Water is abundant in Scotland's many rain and spring-fed lochs (lakes) and rivers. The jet stream carries spongy clouds that rain over hills green and
plush as a '70s shag carpet.
Hikers want to have the sun-god on their side more often than not, dubious weather is a challenge in the mountains.
For instance, Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain, is said by locals to average 60 climbable days per year. Our attempt to hike it turned out to be lost in the time when the peak sits in a cloud, which is the majority. Fortunately, the waters from the mountain flow right to the Ben Nevis distillery where we were able to toast offerings to the sun-god.
In 1825, the distillery was built by John MacDonald who is said to have been a strong man who once saved his invalid brother Archibald from being attacked by a bull while crossing a field on his crutches. John ran to the rescue, literally grabbing the bull by the horn, twisting its head and dislocating its neck. Undoubtedly it is auspicious to offer a toast with what has come to be known (and marketed) as "Long John's Dew of Ben Nevis" in hopes of favorable weather.
Disappointment over our aborted hike didn't last long upon reaching the Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye. The jagged, gabbro peaks of the Cuillins are the most challenging mountains in Scotland. They can be seen from most vantage points around Skye and beautiful views are to be had from afar and atop. We chose Bruach Na Frithe (BROO-ach na FREE-ha), which means "slope of the forest," for our hike and left from Sligachan (SLEG-a-han) mid-morning for a full day of soulful Scottish hillwalking.
Most ascents in the Cuillins are a scramble to the top, and the Inaccessible Pinnacle calls for rock climbing. Hiking here is a more serious undertaking than most of the Munro peaks on the mainland. Sir Hugh T. Munro, an early member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, compiled a list of Scottish Mountains over 3,000 ft. and published the Munro Tables in 1891. His guidebook has been edited in the last 100 years based on revised height measurements. "Munro bagging" has evolved as more zealous hillwalkers seek to reach all 284 summits. Though sometimes the butt of jokes, Munro bagging is nonetheless a formidable accomplishment.
But not all the 3,000 foot high mountains in Scotland are Munros. Munros are defined as distinct, separate mountains. "Tops" are also over 3,000 feet, but the difference is based on the drop in height and the distance between adjacent summits. One might hike to the summit of a Top on the way to a Munro, for instance, or even bag more than one Munro on the same ridgeline, but these categories are an attempt at bringing some order for summit-seekers into high peaks that are clustered together.
We began our hike to Bruach na Frithe on a private road that turns into a well marked trail following the Allt Dearg Mor (owlt FERR-ak moar), "Little Red Stream," through grassy lowlands. The terrain is treeless with patches of stone scattered throughout. As we approached the top of a small pass, the path to Bruach Na Frithe split off at a fork and we ascended along the northwest slopes of the Fionn Choire (Fyoon-Chorra), "fair corrie," a smooth grassy meadow at the base of an enchanting cirque of peaks.
Visibility was splendid so we chose to head up the crest of the north-west ridge. The ridge begins with a broad low-angled section and narrows toward the summit into a high 4th-class scramble. The last hour of hiking kept our hearts pumping as the ridge grew steeper and more narrow and the spectacular view on the other side unveiled itself the higher we went.
Soon, breathtaking views of some of the most prominent peaks practically smacked us in the face. Sgurr nan Gillean (skoor nan GEEL-yan), "peak of the gullies," and Am Bastier (am BASH-tyir), "The Executioner," were just to the west as if you could touch them and the sea and Outer Hebrides islands loomed in the distance beyond the peaks. To the south, more mountains drop to the shoreline and it's said that you can see Ireland on a clear day, but this view was obscurred by clouds to our south. We would end up paying homage with pints of Guinness at Seamus Bar in Sligachan at the end of the day.