Tuesday, 23 June 2009

A summer's evening at the Clachaig Inn

I've finished work for the night, and am sitting on the patio in front of the Clachaig, sipping a pint of cider. The light is starting to soften towards evening and the shadows are lengthening on the great spur of crag slanting down from the summit of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh; Banana Buttress and my neglected project crag have already fallen into shadow. The Aonach Eagach's jagged crest stands high, catching the sun's rays, deeply creased by dark gullies.

Directly across the glen, the great West Face of Aonach Dubh seems diminished by the harsh orange light on the crags; the only shadows visible are in the Amphitheatre, and the hollow at the top of No.2 Gully, behind the band of crag on Dinnertime Buttress where I once had an epic months ago. The Pinnacle Face, the nemesis route for all Clachaig climbers, loses all definition in the flat lighting; it is in the mornings that this face looks at its best.

The evening is cooling and the midges are starting to come out, but there is not a single cloud in the sky and tomorrow is going to be hot.

I am contemplating tomorrow's expedition to Ben Nevis, an ascent of one of the first routes ever done on the face: the North-East Buttress, a tremendous VDiff mountaineering route that has inspired me for years. I am feeling a strange sense of deja vu. For a moment I have gone eleven months back in time, and I am sitting in the campsite at Zermatt drinking beer, planning mighty endeavours in the high Alpine peaks above the village.

In so many ways this feels like a summer's evening in Zermatt. The peaks all around me have, through many adventures and hard-won climbs, attained the same legendary status as the Alpine mountains of my summer stomping grounds. There is that same quiet, that same expectant silence of the a tiny valley enclosed by towering peaks, and a small nucleus of human habitation enveloped within it. For once I am not working and I am able to sit and reflect.

The light on Aonach Dubh is starting to burn orange, becoming the ruddy Alpenglow that makes the Matterhorn shine red long after the valley is plunged into night.

It has occurred to me that although I am not able to go to the Alps this year, I have brought the Alps to me right here in Glencoe.

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