I had some great plans for this summer. Multi day, multi summit walks, perhaps a few high camps, waking up to sunshine and the mists burning off the valleys below. Then it rained. Then it rained some more, and has continued to do so ever since. Apart from the 25th of June. On that day it was sunny. By happy coincidence Myself and my mate Jim were both off work that day and had decided to get away for a bit of walking. Nowhere too far though, so I had a look to see if there was anything within a reasonably short drive which I hadn’t done before. I quickly set my sights upon Creag Mhor and Beinn Heasgarnich. These two Munros are tucked away in Glen Lochay, near Killin. I’d been in this glen once before on an ill-fated attempt on Sgiath Chuill with Glasgow HF. This was in February or March a few years back, and after the walk along the riverside and the subsequent fording of the river at Lubchurran, we had climbed up through the snow to the ridge above Creag an-t Searraich where we were hit by 50-60mph winds. The snow was whipped up reducing visibility to a few metres. The walk leader abandoned the attempt on the hill and we headed north down the ridge. Passing over a flat section of the ridge I went straight through the snow into a bog, where I would still be today had it not been for two club members who managed to pull me out.
Today the weather was to provide a challenge of a different kind. We parked the car at a small space in woodland between High Botaurnie and Kenknock. Previously you could park further along the glen, but a now sign hidden amongst the nettles asks you to go no further by car. We didn’t hang about, being plagued by midges and flies, and after slapping on the suncream we headed along towards Kenknock. There is work going on here, possibly hydro-electric related, and the old car park is now in use for contractors. At this point you have the choice of the low road or the high.
We chose to go along the higher path, and headed uphill, through a gate, climbing steeply, feeling the heat. We were joined by some of the local residents. First we were shadowed by a Wheatear, hopping from perch to perch, before we were then distracted by a large bird of prey which we at first took to be a Golden Eagle, until after a few minutes it began mewing, revealing itself to be a Buzzard instead.
The path climbs for just under 1.5km, to a point where it diverges, the left path crossing over a huge hydro electric pipeline.
We would return to this point later, but for now we were contouring the hill westwards, towards Ben Challum, a hill I did may years back on one of my few outings with the Monklands Ramblers. We did it from the Crianlarich side, and I recall much bog-trotting was involved. From this side however it looks entirely different, a fine silhouette which cuts a different figure to how I usually think of it.
Above Batavaime we crossed a bridge over the Allt Batavaim and had a break above a small dam. The heat was starting to take effect on me, but worse was to come. We had a choice of routes up Sron nan Eun (The ridge of the birds?), either left or right. I had planned to go up the left side, but on seeing it on the ground the right looked feasible and we set off over some boggy ground littered with Butterworts. As we climbed we noticed another pair of walkers ascending parallel to us on the left side.
We began the steep up between the crags. Jim was ahead of me and seemed quite comfortable in the heat. I on the other hand began to slow down, taking a few paces then stopping. I’d take a drink of water, pause, then climb a bit more, then stop. More water. Stumble on. Stop. By now Jim was out of sight. I sat down, then lay back. Sleep, just a little sleep then I’d be okay. We were in no hurry. I could grab a quick nap… I forced myself up, and carried on. Crossing a small burn I stopped and soaked my Buff headscarf in the water and stuck it on my head. In the army there is a phrase, chinstrapped, to be utterly done in. That is how I felt. The tank was empty and I felt I’d be lucky to complete one hill today. I guzzled water, trying to prevent the pounding in my head. Off to my left I could see Jim sitting on the hillside waiting. I stumbled in his direction. The process of walk, stop, drink continued. I arrived at where Jim had been sat to find he was gone.
I turned and headed uphill, pausing after every few steps, until at last the steep slope eased off to a flatter area, and I saw Jim waiting up ahead. I caught up with him and we stood while I shoved a Mars bar down me to try and raise my energy levels. A raven soared around us as we took in the view down into the Coire-cheathaich. Break over, we turned and headed south, along the ridge, before taking on the final climb up to the summit. As we climbed we looked back to see where the other pair of walkers were. There was no sign of them. For quite some time and we had been getting concerned. Our minds now put at rest, we carried on up the rocky path and plopped down at the cairn. I was done in.
We had an extended tea stop on the summit, and after around 15 minutes we were joined by the couple we had seen earlier. They were from Dundee, and having completed their Munros years ago were now just doing the ones they fancied. It became apparent during the conversation that the reason they had not been seen for some time was that they had taken an extended break as it was too hot for walking. I wished I’d done likewise. We talked about the view, as for once it was pretty good. In the foreground Loch Lyon and Ben Mhanach, off to the north west were Beinn Dorain, Beinn an Dothaidh and Beinn Achallader, and beyond that Ben Nevis. The Lawers range, Ben More, Stob Binnean, even Ben Alder could be seen from this vantage point. That moment felt like a vital piece had been placed in a huge jigsaw puzzle. All these pieces that I had been to or seen, linked by line of sight. Usually if I think of Beinn Dorain for example I would think of how to get there by road. M8 to Glasgow, A82 from Glasgow, up Loch Lomond, Crianlarich and Tyndrum, yet here it was from a journey I would consider to be in the totally opposite direction, which I would approach from Stirling and Killin. To reinforce this view even further we were joined by a walker from the west. As he approached I called out “Hello Robert!” Amazingly the man who approached was a fellow member of Glasgow HF! I hadn’t seen him for some time, and this was a real surprise. What are the chances of bumping into an old friend on a remote hilltop on a Monday afternoon I wonder.
Robert remained at the summit, the Dundonian couple headed off south, while we headed north, dropping steeply down past some dirty snow clinging on to the hillside for grim life at the mid point of the year. We curved down below the rocky cliffs, the going wet and slippery. We took our time and could soon see Robert catching up. He was also heading for Beinn Heasgarnich, but unlike us was staying the night before heading out for the train. Walking together down to the bottom of the corrie I asked Robert if he wanted to join us for the next part. He set off to find a dry bit of ground to pitch his tent while Jim and I replenished our water, then headed up what looked to be a reasonable line up the steep ridge to Stob an Fhir-Bhoga, the lower top of a long ridge which makes up the summit of Beinn Heasgarnich. Within a short space of time we had found a path, but I was again flagging, the steepness and heat combining to knock the stuffing out of me. Again I soaked a buff and covered my head, the cold water running down my back. I could feel the strength draining from me, and told Robert who had caught up with me to go on. I’d plod along alone.
Shortly after this though I was pulling myself over the top of Stob an Fhir-Bhoga, just behind Robert. I could see Jim strolling towards the summit. Off the steep slope I found the going easier and we arrived at the summit cairn to find Jim scanning the horizon with his binoculars. We could pick out more hills by now, Ben Cruachans familiar silhouette lay to the west just below a bank of cloud, but the most amazing to me was that of the even more familiar Meikle Bin, way back home in North Lanarkshire, 38 miles off south east. The jigsaw had just acquired another piece.