This weekend I'm taking a couple of much-deserved days off work and heading to Mull with the intention of plodding up Ben More with my good friend Paulo and several of his other mates. This is, you see, Paulo's Last Munro - despite having been technically domiciled in Algeria for the past few tax years, he has somehow managed to find the time and inclination to add his name to the list of three-thousand-odd deranged individuals who have clambered up every one of these infamous summits.
Assuming I make it, this will be the first Munro that I've bagged for over three years, the last being a rather damp ascension of Maol Chean Dearg on 4th April 2004. As I've lamented in the past, my bagging trips were not always so intermittent - in the years immediately following university, flush with cash and yet still free of responsibility, most holidays would be spent ensconced in some rented cottage in Scotland with a large group of friends. By day we would drag ourselves up Munros, and by night we would play boardgames (such as the ever-popular Risk), or frequent local hostelries. Good times indeed. Steadily though, my friends and I have settled down, started families, taken on more demanding jobs and large mortgages, and drifted ever further apart, geographically.
This is actually going to be the second Munro Compleation that I've had the pleasure of attending - eight years ago our mutual friend Bruce finished them off in Glencoe, and you can see some scanned photographs of that most debaucherous of weekends here.
So, it's been too long, and I'm greatly looking forward to heading into the hills, but a few things are niggling me, most notably:
Can I Still Make It Up? I was never the fastest of munro-baggers - even back in 1998, at a sprightly 22 years of age, my friend Rich commented that "Nel has invented a pace between stop and walk". Nine years on, filled with lots of fine cooking from my American wife, and the prospect of dragging myself up to the dizzy heights of 966m above sea level seems increasingly remote. Memo to self - take pain killers. And oxygen...
Can I Still Rough It? I used to think nothing of spending several days on end living in tents, bothies, bunkhouses, or indeed just bivvying if necessary. But now I think I've spent one too many nights in top hotels in the likes of London and Vegas, and grown a little too fond of my home comforts. Perhaps this is another reason why trips north of the border have become infrequent in recent years?
Can I Still Drink Heavily? A long day on the hill was invariably followed by a long night in the pub (I have happy memories of a large group of us trying to drink the Aultguish Inn dry of An Teallach ale - we failed, but gave it a damn good shot!). Admittedly I'm quite looking forward to determining whether I've still got what it takes in this respect!
But apart from these few niggles, I'm really looking forward to my weekend. Armed with my Canon EOS400D (something I certainly never had back in those post-uni years) I'm hoping to capture some suitable images of the events on Mull to share with you when I get back...