trans. “constant storm”
After a particularly long and nauseating journey (yes, I still feel car sick sometimes, like a child), myself and my fellow fattened colleague SJD began making our way up the excellent path. At this point, the only things keeping me going were firstly, the fact that I had just handed in my master’s dissertation and hadn’t been out the house in days, the fact that I could see some unspoilt snow above, and lastly the thought that this mountain was once upon a time used to measure the mass of the earth. This final fact had actually intrigued me since I read a book on physics years ago. A 1083m Munro was probably among the lesser likely things I expected to find there.
As I struggled to remember the finer details of that fact, I stared up again towards the peak. I wasn’t sure if I could actually see it or not; grey clouds were wandering around up there. I decided that I couldn’t; got my head down, and continued sweating for a while. Eventually, we hit the snow line. Always a bit of a novelty at first, but it quickly gets tiresome. The path skirted sideways across the slope for a while and the snow made this embarrassingly hard work (‘embarrassingly’ as we had been caught by two other groups, one of which contained a woman with dull green waterproofs and binoculars). Seemingly, months of warm lager purchased from the students union doesn’t offer much in the way of building strength and stamina. Anyway, Schiehallion began to reveal itself more and more as we stumbled up its broad spine. It seems the large cairn I decided to push myself for wasn’t the summit after all. I should’ve known. It never is. We took a short Lucozade break and staggered, yes staggered, over the wind swept plateau towards the summit cone. I’d describe the terrain and conditions as ‘infuriating’. Awful, uneven, boulders and stones, combined with a gusting, inconsistent cross wind do not make for a pleasant walk. I even used my ice axe for a bit of balance out on the plateau.
Before I knew it I was in the fog at the top. Clambered up and stood on the cairn; just because, and then found a bit of shelter for our cheese, cheese, ham and cheese rolls and frozen double deckers. Just as I turned to swear loudly at my third broken tooth courtesy of the aforementioned chocolate bars, I noticed a window in the cloud revealing a shiny white mount in far in the distance (Ben Lawers). As soon as I’d got my camera out, the cloud had almost completely cleared and rather than getting my head torch out, as I had just contemplated, I thinking of getting some ski-goggles out! (Obviously, I wasn’t really carrying any).
Joking aside, it was very bright all of a sudden and we made the most of what looked to be a brief break in the clouds, to take some photos of the glistening landscapes. 57 over-excited photos later we began making our way down the broad back of Schiehallion’s main ridge. However tough it was on the way up negotiating the soft snow, it was precisely the opposite on the way down. Every step down was cushioned as if walking down a giant staircase constructed from single beds. We bound down, stopping intermittently to take more duplicate photos.
Gradually the grass and rocks became more prominent than the snow and we were soon back on the path, marching back to the car discussing the day we’d had. One of the interesting things about hill-walking, especially in bad, or ‘challenging’ weather as I like to call it, is that you may go for an hour or so without actually talking to your companions. So it is always interesting to compare notes, as it were, at the end of the day on what was the hardest part, or things you noticed but couldn’t be bothered communicating them due to the 40mph hail attacking your hood and deafening you.
Upon reflection and reviewing the stunning, crisp photos I’d got of the Schiehallion ridge and surrounding landscape, I remembered the Reverend Nevil Maskelyne, the man who famously spent the summer of 1774 living high up on the sides of Schiehallion conducting the aforementioned mass of the earth experiment. Apparently he was, “a man who was fond of good living when opportunity offered, but quite prepared to suffer in the cause of science.” (Sillitto, 1957). Bizarrely that also sums up my day on the mountain, and indeed my attitude to hill-walking in general. I suffered awful driving hail and knee deep snow out on that plateau, but I would more than willingly suffer it all again, not necessarily for a historically significant scientific experiment but definitely for a decent photograph!
(Written by: alanbmorris)