Glad to be alive

Dangerous Playgrounds

I spent this weekend in the Cairngorm National Park with Colin and his climbing partner Stuart. They had planned a full weekend rock climbing, I was tagging along for inspiration. But the weather, as usual, had the last say. Saturday dawned windy and dreich.

We tramped over to Ben Avon basin, to avoid the noise from the Thunder in The Glen, Harley Davidson Festival. The rain lashed across the Cairngorm Plateau as we picked our way down the precarious path into the basin.

At one point, as I looked over the edge at the steep drop into a gorge where the river tore over jagged rocks, I thought ‘I wouldn’t want to fall now’ the next moment my foot missed the path and I felt my body tumble backwards. I frantically grabbed the heather and kicked my feet into the cliff, my fingernails scraped the earth but failed to catch. Miraculously I slithered to a halt on a slimy rock that sloped into the water, inches away.

‘I’m OK.’ I shouted. But when I tried to move I began to slide towards the river. I was shaking with fear. Colin scrambled down and together with Stuart helped me back onto the path.

When I looked over the lip into the gorge, the full extent of my luck hit me. I could have broken a limb and just as easily cracked open my skull. Even now I wonder at how one’s life could change drastically in the course of one moment in time.

We abandoned the path and the climbers moved to the Northern Corries in search of drier ground. I limped, bruised and shaken, back to the car to reflect on my fate. On the way I met an old couple sitting by a plateau cairn. They had just climbed over 500 metres up a steep crumbling ridge.

‘We’re celebrating.’ Said the white haired old gentleman.
‘Our eightieth birthdays.’ added the bright eyed old lady. ‘We thought we would try to reach the plateau, one last time.’

I had found my inspiration.

The boys met me later at Glenmore Lodge for a drink and grub. Glenmore Lodge is The Scottish National Climbing Centre situated at the foot of the Cairngorm Mountains, a few miles from Aviemore. The place is full of roughty toughty climbers and has an atmosphere of adventure. The food is bog standard pub grub, but hit the spot.

We camped in Alvie camp site and drank wine while we watched the stars fight with the clouds. Sunday’s forecast was promising.

Sunday was cold and blustery. I walked with the boys over boulder fields to the base of the majestic cliffs of Coire an t-Sneachda.

I left them to play and headed up Cairngorm Mountain to check out the new funicular railway. On the summit I met truck loads of inadequately clothed tourists freezing in the near winter conditions. Most had bare hands and heads. One women was crying. Visibilty was poor, but a wall of cairns provided a man made marker back to the Top station. The railway does not allow its passengers to move onto the summit so presumably these tourists had walked up. Thankfully the railway allows these poor misguided souls to journey back to safety in their little train.

The intrepid climbers managed to scramble up one of the easier climbs wearing full winter garb, so the weekend was not a total waste for them.

Why can’t Brits queue?

The most dangerous part of any weekend in the mountains is the journey there and back on that notorious road, the A9. Last night was no exception. Horse boxes from the Blair Athol horse trials slowed the heavy traffic, and major roadworks brought out the worst in everyone including me.

Why is it that in Britain, at the first sign of roadworks all traffic moves into the inside lane even when there are huge instructions ‘Use both lanes while queuing ‘? It is because they are scared they’ll be stranded in the outside lane, despite the ‘Merge in turn signs’. If you dare try to use both lanes, arrogant drivers stagger the middle line, preventing anyone passing them, either inside or outside.

Don’t these idiots realise they are making the queue twice as long as it need be and slowing the traffic almost to a stand still. It seems their small brains haven’t worked out that ‘Use both lanes while queuing ‘ and ‘Merge in turn’ is not some evil plot by the roads department to prolong the agony, but a sensible way to keep the traffic moving. IT WORKS, if only drivers would let it.

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