A Grand Day Out 26: Going Solo

Sgor Elide Beag with cloud inversion
© James Cox, Dec 08

I'm not much of a morning person...

The weather had been fantastic for days. I had climbed my first winter route, Gully Number 2, in calm, cloudless and crystal clear air. Conditions were absolutely perfect but it had been a long day with an early start and I still ached. The plans had been made for tomorrow; catch the first gondola from the ski-centre and climb some lines on the East face of Aonach Mor. I reluctantly agreed to another pre-dawn start.

I turned off the 6am alarm without opening my eyes. I woke up 2 hours later, the others had already left. I wasn't disappointed, last night I had hatched my own plan, a three Munro walk in the Mamores with a lighter pack and a chance to enjoy the views. I set off alone from Kinlochleven at 10am.

Today's weather was less inspiring, just below freezing with a ceiling of featureless cloud at about 600m, so much for my stunning views. I had started late and would not have time for three Munros, only two and no views, damn this weather! I entered the cloud just as I arrived at the base of Sgor Elide Beag.

It's been about a year since I've needed to navigate for real, I fish out my neglected compass, better concentrate. I look up at the South ridge, steep and rocky, risky in this visibility. I scan the map, a path detours round the back of the peak and up to a col on the ridge beyond, adding distance and losing me another Munro. Doubt rises in my mind, 'can you remember how to navigate? What if you get lost, this path keeps disappearing under snow. Is it even worth going to the top in this cloud?' I feel despair, why did I come here? Pride forces me to continue.

I gain height and bring crampons and axe into use as patches of iron hard snow turn into continuous fields. A line of footsteps happily coincide with my compass bearing. I feel exhilarated by the exercise for a moment, but then the steps disappear and the gradient begins to increase, doubt returns. Awkwardly traversing, my ankles beg for a rest, I don't like this. I've lost the path, where the hell am I? I glance at my compass and squint into the fog, barely visible is a faint outline of icy rock buttresses glinting in sun. The sun? Could it be? I look up, blue sky! I look at my feet as swirling cloud drops below them, exposing me to my position. Joy! My mood lifts in an instant, the view is fantastic, 'Don't celebrate yet, there is work to do'.

The ridge is only 20m above, my options are a precarious traverse out left or direct up a 50 to 60 degree slope. I begin front pointing upwards, 10m later my lungs burn. The top section is steeper and the snow softer, my only axe slides downwards when I weight it, this is getting serious 'Move now! Get to the ridge or slip, self arrest and try again'. I hook a nubbin of rock and pull up. The ridge is at eye level, its broad, grassy surface looks like a garden in summer yet it feels a whole world away. My pick plunges into turf, I mantle into the warm sun and start to smile. Victory! I turn around and look below to see my first Brocken Spectre, awesome. I had pushed through my own doubt and out into the light.

I didn't bag any Munros in the end; I was short on daylight and opted for a leisurely lunch and an easy walk down. Mountains poked out of the blanket of cloud like islands in a pink and orange sea. The late afternoon light is so special, it's my favourite time of day. I'm not much of a morning person.

The list of entries so far is below (closing date for entries is Midnight on Monday 9th March):

Click to read individual articles in this series:


A Grand Day Out is another creative competition and a chance to express yourself and share your adventures.


A Grand Day Out, 154 kb
image © Mick Ryan

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