Sorting Out the Mess…Day 1

My goodness, the last time I posted was in May last year; doesn’t time fly when you are enjoying yourself.  Ah…maybe that was a little inappropriate given our current viral situation.  With nobody going anywhere new blog content has been difficult to generate so today I am revisiting the disaster that is my hillwalking “back catalogue” and in the process doing a little bit of editing – well quite a lot of editing actually.  I have found it somewhat horrifying looking back at my early efforts

The Fatdog “tails” began some 2 years before my blog first appeared in late December 2008 and although they can still be found on scottishhills.com most have lost the attached photos.  The same applies to the original “Where the Fatdog Walks” blog (abandoned after a series of massive spam attacks).  Looking back at the whole debacle it serves me right for forgetting the photos were held on a different server and then…um…cancelling that account before I thought through any possible consequences.  No matter, it looks like lockdown will be on the go for some time so I may as well do something constructive and sort out the abominable mess I have created over the years.

I thought I would kick off with my first solo Munro ascent in the autumn of 2006, the easy pairing of Beinn Glas and Ben Lawers.  Given the hordes on those hills on the day of my visit I’m not sure that “solo” really applied in this instance, but it was a fine day out and the first time I had managed to see anything approaching a decent view in the 2 months since my hillwalking adventures had begun.  I had seen almost sod all from every summit I had set foot on.  From the heights of Ben Lomond and Ben Ledi to the much lower tops of the Nebbit and the Meikle Bin all I had come across were swathes of interminable cloud.  However, with a forecast of an 80% chance of a view from the Munros in the South Eastern Highlands I had decided it was too good a chance to miss.  On the down side I’d picked up a mild tickling cough from somewhere but that was never going to deter me!

Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers – October 2006

It was 11.15am on a bright, sunny, October morning when the Fatdog and I arrived at the Ben Lawers Car Park.  It was much busier than I had expected but with only about 2 months of experience in the legs I had yet to discover that you’re hardly ever alone on a Munro.  I grabbed one of the few remaining parking spaces, quickly kitted up and headed out on the trail to Beinn Ghlas, Maisie lolloping along happily beside me.  Sunshine at last…well almost. A scattering of low cloud was hovering above Loch Tay, creeping its way up onto the hillside, then floating off into the blue above.

The Fatdog ready to roll – Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers in the background

As we ambled up the first section of easy slope it became increasingly apparent that the narrow path, both ahead and behind, was filling with walkers.  So much for my first solo Munro ascent!  I was to later discover that a solo ascent of a Munro, especially in good weather, was an elusive beast.

It only took about an hour before both my body and brain shut down and entered sleep mode.  On the first steep section of path upward movement was only possible by focusing on the rocky path immediately in front of me and plodding up the zig-zag trail using the auto function.  I had mistakenly believed that, given my recent regular uphill outings, I would perform much better than this.  Surely it was too early in the day to feel this bad?  Conversely the Fatdog was determined to beat any standing Beinn Ghlas ascent record and set a blistering upward pace, nose focussed on the edible contents of numerous rucksacks higher up the mountain.  I stopped to catch my breath and took the chance to look back down towards the car park below.  

That is a lot of cars!

It’s amazing though, how much heart you can take from reaching the top! I could feel an insane grin break out across my face as I staggered the last few steps onto the summit of Beinn Ghlas.

Over the coming years I was to discover that it doesn’t matter how bad the climb has been, there’s always a sense of euphoria when you reach the summit and, like the salted caramel brownie, there’s always the thought that you could manage maybe just one more.  Today was to be no different.  I was tired but…och, why not.  The sun was shining and I had a crystal clear view of the neighbouring Munros, Meall Corranaich and Meall nan Tarmachan.  The ridge between Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers looked picture postcard perfect and that big heavy cloud bank behind looked…oh no!

from top left clockwise:- Meall nan Tarmachan (including the encroaching cloudbank), Meall Corranaich, Beinn Ghlas (from Ben Lawers), cloud over Loch Tay. (click on the photo grid to bring up the gallery)

From Beinn Ghlas to Ben Lawers. The small peak left of picture is An Stuc

Down from Beinn Ghlas we hurtled hoping for a bit of momentum to get a head start up Ben Lawers. That lasted for about 10m up the start of the slope. The legs just weren’t there. It was going to be a l-o-n-g afternoon.

As we intermittently staggered, crawled and collapsed up the Ben I looked behind to see my beautiful, bright blue day disappearing in a swirl of dirty grey cloud.  It was a valiant effort but to no avail. We were only 30m from the rocky summit when a final surge from the cloud bank swept the murk past us to engulf the peak. We lurched onto the top as the much hoped for views were extinguished by the surging cloud layer.  I collapsed onto a convenient rock just in time to catch glimpses of Lochan nan Cat and Loch Tay before even they disappeared entirely.

Lunch time.  I broke out the tea but couldn’t face the roll.  The Fatdog was hugely disappointed.  Two Munros and only one Bonio on offer…life’s a bitch!  Then it struck me.  It was 2pm.  I’d climbed two hills and wasn’t hungry.  That was decidedly odd.  (Ed.  Or as we say nowadays…unprecedented)

The summit was now occupied by four walkers, two Labradors and a bouncy retriever.  Total anarchy ensued.  Given the “solo” status of my day out I felt somewhat cheated.  To complicate matters further my summit euphoria had kicked in again.

“Maybe we could just continue a wee bit further along the ridge and climb An Stuc as well?” I pondered.

It’s truly amazing how the brain ceases to function at 1200m above sea level. I had barely made it up the last two hills and I was now considering a third.  Fortunately I had a brief moment of near sanity and most judiciously headed off to look for the descent route that would take us back to the car.

We were half way back down Ben Lawers when the Fatdog suddenly lurched off to the left in a quite determined fashion. Thoroughly pissed off at being rewarded with a solitary Bonio she’d clearly decided to forage for herself. Not the rabbit crap again?  In fact this time the expert forager had sensed far bigger game; half a discarded ham roll.  I say discarded but it is possible that she just “bumped” the previous owner over a crag to get it. I hadn’t heard a scream so we pushed on. 

Looking back up our descent route off Ben Lawers

We dropped down from the bealach between the Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers into Coire Odhar following the path back towards the car park.  About half way my legs had had enough and gave out completely.   We were reduced to a crawl.  It was now 3.15pm and I realised that I hadn’t eaten since 9.00am.  Oddly I still wasn’t hungry but forced down half a roll and a couple of bits of chocolate.  The Fatdog appreciated the remainder of what had now become a disgusting mash of squashed bread, cheese and tomato.

To give me a chance to pick up a bit we took a short break.  I looked back towards our recent conquests, both now backdropped by a beautiful blue sky with the strong autumn sunlight casting sharp, dramatic, shadows. Where had those bloody clouds gone! (Ed.  That was the printable family version of the expression of disappointment)  

Looking back at the two Munros I try hard not to feel bitter about the arrival of that cloud bank – but it’s not working .

I wrote this on a Monday.  I should have been at work but by the time I arrived home after our little Munro expedition I was totally knackered. My head and throat were complaining bitterly and my eyes were meeting in the middle. That little tickling cough at the start of the day had expanded into a full blown virus by late evening.  Still, climbing two Munros while not 100% wasn’t a bad effort!

Just a thought…if that had happened this week I’d have been tested, confirmed positive, been put into self isolation for two weeks and fined for breaking the travel ban.  I think I preferred the day off work to be honest.