High adventure in Scotland’s mountain wilderness

The Cuillin of Skye, Scotlands premier mountain range and a regular haunt of Forth Valley Mountaineering Club
The Cuillin of Skye, Scotlands premier mountain range and a regular haunt of Forth Valley Mountaineering Club

High on a mountain peak four climbers stood watching a golden eagle swoop and soar in the autumn sunshine.
A few weeks later the same group shivered as they stood knee deep in the first snows of winter – but they were warmed by a stunning view of white peaks as far as the eye could see – and they could see quite far indeed.

To the south was the Forth Valley and way to the north mighty Ben Nevis , its summit clear of cloud for once, rose high above its Lochaber neighbours.

Below them a white cloud sea filled the valleys and above them a low winter sun blazed out of a cloudless blue sky.

The snow crystals, sharpened by the overnight frost, sparkled like tiny jewels. It was a perfect day to be on the hill.

Not all hill days are like that of course, many are the occasions when the elements conspire to con-found cherished hopes for a fine day on some long-desired objective.

Wind, rain, hail, sleet and low banks of dense, grey cloud can conspire to turn a straightforward ascent into something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

Indeed, just the other week – at the height of summer – a group decision was taken to retreat from a peak in the Cuillin of Skye because of high winds and heavy rain.

It proved a sound decision for it later transpired that another aspirant peak bagger had been blown over not once but three times in a corrie not much higher up that self-same mountain, so strong was the wind!

All of these experiences and many more can be yours.

For, with common sense, there is nothing to prevent any reasonably fit person enjoying the hills, at least in summer conditions.

Winter conditions can be truly grim and there are objective dangers to consider particulary the extent of snow cover and the condition that it is in. All too often it can be soft and insubstantial and your feet will sink deep which makes for arduous and slow progress.

But, when it sets hard, harder than you will ever find it at ground level, it provides for easy and fast walking although the tools of the hillman’s trade, ice axe and crampons, are necessary.

But, before you get to that stage, an apprenticeship is necessary and that is where the wide network of climbing clubs can help.

There are several such clubs in central Scotland but east Stirlingshire and most of West Lothian is served by the long established Forth Valley Mountaineering Club.

For more than 40 years club members have walked and climbed extensively in the Scottish Highlands.

Many members have completed the Munros, Scotland’s 3000ft (914m) peaks, of which there are 282.

Others, who delight in steep rock and ice have taken their skills abroad to various alpine locations in Europe and even further afield. One member has just recently returned from a trek to Everest base camp!

John Irving, Forth Valley Mountaineering Club chairman, said: ‘‘Our activities mirror those of virtually every other climbing club in the country with monthly weekend meets to locations in the Scottish Highlands and Islands as well as a regular monthly day meet.

‘‘At other times members get together to organise specific trips to objectives of common interest using shared transport to keep costs down.’’

John added: ‘‘We welcome prospective new members and, although we are not a ‘teaching’ facility, are happy to pass on skills to beginners in an informal way although it has to be emphasised individuals have to take responsibility for their own safety.’’

Forth Valley MC meets in the Four Marys, Linlithgow, on the first Tuesday of the month from 8.30pm.