Let’s see, I left off towards the near-end of the ride there, as I stared out the window dreaming about the adventures that awaited…
Another half hour after, we arrived at the Firbush Point Activity Center, astounded by the beauty that surrounded. The large log-cabin-like lodge was flanked by Loch Tay and the gorgeous snow-capped munros whose names we had not yet discovered. It was around quarter to seven, and we all eagerly headed over towards our cabin assignments. I was in a cabin with three close friends from Arcadia: Megan, Ruth, and Andrea. Akin to our Homestay experience (when we stayed with that sweet elderly couple during orientation), Megan and I bunked together—she on the bottom and I atop, as per our personal preferences. It’s funny how such sentiments last whether you’re home or abroad. My lucky number has always been two, and it was a trivial but pleasant feeling to have been randomly assigned the second of the four bunks.
After we settled in on Friday night, the Firbush staff rang a cowbell for our 7:00 p.m. dinner. The meal was absolutely delectable—a three-course dinner of home-made vegetable soup, salad, quiche, bread rolls, and raspberry crumble for dessert. I loved the system that Firbush had going, and I’m not just talking about the food! Everything was about teamwork, from the clean-up-after-yourself ethic, to the student volunteers who took turns playing bartenders, to making our own duvets. The outdoorsy, camping spirit was imminent, and after our intro meeting that evening, I was eager to see what was in store for the next day.
Saturday rolled around and I was up by 8.15 a.m. with a couple minutes to spare before the half-past eight breakfast cow bell. I peeked out the window to gauge the weather, and stopped short… If I thought the place was gorgeous the night before, I was awestruck on Saturday morning. The sky was somewhat overcast, and a veil of fog was draped over the distant hills and mountains, but the view was still incredible. Firbush was located smack in the middle of nature, with the lodge literally a few feet away from Loch Tay, and the munros that we would soon be climbing shone in the distance. During school, I am guilty of skipping breakfast in favor of the extra sleep, and the meal of porridge, eggs, toast, baked beans, and mushrooms was more of a hearty brunch than a breakfast! It turned out that we needed the energy though, because after we packed a sandwich lunch, we were setting off for a day of hill-walking. Before we got started, we headed to the shed to gear up.
My friends and I were confused as to why we had to pile so much on if we’d be heating up already by walking on the hills. For one, it’s much chillier than any of us expected up there. And two, hill-walking isn’t really hill walking; it’s more like 60 degree angle mountain climbing! After suiting up, we headed off toward the the start of the trail located on the north side of Loch Tay. The trail would take us to two munros (which are Scottish mountains that tend to be over 3,000 feet in altitude) and we were not told very much about where our destination was or how long it would take to get there–not until much later, anyway. We were split into three groups, each led by one of three instructors from Firbush, and all three of whom were very fit! Dennis, who appeared to be in his sixties and seemed to be the leader of the three, was also a great musician. He told us he would be playing his guitar at the Ceilidh (a traditional Scottish celebration with singing and dancing galore) that night.
Hiking up, or hillwalking as it’s called here, is not entirely new to me. My parents have always been very outdoorsy, and to say I’ve been lucky to have taken a few family trips to American National Parks would be an understatement! In fact, my college application essay was about hiking up and up the ridges of Bryce Canyon. Haha! I do love being outdoors, and hiking in particular has a special, familiar place in my heart. Although, hiking up the munros that day, with my friends by my side rather than my family, felt like an entirely new experience! It was surreal, and even amidst the fog, it was beautiful… Just beautiful. The rocky footpath, the gentle streams, the steep ridges, the corries between the valleys, and the snow-capped munros all around us… Breathtaking. Our ascent was almost entirely at a 65 degree angle, so we were generating body heat as we walked; meanwhile, though, the wind came at us with vengeance and gusto, still keeping us on our toes… (Literally!) When we stopped halfway to eat our packed lunches, I realized with shivering gratitude why the Firbush staff had insisted that we “suit up.”
As we traipsed closer and closer to the summit, the wind picked up and what was initially rock and earth beneath our feet became snow and ice. What a thrill! I missed having my little brother by my side telling me to be wary, and not to get too close to the edge. Of the two of us, he’s always had a knack with keeping me in line. But here I was, on my own and independent for the very first time (or so it felt!) I kept up my pace and walked a little too close to the edge than I should have probably, but it was incredible! It was everything about summer hiking–with the intensity x 10! Frost, snow, and sleet abounded, and the ascent neared a 70 degree angle. Nearby, I could hear people joking “Is there going to be hot chocolate at the top?” and “Can I just parachute my way down from here?” …As if we had parachutes. Hahaha, how exciting would that have been! Anyway, a couple members of the group stopped by a larger rock to take a quick rest, but most of us kept at it. We all probably looked like reindeer, blazing through the fog in a line, minus the sleigh–but our bright red noses made up for that part!
Then. We made it. The view was… indescribable. Heavenly, as we stood gazing past the fog at Ben Ghlas, our neighbor of 3,619 feet. We were above the level of the stratus clouds. Mother Nature roared with delight, and showed it by enveloping us in a misty wind. Here we were, at the top of Ben Lawers; at a height of 3,983 feet, it is the tenth highest peak in Great Britain.
The peak was everything we anticipated and more, and with our thirst for adventure quenched for the day, we began our downward descent. Flouncing down the munro was so exhilarating–and SO much easier! There were ample opportunities for photos, but we also wanted to get back to the lodge before sunset. At around 4:50 p.m. we made it to the base of the munro, and then we took a quick hike back to the pick-up site. From there it was only a short ride back to the Firbush lodge.
After a wonderful day of hiking, we had worked up quite an appetite! We came back to some scrumptious cake in the lower lounge and that hot chocolate that someone had asked for earlier, up on the mountain. Curling up to the cake and cocoa, we all chatted away for the next few minutes until we were called in (via cowbell, of course!) for dinner. Saturday night was our traditional Burns supper, in honor of one of the world’s cherished poets, a Scotsman by the name of Robert Burns. (For those of you wondering, we did have a chance to take a nice, warm shower before we sat down to eat, thank goodness!) We eased into the dining room, where we entered to the vibrant sound of Alistair’s bagpipe. The Burns’ supper was truly a culturally-engaging experience, from the authentic haggis to the recitation of Scottish poetry, and a banter between “the lads and the lassies.” The night had just begun. Aside from the home-made soup, bread, potatoes, baked beans, carrots, fresh fruit (kiwi!), shortbread, and quiche, lie the main entree… Twas my first time tasting meat, probably since I was about 8 years old, back when I had eaten some pepperoni pizza and mistaken the slices of pepperoni to be tomatoes… Both the pepperoni and the haggis, I dare say, were quite good. I preferred the soya-lentil vegetarian option, though. If you ever have the chance to google “haggis,” you’ll probably see why–haha! All in all, the dinner was wonderful, and afterwards, it was time for the evening Ceilidh! The stories are innumerable, and I can’t wait to continue them soon. Till next time… Cheers!