Back to Cairngorm
I never would have imagined in a million years that the words "What do you fancy doing today?", coming from my wife Suzanne's
lips, would lead to the successful summiting of Great Britain's sixth highest mountain. Yet (and considering my companions
were 1) Suzanne - my wife who was such a city slicker that she didn't even know that Scotland had any mountains until she was
twenty nine years old! 2) Rachel - a mutual friend of ours who had very little hill walking experince and 3) Jake - my son who
at four years old had not even started primary one yet) that is exactly what happened! Okay okay, just in case you're shaking
your head at the computer monitor in either disbelief or saying "yeah yeah like that happened, I can't believe that lying sod
Donny would take it this far", let me just clarify a point or two. Yes Cairngorm is huge. Yes at one thousand two hundred and
forty four metres it is the sixth highest mountain in Great Britain. Yes it forms part of that vast, wild and utterly exposed
arctic like area of incredibly raised land know as the Cairngorms. All true. However, it is also extremelly accessible due to
the ski slopes and funicular railway which disgrace it's slopes and tourists flock hither by their thousands every year. The
ski slopes begin around halfway up the mountain so despite it's height, the ability to drive this far up makes Cairngorm one
of the easiest munros to climb.
Anyway, I suggested going for a wee walk in the foothills of Cairngorm, just so I could be near my beloved munros, and our
intention was to ascend the first part of the track. Very soon after we started, it became immediately clear and ominously
daunting to me that my four year old son was far far fitter than me. A veritable mountain goat, he literally ran up the first
steep section and left me wheezing and choking on his dust! Was this normal? I honestly could not decide whether it was me who
was absolutely and disgracefully unfit or if Jake actually had superhuman abilities. While my oxygen starved brain continued
to ponder this potential phenomenon, Jake cantered happily across the mountainside, moving from one grotesque cairn to the
next, adding his own stone to each one as he went. And as if the mountain didn't have enough, Jake even built his very own
cairn whilst waiting for his slob of a father to catch up.
Okay I can't hold it in any longer. I absolutely have to get off my chest just what I think of this side of Cairngorm. It is
a disgrace. An absolute disgrace. Never have I seen so many paths, fences, buildings, people and erosion on a mountain as on
this one. Usually when climbing a mountain what you get is good paths and other man made structures near the bottom which
gradually get less and less when you get closer to the top. Cairngorm has the exact opposite. On the approach to the top you
feel more like you're shopping on Sauchihall Street on a Saturday afternoon than experiencing the extreme remoteness and
isolation that you feel you should be after having climbed such a lofty peak! The UK's highest restaurant, the Ptarmigan,
sits very close to the summit and the summit itself is adorned by an enormous pyramid of a cairn. I think that the reason
this cairn exists is just in case you managed to miss the horrendous pavement of a path which leads practically all the way
from the restaurant to the summit, miss the other five hundred people marching and shouting on their way to the top, and
somehow get lost (I wish I could describe sarcasm in words because right now I can feel it leaking from the corner of my
mouth and dribbling down my chin!).
Alright enough ranting. My absolute delight was palpable when I eventually realised that we were going to make it to the top.
I couldn't believe that my son so young and my wife so disinterested were about to summit their first munro! Unfortunately the cloud
arrived just as we were approaching the summit so the amazing views to be had at the top were not to be. When we arrived at
the pyramid, sorry, the cairn, there was much excitement and leaping and if there hadn't been seven thousand other people with
us I'm sure there would have been some dancing too! I was very proud of both Jake and Suzanne and even Rachel had a hearty grin
on her face at the top. Just as we were about to make our way back down, the cloud suddenly broke up a bit and for the first
time I got a bit of a view of the Cairngorm's high plateau. Had I been in a gunfight with Billy the Kid, and had my camera
been a .45 single action revolver, Billy would be dead dead dead. Heart racing, panicking that the cloud would come back in
any second, I must have pressed that button on my camera fifty times! How lucky I consider myself that I live in an age of
After my picture frenzy was over, I caught up with the others and into the Ptarmigan we went for well earned coffee and cake.
By now Jake's legs were tired and Suzanne had had her fill of mountains for one lifetime and both were therefore keen to get
the funicular railway back to the car. I staunchly refused such an idea as not walking back down would be cheating. Cheating I
tell you! Easy going Rachel would be happy to do either and so the group prepared to split. Then came the unpleasant surprise
for Jake and Suzanne - you could only ride the railway back down if you had got it up!! Oh dear. Oh deary deary me. Ah well the
cheating would just have to wait for another day! As it turned out, we all managed to descend very quickly and it wasn't long
before we were resting our weary legs in the car.
A thoroughly enjoyable day out! What started off as a family stroll turned into an epic day in the mountains. Couldn't have asked for
any better. With my first 4000 footer under my belt, I couldn't wait to come back to the Cairngorms and get some more.