Looking out of the windows of my campervan early on Sunday morning, I was sad to see clouds shrouding the tops of the mountains of the west Highlands. The weather forecast the evening before had predicted a clearer start but with cloud gathering in the afternoon.
I was worried that my plan for a solo hike of the Munros, Spidean Mialach and Gleouraich, would be off.
But I was here, already parked on the side of Loch Quoich after a wonderfully peaceful solo van night and a lovely sunset over the loch. And although the updated weather forecast suggested sunshine to the east of Scotland, I felt like I would be letting myself down if I drove to Perthshire instead.
Added to this, most of my final 27 Munros are located on the west coast and it had been a long drive simply to reach the base of these two mountains.
Then again, I always place a high priority on safety and a solo hike of two Munros thick with cloud might not be the best plan.
So, I made a coffee, ate a bit of breakfast and ummed and ahed a little more. I rechecked the weather when the 3G allowed (it seemed to come and go rather strangely) and it now said fog on the summits all morning with rain after noon. Grrr.
What to do? What to do?
I mulled over the choice of staying or going and I remembered that in recent years I have seen many more women, especially solo women, hiking the Munros and I felt inspired to be one of them. (I don’t know why it matters what your gender is when hiking but I guess that historically there have been fewer female walkers. These days I often count more women than men in the hills.)
In the end, I concluded that I might as well just set off. If the cloud became too dense higher up to see ahead or if I wasn’t sure of the exact route I could always turn back.
Of course, I didn’t turn back. I discovered that I am more than capable of navigating two Munros even in the cloud and even when the path came and went.
After a decade of Munro bagging, albeit mostly in the company of other people, I have developed good mountain skills. I don’t think I give myself enough credit for this ability and it is typical of me to feel under-confident but I immensely enjoyed my solo adventure on Spidean Mialach and Gleouraich.
A great walk after a bad week
The previous week had left me feeling demotivated. The issues are mainly connected to the menopause and there are times when I feel low, pointless and lacking in energy.
A week had passed when I couldn’t be bothered to do very much exercise at all and that had the added impact of lowering my self-esteem and confidence.
When the weekend’s forecast looked bright, I made sure to arrange a walk with my friend Ben and we greatly enjoyed a hike of The Fara on Saturday.
Ben had to be back home for his son that evening and it would have been easy for me to return to Glasgow, too. But I knew that if I stayed north thanks to the advantage of my campervan I would benefit from another day in the mountains.
A mountain walk never fails to lift my spirits and my spirits badly needed lifting – and remaining there.
This is when I decided to travel further west and bag two of my remaining Munros. I read the walk details and satisfied myself that I would be within my comfort zone of solo walking on the route.
I checked the weather and I packed a map, compass and a download of the route on the OS app. I popped in a brave pill!
Walking two Munros solo
The start point for the climb to the first Munro, Spidean Mialach, was not easy to locate but I found it in the end. (I had been anxious at times the night before – anxious enough to wake me – that I wouldn’t even mange to locate the start and that if I did the rhododendrons would be too thick to get through. This is what the menopause does to my brain sometimes).
I also set off listening to an audio book for comfort. After a while I felt silly and I decided I would prefer to listen to the sounds around me and switched it off.
As I followed a path that was mostly visible between areas of mud and bog, I realised that I was thinking of nothing much else than where I was and what I was doing.
My mind stopped its usual anxious racing (another menopause symptom I could do without) and I felt calm and in control.
I checked the map and the OS app at frequent intervals and patted myself on the back for knowing where I was and the direction I should be heading. I looked up at the clouds and I knew I would soon be walking in mist but it didn’t seem to matter.
I was on the mountain, managing nicely on my own and while it would have been a bonus to see the views (I am told they are superb) I thought the outing and exercise were enough of a reward.
At one point, I looked towards a low rise above me and there were four red deer looking back at me curiously. I don’t think I have seen deer so close on the mountains before and I couldn’t work it out.
Then I realised that because I was quiet – and not chatting to a companion – they were probably less scared of me. I walked uphill and the deer kept watch on me. It felt surreal.
Calm and control
As I walked uphill, I surveyed what I could of the landscape. The cloud came and went and sometimes the sun managed to shine dully through. I enjoyed working out where I would be going and realising that I now understand the lay of the landscape so much better thanks to many years of walking.
When the path faded or disappeared I told myself I didn’t matter because I could take a compass bearing and head for the highest point.
And then, all of a sudden, I was at the summit cairn. I checked and checked again to make sure I really had arrived. It was impossible to see much around me because of thick cloud but I was sure it was the top of Spidean Mialach at 966m.
From this point I would be following a ridge to reach Gleouraich, the higher of the day’s Munros. The route details had told me to stay close to the edge and in times past this would have put me off even starting the walk.
I am not great with heights and ridges but I have learned enough to know what I can cope with. I’d checked the map before the start of this solo outing and I could see that although there were some vertical drops they were on one side only and I would not need to negotiate anything too narrow or gnarly.
The path meandered along the edge, with a number of ups and downs. Again, the sun tried to break through and every so often I was treated to wider views of the ridge and the surrounding landscape. Sadly, the clouds never really lifted.
Confidence and purpose
As I walked I felt confident of my route and I loved the sense of purpose. My mind was yet again free of anxiety and I felt only pride in what I was doing. I realised I was enjoying what is know as mindfulness. I was living in the present, not thinking about past or future, and simply focused on my surroundings and actions. I felt hugely uplifted.
Reaching he second Munro, Gleouraich at 1035m, I stopped for a bite to eat and looked again at the map. The route back to the van seemed fairly obvious and although the contours revealed it would be steep, I remembered reading there would be a nice zig-zag path.
I had also read that the views would be brilliant. It wasn’t until I was about half way down that I could suddenly see the glen below but when I was treated to this wider perspective I was jubilant.
I didn’t mind how long it took me to walk back down because I was enjoying myself so much.
I also chatted to several couples as they ascended the same path and I felt rather smug to be on my way back down before mid-day having completed what I set out to do.
I do greatly enjoy walking with other people and usually this is my preferred choice but the boost to my confidence and overall sense of accomplishment of my solo hike has been fantastic.
My Munro tally is 257. Just 25 to go!