way, I passed several descending parties who informed me that I had a lot longer to go than I thought. It is an easy path to follow though, with no real steepness nor any scrambling. I reached the summit at about one thirty, where I sat inside the walled cairn eating a sandwich with my feet stretched out to a shattered trig point. What forces are able to do this?

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The descent was uneventful, but for cloud clearing behind me and exposing more and more summits in all directions. If I had waited an hour before leaving the car park, I would perhaps have had a view from the top of Beinn Ime of more than my own feet and a shattered trig point. Most infuriating; though sometimes it is necessary to climb a mountain not for the view, but for other reasons. In the past I used to climb a mountain when I was having a “cancer day” – when the effects of the disease on my spirit were so negative that the only option was to get out, to show myself what this body still can do, despite the onslaught of the disease and the effects of the medication managing it.

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I stopped at the gate not too disappointed that clouds were now clearing, ate another sandwich and prepared for the plod down the path. The clouds were now clearing from the strange summits of The Cobbler; by the time I reached the approaches to the forest there was more blue sky than cloud, revealing the awesome beauty of these mountains and ridges, piercing through the water in all directions creating strange archipelagoes and fjords. The golden browns of decaying grasses and the brilliant cerise of autumn leaves garnished the sides of the hills, gleaming in the sunshine.

 

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I counted the hairpins on the path through the forest. Twenty-five. It felt a lot longer on the way down, but I felt good. I had been a bit trepidatious about this trip; it would be a total drive time of five and a half hours or more, plus maybe six or seven up the hill and back, I would be alone with nobody to keep an eye out for me – since last autumn I have been very grateful to the people who have come with me up mountains (mainly Martyn) for I have been ill and in recovery, in no fit state to venture far from the beaten track on my own. Martyn and I are getting good at enjoying our walks sometimes in silence, apart, in our own spaces, but being alone is different. Two weeks ago, when he popped off to bag the Corbett next to Beinn Ime and I found my own pace back to the car was both a reminder of things past, as well as a sign of things to come.

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As I was nearing the end of the zigzagging and thinking about all this, feeling tired and a little stiff, but healthy and getting fitter, I stumbled stupidly over a protruding lump on the path, failed to steady myself and fell downhill with my left arm crunched under my ribcage. There was pain and it was difficult to get up. Proof of the old adage about pride and falls. The only damage was bruising, but I felt suddenly a lot less fit and healthy. I plodded on and was back at the car park not much after three thirty. I drove off at four and was home by seven. This was not only the hundred more to go Munro, it was the mountain that showed me I am not about to give up, despite tripping over my ego. Perhaps I will never live to compleation – after all, I still have to reach the summits of the Cuilins, Mamores and Fannichs, plus everything in Fisherfield, Torridon, Knoydart and West Monar, not to mention swathes of Kintail, Arkaig and Etive – which would seem to be a bit of a tall order within the time I am likely to have left.

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But …. but …. something has shifted again.

When that provincial Dutch urologist so spitefully opined about the number of years I had left in response to my ex-wife’s question, he threw down the gauntlet. Perhaps it is time now to thank him; for the consequences of his puerile power play, was to encourage me not to give up. Perhaps there are others who would have succumbed under the weight of such a prognosis, lain down, immediately accepted the medication without question, dutifully respected his expertise and allowed all this to contribute to the management of their own demise. Certainly since my hospitalisation at the end of last year, the horrors of chemotherapy and this slow recovery, I have known a desire sometimes for it all to be over. Seven years is a long time to be stressed out by the prospect of imminent death. Whatever else, I have no doubt that giving up is not healthy, which is once again and always reaffirmed by not doing so. The mountains are still not going anywhere, and for as long as I am alive, I will be there, in among them, accepting the lessons afforded by the experience while reaching for the heights with my feet planted firmly on the ground.

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Author: Duncan Spence

Mountaineer, retired bicycle messenger, philosopher, wordsmith, Dutch translator.

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