Marhofn 58.03 - May 2001

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Things Come In Threes

Hamish Brown

They do say things come in threes but I'm not superstitious.

We'd a great Hogmanay up in Sutherland, with Stewart reaching the 600 front door, myself reaching the attic of 900 and Charles somewhat high over the rooftops. Quite a parcel of Dawson's bairns and, despite deep snow and deep freeze (and a week unwashed) ticking standards were maintained. The day of glory given was a traverse of Ben Stack, 'an alpine experience' according to bergfuhrer Braun, 'an adrenaline jolt' according to Jill.

Heading home, roads (just) allowed access to Loch Duntelchaig for an ascent of Stac na Cathaig, a hill I'd recommend to my enemies, one for the Hall of Shame or 'the Shit List' as someone put it. Moonlight on the loch, music on the radio, the last of the magnum -I do so enjoy roughing it in the camper van. A road of pure white glitter led to Inverness pre-dawn to try for a first three-ticks day in 2001: Burgie Hill, Hill of the Wangie, Brown Muir. 'Nae bother,' quoth he.

Burgie Hill wasn't any bother, despite being done from a quick sketch in the margin of map 28 when buying it at Alness the day before. (I wasn't buying sheet 27 for half a hill.) The road up was fine, the trees framing the sharp cone of Morven across in Caithness, the tracks (left, left, right, right) to the cluttered summit were ribbons of ice.

Round by Pluscarden for number two, which had a brief 'trees!' noted against it in my gospel according to Dawson. At least there was an obvious forest track wending up to the summit contour level. Forest operations (with ban on access) were in suspense, being Saturday, and with what came next I must have wandered up the icy track in a daydream. The way in to the trig is from a clear sharp bend in the road. When this duly came I took a careful bearing and set off to fight the forest, counting steps carefully.

This led to the middle of nowhere with rising ground off left. Search there debouched me onto open hillside with higher ground still. The daydream continued. I wended along a sort of abandoned track, up the drain of re-plantings to impenetrable mature spruce. Deep crusty snow led to a break, and a yellow band tied to a tree looked significant and took me, in a crouch, right out the other side. No trig. And finally I woke up. I'd fought a ridiculous distance. Something was far wrong. Nor did it take long to work out: I'd set off from the first sharp bend in the road, a kilometre from the correct launching pad. Oh dear! Oh damn!

The felony was compounded by an hour of thrashing a wide variety of nastiness, trying not to waste height gained till more barbed wire spruce drove me down hectic heather to the track. Dripping with sweat I'd peeled off pullover and only on the track realised I'd lost my specs which had been hooked on the pullover. That could be an expensive second idiocy but, wonder of wonders, in that world of heather, snow and bog, retracing my steps, I found my eyes. I dreaded trying to find the trig after that. Things do come in threes they say. But I'm not superstitious.

Professional pride was salvaged by the correct bearing and estimating steps leading straight to the trig -a marvel and magic no GPS locating can match. Time had flown and complex road navigation took more, as did a quick run along the A941 to study Brown Muir access from that side. I wish I'd gone from there, now, but funked the farm access (I hate the chance of confrontation) and decided to risk icy wee roads to use the communications mast access track. On the spur of the moment I pulled in to the Millbuies Country Park hoping for some map board information. There was none but a direct ascent from there looked a quick option. Superstitious or not, it gave the third fiasco of the day. Definitely a route for friends like Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin or Hitler.

Once out the trees the whole complex area was a quagmire of cow usage, speculative depths of brown and green goo. I squelched up past ponds, under the pylon line, to what looked more ordinary hillside, except it was cow-trodden too, with a million holes, frozen into unfriendliness. Taking a short-cut led to a ditch. I stepped over this onto what looked a solid spot and found myself knee-deep in icy water, thereby proving the waterproof quality of my Bogtrotters (short hill wellies) and having wet, cold feet thereafter, even with standing on my head to drain out a few pints. Things do come in threes after all.

A wobbly fence took me out of this 'agricultural' land onto the gentle dome of heather leading to the mast. That kilometre of heather was just hell: always deep, the mix of ground sometimes frozen, sometimes not, sometimes bog, never ever two steps the same, a sweaty heartbreak at the close of day when hurry was needed and, always, the mast ahead never seeming to come any nearer. I'm sure you will have suffered the same, so I'll not go on about it, but my lack of superstition was proved: things don't come in threes -that made four! An 'oddest trig of all' note was verified and, friend or foe, you can damn well find out for yourself why it is so.

Carn Duchara (19A) and Loch an Losgainn Mor

Carn Duchara (19A) and Loch an Losgainn Mor

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