Thursday, May 10, 2007

Climbing Mount Probable

Just over a month ago I climbed Mither Tap in Aberdeenshire. I climbed Mither Tap because it was there, and also because it wasn't Ben Nevis. I have climbed Ben Nevis so many times now, that I feel I know every inch of it and it doesn't float my boat any more. The views are all so familiar; I know what's around every corner, how tired I should feel at any point. I've climbed Ben Nevis in various weather conditions from bright sunshine, to pouring with rain, to just downright cold and uncomfortable. Its all too familiar - that's why I climbed Mither Tap.

When I speak of climbing, I mean it in the loosest sense. I am not speaking of scaling vertical rock faces or shimmying up overhangs, using crampons and ice picks. I leave all that kind of thing to the heroes, those who have no nerves and feel no fear. When I refer to climbing, I mean it in the sense of walking, trekking, hiking - in a manner which results in a change in altitude, namely up or down the mountain.

I had been meaning to climb Mither Tap for a couple of years or so - ever since I first visited my youngest son after he moved to Aberdeen. Being a lover of mountains himself, he was keen to show me Mither Tap. This is because Mither Tap is the most prominent mountain, though not the highest, of the Bennachie Range of which it is a part. Its more a mount than a mountain; a mounlet perhaps. Whatever you choose to call it, it cries out to be climbed, standing there, beckoning and inviting.

Parking in the tourist car park in the forest at the bottom, we walked the path towards the base. At first, there is only a slight slope, so not much energy is expended. However, once out of the woods, the track becomes much steeper and you start to feel the beginnings of a challenge. It doesn't take long before you are able to stop and take in the awesome views of the surrounding countryside. Because the Bennachie massif stands alone in a gently rolling, but otherwise flat landscape, the views stretch onwards seemingly for ever to the sea. Looking northwards, features of Aberdeen can be made out.

The mountain - I will call it a mountain from now on - attracts a lot of fellow climbers. They range from toddlers barely able to walk and mainly carried by Mum or Dad, to the fitter kind of senior citizen who refuses give in to age. I'm getting a bit that way myself. Mither Tap looks like an extinct volcano; its got that conical kind of shape. I thought it was an extinct volcano. Following our descent, we - that's my youngest son and me - went into the visitor centre and looked at the displays informing visitors of the natural history and geology of the region. I was wrong. Its not a volcano, extinct, alive or just sleeping. It was actually formed over several ice ages, or glaciations. The original range was some three times the height of what we see today, but successive glaciations ground down the range and the landscape to mould it into its present form. That's an awful lot of rock to grind down! This brings home the realisation that everything is changing. Forget climate change. That is a mere blip in the greater scheme of things. Moving geological ages ahead into the future, the landscape will change again, out of all recognition to what we see today. The earth is indifferent to our efforts to control it.

Nearing the top, we found ourselves walking between walls of stones. These are the remains of defenses to the ancient hill fort dating from three thousand years ago which was built on top of the mountain. The ancient fort surrounds the granite outcrop at the summit, though only vague traces of it remain today. From the summit the views are magnificent. Looking out towards the other parts of the massif, the landscape is carpeted by hardy vegetation, dark in hue, and criss crossed by the white tracks of walkers and ramblers. There is more than one way to reach the top, and a lady stopped by to recommend approaching it from the criss cross paths below. Another day perhaps. The summit is a place to linger and ponder the beauty of the countryside around. The sky was cloudy, but not without gaps through which the shafts of sunshine painted their fleeting patterns on the countryside below. People came and went, and the the temperature seemed to drop, though probably didn't. We had ceased to move cutting off the warmth of generated body heat. It was time to go. All too soon, we were back in the car and heading back.

I do plan to revisit Ben Nevis. However, I plan to approach it not from the familiar tourist track as before, but this time from the other side, along the ridges. Maybe then, my boat will float again!

1 comment:

Kenna said...

Good for people to know.