A friend’s daughter, Amelie, is only eight years old. Yet this weekend she impressed me with her guts and determination in mountain conditions that would have seen many grown-ups give up and return to the car.
On Sunday, while enjoying a weekend away with friends in Kinloch Rannoch, a few of us decided that it was the perfect opportunity for a hike up the local Munro Schiehallion. Amelie wanted to come, too.
After ensuring that she had enough warm and waterproof outdoor clothing, five of us set out to drive to the car park at the base of the Munro at Braes of Foss. I had been here only last month when walking with another friend, Lesley, who was, then, six months pregnant.
Schiehallion is considered to be one of the easier Munros. There is a well-laid path almost to the top and the ascent gradient is never too steep. Last month, we walked in warm autumnal weather and enjoyed some amazing views.
The conditions could not have been more different this weekend. A sudden cold snap had seen snow fall on the higher hills and after only about 15 minutes of walking uphill we came across patches of snow in the heather.
Keeping up with Amelie
For the first 45 minutes, the four adults, myself, the G-Force, Torquil (her dad) and PJ, followed Amelie as she set off at speed. Admittedly, she is super light and sporty and she wasn’t weighed down by a rucksack like the rest of us. I think, also, that she had no idea how to judge the distance and effort required to hike a Munro, even an easy Munro. Yet her pace was impressive.
Despite her speed, Amelie was still able to chat. She told me: “I love adventures in the outdoors. I really like the challenge of doing things like cycling, triathlons and walking hills. I like exploring as well. I like forests and mountains on the mainland because where I live, on Orkney, we do not have many trees or big hills. I am really enjoying this walk today.”
And on she hiked, only stopping for small snacks when instructed to by (out of breath) adults.
The snow deepens
It seems crazy that only last week I spotted that the temperature gauge in my van was at 19C. That was a Glasgow evening in autumn. This weekend the temperature had dropped to the seasonal norm.
Even before we reach the halfway point on Schiehallion the snow had thickened to a fairly even blanket and we pretty much lost sight of the well-laid path. We walked through damp mist and the wind had started to pick up.
I was thankful to be wearing my winter Gore-Tex walking boots and I worried about Amelie in her walking shoes.
I was also very thankful I’d packed extra winter gloves. Although she hadn’t mentioned it, Amelie, when asked, had cold hands in her wet woolly gloves and I was able to lend her a pair of Mammut winter mitts. I had another pair, my amazing Berghaus hydrodown gloves, for myself.
By this point, the pace had slowed a little. Trudging through snow is not easy, especially if you are a child. Torquil and I walked in front and behind Amelie to ensure she stayed upright and to offer a little protected from the worst of the weather.
Guts and determination
If Amelie had asked to go back to the car I would not have been surprised. I would have been disappointed for her because she had her heart and mind set on reaching the summit, but winter Munro walking is not pleasant.
Yet she pushed determinedly on. And on. Snow and poor visibility made this Munro seem far longer than I recalled from just a month ago. I kept willing the summit to arrive so that Amelie could claim the peak more easily. But over every small hill brow, more mountain loomed hazily ahead.
Occasionally, Amelie would ask her dad how much further we had to go. He told her the height gain left to ascend and she quietly accepted this. Higher up she agreed to hold Torquil’s hand for stability in deep snow but whenever she could walk solo she did.
At times, the snow was waist deep and frequent yelps told us who had just fallen into a snow hole. I can’t imagine how cold Amelie’s feet must have been in her walking shoes but she has a simple motto: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” She did just this. She was asked a few times if she wanted to go on and she replied that she absolutely did. “I will get to the top,” she told us.
It took us around two hours to reach the top of Schiehallion at 1083m. The walk from the car park includes 731m of height gain over three miles. The conditions had hampered our speed but it was still a respectable ascent. Amelie could not have been more delighted. Her face changed from one that said pure determination and gritted teeth to a huge smile.
We were lucky to find a sheltered spot for a spot of lunch and the sun even peered through the thick mist. It is a shame that there were no views but the summitting of this mountain will be forever in my memory.
A long walk back
Of course, the peak was only the halfway point and we still had a long and tricky descent through snow to get back to the car. My winter walking boots offered much better grip than the summer walking boots and the less than robust walking shoes being worn by others.
In retrospect, Amelie should have been outfitted in far better winter clothing but she seemed to take this in her stride. She said: “My feet are wet but they are not cold. I will just get on with it.”
And so she did. She appeared to almost skip down Schiehallion. There were places where the snow was deep and she had to take her time but most of the descent saw her lightly walking over the top layer of snow.
When she fell because the snow suddenly deepened, she simply laughed and popped back up again. She hardly grumbled although she must have been tired.
Then, as soon as we came out of the snowline, Amelie pushed out in front again. Fuelled by chocolate and crisps and an amazing young person’s energy – plus a good dose of competitiveness – she raced back towards the car park.
I was deeply impressed by her fortitude and reliance. Then again, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to discover that she shows very similar traits to her father!
Amelie proved herself to be feisty, determined, stubborn, competitive and amazingly resilient in the face of adversity. Very much like the man, Torquil, whom I have known for the past decade through our triathlon club. (This is a good thing Torquil – and I am not slagging you off!)
It was a delight to accompany such an enthusiastic youngster up her first Munro and to see how amazingly well she coped in tough conditions. I have no doubt she will walk many more Munros before she reaches adulthood.