Friday, June 5, 2009


Sorry another sick making account of a trip to the mountains.

For the more serious walkers at the B&B I’m trying to see if it’s feasible to link up my mountain with another mountain, passing along the ridge then along another ridge from the other mountain to the Caugis sheiling and then down and home. Problem is with this talonitis 6 hours walking just about does it for me so I’m having to do it in shorter stages. Also there’s still 2 or 3 meters of snow in places which would be OK but not on my own.

So today I wended my way up three and a half hours to the sheiling. The first half was pretty easy but this was more than adequately made up for by the second half which though not particularly steep was just dirt road which provides no variation in footfall and after a while my foot began really playing me up and it became a real slog This was made worse by the site of the sheiling way way up (6,600 feet) and it just never seemed to get any nearer until suddenly, there it was. Amazing. My foot nearly leapt out of its boot to get there.

It was another early start and again I didn’t see a soul all day. Photos, especially my photos can never do justice to the place. It is truly spectacular and even more spectacular because there were no human contrived sounds at all. Usually at these shielings if there is nothing else there is the gentle tinking of metal against metal or stone to break the reveries of being the last person on the planet. But here, total silence. I’ve always valued this above most things but as I get older it gets more and more important.

The reason for this trip was to see if the bothy at Caugis was really that, a bothy. The idea of anyone in government actually getting off their arses and doing anything for the community here seemed too fantastical for words, a bit like unicorns or honest politicians. But there really was a bothy.

The connecting walk I want to do is too long for one day so I was really interested in the idea of a bothy this high up as this would make the connection with my mountain feasible also for people not used to long distances.

As bothys go it’s great. Beds, blankets, cooking utensils, stove, cut logs, benches and chairs and even a mirror. Apparently it is the work of two guys Elso and Bruno, with the backing or financing (not sure which) of the council. They’ve done an excellent job.

I got to the bothy at half past nine and as the wife and howler are in Tuscany again, at the seaside (bleagh) I had all the time in the world.

Actually, there’s not a lot to do up there. I didn’t have a book and I got bored with the 15 TED talks I had on the I-pod coming up so I did something that being a bustly sort of person I rarely do. I did nothing. I just sat around and existed for the day. I watched and listened and smelled and felt – and all of it in its pure form. And there was plenty of each to occupy my senses.

Despite the baking hot sunshine it was bloody chilly with the wind whipping over the snow. so I kept covered and only burnt my nose this time. And every now and again this wind tore the smell off the snow and raced it down to me along with the smells of ice and wet earth and rock and highness and cleanliness (well that’s what it smelled like). And then the wind dropped and up came the smell of hot heather and bumblebees and hot empty space. And there was an awful lot of empty space about to heat up so the whole thing was very pleasant olfactorily speaking.

It’s an isolated spot made more so by the fact that you can see way down below and know that there is nobody there. Another thing that we have forgotten the existence of, except temporarily, is the absence a telephone signal. Is it me or did the air seem purer as a result? What we took for granted up until the 90s has now become a luxury. We’ve become so dependent on the things that for a moment, a fleeting moment admittedly, I felt uncomfortable. In places like this the phone is a sort of psychological crutch. A way of being alone but not feeling alone and the feeling of really being alone was something lovely. So not having any person to make friends with, I made friends with the only critters around, a dozen or so alpine choughs, some twittering birds I never got to see and what, until I find my bird book, seemed very much like a northern wheatear. And they, apart from a roe deer feeding in a luxuriant field of light green grass were the only living things I saw all day. I did hear a couple of marmots though but without binoculars they remained a disembodied sound only.

As the sun started to warm the snow and melt the rocks out of it most of the afternoon was accompanied by the occasional…. Well what do you call a mixture of falling snow and rock? A rockalanche? Well that’s what it was. It was quite eerie in a nice sort of way; a ventriloqual sort of noise, impossible to pinpoint a direction from it. Sometimes loud and booming sometimes like a marble rolling into an empty bath. But always a lovely, archaic, archetypal sound; something happening all by itself with no human intervention, something that has always happened and will always happen. Sort of comforting. You knew that the world was carrying on with its business regardless.

The choughs were a spectacle to see and have become my favourite bird. They spent the day just having fun too. Simply having fun. They congregated on a wet patch of ground for a bite to eat, then they’d rise up into the air, not a flapping wing to be seen, and zoom off on what after a while became quite obviously a set route. Up towards the peak that overlooks the sheiling then round below the bothy and over to a rock face. Then from there, after a brief rest, up and over that and to reappear way way down below and in a flash back they came. More wet patch for some more grub and then off again. So more or less I spent most of the day watching them. I’ve also discovered, and I’m going to have to check the literature because I can never remember reading this, that choughs too rollover in flight and one even managed quite stint on its back. I thought only ravens did this. In fact I thought it was a raven until I saw the yellow beak; it’s difficult to judge size against a blue sky. They also seemed to always be in pairs which as they are monogamous shouldn’t really be surprising but what amazed me was they flew together in pairs all the time and constantly matching each other’s direction. They really seemed to love what I would love too, flying low over the ground when approaching a cliff and as soon as they’re over closing their wings and plummeting a few hundred meters vertically down before regaining control and riding the thermals and wind back up again for more nosh.

Ravens are fun and awe-inspiring birds to watch but annoyingly illusive and not a patch on this lot with regard to joie d’ vivre. The choughs came really close as I was sitting on the step of the bothy; just a few meters away. So close you could hear the wind in their feathers. They like whistling when they get close, just, it would appear, for the hell of making me turn my head because they seemed to do relays and some coming from the west and others from the east. I thought I might be an attraction to them as they were to me, then I thought better of it though I didn’t feel like an intruder, rather a ‘sharer’.

Late afternoon when the clouds were starting to build up and with the temperature now at 91°F out of the wind I set off a-hobblin’ towards the bike. Going down in my book is always worse than going up and the two hours it took, with my trekking poles working overtime, seemed eternal. Though the temperature down in the valley was only 2 degrees hotter than at the bothy it got really torrid. And the lower I got the more uncomfortable it became. It was just the sensation of stagnant heat instead of the ever-moving hot air of the bothy and sitting outside on the step was extremely tolerable.

Five minutes in the courtyard back home to unload the rucksack had me sweating like a wee piggie and I really wished I’d stayed longer up top but as the boss was coming home late that night I thought it might just perhaps be a wise move to tidy up a bit so a sort of mundane ending to an extraordinary day.

sorry couldn't resist putting this one in. It just conjures up the 'nothing to do' feeling

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