Sometimes trusting the weather forecast works, sometimes it doesn’t. Last night it didn’t. Eventually. A window between gales was suggested, clearing evening skies then a starry night before the next storm blew in and the winds began to rise the next day. The forecast was six or seven hours out. Most people wouldn’t have noticed. Most people would have been asleep when the weather changed. As I was. Except that I was also in a tent in the mountains at 700 metres.
Eventually the slopes became steeper and stonier and I realised I was unlikely to find a camp site anywhere ahead. Some slightly sloping tussocks would have to do. As I pitched the tent a gentle breeze wafted up the corrie while high above blue sky appeared and sunlight lit the upper slopes. Leaving camp I clambered up loose scree and greasy vegetation to view the big final waterfall, hidden in a narrow ravine. The light was fading as I descended back to camp, finding the slippery terrain more awkward than in ascent. Stars began to appear in the darkening sky and I sat in the tent door way eating supper and staring out at the wild world. Then I fell asleep gazing out at the Plough hanging above the hillside.
1 a.m. and the world began to change. I was woken by cold air hitting my face and the tent door flapping noisily. I zipped it shut and lay back down, aware that the wind was coming down the corrie in great roaring gusts that I heard seconds before they shook the tent. I slept again though as it was 4 a.m. when I next glanced at my watch and wondered if the tent would hold. Half-waking, half-sleeping I slipped uneasily through the next two hours. Then the wind strengthened and the tent shook more, hitting me in the face. The pole was bending alarmingly. Time to pack up. Not bothering with careful packing I bundled everything into the pack inside the tent so nothing blew away then ventured outside. A rush of wind nearly took my legs from under me. I’d thought maybe a tent peg or two had pulled out but they were all firm. Instead some guylines had slackened off, allowing the fabric to flap wildly. The tent looked solid though. It was my carbon fibre trekking pole holding it up that concerned me. Soon I had the tent down and crammed into the top of the pack. All this was done by headlamp as the night was black and the sky now overcast. With the wind behind me I stumbled and lurched through the rocks and tussocks, down and out of that wild, wild place as the sky slowly lightened, with just an edge of dirty red to some clouds to show the sun was there. Down in the glen the trees were thrashing in the wind. I was back at my car less than seventeen hours after setting off. It felt longer. Soon, though, I was eating breakfast in an Aviemore café, watching the leaves blowing and rattling down the street. A gust of 75mph was recorded on Cairn Gorm, ferries were cancelled and travel disrupted. It was not a day for the hills.