It had all started so well. It was a great-to-be-alive day. For two hours, from the Crask Inn to the 808m summit of Creag an Lochain, the world had been sun-drenched and still. The view was astonishing. There was the deep blue of the Atlantic in the distance and the snow-capped Ben Hope, Ben Loyal and Ben More Assynt rising majestically from the flat Sutherland moors. Ben Klibreck may be owned by Klibreck Estates and it has undoubtedly been climbed by tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of walkers, I thought, but today the mountain was mine, all mine, for there were no other boot marks on her pristine white slopes. This was presumably due to everyone else having the foresight to examine the weather forecast.
The vast and ominous mass of black cloud that had been chasing me from the south all morning inevitably engulfed me. In less than 30 seconds, what had been a gigantic world of loch, ice, moor, rock, sea and snow had shrunk to the size of my living room in Inverness, a dark, windy living room.
In a white-out, every hillwalker faces the same dilemma. Turn back? Or press on in the face of adversity? It takes greater courage to turn back than it does to continue, it is said. What nonsense. Did Captain Scott turn back? “Don’t fancy the South Pole today lads. It’s a bit blowy outside.” No, he just got on with it. Of course, we all know what happened to Scott. In an act of foolhardiness, certainly not bravery, up I went.
Sooner than I expected, I was standing on top of the secondmost northerly Munro, where an 18in layer of rime clung to the triangulation pillar. Battered by ferocious winds, this wasn’t a place to linger.
Naturally, there were a few nervous moments on the way down, like when I was struck by the awful realisation that I was descending due north instead of west – always, always take a bearing – or when I was flailing in deep snow on the west side of Creag an Lochain. After those little mishaps, the journey became a head-down trudge, with the wind screeching in my ears and my body growing increasingly numb. It’s only a couple of hours of discomfort, I always tell myself. It hasn’t killed me, so it’ll make me stronger.
At last, I reached the Altnaharra to Lairg road and after a two-mile trudge to the Crask, I ran the final few steps to the cottage. I got a fire going with an old Sunday Sport, meaning that Lucy Pinder’s breasts, quite literally, warmed me up that evening. I bet she never thought she’d come in so useful.