Regular readers may know that the other half and I are frequent visitors to Loch Nevis. Making the long drive north is all about throwing off the shackles of routine and having some room to think… to take stock. However, it’s hard for me to be among the mountains and not try to clamber over a few of them.
You’ll struggle to find a better example of high land than Sgurr Na Ciche, a wonderfully shapely peak which presides over Loch Nevis at its head. I’ve admired this mountain at a distance each time I’ve been lucky enough to visit the area. And while it sits close to our rental cottage at Kylesmorar, reaching it necessitates a day’ s walk over challenging terrain. A lift in a boat is preferable and I cadged one from our host Tom, fine fellow that he is.
I alighted at the pier at a little before eight, ready for a long day in the wilds. The weather had been superb three days prior to my walk, but now conditions started to close in.
Diverting around the estate buildings at Camusrory, lost in my thoughts, a dog barked and I heard the frantic patter of paws. A young spaniel jumped at me and scampered through the undergrowth. A couple of hundred yards beyond the lodge and I ordered my friend to return to his master. He hunched down and cocked his head to one side – my firm directions were not registering.
We walked on, my wee friend making wide, darting diversions from the trail along the River Carnach, but regularly pausing to ensure I was still in close range.
I looked up at my objective. Wisps of cloud clung to the summit cone, but conditions looked still on the crags… I remained optimistic. My initial intention had been to clamber up the Coille Ghoirtein – the mountain’ s seemingly straightforward southwest ridge – but skirting around the back by Bealach an h- Eangair and visiting lower tops to the west seemed a more appealing prospect and offered a circular route with descent along the ridge to Sourlies before making my way back to the pier and a return lift.
I headed up the glen with the walls of Ben Aden filling the jaws of the valley. I followed a good estate track that soon deteriorated to a boggy trail. Crossing burns, I then had to ford the Carnach and made good work of keeping my feet dry (just).
As I began climbing alongside Allt Atladh a Ghlinne I found an intermittent path heading upwards. I tried again to send my friend back to his master, but he clearly wanted to stay. We pressed on, I completely absorbed in my walk over new ground, my companion clearly knowing the way.
I crossed an old boundary marked by a rusting gate and fence poles – a line leading steeply upwards – but I tramped on and up in an easterly direction. Eventually I reached a basin of sorts at the head of the burn and craggy peaks towered above.
I stopped to pick a route up and my friend awaited my decision eagerly. Reaching the tops, I turned south west and focused on my objective. However, Sgurr na Ciche was now shrouded in cloud, I guessed the base at about 900m. Mountains to the north were still clear though so I pressed on, hopeful. I turned to the northeast and saw the shores of Loch Quoich. This too was clear.
I climbed steep slopes of rough grass and crags, constantly looking for the best line. My companion climbed impatiently but kept an eye on me. Then the cloud descended and visibility deteriorated sharply. My mountain had vanished. I grabbed the compass and headed SSW, checking off small lochans I’d noticed on the map. I climbed further, boots slipping on wet rock and now contending with an eager wind, which raced over the ridgeline from the northwest. I checked the bearing every 50 yards or so.
As the crags became steeper my friend stopped his climb and watched my clumsy progress. He barked. I retreated, found a sheltered spot and ate some lunch. My companion shivered and I put an arm round him. We sat together and watched the visibility deteriorate further, my path of retreat also now obscured by thick clag.
My walking mate looked up expectantly and I felt responsible. This concern was probably misplaced, but the bond we’d developed over the last three hours or so was palpable. And besides, I wanted a clear day for this peak to appreciate it at its best.
‘My friend, I don’t think it’s going to be our day, do you? Let’s go home shall we.’
My turning about prompted a wagging tail from my mountain guide and we retraced steps. I reversed my bearing, but the dog knew the way, guided by familiar smells and a far superior inbuilt compass to mine.
My estate radio then crackled into life, one of the few spots where it registered a signal. I radioed in and mentioned my companion. I discovered his name was Mac and he responded with tireless enthusiasm to the call. We spent the rest of walk getting acquainted.
At the mouth of the valley I found Mac’s master. Apparently, this is the third time he’s been high on the mountain, only once with his owner. Mac is a wee pup, too, not even a year old. Sounds like he has found his piece of heaven.
He jumped into the back of the estate pick up and was gone… suddenly I felt alone and a little sad.
I have a picture to remember our little adventure by, though…