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Buachaille Etive Mor

Brucey’s protective, cautionary side does not show itself often, but it’s undoubtedly there. One of his female housemates once commented that “he really looks after us in the flat, he’s like the Dad of the house!” and I can now sort of imagine how this is true. I get the feeling people are likely to misrepresent him as being some kind of mad Scottish loony, especially when up on the munros, risking his life for the sake of a quick bag or a bit of a laugh, but I’m beginning to think that under the “ker-azy” exterior, he’s alarmingly sensible. Posit: we’re at the bottom of a gorgeous snow-covered gully on Buachaille Etive Mor, and I’m gagging to don some crampons (lent to me by the man himself), and get going. But Brucey has other ideas:

“Look, you’re not f*cking going up there until you practice some ice-axe brakes!”

In retrospect, this made good sense, but at the time I could have died of embarrasment. I was going to be forced to do something I was crap at, in a situation I was uncomfortable in – and to make matters worse, some strangers were just about to wander past. I remembered why I never learned to swim.

“Just sit down, lift your feet up, slide down for a few metres, then turn round and dig your axe in. You’re not going up there until you’ve proved you can do it!”

This wasn’t the loony I’d come to know and love, who’d been thrown out of a club for trying to serve himself a pint of wine, who’d antagonised drunken youths outside the Ceilidh in Fort William, who’d fought with me two years previous over the matter of a now-hingeless kitchen door (and indeed, with the same kitchen door!)

“But I’ll get me arse wet!,” I pleaded. It didn’t cut ice. Only the ice-axe would do that. Five attempts and a severely soggy bum later, Bruce conceded that I’d “got the general idea.” In retrospect, I was thankful. As with previous occasions in my life, it’s always been my friends who’ve given me the advice I didn’t want, but needed to hear, or forced me to do the things I didn’t want to, but needed to do.

My arse dried mercifully quickly, and the walk continued in superb fashion. The weather held out, the skies were clear, and we could see for miles – brilliant views of Schiehallion, Ben Nevis, and out to Ben More. The decision to drive up to Glencoe on the Saturday had certainly been the right one. Amaretto, ham & cheese sandwiches, Snickers, Evian, and a choc dip turned a splendid day into a perfect one. There was nowhere on earth I’d rather have been.

Descents always seem to conjure up mixed feelings in my mind and my heart. Of course one part of me is looking forward to the prospect of warmth, and a change of socks, and a pint of Guinness, but leaving the mountain also seems to mark a return to “real life”, and all the responsibilities and daily routines that that brings with it. When you’re far from civilisation, uncontactable, it’s a very pleasant, liberating feeling.

The more familiar “lunatic” side of BJC returned to view as he bum-slid down a particularly huge corrie. I remembered the awesome sight of the “death slide” at Lightwater Valley when I was nine years old, and decided to walk round instead. Perhaps this was vaguely sensible – Brucey shredded his arse on a rock and Richy hit himself in the face with his ice axe during their speedy descent!

Published inHills
Copyright © Ian Fraser Nelson 2023