Beam Me Up, Scotland
Airy Mountains And Cool Glens Make For Sweet Dreams Back In The Baked Pueblo.
By Kevin Franklin
THE SWAMP COOLER chugs along, dumping hot, humid air into the house.
Since working outside is a lethal prospect, I plop down on the couch. Just blinking my eyes is enough to work up a sweat. I close them and fall into a restless slumber.
I begin dreaming of a place with rounded green mountains and cascading water. I see long cloud islands sliding into fern-covered slopes. Shreds of gray mist break off and float among the granite boulders like ghosts, moving toward me in the valley below.
Up ahead a building hunches under a shroud of tall pine trees. Walking to it, I see a bearded old man in a kilt sitting on the porch.
"Where am I?"
"Ye be u'pn the foot o' Ben Nevis," the Scottish Methuselah answers with an accent so thick it verges on incomprehensible. "Tis the loftiest peak upo' all the British Isles."
The nearby mountainside is more of a slightly reclining cliff than a gentle slope. The snowy top of Ben Nevis is hidden from view by a ring of clouds. I'm impelled to climb this peak. I turn to the old man, intending to ask his advice in the matter.
Reading my mind, he says "Twil' be one pound, ninety-five for the guide book, but if ye will hae one of mi 'Heroes of Scotland' T-shirts, I wat na be again' tossing the book fa' free. Nae place can ye find such authenticity."
The crudely drawn faces of Mel Gibson and Liam Neeson costumed as William Wallace and Rob Roy stare back at me from their 100 percent cotton universe made in Korea.
"No thanks." I hand over the coins for the book and head up the mountain.
At 4,406 feet, Ben Nevis is indeed the tallest mountain in all of the British Isles. Of course, back in Arizona, a 4,000-foot peak hardly falls under the term mountain, much less epic. But Ben Nevis starts at sea level, making it a true 4,400 feet worth of climbing. More importantly, Ben Nevis is at 57 degrees north latitude, on par with the Hudson Bay and southern Alaska. The warm Gulf Stream in the Atlantic moderates the cold in Scotland; but even so, the mean temperature on the peak is below freezing. An average of 261 gales a year clash with the mountain top, bringing 50-mile-an-hour winds and a whopping 12 feet of rainfall a year.
Ben Nevis has claimed more than a few tourists. First-rate rain gear, good boots, a compass and some warm clothing are the absolute minimum for equipment. Having all this in tow, I work my way along the five-mile trail to the top. Vibrant bracken ferns and a continuous carpet of sphagnum moss cover the hillsides of the Scottish Highlands in a solid green. A half dozen waterfalls run down on just one side of the mountain while the river Nevis runs along its base.
I pass Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, a small lake perched on the shoulder of Ben Nevis. I look down into its dark peat-stained waters. I can't tell if anything is looking back.
After the small loch, I climb into the clouds. An ancient andesite lava flow composes the top of Ben Nevis. About 100-million assorted andesite rocks cover every square yard of Ben Nevis. Any direction I look I see only a sea of rock disappearing into the fog. This is the birthplace of rocks. I plod on to the top following a trail clearly marked by cairns (heaps of stones). The cairns eventually lead to the abandoned stone observatory on the peak. Every few minutes the fog clears just enough to see over the side. Our approach is by far the easiest. The rest of the peak is surrounded by 1,000-foot cliffs. Not the sort of place to run blindly into the fog.
I hear a ringing coming from the fog. This makes no sense, but the noise persists....
Startled, I wake and return to my sweaty house and ringing phone. Like Brigadoon, the mists of my highland utopia disappear without me. The mysterious waters of Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe have leapt eight time zones and several customs agents away. My crumpled airplane ticket is all that remains of my dream vacation. In despair, I stick the house fern in the refrigerator and poke my head in after it. But as Mike Meyers is wont to remind us, if it's not Scottish it's...well, you know.
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