Under Distant Stars (Glen Affric and Ben Nevis)
Glen Affric and Ben Nevis (Tower Ridge and Ledge Route) 05-09/Aug/2009
• 181. Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan (Thur 06/08/09) Peak of the quarters
• 182. Mullach na Dheragain (Thur 06/08/09) Summit of the Hawk
• 183. Carn Dearg, The Snout (Fri 07/08/09)
• Ben Nevis, Tower Ridge Sat 07/08/09
• Ben Nevis, Ledge Route Sun 08/08/09
Dean Moriarty and Ernesto Guevara. On the Road and the Motorcycle Diaries. Two literary characters from two books: read them like you would watch an episode of Eastenders, soon in the bin of life like so many other empty experiences.
Ha ha, I don't think so. Read them and let the written word transform you, let their words caress your deeper self and permeate your soul like the gentle caress of a beautiful sunset or the rage that wells up inside of you when an innocent is abused. Feel an unlocking of all the passion that lurks inside and has been hidden away. The machine dissolves....
And so to Glen Affric. The most beautiful glen in all of God's paradise. Scotland, ancient home of the Celt and the Pict, the Norse and the Angle and the Briton too.
The Norse and the Norman and many others have cast a jealous eye over Scotland's mountains and lochs, the English continue to do so, for it is indeed paradise. To wander through the wilderness of Scotland is to feel like one has died and gone to heaven.
The ancient forests, which once covered most of Scotland, are now reduced to a bare 1%, a sign of the times. Mother trees of Scots Pine up to 4500 yrs old, sigh at the changes they have witnessed, selfishness and corruption, humanity lost at its root.
But not in Glen Affric; one of the few places the ancient forest thrives. Why? Because a few enlightened beings care, they care enough to ensure the forest survives; no longer home to the Bear, Wolf, Elk, and Boar but still home to the Red Squirrel, Pine Martine and Wild Cat.
Kerouac's Dean Moriarty would have loved it here. He is an embellishment, a personification of childhood's wanderlust for life, a soul cut free from the drudgery and expectations of a tired and old generation, he personifies the child's wonder at being in a pristine world for the first time. Pure and incorruptible.
And so, cut loose to wander we did; a mountain vista in all directions, a boiling cauldron of weather to the south we spied with derision, bring it on, we have our own agenda. Throw a tempest, or shimmering heat, a full moon is due and we shall persevere because this is our moment and anything we endure shall create our experience.
The virtually realised Bothy (internet search) proves an illusion. It doesn't exist. A minor blow and a day's travel by car and bike to realise our error. A surge of excitement follows, no place to lay our heads, the opportunities now seem endless and finite. The midges assemble in anticipation of a feast.
Strawberry Cottage on a lonely, windswept hill, abandoned croft at the foot, mountain and loch beyond. "You can stay in the woodcutter's place lads" a friendly voice proclaims. Highland hospitality, an ancient tradition, a breath of fresh air to souls in need of a good feast. The smell of freshly cut timber seals the deal, the stress of modern living just seems to melt away, here we are in a woodcutter's abode, surrounded by sweet smelling, freshly cut pine with a brood of swallow chicks nestling silently overhead, we are as happy as a pig in shit. Swallows watch on with silent concern.
Ernesto spent many such a night on his tour of South America in the 50's. He lived off his reputation as a doctor (to be) and the solidarity that existed between the poor and down trodden peoples of Latin America. On a 500cc Norton motorbike, Le Ponderosa (the Mighty One) he struggled through the sub continent observing the merciless corruption of CIA sponsored dictatorships.
The injustice he experienced was formative. Ernesto would later become known to the world as "Che".
But we are not Che. And we are all Che if we want to be. The load on our backs feels lighter; Che and Chi work together to make each and every step lighter. The cauldron to the south simply makes the journey an adventure. Up, up and away like supermen we ascend into the lofty clouds that shroud the high mountain peaks, rain pelts us, we carry on, sunshine gladdens our souls, we carry on, the scent of bog myrtle gladdens our hearts. Blaeberry feast.
Three mighty peaks, our boots pass over, yet it is like we stand still in the cosmos and their wisdom passes through us, down, down and down again to quench our thirst, time stands still, there is no time apart from now, mere glances are enough to exchange our appreciation of what this moment means, a profound and deep peace. A herd of deer split in two by our presence eye us from lofty heights.
Up and up again, all four limbs clutching for anything that will defy gravity, boots sliding backwards, gasping for air, this terrain and I, they WILL be one. A glance around nature's theatre, gasp! It is a privilege to be alive and to share this moment with a fellow traveller. On to the ridge, heart pounding, a breathless appreciation, nature unlimited, a kaleidoscope of topography, lasting peace, lasting calm, I could do this forever.
Bivi on the hill, wake up on the hill.
During the night a full moon illuminates the landscape. Hauntingly beautiful, an archipelago of clouds on a sea of blue sky compete with each other to achieve the most surreal shape. The hues and colours are so subtle they touch me deeply, a theatre goer, best seat in the house.
The next day we descend in bright sunshine and fly by bike over the southern shores of Loch Affric. The ride is a sharp contrast to yesterdays approach in persistent rain, mist and midges. Today we are fully charged with Chi, the pedals spin at our command, hills are effortless and the load on our backs virtually forgotten. Balmy August, the air is charged with life and the scent of fern, myrtle and moor.
A waterfall and plunge pool invite like a seductress, irresistible, swim under the plunging water, with every gasping breath unloading troubles and fill the space with supercharged Chi. Take on the world!
And so to Ben Nevis. Our ranks swell. Ian and I are joined by Jim, Stephen and John, fellow travellers, fellow seekers. The hills know a thing or two; we are a band committed to unlocking those secrets. And there are others, in the CIC hut perched deep within the mighty fortress of the Ben. Under the shadow of its towering cliffs, the hut is the gathering point for kindred spirits who are drawn to the Ben like moths to the flame.
Sunset sees our approach, the Ben is illuminated like God's very own cathedral, horizontal rays of light that seven minutes ago sprang forth from Sol now dance a cacophony of red hues over the architecture of its northern face. It feels like a pilgrimage...
The CIC hut is a model dwelling. Crafted from local stone it boasts two loos that munch poo and pee and turn it into compost and water. Did we come up with that idea or did nature? It also boasts a wind turbine that converts wind power into electricity, clever stuff, sustainable, clean, and pure.
Nightfall. All around, huge, dark shapes tower around like dragon's teeth. Casting an eye over the Milky Way I feel a profound sense of wonder, as if the gears of the universe are shifting ever so slightly and changing my perspective. Artificial agendas seem to melt away and my true place in the cosmos is revealed. Under distant stars, silent moments invade my soul, and the boundaries between the real and the imaginary evaporate. This place is truly God's cathedral, I begin to feel like myself again for the first time in ages, Buddha Nature reveals itself.
The Moon rises like a friendly face. Clouds scud forth from a giant vertical rock face, silhouetted jet black against the moonlight. The clouds are translucent and compete with each other to add hue, texture and light to the face of the moon.
Dawn breaks, breakfast and then we are on our way over Tower Ridge, hands and feet fully deployed, every sense sharpened like a carpenter's tool. A profound sense of comradeship prevails as we will each other over every obstacle. My comrades are all part of the Harris family, I feel welcome in their gang. Harris for a day.
The air is silent, and the mist surrounds like a blanket of cotton wool; every moment a slip would result in a long freefall into its soft and comfy arms. Ha ha, dream on, stay focused. Channel the Chi.
Summit then descent, down the granny route. A motorway of humanity, a shared mountain experience. Young and old, smiles and grimaces, sweat and tears, a common experience. A five year old breezes past, her Buddha nature, her birthright, strong as the midday sun. May the Force be with you young Padawin.
I feel privileged to be a brief part of the Harris family, part of the human family, each and every one seeking to find their place in the universe, only to find we are all one and the same.
Contributed by: colin wilson< Back to Scotland page for links to other stories