It is almost 2 years since I last tackled a hill walk of any size. There has been the odd foray onto minor bumps near to the Central Belt but nothing that would test the endurance of the average 90 year old. Since the end of my hillwalking heyday some 4 years ago I have done progressively less and less walking… in fact I have ventured rarely beyond a 10 mile (if that) radius of the house over the past two. I think it is fair to say I am not quite the same spirit that I was back then.
I always keep my fingers crossed that the sense of absurdity that dragged me out on to the mountains and which characterised the old Fatdog “Tails” will re-emerge on a more permanent basis but I have found that to be a slippery hope. In the meantime I will take what I can get and with a bit of luck…well, we’ll see…no promises.
The Shadow of my Former Self
Quite frankly I blundered.
Logically Ben Chonzie was the perfect choice of hill to make an assessment of my current physical state. There had been a substantial layoff from hillwalking and, to be honest, any other form of exercise. With a relatively steady gradient and no need to drive up “stepped” paths I could shuffle my way up the shooters’ track with the minimum of power going through the legs. The 13km round trip coupled with 700m of ascent would give me a fair indication of my capabilities without the risk of doing anything nasty to my less than competent physical condition.
So why did I blunder?
I had forgotten about the fate of the original Team Fatdog. Below is, for me, a poignant photograph of the other members of Team Fatdog on Ben Chonzie taken in January 2007. It was to be out last hillwalk as a “group”.
Sadly all have since departed this earth, the last to go being the Fatdog… 4years ago this very week. At the bottom of the photo sits the shadow of my former self…I often wonder whether the current self will ever be able find the magic that made those hill days such a blast…or will he end up today bawling his eyes out half way up this particular hill as old memories kick in. Only one way to find out I suppose…
” f*** it!”
” f*** it!”
” f*** it!”
Yep…it’s not going quite as well as expected…well, it is actually. I suspected my lack of hill time would catch up with me – and it has – exactly where I thought it would. That’s experience for you – knowing exactly where the wheels will come off. Doesn’t help though…does it.
I had, according to plan, taken it easy on the initial stages of the track from Invergeldie farm, past the little dam over Invergeldie Burn and up to the point where the gradient eased for a few hundred metres. I knew at the end of that easy section the gradient would crank up again. I also knew that my legs were beginning to tire and that this last section of track before hitting the broad ridge to the summit would be the place where I would suffer most. I was not to be disappointed.
But experience is worth its weight in gold. As soon as the track steepened my legs dropped the pace right down. There then ensued the balancing act of never stopping the legs from moving (for fear of them never starting again) while at the same time never running out of breath. I was beginning to have my doubts at this point but that was nothing to the doubts when I reached the cairn indicating the start of the “short cut” to the ridge.
” f*** it!”
” f*** it!”
” f*** it!”
As you may have gathered I was feeling relatively eloquent by this point. My legs were stiffening up and I was looking at the next section of the walk with a fair degree of trepidation (not to mention outright hostility)as the trail left the shooters’ track and cut upwards across open ground to the summit ridge.
As it happened the gradient of the path wasn’t as bad as first feared but I was nearing the limit of what my legs thought was an acceptable level of punishment for their first time out. Each little ramp I encountered was definitely feeling harder than the previous one. I was mightily glad when I reached the much easier gradient of the broad whaleback ridge that runs to the summit cairn.
There is something very special about those last 50m of a summit approach. No matter how far you know you are going to have to walk back out those last steps to the cairn are probably the most relaxed of the day. This is more so if you know there is a shelter at the top. I was salivating at the prospect of hot cross buns and strawberry jam as I made the final few metres to the summit. Sod taking photos – it was too dull anyway! I was hungry and in great need of a relaxing sit down.
Four of us shared the relative comfort of the curved dry-stone wall just “shooting the breeze” as past hillwalking triumphs (and horror stories) were recounted in equal measure. This is probably what I have missed the most over the past few years – these random meetings where stories are told and new friends are made. We blethered for a while and It wasn’t until the sky dulled and a few drops of rain blew in that we decided it was about time we headed back down.
You will be pleased to know that I survived the descent without mishap and in reasonably decent shape. I have to thank both Steven (sp?) and John for their company on the way out and for the offer to go walking with them at Tyndrum the following day. Sadly this was never going to happen as I reckoned I would be lucky if I still had legs by at time.
Given my prolonged lack of serious walking I cannot complain about how today’s walk panned out. I reckon that my legs will not cope with much steeper gradients for some time but that is something that I can work around. The next step will be a shorter, slightly steeper, hill where I have to “step up” and “step down”. I suspect that may prove a tougher prospect than today’s gentle amble.
So…did I end up bawling my eyes out as first feared? Surprisingly no…although there were a few sad smiles as I recalled some of the events of that bitter cold January ascent all those years ago. By the time I was coming down I was in a totally different zone and my mind had completely shifted to the present and the future. The ghosts were left behind on that summit ridge.
However, there is one unresolved conundrum. Given that it is clear from today’s less than perfect efforts I am now very much a shadow of my former self; how was the shadow of my former self able to appear in a photograph taken over 9 years ago!?
Until the next time, whenever that may be…