Friends, collies, navigators
B is up and doing long before I have any notion that morning has arrived. I know when she is in determined mood though, and at such times resistance is futile. So, after a few shakes and a number of stretches I was nearly ready to face the day.
We set off to try and bag three Munros in the Monadhliath mountains, starting from Glen Blanchor about six miles west of Newtonmore.
Another deserted farmhouse – at the foot of the Monadhliaths
After a hike up Gleann Fiondrigh we found the spot to cross the river no bother, and then began flogging our way up toward Gleann Ballach, in a south westerly direction. It was horribly boggy and the path disintegrated early on. A much younger woman easily caught us up and, after a nod and confirming that she was going after the same mountains, marched ahead; I was left with the slow coach plodding over the peaty hillside, now on a north west trajectory. We traipsed along behind Ms speedy as she frog march over the tough terrain, with us losing ground all the time. Eventually, she disappeared out of sight but, curiously, did not reappear heading south west to claim Carn Dearg, the first Munro on the route. This threw B into a state of confusion. She studied our map; looked at the mountain and looked at the last place we had seen the young woman. It didn’t make sense. In order to solve the puzzle she got out the GPS, to double check our whereabouts on the route.
Oh my goodness, the batteries were dead. Now, rather late in the day if you ask me, B remembered that she’d meant to look at the GPS last night. It had been eating up our batteries lately and she wasn’t sure it was functioning properly. Yesterday evening though, we had to made an appointment with the man from the RAC and, I might add exchange cash, in order to get us road worthy after the wheel underneath me started wobbling down the road. Not only had B forgotten to give our GPS the once over but, having put all the batteries together to try them out, we didn’t have our usual set of spare batteries with us. At this, words that no innocent dog should hear escaped from B’s mouth and, as if in rebuke, the clouds that had been threatening closed in and it started to rain. Carn Dearg, if it ever was Carn Dearg, became invisible.
Things seemed to have reached a head because we started back the way we had come and I began to think it was all off. However, every so often B would stop and look behind her, wearing that desperately disappointed look; she doesn’t like giving in. After some moments of indecision we turned again, walked a little way and then stopped again. It seems she had remembered the app on her ear piece, which would give us a grid reference to tell us where we were on the map. But… not today apparently, because the batteries were flat; another case of navigational negligence, I thought. More bad words issued forth and we about turned again, this time with less of the looking backwards. After about just five minutes the sun came out and B ground to a halt. The mountain, that might possibly be our mountain, was revealed in all its glory. It was too tempting anyway, whatever mountain it turned out to be. For the fifth time we tramped over the same bit of ground, as I desperately tried to get B’s attention. PLEEEASE, I wanted to bark, I really don’t mind which way we go but can you make your mind up. I’m getting desperately dizzy down here.
I think me and B communicate by something called telepathy because it was a long time before we turned back on ourselves again. We headed in the direction of what might, or might not, be the Munro we wanted to bag. It wasn’t that far but it was up a v. v. v steep hill, so we had to have a little sit down and a big snack on the way; it took us a long time and I had to do a lot of tugging to get B up onto the ridge. Once at the cairn I had my photo taken in a spirit of optimism, hoping it was the right summit. We would know soon enough as, according to our printed route, we should come across some rusty old fence posts if the next hill, on our way to Munro No. 2, was Carn Ban.
Looking south east with Schiehallion in the distance
For many walkers this mountain furniture might just be some ugly scrap iron, long past it purpose, but for us it told us that we had just claimed our 76th Munro and were indeed on the right route, heading for number 77, YIPEE. Not only that, but we were promised that these fence posts would take us along the 7km of featureless mountain top that would – otherwise – be difficult to navigate, if the clouds came down again. Goodness knows where the person from this morning had gone but we were going to claim victory from the jaws of defeat, or so we thought.
After about 3km the clouds did descend again, the mist closed in around us, and light rain clothed us as we walked. Just then, B noticed that her map wasn’t in the map case; a further feat of safety carelessness is you ask me. Here we were on top of a featureless plateau, in wind-blown, damp and mucky conditions with rusty fence posts as our only allies. Our own navigational aids had been reduced to one typed up route, with minimal directions, and a compass – the functioning of which B had never quite mastered. Admittedly, the posts would get us to the top of the Carn Sgulain but what then. We had been on the go for 6½ hours and that would be a v. v. v long way back, when on earth would I get my dinner. The upshot of all this was we turned back, except this time we were scouring the ground and it seems that someone – perhaps the great Dog in heaven – was looking after us because, in just about 500metres, there was our deserted map up against a rock.
We resumed our walk but I really didn’t know if I was leading with my head or my tail, never having spun around so many times in one day before. It was still a long way to get to the summit but the good news was that the clouds had lifted and we could see our way. By the time I was having my photo taken we could even see across to the third and final Munro of the day. We just had a fairly short bit of pathless navigation to get there and then were promised a path all the way back. Oh how my little heart leapt with joy; dinner wouldn’t be too late after all.
Clockise: the summit of Carn Sgulain; looking south with Ben Lawers in mist.; looking west to Knyodart
Following the instructions on the route we returned to the last Bealach and headed south west to avoid the big drop between the hills. Then… I’m out of exclamations and I don’t want to use any of those bad words B resorts to – we came a cropper again. Our route now told us to head south east but this was away from what we had thought to be our third Munro, which was now to the north east. What lay to the south east was a cairned mountain top but it didn’t look as tall at all. Nevertheless, routes was routes and ‘Walk Highlands’ routes were gospel. Perspective can be a funny thing on the hills and perhaps the angle we had looked at the initial top had made it look bigger. We continued in a south easterly direction and at one point did seem to be going in the direction of the higher summit. Sadly, we knew immediately we were at the top that we were in the wrong place. One look back along the ridge told us we were lower down and, while the top – of what turned out to be Geal Carn – sported a wind shelter, there was no sign whatever of the massive cairn described in the route.
We looked back and decided – in our psychic manner – that it was just one step too far. Our legs were hurting and our tummy’s were empty. If we substituted tomorrow’s long, long walk, with a hop up A’Chailleach instead, we could have a lie in and a much more relaxing day. It seemed like a much better idea at this hour of the day, even though it would rob us of the two Munros we had planned for the next day.
The essentially flaw in this line of reasoning asserted itself quite quickly. The path we had been planning on to help us off the hill didn’t materialise because we were on the wrong mountain. The pathless way down, was steep and not without difficulty; B was often kept upright only by clutching at heather. I was much more agile but then I am 35 years younger and I have four good legs. Eventually, without a hook or a crook, we got down into the Glen, finding ourselves not at all where we should have been of course but, back on the track we started out on this morning. It was a straight forward trek back to base after that and, after my dinner, I had the best night’s sleep ever.