It was the 9th of January, and due to lack of experience, knowledge and equipment, I thought I would have to wait till spring or summer to start my personal challenge of playing the bagpipes on ALL the Munro tops, due to weather and underfoot conditions. Having climbed Ben Lomond back in April, in blistering sunshine, and cloud free conditions, however, I was familiar with the route, and confident that if the weather turned, I would be comfortable enough. Previous Munro climbs were done individually, as they have been spur of the moment activities. This time I was going with my friend Derek, and so was committed to the climb, even if weather wasn’t favourable for piping photos.
As we prepared for the climb in the car park, Derek couldn’t hide his dismay, and excitement, that I was going to take my pipes up a mountain just to play a tune! My back pack was full of my pipes, kilt, sporran, and or course, warm clothes and food.
Looking across Loch Lomond, there was an air of calmness and serenity; the type that makes you question how such a place can be so close to Scotland’s biggest city. Weather forecasts said there was a slight chance of cloud, and we were hopeful it would stay away.
Both of us were carrying a little excess Christmas weight, as well as a set of bagpipes and kilt, so the initial few hundred metres were a shock to the system. Both had to de-layer a couple of times as our body temperatures increased. At lower levels, our regular stops allowed us to take in fantastic views south down Loch Lomond, however, we could also see the clouds gathering at the summit. We suffered the indignity of being passed by a few walkers, which we defended by telling ourselves that they were far more experienced on the hills than us; we would be like them in time, maybe.
As we approached the top, we were again passed by those who passed us on the way up, telling us they spent very little time on the summit due to the conditions. We toiled with the idea of turning back, but if it is ever possible to reach a summit, you do not turn back when you are 80% of the way there, just like in life, to set out to achieve something, so you achieve it!
The wind began to pick up, and I had a hairy moment or two on a narrow ledge. The final steps to the top were somewhat of an anti-climax, as we could have been at sea level for all we knew due to the lack of visibility.
I quickly changed into my kilt, got my pipes out, and made my way to the summit cairn. The pipes were played for all of 20 seconds, before the conditions got the better of me. Several walkers made their final steps to the summit to the sound of my piping, which, although didn’t sound as good as it could, must have been quite a surreal experience, especially as they would have seen me scarper for shelter as soon as I stopped.
The “trudge” down was more arduous than my previous attempt. In April I jogged down to the car park, this occasion was a far more cautious affair. Underfoot conditions and general tiredness ensured we took our time on the descent, with me comically losing my footing a couple of times.
We returned to the bar we worked in, the Burnbrae in Bearsden, to comments of disbelief. Firstly because we climbed a mountain, our work colleagues weren’t really the outdoors type, but mostly at me for taking my pipes! The question, “did you take them up with you?” made me laugh, as I wondered if they thought the pipes were already there waiting for me.
I demolished the combo sharing platter, which is meant for people to split between 2 or 3, and we both nursed our pints. We were spent!
All in all, I was pleased to get my challenge started. I will have to re-do the hill in better conditions, as it is far too good a view to miss out, but it is now, 1 down, 281 to go!
The Experience of Ben Lomond, didn’t put me off, but, made me more wary of going up in bad conditions. Not that Ben Lomond was dangerous, it was more the fact that we put in all that effort and didn’t really get the rewards at the top. With short days, work, and snow on the hills, I feared this would be it till April. That was until my big 10 days at the end of February, I do not know what came over me, but I got the sudden urge to “just do it!” It is easy to make a decision that is the easy way out, such as staying in bed in the morning, but who remembers those decisions for the rest of their lives?