Back to An Caisteal
My 4th munro and the addiction is starting to bite. An Caisteal was chosen by Steve as he had climbed this one once or twice before and it was my
first experience of the Crainlarich mountains. It was absolutely freezing freezing freezing! In fact, the whole mountain was more of a giant,
monstrous ice cube than a rocky mountain. Mercifully though it wasn't very windy and the sky was practically cloudless. Underfoot the ground was
frozen solid which came in very handy when walking through what would normally be knee deep mud! Our friend Jan had kindly left us each a surprise
bag of goodies for our journey.
So off we crunch through the frozen marshy area at the start and up the path into the glen between An Caisteal and Cruach Ardrain. Once we hit
the steep slopes of An Caisteal I am abruptly reminded once again how horrifically unfit I am. For Steve it's like taking his kids for a walk in
the park and from the sparkle in Craig's eyes and the perpetual grin on his face it becomes very clear to me that for him, the addiction to munro
bagging has become very well established. He is, in fact, past the point of no return! Eventually, following a prolonged episode of me puffing and
wheezing and grimacing from the pain in every cell in my body, Steve looks at me with pity and offers me one of his walking poles. I'd never used
one of these before and it turned out to be a valuable tool in partially easing my pain on the steep ascent.
Onwards and upwards, it seemed endless to my weak and inexperienced body. Just when I was beginning to think that this must be some tasteless and
cruel joke designed by some higher power and that the slopes would go on forever, or at least until I had exited earth's atmosphere, just when I
was on the point of despair, we suddenly and completely unexpectedly topped out on the ridge of Twistin Hill of An Caisteal. The views which we were
then presented with literally stopped my breath. From that instant I knew that I would climb in Scotlands mountains for the rest of my life, or at
least until my knees had rotted away! Mountains look entirely different when they have snow. They somehow look grander, more Alpine. From the ridge
we could see snow covered peaks for miles in every direction, and the route up the ridge ahead presented itself to us, beckoning us towards the
"castle", the rocky knoll protruding from the ridge and the very feature which gives the mountain it's grand name. This was the first time I had
experienced a normal ridge on a mountain (I say "normal" because the only other ridge I had climbed was the Aonach Eagach Ridge in Glencoe and
that can hardly be considered a "normal" ridge) and I found it a completely magical and liberating experience. As much of the ridge was level, my
muscles got their chance to breathe again and I got my chance to take in and appreciate some of the most magnificent scenery I had ever seen. The
ridge twisted and turned and gradually gained height and we eventually reached a spot where we stopped for a breather and to take some pictures.
When I had finished taking my seven hundredth picture and was putting my camera away, I turned to see Steve involved in some alien activity
involving his boots. It turned out that he had decided to strap spiky things called crampons to his boots and start climbing up a ridiculously
steep slope - volutarily! Craig and I looked at each other, looked to the left at the path snaking round the wall of ice that Steve was scaling,
and just when I was about to shout "it's ok Steve there's a path down here", he was already at the top! All hail King Steve. This guy was rapidly
becoming an idol and mountain role model for me.
Eventually we reached the "Castle". All the way up the ridge I had been convinced that this part was the summit of the mountain. Even through the
assurances of my esteemed colleague Steve that this was not the summit and that the true summit lay beyond the castle, I still inwardly thought
that he was wrong and I was right. What an arrogant fool I was to doubt a man of this mountain calibre. We decided not to climb directly over the
castle because the ice made it particularly dangerous and so skirted it on the right. I didn't enjoy this bit very much I have to say. Steep, icy
slopes fell away on the right as I very carefully, taking one hesitant step at a time so as not to slip, made my way round the castle. After that
was a very short walk to the broad summit where we were rewarded with outstanding views in every direction. It was, however, phenomenally cold
so we had to get off the summit quite quickly. An Caisteal is normally climbed with its neighbour Beinn a'chroin and it was our general intention
at the start of the day to climb both mountains. However, by the time we had reached the summit of An Caisteal we did not have enough time to
complete the round. We should have started earlier!!!!! This was the first of many "stragglers" which were to provide me with intense frustration
over the coming years. Mountains which should be climbed with other mountains but end up costing you another day to come back and get the
straggler! But maybe that is the wrong attitude. I should probably be grateful that I've been given an unexpected opportunity to return to the same
area and experience the mountains more fully but I can't help it, I see it as a WASTE!
Anyway, off the summit and a direct descent over the castle this time, back down Twistin Ridge and a speedy plunge down the steep slopes. A gem of
a mountain in a spectacular area of Scotland, an area which I was to return to again and again and again.