One of the very many reasons why extreme altitude mountaineers love the Highlands–aside from the spectacularly beautiful landscape, which goes without saying–is the way the conditions can change so quickly. One moment you have beautiful weather, then the next, the cloud has come down and the wind has picked up. It’s challenging. One of the aspects of the chapter I had come up to research for my novel touches on this and I was overjoyed in the way this happened to me on Braeriach. The day of my ascent started off perfectly–as I say, just beautiful. By the end of it, the wind had picked up, making it pretty tough to pitch the tent, and there were gales over night. It was my sister’s 3-season tent (my 4-season tent is in Canada – long story behind that), so I got a bit nervous about whether it would survive. Fortunately, it performed admirably.
The morning presented a completely different view. While visibility had been incredible on the climb up, in the morning, the entire summit was shrouded in dense cloud (though am sure it can get much thicker!). I thought about just staying there for the day, though there were weather warnings as well about stronger winds (I had an InReach satellite comms device so could stay in touch with people – really could not recommend more highly for any camping journey when out of mobile range). My sister was also worried about whether her tent could take it, so I decided to break camp and head lower, wearing a nice bright rain/wind jacket–keeping in mind that a little to the east there were rather steep cliffs that bordered the An Garbh Choire corrie (can see more of this and other amazing corries again on the Walk Highlands site!). The idea of falling down into that was not particularly attractive, so I headed down on the more gentle south-western slopes to find a more sheltered camping spot, by a small stream well below the cloud cover.
Not the longest of walks in the world, but in the conditions (amazing how easy it was to start wondering away from your desired heading in the cloud when took eyes off of the compass), weight of the rucksack, and the tough hike up on the previous day, it was fine.