And snow it did. When I awoke at half past six on Friday, it was still very cold but dry. Stars were visible and I wondered if I would get any snow at all. By the time I had fanned the fire back to life the stars had disappeared and a few flakes were already hissing in the fledgling fire. After my porridge there were slightly thicker flurries, at first powder snow, almost like polystyrene, then flakes which grew in size until they were those huge, beautiful flakes you always recall from childhood. Each a miracle of ice, unique, individual. It still stuns me to think that you will never see the same pattern of snowflake twice. By about nine the snow was falling thickly.
It continued to snow all day with a brief lull in the afternoon which I made the most of by going to fill my depleted water bags from the burn; thankfully deep and fast enough to still at this point be in a liquid state. As I stood from filling my first three litre bag I was spotted by some deer on the other side of the valley. The alarm went out and they started to move deeper into the woods; by this point the snow had begun to fall in earnest once more and I managed to capture a wintry video of a doe disappearing in the snowstorm.
I filled my second bag, tied them together and slung them over my shoulder. As I reached for my staff I realised the snow was now so thick I couldn’t see for more than ten feet. It was falling fast, at a forty five degree angle and settling deep and crisp and even. I was very glad I now know these hills so well I could find my way back; still, I was relieved when I was sat by a blazing fire, cup of tea in hand. The snow died down around sunset, which is increasingly early, giving me a chance to saw more logs from the trees I had gathered the previous day. I already had plenty prepared but, as it was clearing, I suspected I was in for a cold night.
Friday night was cold, but nothing compared to the temperature on Saturday night. My sleeping bag is (conservatively) rated to -10°c; I also have a silk liner, bivi bag, sleep hotter than most and was in a shelter heated by a fire. I was still cold. Since then the temperature has yet to even get close to freezing point; having checked on a variety of websites I can safely say that the daytime temperature, out of the sun and wind is a balmy -6°c. I say balmy, because with the wind chill it has dropped to -23°c on a number of days. Night temperatures have dropped to between -15°c and -20°c.
Masochistically perhaps, I am loving these extremes. I am being sensible, having started wearing thick woollen socks and my merino/possum fur hat in bed. Yet it is fantastic to experience this sort of weather while living out in it. I am well aware of just how many walkers and climbers need rescuing in less extreme weather than this (every year up here there are a number of fatalities too), but I know I have the right equipment and, crucially, knowledge to keep me safe.
I do feel that this sort of adventure, and the preceding weeks, is something that has been lurking inside me since I was a child; when I first started lighting fires, learning to use a knife and beginning the process of acquiring skills that are now popularly known as ‘bushcraft’ (back then many of the skills were called ‘survival’ and carried a macho, Rambo-esque image – thankfully, despite the best attempts of a certain Mr Grylls, this has mostly been shed. You don’t need to be ex-army, or wannabe special forces to do this).
Couple this knowledge with the right equipment and add the fact I actually can get away (with no ties to speak of) and it is certainly a privilege to be able to do so. A couple of years ago I definitely wouldn’t have been able to. Having no children (that I know of!), no partner and no mortgage has enabled me to get out here and test myself, challenge and stretch my limits.
I would say that I am now in physically better shape than I ever have been throughout my adult life, stripped down, fat free, hard, toned and trim. I am eating more than I have for some time, although in a way I hope my appetite decreases when I return to civilisation, lest I eat my parents out of house and home. I have already sketched out an exercise regime for when I leave this place, as I don’t want to lose this level of fitness and would prefer to actually add to it. Handstand push-ups, here I come…
Mentally, as I discussed in my last piece, I am far sharper now, my mind pouring ideas, musings and copious thoughts into my journal. This is another habit I have acquired that I have no intention of losing and intend to keep until I leave this mortal coil; writing my journal every day and, wherever possible, working on my poetry, fiction and other projects. I have come to realise just how precious a gift life actually is and a day unrecorded is a day lost.
I intend to fill my days with a constant pursuit of knowledge, an ongoing creative drive and generally a thirst to cram as much into every day as I possibly can. It is not possible to be too much – you can only ever be too little and that should never be an option for anyone.
Emotionally I am also in a far better place, as I said previously; I am at peace with events from my past and finally wholly satisfied with who I am, who I have become over the years. I want to move through life never once regretting something I haven’t done; instead moving forward towards goals, desires and an exciting future.
This chapter of Vague Wanderings may be drawing to a close, but it is but one chapter – there will be more, be sure of that. This will be the final piece I have crafted out here in the wilds. I was supposed to be meeting my parents in Fort William Friday the 3rd of December, as they return from a visit to the south (although, living as they do in Wick, pretty much everywhere is south for them). I say supposed to, as Events and Happenings took place…