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HW Tilman once wrote that 'it is the long drawn-out process of getting wet that is unpleasant, and when saturation point is reached one ceases to care'. This may be true in the warmth of Africa (he was in the Kilimanjaro jungle at the time) but it was not relevant to Scotland in 2014, when the weather was strangely superb. There were exceptions of course, usually when accompanying Chris Watson, though he was not in Scotland in August when the tail-end of hurricane Bertha hit the west coast. Flooding at Dundonell and Gairloch led to the rest of civilisation being cut off from Poolewe and curtailed bagging for the week.
One consequence of the great weather was that I developed a habit of leaving high summits around 11pm and a dependence on my head-torch. I found that it is the long drawn-out process of getting dark that is unsettling, and when it stops getting any darker one adjusts and accepts it. Eventually it does start to get lighter, as I found when returning to my car at 1.20am on 2 July after 15 hours in the Monadhliath. A lot of the terrain was surprisingly good, but not the descent from Carn Macoul, where I found the worst path of the year but consoled myself by reckoning that it would have been just as boggy and tussocky in daylight.
Sims and surveying were largely responsible for this nonsense. It got out of hand that day in the Monadhliath, with 25 different survey points, four of them trying to pin down the highest point of Carn Ballach NE Top during a cloudburst, a deleted Munro Top that I was not even interested in, but it became a matter of principle not to be defeated by the lumpy little swine. I wanted to be sure it wasn't higher than the main Carn Ballach summit (it wasn't).
Overall though, a fantastic year, one of the best ever. Feeling fully fit for the first time for a few years (after knee surgery in 2013) made a huge difference. I reached two landmarks that I had been chasing for a while: climbing my 524th and final 900m Sim in September (one of 99 in the year but only seven new for me) and my 2000th Sim (Manywee) in October. Both were solo, whereas in March I had gate-crashed a baggers' party to reach two other landmarks that I had only taken interest in a few weeks previously: 2000 Humps and 3000 Tumps.
Best days of the year involved long routes on undulating ridges, bagging new Sims and reaching familiar summits via unfamiliar routes: Beinn Chabhair, Beinn Bhuidhe, Sgiath Chuil (twice), Sgurr nan Eag, Ben Cruachan, Beinn nan Eachan (twice), Carn Eige, Dun da Ghaoithe, An Sgarsoch, Ben Klibreck, and two superb summer days in the Mamores with wonderful weather and hardly any people (on my routes). Two days on Skye in May with Iain Brown were hard to beat, but perhaps the best day of all was 12 October. Glen Lyon was looking as lovely as ever in autumn colours, while higher up the ever-changing shafts of light played across the views to Glen Coe, Rannoch Moor and Ben Alder, until Stuchd an Lochain slowly turned orange in the setting sun. Meall Buidhe, Garbh Mheall and nearby tops are unassuming grassy summits, but I felt very much at home and at peace in those surroundings. I was aware at the time that I could have been on Lewis for an attempt on the section 25 stacks, but I was happy with my choice of rolling hills rather than rolling waves. I was of course very pleased that those with more dedication and bottle than me had finally managed to bag the lot. I will choose to remember Eddie's description of the summit of Stac Lee as a 'guano nightmare' and overlook all the dramatic death-defying stuff.
The good weather persisted into autumn and early winter. November turned out to be a significant month, when I dipped my toes into three new territories: wellying, hill-bagging.co.uk and tumping.
The wellies had languished unworn in the garage for over twenty years, loved only by spiders, but I unwebbed them for a trip to the Cheviot hills, where they were a triumph. I discovered the joy of warm dry feet after a long bog plod. The path from Cushat Law to Bloodybush Edge was not as clumpy as that back from Carn Macoul but it was even wetter. Once the soft snow arrived the wellies worked even better, along with an old pair of Scarpa insoles and two thick pairs of socks, so I did not bother with walking boots at all for a few months. The wellies only let me down once, on the steep east side of Grandtully Hill near Aberfeldy, where unexpectedly deep snow poured over the welly tops and left me with frozen and waterlogged feet for the rest of the walk.
The effect of joining the hill-bagging.co.uk bunch was both liberating and constraining, as described elsewhere. It inspired me to overcome my snobbily ignorant disdain for Tumps and to head up Glen Lednock for two 500m summits because they were in DoBIH and therefore on the hill-bagging site. It turned out to be such a good walk on a glorious late autumn day that I added a third on the way back to the car and a fourth on the way back down the glen. With the blinkers off, a new world of local possibilities became available for short winter days. Of the fifty new Tumps within half an hour of my house, only two turned out to be duds, and at least they were roadside duds. Even the little wooded hills were enjoyable and often spacious, full of wildlife unused to people on their patch, with deer and the odd red squirrel scurrying away amongst the ancient oaks, mossy pines and overgrown paths.
Most of my walking was solo and unhurried, with no schedules, deadlines or boats to catch, but my thanks to friends who made ordinary hills less of a trudge (Iain Brown, Dee Rogers, Martin Richardson, the Alwinton lot) and to those who hung around waiting for me until after midnight and did not moan about it all that much (Chris Watson, Charles Everett).
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