Wednesday, July 12, 2006

the three peaks - part two

We crossed the bridge over the stream, and started to ascend. Within a couple of minutes, I was already feeling it: I was breathing hard, I had a stitch, and was hot. I pounded away, in fornt of the others, until after 5 minutes, someone behind me said,
�Slow down a bit!�
I looked behind me, and was surprised to see how far ahead I was of the group. I sat down and waited. In seven minutes, I�d already ascended 200 metres.
�What are you trying to do? Win a marathon?� asked Richard. �Slow down and take it easy: your pace should mean that you can have a conversation without being out of breath.�
So I slowed down, and found the climb fairly easy. The weather was occasionally showery and windy, but by and large the conditions were quite good. There were other walkers on the mountain, some just for the day, others teams doing the three peaks like ourselves. One group stood out: a bunch of Yorkshire Asian lads, who I saw on all three peaks, either following us, or ahead of us, or coming down as we were ascending. Why did they stand out? Well, for a start they were the only Asians I saw the whole weekend, which got me thinking about why that should be � is the countryside so unwelcoming to coloured people, and if so, why? The second thing was that they had shaved heads and thick beards, indicating they were probably quite conservative muslims. The uncomfortable image of the July seventh bombers came to mind, training for their murder mission in Afghanistan. Now, I know that�s a horrid and unfair thought, but it still leapt into my mind � those four 7/7 wankers had tainted the imagination, so that any young, bearded, Muslim Asian was somehow likely to be a bomber. These guys were doing the same as us, probably for similar reasons. It is so easy to make assumptions based upon what we see, and then assume those assumptions are true. It�s how prejudice and ignorance thrive.
We made our way up, past the stream and on to a broad, flat path, which briefly made the walk more like a stroll in a park rather than on the side of a mountain. Gradually, our team split into two groups, with the smaller, slower group consisting of Julie, Chris and Richard (shepherding them), and Glenn. After an hour and a half, we reached the beginning of the scree and boulder line, and had a fantastic view over the valley and towards the Great Glen. A further hour and a half, and we reached the summit: cold, windy and rocky. Rob had been up a couple of weeks previously, and it had been covered in snow; now, there was only the odd pocket. The path wound between marker cairns, coming close to one of the gulleys that drop a thousand feet and claim the unwary in winter. I looked down one: there was a little snow, then a chasm with cloud wisping upwards. We headed for the ruined observatory and the trig point, touched it and took photos, then had a brief rest. I got out a small hipflask of whisky, filled a cup, and, standing on the trig point, drank a toast to my Grandpa, who was born in Fort William.
�Angus Alistair MacGregor Grey Wylie! Slainte Mhath!�
After the toil of getting up, that whisky tasted bloody good.
We shook down our gear, and made our way back off the mountain. By the halfway point, Rob and I were ahead of the others by several minutes, and my legs, in particular my knees, were aching. I began to wonder how on earth I would be able to cope with Scafell and Snowdon. The hard, stony path juddered my legs, and more than once I was glad I had my pair of Leki walking poles.
Rob and I crossed the bridge back to the waiting vans at twenty to eight � four hours and fifty minutes after setting out, not a bad time. The others weren�t long after us. We had something to eat and drink, resorted our equipment and filled bottles and camelbacks, than set off again. I was with Rob, Victoria and Brian, and we roared off ahead of the others. We took the route through Glencoe, and as we passed under the high, green, melancholy and menacing slopes, it began to rain. The further south we passed, the more the rain intensified and the wind increased. We came up to Glasgow by around ten, but we missed our turning onto the bridge that led to the motorway, and so we had to go through the city centre to join the motorway there. It was strangely deserted: only a few cars passed here and there, and I saw only a handful of people on the bleak, wet streets.
Once back on the motorway, the rain, which had lessened for a while, increased once more and the wind really picked up until it was a howling gale, hurling sheet after sheet of water at our vehicle and rocking it from side to side. Any idea I might have had of trying to sleep went out of the window. In fact, I was too hyped up to doze, and knew that it would affect me later on. We stopped briefly at the Gretna Services, a strange and deserted place at 1 in the morning. Crossing back into England, I noticed how the sign telling you that you were in England was many times bigger than the same sign telling you that you�d entered Scotland.
We drove on towards, then through, Carlisle, again a strangely empty town under the flail of wind and rain. Soon, we were driving down little country roads towards Wasdale Head, and our next destination � Scafell. At 2.20, we arrived. One of the vans was there � the one carrying Richard, Julie, Chris and Gordon. But where was the other? And where were Richard, Julie and Gordon? Chris was in the van: he had given up the challenge because of a strained muscle. The driver, Edward, said,
�They went on up about ten minutes ago�.
Went on up where? It was pitch black, the wind was howling, and a hard rain was coming down. Neither me, nor Rob or Brian, had ever climbed Scafell before. I wasn�t even sure in which direction it lay. But Brian said,
�let�s go this way�, and plunged into the dark. Rob followed him. I tried to call after them,
�let�s wait till the other van comes, then go up together�but they were already out of earshot. I was left to decide: should I stay or should I go?

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