Mullach Fraoch-choire

Mullach Fraoch-choire

I think as I get older I’m becoming more prone to exaggeration; the first salmon I caught way back in the early 1990s was at least six feet long as I recall, weighing in at half a tonne…
Ok, ok, so it WAS still a whopper at 16.5lbs, but perhaps only three feet nose to tail. Unfortunately, when it comes to mountain climbing, or in this case bagging Munros, achievements are fairly cut and dry. You either reach the summit or you don’t – damnit!

It was our first day in Scotland. We were a band of six veterans, including two Mountain Leaders (ML) plus a seventh in tow: one civilian International Mountain Leader (IML).
In tow? Ermmm sorry Bruno… I meant in charge.

We had decided the previous evening that we would head out early, with a view to hiking round a horseshoe which would take in the Munro Mullach Fraoch-choire at 1102m (3615ft) and as such I was quite excited. Whilst I have been up Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, twice in the previous twelve months it peaks at only 978m (3200ft) and so in my eyes we were starting off the week with a biggie!

The weather wasn’t looking too bad for northern Scotland in February, but already doubt was being cast on the feasibility of the winter skills training that we had all gathered for… the snow on the peaks was looking patchy. Nevertheless, optimistic as always, we threw crampons and ice axes into our day bags with the hope of taking them out for an airing…

Marching out, we fought our way up through the bracken and heather before the rain started to move in. We continued on climbing over a few boundary fences before finally reaching around 500 metres in elevation, where there was a small amount of shelter from the elements, making it a good spot to stop for a coffee!

I dug my poles in, hung my wet gloves over them and attempted to find the pocket with my phone in to grab a few snapshots of the scenery and my fellow hikers. My progress was hindered by the fact that my “Joe 90” glasses were steamed up and dripping wet, sparking a side conversation about the benefits of laser eye surgery. I’m not one for sticking things into or onto my eyes, and whilst at the beginning of the week I was adamant that no surgeon would ever get the chance to burn my retina, cornea or any other part of my eye, by the end of the week I found myself nearly ready to Google my nearest eye clinic. But as usual, I digress…

I got my snaps, had a brew and a pipe (naturally!) and readied myself to move on. A couple of our group decided to head back down to the bothy to dry off and get the fires going so that the rest of us could have a warm brew waiting on our return. The remaining five of us plodded on.

The higher we climbed, the more persistent the rain became and the more frequently we were hit by high gusting winds. We eventually reached a small plateau at 832m, and Bruno our IML got us to form a team huddle… This is where my memory now fails me. In fact to be fair, even as we huddled my memory had already decided to fail me. We looked toward where we were heading and agreed to keep going a little further, reach the summit of the Munro and return the same way. The weather was simply becoming too grim to consider hiking the horseshoe route we had initially planned. I duly took off my steamed-up glasses, hooked them over the waist belt of my day bag and took a closer look at the map. With the plan clear to everybody, we decided to head to an area out of the wind around 50 metres beyond us for a last snack before heading up to the summit.

I suppose I was on my second coffee when Shane, our second ML, called out to me, “This is where you need wipers on your glasses, Simon!” I laughed briefly, and imagine that in the next instant my face must have turned white as a sheet as it dawned on me that I wasn’t wearing my glasses… and neither were they attached to my waist belt or lying on the ground nearby. In fact I had no idea where they were but felt sure I’d still had them at our huddle some 50 metres back along the mountainside.

Now, they probably won’t thank me for saying this, but the truth is that every single one of my companions that week is a real-life hero, and heroes do things despite the absence of personal gain. All these fellas wanted to do was help me find my glasses, regardless of the glaringly obvious ‘needle in a haystack’ dilemma that faced us. Me? I was on my second pair of gloves, my hands were like ice-blocks, and regardless of the loss of my essential (and new-ish and not cheap) eyewear I just wanted to reach the summit and not put these guys out! So, we searched hard around where we were, but eventually the guys acquiesced to my howling pleas to just leave it be, and were persuaded to continue on. As we trudged forward my main preoccupation was how I would explain to Jen, back home, what a buffoon I had been in losing my new spectacles!

We moved onwards and upwards in worsening wind and rain, and by now visibility was deteriorating rapidly. Perhaps it was my preoccupation with my glasses that helped the last couple of hundred metres whizz by so quickly, but suddenly here we were at our first summit. Pictures were taken and we gathered in another huddle. Moving on was not really an option, given the high wind speeds and awful visibility. We would have had to traverse a narrow ridge, and having reached the summit it didn’t seem worth the risk. Besides, it would seem I was not the only one preoccupied with the thought of my glasses. Bruno suggested returning the way we had come, retracing our steps back down to our lunch stop, and from there spreading out in a five-man line search in one last bid to find my specs…

It wasn’t long before we were back down out of the cloud, approximately 800 metres up but still being lashed by the wind and rain. And with the guys still insisting it was worth a try, we got ourselves into a line and continued plodding forward. Within about ten minutes Lee started singing aloud. He’d found the glasses! They must have been blown a good 50 metres after slipping off my waist belt, so well done that man!

Now that should be where this blog post ends but sadly, our first day’s outing turned out to have a sting in the tail. The summit and cairn we had reached was not the Munro I had thought it to be. Mullach Fraoch-choire (1102m), I was later informed, was some three or four hundred metres further on than the highest point we’d reached, which was in fact the cairn at 1047m (3435ft).

I have no regrets that as a result of halting at the cairn for safety reasons, we didn’t bag this Munro. Also, even though I often think I have barely a shred of faith left in human nature, these lads proved that there are still people out there who will do everything possible to help somebody in need, and for that I am truly grateful to each of them…

Oh, and let’s face it, at 1047m on that first day I STILL stood taller than if I had summited the highest mountain in England and Wales! 🙂

This post was edited by the lovely Jennifer Lyon whose travel blog can be found by clicking here.

Simon Duringer is an award-winning blogger, interviewer and author. His own books can be found on Amazon too by clicking any of the following icons…


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