Jenny Tough is an adventurer who loves fast and light expeditions and has run, treked, cycled, skied, paddled, and sailed accross every continent. Jenny shares her experience of hiking in the beautiful Cairngorms...
I am reaching out to the ground with my hands, so steep is the final ascent, and pushing my legs as hard as I can to reach the top. Wind is howling all around me, the stray strands of my ponytail whipping me in the face. All I can hear is the whistle of the wind as it comes around the mountains, and my own laboured breathing. There is nothing else in my conscious focus but the summit I am pushing towards. No distractions - no modern amenities, phone signal, billboards, traffic, nor even another person in sight. Just a summit, reaching above me.
As I near the cairn marking the true summit, the high wind that the bulk of the mountain had been sheltering me from hits me, and I nearly stumble backwards. I have to walk completely bent over, pushing against the invisible barrier. My sunglasses are blown off my face, such is the strength of the wind (I caught them, for the record).
I would call the view breathtaking, but my breath was already lost on the gruelling climb, so I will declare it as simply stunning. Before me stretches the hills and peaks of the Cairngorms, dark green forests growing like moss around lumpy grey masses of rock. A rare blue sky is speckled with thin white clouds. I take a deep breath, inhaling the moment, then pull on a jacket to defend against the fierce wind and quickly begin my descent. It would be lovely to stay up here forever, but that unforgiving wind instantly chills me, and I know it’s not an evening for hanging around on summits.
I push against the wind while I drop a few metres away from the cairn before the gusts relax enough to let me easily stand upright. The path is steep and technical, and despite the heavy backpack with all of my camping gear in it, I can’t help but let my legs loose into a run. Running fast and free down a mountainside is simply one of life’s most incredible natural pleasures.
Gravity does most of the work to bring me down to the valley floor in what feels like seconds, and I begin scouting out a place to call home for the night - all I need is a patch of soft earth, just wide enough for my tiny tent, and hopefully a little sheltered from the wind. I find my patch, and begin setting up camp, pegging the tent down before setting up poles to prevent the whole thing blowing away.
The sun is up late in the Highlands in June, and it’s a weird sensation making camp while it’s so sunny outside. I light my stove to prepare a gourmet meal of packet noodles, chased by hot chocolate, while I relax under the canopy of the tent. The advantage to these howling winds is that there are no midges, so I can chill with the tent door open, enjoying my five-star view of the mountains ahead of me.
The early sunrise stirs me out of bed, my tent quickly rising in temperature like a greenhouse. It’s also slightly concave due to an increase in the wind speed, so I decide to pack up quickly and go further down the valley. It’s a game of pinning things down and packing them inside the backpack immediately so nothing blows away in the gale, but soon I am ready to being hiking, the wind pushing me like a conveyor belt around the mountains, following the small stream that ribbons between them. I stop to collect water that I plan to boil for coffee, as soon as I can get somewhere that the wind won’t blow my stove over.
A rocky field under the shelter of Cairn Gorm herself provides the perfect refuge for a cowboy coffee breakfast. I carefully select the perfect boulder - large, flat, and with a kitchen-counter smooth corner where I can set up my sometimes precarious little stove - and get the coffee on. I sit, still, in silence, watching the clouds as they are blown rapidly over the peaks above me, relaxing while I sip my coffee, letting my mind be totally clear except for the views in front of me and the hot coffee on my lips. In a few minutes, I will pack up again and make my way up the peaks in front of me, once again burning my thighs to make the summit, once again enjoying the views from the top, but for now, I appreciate the stillness.