After the shock of Schiehallion our weary group made its way to the Ben Alder bothy during the night arriving at about 11.00 pm. A night march our expedition leader cheerfully exclaimed only to be met with a chorus of groans. Ben Alder is one of the more remote Scottish mountains and consequently less frequently visited. We met not another soul on our trip. It is commonly climbed in a two-day expedition.
Ben Alder bothy is reputed to be haunted by the ghost of a ghillie who hanged himself from the rafters. Every floarboard creaked and window rattled with a peculiar resonance that windy night.
Next morning we were ready for the off – well not exactly all. One of our party, an extrovert in the extreme – who went on to have an interesting but short career in the bank, feigned an injury to his ankle. Actually it was common knowledge amongst us that he had deliberately hit his ankle with the blunt end of an axe whilst cutting wood. The equivalent of a self-inflicted wound in war-time. Surely the climb isn’t that bad? Anyway he was told to stay on another day at the bothy and to meet us at the departure point rendezvous point. A rather extreme method of avoiding a hill climb.
I write this some 33 years later so my memory is hazy as to the details of the actual climb other than it was a cool but dry day – perfect climbing conditions. Certainly it cannot have been too hard (we usually remember clearly all hardships). I do recall however Ben Alder’s beautiful plateau summit (3,766 ft) and the far-reaching views into a wild, desolute and wonderful wilderness.
I recall the descent clearly as we had to spend the night in the open in a hollow on the side of Ben Alder in our “bivy bags” technically a bivouac sack. This essentially comprises a thin waterproof fabric nylon shell designed to slip over a sleeping bag. In theory this provides additional insulation and forms an effective barrier against wind chill and rain. It will keep you alive but not comfortable. I found that it had a huge drawback in that the humidity condensed heavily on the inside. By the early hours of the morning my sleeping bag was soaked. In those days waterproof/breathable fabrics such as Gore-Tex was not widely available and prohibitively expensive.
After a very long and sleepless night I rose early next morning with a soaring temperature and rasping sore throat. Two days in bed over the weekend was the corollary of that.
Surely the remaining Munros are not going to be as trying as the first two?