Munroblagging – The First Fifty. Bruach na Frithe, Am Bhastier and the Big Hex Challenge #grateful

27 09 2015
The Skye Cuillin

The Skye Cuillin

It was to prove an eventful weekend, the weekend of my first fifty – as Muriel Gray would call them. A weekend which saw new friendships cemented, new records broken on Big Hex, a couple of new summits avoided for the Munroblagger and a phone call which stopped me clean in my tracks on my way off the Cuillin.

I set off on Friday morning, heading for Skye to catch up with two teams doing the Big Hex Challenge. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Big Hex, its a challenge I set up about three years ago to raise funds for Scottish Mountain Rescue (more here http://www.bighex.org). On this particular weekend we had two different teams making their attempt to  break the current record of 36 hours and 30 minutes and in so doing, break the 36 hour mark for the challenge. The first team, from West Lothian Mountaineering Club had opted to start the Ben Nevis leg on Friday morning and head to Skye on the following day. I decided to head for Skye myself on the Friday, park up about mid day and try to blag a couple of Munros on the Cuillin before the lads arrived from the Ben. On the drive up, I stopped off at the North Face car park to introduce myself to Tommy, the teams driver for the weekend. We chatted and swatted midges in the morning sun, the weather looked to be pretty damn perfect for their first leg. I told Tommy i’d get them at the Sligachan Inn later that night, I was planning on sleeping in the Land Rover and had all the comforts of home, I just needed to pick up a couple of beers for later and I would be sorted!

I arrived at the Slig around 2 o’clock. A planned trip around to Glenbrittle and a jaunt up to the Inn Pin looked unlikely given time constarints, so I opted for a shorter day and decided to blag Am Bhastier and Bruach na Frithe. I readied next to the Mountain Rescue hut at the Slig and headed off.

Pinnacle Ridge

Pinnacle Ridge

Let me just back up a couple of days or so. Its Saturday night, its getting late and I’m looking forward to a wee walk in the morning, my rucksack is sitting in the hall ready to be picked up and slung in car for an early start. My daughter Ceri comes down the stairs, our elderly neighbour Una is on the phone, she has been trying to contact our other neighbour Sylvia but the phone is just ringing out, she knows that something isn’t right. I pull on my shoes and head nextdoor. For the last few days we have been lifting Sylvia when she falls and helping her back to her chair or her bed, she has lost a lot of strength and is looking extremely poorly. I go around the back door and see through the letterbox that she is lying on the floor in the hall. I call to her and she calls back telling me shes OK but she cant get up. I try the door but she’s locked it from the inside. I try my key, but it won’t work as the key is in the lock. I go round the front. the front door is locked too, I check the windows, all of them closed. I phone her son Thomson and let him know. “Do whatever it takes to get in Bobby” he says. I call the police.

While we are waiting, I keep talking away to Sylvia, she has now managed to get to the phone and is talking to her son, which at least gives her a bit of comfort. I hear her telling him she’s fine she just cant get up, typical of Sylvia I think, the last thing she wants to do is worry him. The police arrive and they break the glass in the back door. Brian and Sharon (our other neighbours) arrive and help me to clear up the broken glass and secure the door as best we can. I see Sylvia to her bed and make sure she is comfortable. She looks exhausted. I am relieved that her son will be across in the morning, she needs to go to hospital, she needs better care than we can offer and most all she needs the dignity that she deserves.

The following morning, Sylvia is admitted to hospital. She goes straight it ICU. We wait on news daily. It improves little.

Pinnacle Ridge Landscape

Pinnacle Ridge Landscape

I reach almost the top of Bruach na Frithe. I have two things to do. I unfurl the Finding Your Feet Flag and get a picture. I then take out my GoPro and selfie stick and do a 360 shot with my #grateful sign around my neck. Ross had asked me to get involved with his video for his new single. Its called Grateful and he asked that I send a video of myself with or doing something I love. I chose this. (Look out for the new Blue Rose Code single).

It is a gorgeous day. Skye is magnificent. The Cuillin is the only place I want to be on a day like this. It’s beauty has me in tears. I am grateful.

FYF Grateful

FYF Grateful

I headed to Am Bhastier and scrambled as far as I dared. I packed and headed down. The sky was beautiful, the walk out to the Sligichan Inn was peaceful, my knees hurt a bit but there a was a calm around me which seemed to cushion each step on the descent. I could hear my phone buzzing away in my rucksack, I ignored it for the moment. There was a lovely pool I had noticed on the way up which wasn’t too far. I’d stop there for a drink and check my phone. It rang again, and again I ignored it, it may be the lads heading up from the Ben to give me an ETA at the Slig. I got to the pool by the river. I stopped and took a drink and went into the pocket of my rucksack for my phone. It rang the instant I had it in my hand. I recognised the number, no name, just a number I had become accustomed to due to the +33 prefix. I answered the call. It was Sylvia’s son.

“Thomson, this isn’t good news is it?”

“I’m afraid not Bobby, my mum passed away today at half past four”. And the emotions of the environment engulfed me.

Sylvia's Pool

Sylvia’s Pool

I don’t remember much about my walk to the car. I just remember thinking that I should be home with my family. I phoned Arlene, she told me the kids were inconsolable, I knew she would be upset too. I should be at home, but I had to be here too. I washed myself in the river, got dressed and went to the hotel to wait on the guys arriving.

They arrived about 9.00pm, we had a few beers and shared some chat on the routes and how tired they were. They planned on heading off to start the Cuillin leg around 4;00am. I grabbed a couple of beers from the bar, said goodnight and headed to my car for a sleep. The night sky was the most incredible sight. The stars shone in a brilliance I had never seen before, the plough was crystal clear and I was sure that I could see some galaxies with my naked eye, maybe it was the Cragganmore.

I fell asleep in the car quickly, warm in my bag and subdued by alcohol and emotion, sleep came all too easily.

The following day, I had planned another two munros, the day previous had taken its toll, I didn’t feel like it. I packed early and headed back to Fort William then on to Glen Coe to wait on the boys arriving for the final leg of Big Hex on  Buachaille Etive Mor. It proved to be a day of reflection. In the end, the lads of WLMC smashed the Big Hex record and made a time of 34 hours and 45 minutes. A fabulous effort only surpassed by their fundraising target which was smashed and is currently standing at around £3,000.00.

WLMC Smash the record! Fraser, Robert and Alan 34 hours and 45 minutes

WLMC Smash the record! Fraser, Robert and Alan 34 hours and 45 minutes

I got home at about 10,00pm after a celebratory drink at the Clachaig Inn. I was tired and needed to sleep in my own bed tonight. I needed to see Arlene and the kids.

The next day, I headed back to Glen Coe to see Ally and Pete who were finishing their Big Hex attempt on the Buachaille. The time they posted for the Ben Nevis leg was stunning, around seven and a half hours – they were set to smash yesterdays record! I arrived at Lagangarbh Hut and waited to see when the lads would arrive. My phone went as I chucked stones in the river for Dennis, it was Peter, they had had a nightmare on Pinnacle Ridge on Skye and a combination of poor weather and misplaced route finding meant that they would have to abandon the attempt until next year.

I felt for them, I really did. But that is the nature of Big Hex, you need every aspect of it to be in your favour, and weather is a crucial part to success or failure.

Me?, I packed Dennis back in the car and headed home. A weekend I will never forget.

Kintail, a morning drive from Skye

Kintail, a morning drive from Skye

For Sylvia.

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