I have come across another mountain related saying in my pamphlet of Gaelic proverbs:

Anail a Ghaidheil, air a mhullach!

The Gael’s breathing place – on the summit!

 

Is that so? Why is it so many of my neighbours have never set foot on a footpath let alone a hillside?

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Your perception of distance can play tricks on you in the mountains. Perhaps, it’s the unique mountain light that causes your brain to go haywire and pretend that the summit in the distance is closer than you think. More likely the boost of exercise related hormones, that are triggered when you lace up your boots and put one foot in front of the other, have clouded your judgment and estimation of your own abilities. We have all been there, leaning against a summit cairn taking in the panorama around us when our eyes alight on another airy ridge and a temptingly gnarly summit just beyond.  In that moment of “topping-out” euphoria your brain’s normally fairly accurate computation of time and distance fail, egged on by your own sense of achievement you find yourself stepping forward to bag that extra peak. After all, you are so close; it would be a shame to miss it out. If the body produced a reality hormone it would be coursing through your veins by now triggering an involuntary but rational movement of arms to map and then focusing of eyes.  This simple physiological move would confirm that the summit is further than first thought and involve a nastily steep ascent following that knee-crunching descent. All to be repeated in the opposite direction.  In combination with the “let’s be rational about this” hormone this would result in an abrupt about turn and murmurs of, “perhaps I will leave it for another day.”

Setting out to bag the lonely peak of Gulvain there was no risk of overestimating my own abilities but I had lost all sense of distance. Striding out along the track beside the Fionn Lighe, the heat of the early morning sun already rising, I knew that it was a long walk in before we would start climbing. Pausing briefly as we crossed the river I gazed in to temptingly cool, inky black pools as the water lazily slid underneath the bridge. Yet still there was no sign of my goal. I quickened my pace beside the forestry plantation desperate to get to higher ground. There I knew I would be out of reach of the slashing, slicing razor-sharp teeth of the clegs that hovered around me, ready to silently ambush any exposed piece of skin. They had plenty to aim for as I had foolishly opted to wear walking shorts for this outing, providing a Heathrow-sized space for these airborne insect terrorists to hijack my blood. A decision that I came to regret the next day as my legs turned to itchy islands of blotchy, red inflammation and swelling.

The mountain getting ever so slightly closer The welcome first glimpse of the twin-peaked Gulvain, the footpath leaving a clear stony scar on its lower slopes, encouraged me onwards. Yet no matter how many steps I took forward the mountain never seemed to get any closer.

Push forward one hundred metres. Stop. Look upwards. The mountain seemed further away than ever.

Focus on the summit whilst walking. Surely, then it will gradually seem closer.

Another kilometre effortlessly glides by and the grassy slopes obstinately stand still.

Temporary distance perception disorder had definitely kicked in. Then all of a sudden it disappears as the steep slope towers above you, shutting out any view of the first summit. The path zigzags relentlessly upwards, the clegs left safely behind. Instead I am joined by bumblebees heavily laden with ruby red pollen and jewel-like dragonflies, emerald green, sapphire blue and jet-black darting to and fro. Their target the carpets of wild thyme and lady’s mantle providing a purple and yellow fringe to the path. These natural delights divert me from the climb and soon I am leaning against the trig point of the minor top. Glancing at the Munro beyond, I wondered if my brain is playing distance tricks again. The summit looks suspiciously close and the drop before any re-ascent only minimal. Not wanting to risk a step too far I check the map. It’s only six hundred metres with a drop of fifty. No delusional distances.

From the summit of Gulvain On fine summer days you linger at the top desperately wanting to make up for all those days where, blasted by wind and rain you barely pause at a summit. I did just that on Gulvain carefully crossing off the other mountains I could identify, noting the enticing ones not yet climbed. I wanted to remain high for as long as possible as I retraced my steps along the ridge. Even more so, when confronted with a squadron of flying insects primed for their next kamikaze mission towards human skin.

Heat, tiredness and mountain air all contributed to severe distance distortion when I reached the track below. Six kilometres seemed like sixty. The landmarks I had mentally noted in the morning, the tumble-down croft, the fire-break in the trees, the small bend in the track were all further apart than before. The car was never just round that corner or over that hump, instead I was always confronted with just dusty track stretching off into the distance. Eventually that track ran out and slumped against my car I realised that time, distance and space often have no real meaning in the mountains

Recommended Links:

Walk Highlands Route Description

“Cairn in the Mist” Blog Route Report

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Ben Hope
Image by Ade Milne via Flickr

I came across a pamphlet from the 1902s about Gaelic proverbs and sayings. It focuses on those sayings that are unique to Gaelic or have no direct equivalent in another language. Not surprisingly for a language so deeply rooted in the countryside and so descriptive of the natural world many of the proverbs use natural features or phenomena as metaphor. I will enjoy dipping in and out of the seventy-plus pages for inspiration.

One piece jumped out from the page, although it seems to have no Gaelic basis and is not attributed to anyone. All the same it encapsulates the feelings that those of us who are fortunate to live, work or play in our mountain areas have about the natural wonder around us.

“Mountains are the great cathedrals of the earth, with their gates of rock, pavements of clouds, choirs of steam and stone, and altars of snow.”

Related posts:  A New Year thought for hillwalkers

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{{de|Grosser Krottenkopf von Westen (Allgäuer ...
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I am stunned to find out that I have won an adventure holiday for two to the Allgau Alps in Bavaria. This was after I entered a competition in the July issue of TGO magazine.

One of my customers comes in to post at least half a dozen competition entries a week and once told me that the number of entries to these competitions is relatively small so you have a high chance of winning. So it has proved because this is the second prize I have won with TGO this year. Admittedly my previous prize was a less glamorous win – two tickets to the Outdoor Show.  Most of the time all I have to do is answer a simple question and press the send button on my email entry.

So I am now looking forward to five nights at a mountain lodge run by a company called My Peak Potential. The activities that are on offer look great, I am particularly tempted by the gorge experience but really want to try out some of the Klettersteig (via Ferrata) routes in the area. The food is cooked by a local chef some good Bavarian specialities will be sampled washed down by German beer. Great!

If anyone has been to this part of Germany I would be interested to hear of any recommendations,  particularly for day walks in the area.

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Do you ever wonder why we set foot on the hills?  I thought this quote sums up the reason.

“The hills are beautiful. They are beautiful in line and form and colour, they are beautiful in purity, in their simplicity and in their freedom; they bring repose, contentment and good health.”

F.S. Smythe, 1930s Everest pioneer

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You have lot of time to think about the Inaccesible Pinnacle on the walk up from the Glen Brittle Mountain Rescue Post. As you leave the car behind you and wander alongside the Allt Coire na Banachdich you ask yourself whether what lays ahead can’t be as bad as some people make out.

 

Beyond the waterfalls the path begins to rise over the moorland with views across to Coire Lagan with the jawbone of Sgur Mhic Choinnich and Sgurr Alasdair thrusting upwards. Surely the route can’t be as bad as those precipitous crags? Above a grassy slope the path steepens winding through scree and small crags. Suddenly the scrambling begins, nothing challenging at first, but once on the shoulder of Sgurr Dearg the path narrows and you are exposed to the sheer drop into the coire below with a lochan ready to catch an unfortunate walker. At this stage you contemplate whether your will is up to date. However, soon you are concentrating on negotiating the minor bumps as you follow the ridge further upwards.

  

Catching your first glimpse of the Inaccessible Pinnacle in the distance you feel a sense of disappointment, a diminutive jag on an extremely jagged skyline. It is not until you reach the crest of Sgurr Dearg that the full effect of the pinnacle hits you, the imposing obelisk a pointing finger into the sky. Sitting looking at the vertical west ridge you linger on your lunch preparing for the final ascent. Watching a mountain rescue team practice does little to boost your confidence, although their presence at the summit is somehow comforting. I still have no doubts, I have come this far I am going to get to the top.

  

We gingerly slide down the steep scree and slabs at times grasping at the rocks by our side, to prevent us slipping uncontrollably, until we reach the stability of the plateau below the east ridge. A more experienced member of the team continues up the ridge and then we are ready to climb. There is a short steep easy climb to a small platform where we rope up. The rocks tower above us as we make slow and steady progress to the half way point. Here I glance down to my right to see the mountainside plummet down to the valley floor below me. The exposure is significant but I do not feel overwhelmed or nervous, it is an odd mixture of satisfaction and determination that I feel instead.

  

We linger for a long time here as those ahead make sure all is safe, the wind whips around us and it is difficult to find shelter out of the cold. Then it is off again, a few tricky steps at first and then a more obvious route appears before you. At times you think this is no different from crawling up some stairs and then you realise there is a 3000ft drop on one side. Then we are there climbing on to the small flat platform at the top. There is plenty of time to contemplate your achievement whilst sitting waiting for your fellow walkers to make the short and quicker descent from the pinnacle by abseiling down. You also get an opportunity to take in the grandeur of the Skye Cuillins around you, promising many days of challenging hillwalking in years to come.

  

Then it is over, you are down on the main ridge taking off your climbing harness, with more experienced club members congratulating on making it to the top of what must be the most spectacular Munro.

 

Now for the steep descent back to the cars. You have a lot of time to think about the Inaccessible Pinnacle on the walk down…..

The latest two updates to my letter to a novice hillwalker have just been added. My thoughts on watching the weather and being prepared can be read here.