Soul Traffic

The traffic conspires with the balance of mind and inertia chokes the city, but the sky is blue high above. By the time I'm at the Erskine Bridge, I'm opening the window and pitying the Tollbooth guy. The rest is freedom up the A82 to Arrochar, bar the odd Citylink bus... but we're all headed north, that's fine. I check the Brack, too lean, the Cobbler is stripped.

I bank on Miseach and head up to the Tharsuinn corrie, looking for big stones on the way. The north groove that is Philosopher's Gully is lean but icy. I wind up some Grade 3 icy drapes to cut across to the gully as a snow-storm beats in behind. The sun is just behind the crags now and there is that curious Godlight and all these millions of snowflakes driven up towards the light like millions of little manic souls all jostling to get there first... soul traffic...

I disappear like a sinner into the black-walled gully. It goes fine and has good icy diversions, especially at the top slab, where I commit to a technical iced traverse to a snotter of ice and frozen turf. My chest thumps with the move, as the airiness howls in the wind, then the rest goes easy to the ridge. It's sunny again and I turn my thoughts to that gorge and maybe the prospect of finding a bouldering bloc.

At the top of Philosophers' Gully, two old fellas, who might or might not be the actual philosophers, trudge past on the ridge as I'm taking the crampons off... I notice one of them, whose eyes are watering heavily, has no boots but a pair of salty old Clarks shoes, turned up at the toes. The other has one of those coloured beanies made with extra thick wool. They are on the way to Narnain they say, it sounds like 'Narnia'. I have a sudden vision of them stepping through into the cupboard in the morning rather than the bathroom. 'WIFE DISTRAUGHT AS HUSBAND VANISHES IN BEDROOM...' I wish them luck and follow the shoe prints in the snow back down. Not once, I notice, do they have slip trails - they have a steady but narrow gap between heel and toe...

Back down in Coire Feorline I find what I'm looking for: the Miseag Stone. I thank the old men internally - they were magic men, shamens, and sat up on the ridge dreaming stones that they roll into the corrie for laughs... that's why they were up there! The stone is bellied with compact rock and has a flying arete, a groove, a slab, lipped overhang - all over deer-flattened grass. I touch the holds, pull on the pockets with the weight of winter boots, sit in the sun and regard it, this hidden Philosopher's stone. It is a beauty, no doubt about that, a stone for boulderers, dreamed into place, isolated, perfect, alone. I peer back up at the spindrift ridges of Narnain, looking for two dreaming shamen, one in a beanie, the other in Clarks shoes, but they have vanished, back through the cupboard door to: Where the hell have you been...?!

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