Stob Dearg - Buachaille Etive Mor
(Written by Stuart and Karla)
Stuart - Buachaille! Buachaille! Buachaille, Buachaille, Buachaille, Buachaille, Buachaille!
What a gorgeous, sexy, beautiful figure of a mountain she is. She stands, presenting herself to all who pass this side of Rannoch Moor, screaming out for big burly men (and women!) brave and strong enough to jump on top of her. Answer her challenge and the worthy get taken to heaven and back. The unworthy fail or give up, beaten back to the roadside, defeated and humiliated. She is the ultimate in mountain beauty, and photos of her can be seen on postcards, landscape photography books and the cover of photography magazines about three times a year in the UK alone.
Karla - We had always wondered how we were going to bag one of Scotland's busiest and most iconic mountains. Stuart had some history with this mountain and was adament that we would only climb it if we could expect good visibility at the summit. But the Buachaille can be extremely busy on such days, especially at the weekend. But from past experience we knew that the summits can be empty by late afternoon. It was mid-week and the weather was gorgous. We weren't about to pass up the opportunity to bag Buachaille Etive Mor. And besides which, Stuart seemed rather keen on it.
The Buachaille is one of my favourite mountains. She was one of the mountains that made me want to take up climbing, and I'd climbed her twice before. I'd also had two failed attempts to climb her, so as lovely as she is, I always approach the Buachaille with a certain amount of trepidation.
But I wanted her. I wanted her bad. I hadn't climbed her since 1998, since long before I met Karla and I really wanted to share this mountain with her. So when we had a clear day mid-week, we decided to go for it.
Thanks to our usual sense of urgency, we arrived later in the day, and set off around lunchtime. After crossing the river Coupall, we headed up the Coire na Tulaich gully, taking the usual "tourist route" towards the summit ridge. Climbing up the coire brought back many happy memories of previous climbs, and one terrifying memory of an avalanche I dodged many, many years ago. As the terrain got steeper and the path got scramblier, I remembered why I love climbing this mountain so much. Its the perfect step up for a munro bagger who's only tackled the easy slopes, and as we reached the scree slopes towards the top of the gully, our enthusiasm and excitement was building for the final steep push up the crags at the top.
The scree slowed us down as we crossed it, but the rocks to the left of the scree gave some great easy scrambling. Scrambling has to be the most fun way of climbing, and Karla and I were loving every second of the climb as we scrambled over the pink rhyolite towards the summit ridge.
OK, I now know why Stuart loves this mountain so much. I can't imagine how much chocolate you would have to eat to equal the feel-good factor of this mountain. It's definitely the most fun I've ever had. It just felt good to scramble using hands and and feet for so long. The rock was hard and sharp, but dry and easy to grip. The plan was to come down a different route after bagging the second summit. As we reached the col I was already regretting that it was over thinking that we were unlikely to be coming up the gully again until after we had compleated. The sunshine was particularly harsh and because the wind was low the temperature was quite high. But as I looked up to the summit I was pleased to see how rocky the rest of the ascent was.
As we approached the summit, I was getting excited. This would be my third time on the summit, and the weather was clear, something that hadn't happened on my previous climbs. The ridge gets narrower and narrower as you walk towards the summit, and as the sense of exposure increases, the views open up, with Rannoch Moor looking a lush green thanks to all the rain. The summit ridge itself however, is so barren, rocky and desolate that you're always expecting to come across a couple of very small people looking very, very tired, and hearing the phrase "I cannot carry it Mr Frodo, but I can carry you!" Seriously, the Buachaille looks like something out of the very heart of Mordor when you're up there, there were even great big evil ravens hanging around to peck the flesh off of the fallen climbers.
Normally I strip off first when we reach the summit and Stuart takes the photos. Then we swap over and it's Stuart's turn to strip. Being a busy moutain, I was aware of the danger of being disturbed half way through and us having to ask others if they minded us taking photographs of ourselves naked. It's not an everyday request and it takes people by surprise. But people are more likely to accept a woman making such a request than a man, so I thought it best if we took Stuart's photos first. The views were terrific, but being a small rocky summit it was difficult to find a good angle to really do it justice.
It was utterly, bloody, freezing up there. This has been the worst summer in a long time, and even when it was sunny, it was cold. The air was cold. The ground was cold. And the wind just blew the life out of me. Even worse, it was almost impossible to move around in bare feet up there. These ancient volcanic rocks were sharp underfoot and every step was either carefully planned, or painful. So it was cold, and I couldn't move very fast. For the first time in a long time, I was glad to get dressed again.
So was it really as cold as Stuart was making out or had he not eaten a proper breakfast again? Well OK the wind was particularly chilly from the gust front, but I think next time I will be forcing some eggs down him before we set off just to make sure. The difference between the hot sun lower down sheltered from the wind, and the windy summit, especially when overcast, was quite extreme. It was difficult to move around the small summit on bare feet, but standing near the ledge I just wanted to step off into the void.
Leaving any mountain summit is a sad moment, but leaving the Buachaille was heart breaking, the view is simply stunning. But time was getting on, and we still had another summit to bag. But as we headed down towards the top of the gully, the weather had other plans for us. We could see a weather front moving in from the south and so we decided to abandon the second summit, partly beacuse we wouldn't get good photos, partly because it would be cold and wet, but mostly because we wanted to come back and climb this lovely gorgeous babe of a mountain!
We had originally tried to take photos of the top of the gully when we first came up it. But I had spent too long trying to compose the photo and another couple starting walking down from the summit before Stuart could strip off. The overcast conditions were now less appealing, but they do show the uninviting sight that one is met with when walking down again from the col. We had thought that we were going to proceed on to the second summit but the weather was closing in and we were satisfied that we had bagged the more important summit for us. Besides which, I needed an excuse to climb that gully again! I considered walking down naked but I didn't want to ruin any further photos that week by getting too cut and grazed on the hard rocks. It turned out that the fear was somewhat misplaced.
The climb down was slow, as the steep rocks and scree demanded respect. It was a lot of fun though, I've always remembered the Buachaille as one of the few mountains as fun to come down as go up. Bouncing down the scree would make my legs ache for a week, but it was great fun at the time!
Eventually we decided to get one last photo as we came off the scree. Karla decided it was time to play with the timer on the Hasselblad, and after one failed attempt we took a very cute photo of us having a little kiss!
As a postscript, when we received our film back from the processing lab, we noticed that someone else's film had been included. Nice colourful photos of sunsets, ruined cottages, sandy beaches, that kind of thing. Quickly counting up the transparencies, we realised that one of our rolls of 35mm film was missing. After enquiring with the lab we found out that another customer had eagerly received their processed film only to find included photos of our naked exploits. I tried to imagine the reaction of the other customer when he looked through his slides.
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