With cold, damp feet, an aching left knee and the rain still driving at my face, I reached the car park at 6.30PM. After 2 ill-advised days in the hills I was glad to get back to the car, but then I saw it. Glass. Shattered glass inside the car. My heart sank as I realised the car had been broken into in my absence, but with Laura waiting half way down the road the only thing for it was to drive down anyway, sitting on a heap of icy white cubes.
It didn't make sense though; my wallet was untouched, there was still gear on display in the back, and 2 pairs of approach shoes stashed in the footwells. There was no sign anyone had had a go at the radio either, and it was then that it dawned on me: it was the wind. 120mph winds were reported on the tops that day, and my car windows had fallen victim to a hail of supercharged gravel and stones, hurled at high speed against the glass until it shattered. With those kinds of forces unleashed over the hills that day it made me think that perhaps the last minute route change - trying to salvage something out of hazardously cold, wet and windy conditions - had been the wisest thing I had done all week.
The original plan was to walk the Lharig Ghru from the north, staying at the Corrour Bothy before heading up the Tailor Burn to Ben Macdui and a night on the Cairngorm plateau, heading back down again after 2 nights in the hills. The forecast though, stayed resolutely poor in the days leading up to the trip. High winds became a prediction of 100mph on the second day, when we would have been camping on the high ground, and rain was a constant.
The hasty revision found us staggering up Miadan Creag an Leth Choin, leaning comically into the wind and swaying like saturday night students. When we reached the slope leading to Cairn Lochan, it was bitterly cold, and with low cloud swirling down from the south, visibility was down to metres. I seriously considered turning back, particularly knowing that this was probably the worst conditions Laura had been out in, but with down jacket and new Gore Tex waterproof to shield her from the elements, she was loving every step.
"It's like a rollercoaster!" she yelled over the force of the wind, and so we plunged onwards into the mist-shrouded col below.
With a cloudy boulderfield between us and Macdui, the compass came out for the first time, confirming the route between several marker cairns to the base of the final climb, and thirty windswept minutes later we stood at the top. Surrounded by thick cloud and with increasingly heavy rain and wind chilling us through, there were no views to be had and the only proof of our location was to be found in the trig point.
Hastily consulted bearings took us down from the top to the vicinity of the Tailor Burn, which we intended to follow to the valley floor, but despite the heavy rain there was no sign of the stream, only a low lying area that I guessed must house its headwaters. The slope down was not as steep as I expected, but as the clouds dispersed below, I discovered why. In my haste, I had taken us slightly beyond Tailor Burn, and we almost dropped into the next coire to the south.
As evening approached, we reached the shelter of the Corrour Bothy, unoccupied but with a rucksack and sleeping bag inside, together with a note referring to a helicopter rescue the previous day. On that sobering thought, we collapsed into our sleeping bags and slept through the growing wind and rain hammering on the roof.
A relentless slog up the Lharig Ghru the following day brought no improvement in the weather, but at least we had a tailwind for most of the journey. Fine weather picnic spots seemed to appear everywhere, from the Pools of Dee to the steep chasm at the headwaters of Allt Druidh, but with such poor weather we had no incentive to stop.
Finally, as we passed through the impressive Chalamain Gap, the sun began to pierce the clouds, and a double rainbow appeared at the end of the boulder-filled canyon. What fine views remained of the day began to present themselves as we rounded the corner of Lurcher's Crag and made our way back towards the car park.
The weather was terrible, the car was badly damaged, but it can be repaired and the hills will still be there next year. And the year after...