In the Gully

Look Up in the Sky ...

As the sound of an approaching RAF Tornado pieces the clear blue sky, I scan the horizon trying to make visual contact. I catch the fighter plane, swept wings pinned back towards it tail, making a simulated, low flying bombing run over Loch Avon.

Seconds before, we were enjoying an amazing view of the peaks near Cairn Lochan and Cairn Etchachan across the valley. The weather was absolutely gorgeous on the other side of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda. We were in unfamiliar territory having navigated ourselves through the fog of Coire Cas to the east of the Sneachda ridge for the first time during our course. As we sloshed in the deep, wet, soft snow, I joked that someone called in for reinforcements. We were trespassing on the prettier side of the mountain, but the pilots spared our lives.

A Peak to the South of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda

A Peak to the South of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda

During our morning ascent, our familiar route up Coire Cas was obscured by a low hanging clouds. Graeme used the poor weather to our advantage. We practiced navigation techniques like following a compass bearing and counting paces. The practice helped us hone our skills further.

Marked Peak at 1141 Meters

Marked Peak at 1141 Meters

From a slushy position north of the Stag Rocks, we headed towards Coire Raibert. We finally found some more snow on the other side of the mountain. Racing against the afternoon sun, we compete to melt and transform the pristine white surface with our crampons.

Traversing near Coire Raibert

Traversing near Coire Raibert

Tracing the route of a mountain stream, we climbed the gully of Coire Raibert. My legs were fresh, although we were three hours in to our 6 hour round trip. The bright sun and the inky blueness of the sky was transfixing; but, rather than stand still, I was propelled forward and upward.

Jon Going Up the Gully

Jon Going Up the Gully

Overwhelmed by a lightness in my step, I effortlessly traverse the gully walking in 3/2 time across the snow with my ice axe in my uphill hand and a big smile on my face. I am on familiar ground ascending a big pile of deep snow; but, my feelings are new. I recall Nan Shepperd’s description of feyness and immediately recognize the symptoms. I am overcome with happiness, a freedom of the hills that I sought ever since I started mountaineering again.

Fey may be too strong a term for that joyous release of body that is engendered by climbing; yet to the sober looker-on a man may seem to walk securely over dangerous places with the gay abandon that is said to be the mark of those who are doomed to death. How much of this gay security is the result of perfectly trained and co-ordinated body and mind, only climbers themselves realize; nor is there any need to ascribe to the agency of a god either the gay security, or the death which may occasionally, but rarely, follow.
Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain

We reach the top of the gully and take a well-deserved rest. We discuss our route back to the parking lot and our willingness to summit Cairn Gorn, which we conviently avoided on our previous hikes.

At The Top of the Gully

At The Top of the Gully

Jon At the Top

Jon At the Top

Johnny at the Top

Johnny at the Top

The others are reluctant to continue. I consider whether I want to push on and claim my 11 Munro. I decide that I do not want to jeopardize my feyness. The Cairngorms have blessed our outing, and I don’t want to spoil the moment. I am gracious for an incredible day, and I delight in sharing and not spoiling this beautiful moment with such an agreeable team. Most of all, I am thankful for Graeme’s terrific guiding and his ability to steer the team in the right direction.

Sensing my thoughts, Graeme announces the presence of a Brokenspectre. Despite my fluency in German, I don’t have the slightest clue what Graeme means. He shows us the broken spectacle, which I offer as a poor translation. We are mesmerized by the apparition whose rainbow heues paint a vibrant picture against the winter brownness of Cairn Gorn in its background.

Brocken

Brocken

Far from being spooked or worried about the old man in the mirage, we relish our outing and its uniqueness. Our team is blessed. Our journey is complete.

This bodily lightess, then, in the rarefied air, combines with the liberation of space to give mountain feyness to those who are susceptible to such a malady. For it is a malady, subverting the will and superseding the judgement: but a malady of which the afflicted will never asked to be cured.
Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain

* I can’t remember whether we encountered one or two fighter planes, and I was unable to get a confirmation from the British Ministry of Defense (MOD) afterwards.

 

Waypoints Time Distance Altitude
Cairngorm parking lot
to
hours (travel time); hours (total) km + m to m

 

Print

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *