The mountain above the wood
It is winter and I put my walking boots on before setting out. It is early and just me and Matt.
'Have you got the compass and the map,' I ask, and he squints and nods. He is checking off his list in his head. Matt is so much better at climbing mountains than I am; he is a planner, a list maker and he has his eyes open. I on the other hand get lost, I don't remember where I have just been and I can't see a path for looking.
A dark cluster of hills, with white sheets draped over them lie to our west. It is cold and we walk towards them uphill. Scots pine, birch and alder, stem up from an undergrowth so thick that it soaks the line above our gaiters. The path has steps cut in and today they are covered in a layer of ice – we keep walking – out of breath. Matt walks on ahead, tilting forward in to the climb, occasionally leaning on a knee or leaping up and over the rocky terrain.
Matt is a bit of a loner. He is tall, thin and muscular. He is always prepared for the weather; you have to be here, it can change quickly and bring trouble. He wears old leather brown Brashers; he looks after them and they have served him well because of this. His trousers are old too, he wears them to decorate and they have white paint streaks doted all over. His back pack is heavy, stuffed full and on the outside there are ice axes and a pair of waterproofs. When he is happy, his face is weathered; it suits him better to be outside.
He stops and turns towards me, 'they say that the last wolf in Britain was shot here'. We are standing at a point where two dark rocky walls span upwards, between them lies a small patch of snow and then a drop. Matt looks out towards the chasm, 'It is called the Deep Gash of the Wailing' He looks back grinning because he knows I am easily scared. 'They say that long ago shepherds could hear wailing coming from beneath the gash but when one of them climbed down to find the source, he never returned. They say the wailing stopped after that.' When he sees my face, he laughs and shakes his head, 'it's just a story.'
We continue, scrambling up towards the horns of Alligan. I am close to the ground, using my arms and my legs to work my way through the rocks and scree; drawing on instinct, not technique. I am so concentrated on the tiny details of each rock that fall beneath my view that I become unaware of the approaching summit. I look at the lichen, yellow, grey and black on stone. I feel the snow and ice that has settled between them. I look up, I see Matt, I see the sky.