Monday, 30 January 2012

Revisiting An Caisteal part 2.

In November, I climbed An Caisteal, a hill I’ve been up many times, in order to make another summit photograph. Having realised that I’d often inadvertently made the same image upon reaching the cairn, I’ve subsequently decided to consciously record the various conditions of weather and light from this viewpoint whenever I revisited the mountain.

Having a small child, my hill-walking opportunities are fewer than they used to be and I hadn’t climbed a Munro for quite some time. Many of the feelings  I’ve often experienced during such walks consequently came flooding back.  The greatest sense was of freedom, and a relief to be away from cities, noise, distractions, and to be entirely at one with the effort of ascending the boggy, tussocky grass on the lower slopes which admittedly are always a bit of a trudge on this hill. The smell of the damp earth was strangely comforting. Slowly and carefully pacing myself, finding a rhythm in my step, walking becomes effortless. Thoughts hone into the here and now. I enjoy the silence. In fact, I need the silence. Work pressures dissipate. The land opens out to show something more enduring, more stoic.

Familiarity is a fine thing sometimes, for without the hindrance of a map (well, of the need to actually use it anyway), close knowledge of the mountain’s geography enabled me to persevere through the early trudge to reach the wonderful long ridge of Twistin’ Hill, the best part of the mountain. This takes you, eventually, to the rocky boulders and “castle” that gives a little scramble before the final cairn is reached soon after.

As seen in my previous post, I’ve climbed this hill in beautiful winter conditions many times. It’s not a difficult hill and is climbed usually in around 5 hours, up and down. Determined to make the most of a free day and to make a new photograph regardless of the weather, we found ourselves (Jim & me) however, climbing on a day with 80mph gusts of wind and with the summit engulfed in cloud. These were by far the most difficult conditions I’d been up on this hill in. Had I not had the desire to make an image from the top, I’d have been tempted to return once we reached a point where the wind on the narrows of the exposed summit ridge meant I had to crawl on hands and knees to be sure I wasn’t blown off in a sudden and unpredictable gust. Miraculously, the rock of the scrambling portions provided some shelter and allowed the “trickier” moves to be made in relative safety. The summit image was rushed. I was barely able to take my camera out and hold it still for long enough to make a sharp image. Jim attempted to shield me of the worst of the wind so I could steady myself. The damp of the cloud we were surrounded in meant visibility was reduced to only around 10 metres and the vista towards Loch Katrine completely absent. Point click, escape…

Nevertheless, despite the difficult conditions, the pleasure of being out in wide open space, of reaching the top with relative ease despite concerns about how hill-fit I might otherwise be, even of managing despite such difficult, and lets face it, unpleasant conditions, I was still so happy to be out on the hill, to be somewhere that I felt I belonged. It seems a cliché, but I felt that I was home, and that I was doing something so intrinsically core and central to my being that this return to An Caisteal nourished me in ways not many other things are capable of. The photograph is a disappointment, though somehow I don’t really mind.


  1. I enjoyed this post. I could envisage you making your way across difficult terrain and imagine the sense of freedom and homecoming that you felt as you were walking. I would have been very afraid, trying to stay on the mountain in the wind. I look forward to some more summit photographs.