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Well, 2012 was a bit of a watershed and a rollercoaster of a year. It started on a Caorach and ended on a Chaorach, both lovely physical hill trips. In between, I managed to complete my Munros on Ben Vane, another good day.
However, I had two huge emotional hills of an ugly and cruel nature. In April, I stayed a week at Torridon Youth Hostel with my son Jamie and our pet dog Ben-Ji and we had a great week on nearby mountains, with good weather getting better each day. On the Friday, we set off to bag Liathach in glorious weather via Coire na Caime and Coireag Cam to the col below the Northern Pinnacles. This area is steep rock and was tricky with snow on some of the ledges. We were trying to avoid the most difficult section when it started to get more seriously challenging and then a short snowstorm deposited some fresh damp snow. We were on a ledge couple of feet wide in a precarious position. It looked potentially too risky to go up the five-metre pitch above us and also too dodgy to try and retreat on the steep ground below. I had no option but to call mountain rescue for advice. About an hour and a half later, a helicopter arrived to take us off the crags. Unfortunately, bizarrely and tragically, the strong winds from the downdraught of the helicopter blew Ben-Ji off the ledge he was on. Neither Jamie nor I saw it happen as we were braced face against the rock face because of the downdraught. We only realised when we were in the helicopter. They were running low on fuel and were not able to winch someone down to the bottom of the crags to see if there was an alive but injured dog.
The mountain rescue guy, Arran, who saw it happen said Ben-Ji had been flung out into mid air, then fell twenty metres, before he hit rock again and fell further out of sight. He said he was sure that Ben-Ji would not have survived the fall. Arran and I went up the mountain the next day by different routes and met close to the summit. He had already been round the corrie and scanned it with binoculars. I went round the rim of the corrie to look down, but the terrain was too difficult and the weather was too wintry to risk going down to get a better look. I now regret not attempting to go closer to confirm there was a dead body and have been left with a horrible nagging doubt that he may have been alive and rescuable.
On the way to Torridon, quite by chance, I had seen a York College minibus in Inverness Youth Hostel car park. I am studying for a late-in-life degree course at York College. In the minibus were a group of A-level archaeology students on their way to Orkney, including the 17-year-old daughter of one of my student colleagues. When I later brightly relayed this coincidence to her mother she said rather darkly: 'we came to the conclusion that you were stalking them.' After being gobsmacked and fretting about it for a few days, I asked if she would withdraw this false allegation and apologise. After a blunt refusal, when I gently asked them to reconsider a second time, she complained to the police for harassment.
And so from emotional mountains to physical ones. Great two days walking the first stage of the watershed of Skye walk in mid March.
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