My mate Wullie and I had been looking forward to getting out this Friday for a good while. A wee opportune change to the work roster saw us both with the same day off. We had already decided we were going out but would let the weather forecast dictate where. Consideration had been given to heading away up North West somewhere for a wild camp on the Thursday night before taking on a Munro or two the next day. As usual though the early weather indications were not particularly favourable and we decided to settle for a couple closer to home. The final MWIS update on Thursday afternoon saw the West of the country giving the best conditions. We had already debated a few options but eventually plumped for a visit to the Black Mount Munros on the edge of Rannoch Moor. Unusually we both had the option of leaving the dogs at home and decided this was an ideal opportunity to take on these hills, which in previous readings of the WH description had not sounded entirely suitable for our wee mountain mutts. Off towards Bridge of Orchy it was then. Wullie advised he would be through to Perth for 06.30. Previous experience should have told me that would mean nearer to 7.00 ! Ever the optomist I found myself pacing up and down the street, outside my house in the early morning darkness like the worlds most indecisive burglar. The 'pre-walk warm up' had reached the 10 minute mark when the phone inevitably beeped with the text message heralding his ETA. "2 mins". Informative, if brief ! Speaking of brief, with a whole 120 seconds to fill I did consider nipping back up the stairs to see if the good lady was feeling amorous ! On reflection it was probably a good decision to save my energies for a pursuit much less likely to end in disappointment.
We reached the decent car park which is a few hundred metres before the Victoria Bridge, on the minor road down from Bridge of Orchy around 08.20 There we found a few camper vans and a couple of hardy souls pitched up in the woods. It's a popular stop off for those taking on the West Highland Way. It was all very silent and peaceful so we tip-toed our way into our boots and quietly debated whether gaiters would be required or not. I didn't remember reading about any particularly wet bits but thought it better to at least stick them in the rucksack. Wullie on the other hand quickly decreed them to be surplus to requirements....I now wish I had done that with his opinion ! Gaiters discarded in the boot we were on our way back along the tarmac road, heading over the bridge towards Victoria Lodge, oblivious to the role that building ultimately would play later in the days events. Just before the Lodge there is signpost for the public footpath to Loch Etive, we turned left here onto the very good track and the walk 'proper' could begin.
We continued along the track on the banks of the Abhainn Shira for around a kilometre or so before reaching the tin hut at Clashgour. I seem to recall that this thing was once used as a schoolhouse ! Now I know that there is, justifiably, some complaint about increasing class sizes but this thing would barely have the capacity for 3 or 4 pupils maximum...or should that be 'minimum'....and they'd certainly have to be 'Wee Jimmy Krankie' esq. at that ! Nowadays I believe it is used by a mountaineering club, anyhow, today we were using it as the marker to indicate it was time to leave the very nice and dry track and head North towards the hills and onto the wild, wild 'wet' path running alongside the Allt Toaig. Very quickly we realised our...I mean Wullie's...mistake to leave the gaiters behind. Once your foot disappears in the gitters of the bypass 'path' around the sodden wet patch of the main path, you know things are about to get messy. The Walkhighlands route description had described this path as 'excellent' ! I'm sure it could've been under the puddles and glaury bits...which if I'm honest was most of it.
The next 1500m were spent 'Bog Waltzing' our way towards the lower slopes of today's first target Stob a'Choire Odhar. For those of you blissfully unaware of the vagaries of 'Bog Waltzing', I will attempt to describe. It is an instinctive motion, similar I imagine to the 'fight or fligh' reflex. It occurs whenever your foot unexpectedly submerges into the soggy ground below you, meanwhile your eyes remain focussed on a identified solid patch of earth, 2, 3, even 10 metres ahead. What follows is humanities piss poor attempt at walking on water, and involves an ever increasing speed of step, proportionally matched by an ever increasing width of step and is usually accompanied by flailing arms in a vain attempt to maintain some semblance of balance...try and imagine a chimpanzee sprinting for the first time and you'll get the picture ! Whilst this particular form of motion is not particularly good on the old joints it did successfully transport us to the old stalkers path opposite the rather impressive waterfall to the West (descent route). Our breeks were mingin' but we were essentially unscathed and ready to begin the real ascent.
The weather was most definitely playing ball and I was down to a T-shirt as we began the climb. After an initial climb straight up the nose of the mountain the path begins to zig-zag it's way across the slope in quite an irritating fashion. Obviously it makes the ascent a little easier but it is frustrating when you are not gaining height as quickly as you think the number of steps taken should herald. Having said that the views were really beginning to open up, especially back over our shoulders Southwards toward the impressive looking ben Lui and her near neighbours. A little higher up the the going underfoot changes from the loose scree of the eroded path and becomes much rockier with the route up becoming quite indistinct in places as a result. After reading some of the previous walk reports submitted on the Walkhighlands site, we had expected to reach the summit cairn in around 90 mins. Either our earlier 'Bog Waltzing' had slowed us significantly or we might just have to face up to the fact that we were not getting any younger. As the cairn finally came into view we were exactly 119 minutes into the walk, a quick hop, skip and a jump saw us reach the 945 metre summit in less than 2 hours with literally seconds to spare.
I won't lie, I think the two of us had underestimated this hill. It was certainly more of a slog to get up here than I had anticipated, but wow, it sure was worth it. The views in all directions were simply fantastic. To the West we had a stunning view of the route ahead and magnificent looking Stob Ghabhar, NW saw an amazing vista of all the Glencoe favourites. Bidean Nam Bian looking particularly formidable. To the South the hills of Tyndrum and Crianlarich silhouetted against the rising sun. Last but by no means least is the stunning wastelands of Rannoch Moor to the NE. As I stood staring out over the vast expanse of nothingness I tried desperately to think of some profound words to adequately describe the enormity and the beauty of the landscape before me….but to be perfectly honest the only thought that kept circulating around in my mind was ‘how shite it would be for sledging ‘ !! I’ve no idea how my mind works either but the sledging thought may have been related to the bitterly cold wind we were now exposed to on the summit. The bulk of the hill must have provided ample shelter on the way up but now there was no respite, it wasn’t particularly strong but the wind-chill was significant and as cutting as a Frankie Boyle ‘put-down’. Such was the extremes in temperature between my warm sweaty pocket and the freezing cold air that, unknown to me, the camera lens on my smartphone had ‘fogged’ over and would have rendered all my summit pics useless. For some inexplicable reason I chose to review some of the pics I had taken, normally I don’t bother in anticipation of enjoying them whilst lying like a ‘burst baw’ back on the couch of an evening. This time I had been given a second chance. I immediately set about re-taking the shots and video footage captured previously. This was much to Wullie’s dismay as he made out he was beginning to suffer from the early symptoms of Hypothermia ! I had little sympathy as he posed on the summit with his hands pulled up inside his sleeves for warmth. I guarantee that in his discarded rucksack would’ve been expensive gloves, a down jacket and a tammy. He could climb a Munro and not give it a second thought but clearly raking about in his rucksack required a little more effort than he was willing to expend.
It was only around 10.45 and time to press on towards the second Munro of the day. A young couple had left the summit of Stob 'aChoire Odhair just as we were making the final ascent and we thought it would be quite easily to just tag along behind them. What we didn't factor in was they were clearly half our age, or at the very least able to travel at twice our speed. As we dropped down the 300m or so onto the broad ridge towards the bealach there was no sign of them, at this point I believed that they must have only been doing the Munro as a single and were now heading back down the glen towards the start point. However, as we continued towards the small lochan Wullie spotted some movement high up on the slopes just before the very steep ascent above the Coirein Lochain. They were no more than specs in the distance and had clearly covered the ground between the two peaks like a couple of mountain goats. I quickly grabbed a picture, you can't of course make them out without zooming in considerably on the picture but it gives a real sense of scale to the mountain that you don't often get without something to reference against.
It took us about 20 mins to reach the spot where he had first caught a glimpse of the youngsters ahead of us. The views down into the Lochain were quite impressive and can be enjoyed as you start to gain height heading towards the famously unpleasant steep Southerly climb up the badly eroded path towards the ridge above. The path is made up of very loose scree and rocks and is pretty hazardous for the nugget foolish enough to let his mate head up in front of him ! As I avoided the flurry of falling rocks disturbed by Wullie's big size 10's I couldn't quite shift from my head Paula Adbul's 80's number one classic, 'Opposites Attract'....."I take--2 steps forward, I take--2 steps back", although to be fair it was actually uncontrollably sliding 2 steps back. It was bloody hard going and I was beginning to sweat like a Royal Marine in a spelling test (Sorry Rossco !!). This is definitely the kind of ascent that had you encountered on your first Munro climb, could easily have caused it to be your last. The Walkhighlands description states The ridge of Aonach Eagach above is likely to be reached with some relief. Relief ? Relief is finally getting to pee after having to hold it in for hours. The feeling as I popped up onto the ridge was way beyond relief, more your kinda unbridled joy !
That joy should really turn to horror when you realise that to reach the summit you have to cross the Aonach Eagach ridge. I presume those reading this know all about the AE ridge, if you do not, it is widely accepted that the extremely exposed, narrow and rocky ridge of Aonach Eagach when translated from the Gaelic literally means ' The Ridge of the Brown Underpants'. Fortunately this particular ridge just shares the name and is in fact just a much shorter, fatter, less sharp 'cousin', most families have one, in ours he's called Paul !! In all honesty we crossed the ridge with absolutely no difficulties, if it hadn't been for the fact I'd read about people being 'wary' of it I don't think I'd even have bothered referencing it. Maybe we were just distracted by the deteriorating weather, as we reached the bottom of the final section of ascent it was all too apparent that the clouds were beginning to close in around us. Whilst the summit never became totally obscured, the views all around us slowly did. It was now around mid-day and we decided to stop here for our lunch, forlornly hoping that the clouds would lift. They didn't. Leaving the packs behind we quickly scaled the last 100m of ascent to reach the large summit cairn of Stob Ghabar (1087m). Again it was freezing on the top and being robbed of any summit views we didn't hang around any longer than was necessary to take the obligatory summit selfie pics before heading straight back down to retrieve the rucksacks.
For the descent we headed back the way we came for around 1/2km before branching off to the right onto the Stob Maol ridge. There is a faint path but it's wet in places as it curves its way towards the crags of Creag an Steallaire and the waterfalls mentioned earlier. The path we followed takes you up close to the waterfall which is quite impressive from this distance. I tried to get Wullie to get his kit off and do his best Mylene Klass to add a bit of perspective to the pictures but he was having none of it. Probably best from an environmental point of view, it wouldn't have done the water course any favours being polluted with any run off from his freshly applied 'Just for Men'. Does he dye his hair ? He says no but what man of his age do you know with hair as black as his ??? Negotiating the badly eroded path down past the waterfall was a tricky affair but we managed without one of us ending up going arse over tit, which to be fair had seemed the most likely outcome for much of the way down. Once below this steep section we continued on down the easier and even wetter slopes by the stream to reach the Allt Toaig, where the day took a very unexpected turn.........
As we dropped down the very steep sides of the gully to cross the Allt Toaig, I heard Wullie who was about 10 yards ahead of me, shout something about 'a dog' and 'it being left there'. I kind off ignored him thinking he was just gibbering until I joined him at the water's edge where he'd found a beautiful old Golden Retriever tied up by its lead to a tree. There was no-one around and the dog had no ID tags, in fact it appeared as they had been taken off as the collar was barely fastened around the dog's neck. Oddly, there was a metal dog bowl nearby but it was empty, upturned and well out of reach for the dog. Due to the tethering to the tree the old girl could not even reach the stream for a drink. She was clearly old and thinner than a healthy dog should be. Wullie offered her a bit of leftover sandwich from his piece and nearly lost his hand (for real this time), we both know dogs and it wasn't an aggressive lunge, I just think she was bloody starving. At this point all sorts of thoughts were racing around our heads, mostly though I could not reconcile why anybody would tie their dog up here, in the middle of nowhere with the weather was taking a turn for the worse. We had no phone signal to call anyone for help. Even to raise an alarm of sorts in case something had happened to the owner. We decided that our concious would not allow us to leave her there and that we would have to tak her with us. Hopefully we would find her owner on the way out, who could then give us an acceptable explanation for them leaving their dog trussed up like that. I had thought it odd that she had not tried to get up from her lying down position, could she be injured ? After some struggle to untangle the lead from the branches of the tree we managed to gingerly get her to her feet. She was moving OK but was clearly stiff and it seemed likely she had been lying down there a long time. It was bloody difficult to get her up the gully's bank on the other side and Wullie about did himself in carrying/helping her up. Back on the boggy outward path she was finding it hard going walking back down with us and it was apparent that she was not physically fit enough to have been taken anywhere near where she had been left. There was still no-one around, we hadn't passed anyone heading up the Munro, and really there was nowhere else for anyone to have been going. Its a boggy mess up there on the path nevermind walking about anywhere else. Shortly after passing the green tin hut we came across a car parked back off the private track (we found out later no permission had been granted for any vehicular access) , almost hidden in the trees. We checked it out, it was an estate car and could easily have been used to transport a big dog but there was nothing definitive to suggest that the car oner was also a dog owner and once again there was absolutely nobody to be seen. We kept on down the track and where we then met the owner of the lodge just after the Victoria bridge, luckily she was clearly a dog lover and offered to take her up to her vet in Fort William to get her checked out. We also told her about the car, which she thought was very strange. Unfortunately whilst the lady in the lodge was distracted the dog managed to get out of the house. She tried to find it but had to give up to go and collect her kids from school. On returning she and her husband searched everywhere, including going all the way back up to where we found her without success. What they did find was that the car we had reported had also gone, suggesting they were indeed the dog's owner and had found their dog running free, collected her and made off ? The lodge owners spoke to everyone coming off the hill after us and no-one reported seeing or hearing anything unusual. The whole thing was extremely strange to say the least. I fully understand that not everyone will agree with our decision to remove the dog, especially in light of what happened thereafter, but for what it's worth I will argue to my last breath that we did the right thing given the circumstances and evidence (or lack of) we were presented with. I'm not sure how I feel about the prospect of her being back with an owner who treats her like that, but that is life I guess. The search continued again the next day without success, I recounted the tale on numerous Facebook forums and as yet no other explanation has come to light. With the benefit of hindsight our only regret was not keeping her with us and seeing it through until we knew she was safe, but I guess we thought we had. Not an outing we are likely to forget in a hurry, Munros 88 & 89 will undoubtedly be remembered like no other hills !!
My Walk Reports
Ben Lomond (no walk report)
Stob na Broige
Bidean Nam Bian
Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain
Cairn of Claise
Carn An Tuirc
Carn Liath (Beinn a'Ghlo)
Carn nan Gabhar
Stob Coire Raineach
Stob Coire Sgreamhach
Meall nan Tarmachan (no walk report)
Meall Chuaich (no walk report)
Geal Charn (no walk report)
(no walk report)
(no walk report)
Beinn Udlamain (no walk report)
Meall Garbh (Carn Marig)
Geal Charn (Monadhliath)
(no walk report)
Meall Corranaich (no walk report)
Meall a'Choire Leith (no walk report)
Beinn an Dothaidh
Ben Vorlich (Loch Lomond)
Carn Mor Dearg
A'Bhuidheanach Bheag (no report)
Stuchd an Lochain
Glas Bheinn Mhor
Stob Coire Sgriodain
Stob Coire Easain
Stob a'Choire Mheadhoin
Stob a'Choire Odhair
Stob Ban (grey corries)
Ben Cruachan (updated report)
Carn Liath (Creag Meagaidh)
Stob Poite Coire Ardair (no walk report)
Creag Meagaidh (no walk report)
Cac Carn Beag (Lochnagar)
Carn a'Choire Bhoidheach
Carn an t-Sagairt Mor