Friday, 29 May 2009

Ben Macdui - heaven or hell?

The summit of Ben macdui is the second highest point in the UK, it is also a significant distance from the nearest road access! It is a bleak yet wonderful place which everyone who has been there on a 'nice' day raves about! It would hopefully yield a lifer for me (Ptarmigan) too!

We faced a walk/climb of some 9 miles there and then 9 miles of knee jarring descent. We had been admiring the snow laden peaks and slopes of the Cairngorm range since arrival - another factor the mountain would throw at us!

The biggest problem facing us today would be dehydration. The full Scottish breakfast was a big energy boost, accompanied by a pint of fresh orange juice, plus even more water!

The big lens was obviously out of the question but I couldn't go without a camera could I? I opted for the 100-400mm zoom which together with 2 litres of water, food and spare clothing meant I had to carry at least 5kg on my back - this was getting scarier by the minute!

We weren't 'Munro purists' so settled for starting at the ski station car park rather than Loch Morlich.

The temperature and wind speed made interesting reading, just look at that wind speed - and 41'C bloody hell!!!

The first part of the climb was the worst bit, steep and relentless. Two of the party bit the dust at this stage but eventually we reached the snow covered ridge with the peak of Cairngorm to the East! The hard work done, it was now the long walk across the desert like plateau....

This looked like Ptarmigan country and it was! We found our first one here (others would come later) and this was a confiding male! Not surprisingly, the weight was lifted from my back as the camera finally was pressed into action!!

The snowfields soon followed (who needs crampons!) Despite opting for my 'trainer style' walking shoes, I was able to use the footprints of those before me. More of a problem was the glare - I now understand what snow blindness is all about!!

The final stretch to the summit saw another two of the party pass on the experience but there was no way on this earth I was not going to do it! Another bird was to make it even more worthwhile too! Hearing a persistent call (which none of us recognised) Ian Baggley eventually pinned down the culprit - a male Snow Bunting in Summer plumage!! Was I even more glad the camera was carried........

I got left behind with one of the guides and a Snow Bunting!

Then, the final push......

Four and a half hours of climbing and walking and at last - we had made it!!!

Now, the bit that everyone was dreading and by far the worst bit - several miles of bone jarring descent!

Just when you need even terrain - along comes the boulder field!! Best tactic is to stick to the huge ones - they don't move!!

Business acumen was rife during the final part of the descent with Dave Pearce conceiving the novel idea of a bottled water franchise (just hope there wasn't a dead wee beastie further upstream!!)

After enjoying a male Ring Ouzel flying around the ski station buildings, one final activity.... One of the key briefing issues was the need to drink plenty and keep your pee clear, was it? - I'll spare you the pic - it was!!

There's an oft asked question - Why do people climb mountains. Are they just plain daft cos it's bloody hard work! Is it because the're there, the Ptarmigans or even the crow "I climbed Ben Macdui"? I'll do all of these - a magical experience!!

And just to prove i made it.......