Wednesday, November 19, 2003

No 27.

You say the hill's too steep to climb (climbing)
You say you'd like to see me try (climbing)
You pick the place and I'll choose the time
And I'll climb the hill in my own way.

Song: Fearless
Album: Meddle

I was reminded yesterday by a post over on Aprosexic of a time when I went hill walking in the Highlands of Scotland. It was in the summer of 1994, I think, and I was in the area with my venture unit for a couple of weeks of walking in the hills and sailing on Loch Earn. This particular walk took place on the second day of a three-day expedition, carrying everything we needed on our backs. We wanted to do something challenging and spotted a horseshoe of peaks in a very small area about a day’s hiking to the west of where we were staying. The tallest of the peaks, Ben More, was just over 100 feet lower than the highest peak in the whole area and one of the others was not much shorter than that and we decided to climb them all in one day.

Grid 1
Grid 2 (The left hand column in Grid 2 is the same as the right hand column in Grid 1.)

We hiked there on the first day and made a base camp roughly where the triangle is in grid 2. We got up early on the second day and, leaving our tents behind and only carrying the things we would need for the day we set off.

We tackled Ben More first, since it was going to be the hardest bit and we wanted to do it while we were fresh so we climbed 600 metres in about 2 kilometres, which is really rather steep. We went up through the crags where the ‘E’ in Ben More is on the map and the headed off to the left to get to the triangulation point on the top of the hill. The view wasn’t that spectacular because the weather wasn’t great but looking back over the way we’d come we could see the tiny orange triangles that were our tents below us.

Our next peak, Stob Binnein was just a few metres lower than Ben More but in order for us to get to it we had to descend 300 metres to a saddle point and then climb back up again. Saddle points are odd geographical features which are simultaneously the highest point when looked at from one direction and the lowest point when looked at from another. In this case, if you take a north-south line then it is the lowest point between the two hills but if you take an east-west line then it is the highest point between the two valleys. By the time we got down there the weather had cleared up a bit and the views looking down the valleys were fabulous. I’m sure I took some photos at the time but I’ve got no idea where they are now.

By the time we got to the top of Stob Binnein we were pretty knackered but we knew by then that we’d done the hardest two climbs of the day so we weren’t worried. We stopped just below the top (to shelter from the wind a little) to have a late lunch and get our breath back before carrying on.

The afternoon passed much more easily, with us visiting the other three peaks without too much difficulty, though with very tired legs. After the last one (Stob Creagach) we headed straight down to our base camp from the opposite direction to that in which we’d set out earlier in the day. The descent was over 350 metres in less than a kilometre, steeper than the morning’s climb, and consequently took quite some time because we had to be careful in case we slipped and fell.

We reached base camp by late afternoon and collapsed by the stream. After a meal we felt considerably better and would have stayed up chatting if the midges had not driven us into our tents before 8.30. Trust me, you do not want to be bitten by a Highland midge. They were around in the morning when we got up so we hurriedly struck camp and legged it up the hill to the east of the camp before we could get bitten to shreds. They had disappeared by the time we reached the top so we stopped for breakfast and headed back to where we were staying.

The route back took us along about ten or twelve miles of disused railway line that contoured round the ridge we were on and, because it was nice and flat we made excellent time and covered it in less than three hours. Quite something with a thirty-five pound pack on your back.

All in all, it was an excellent expedition with a long strenuous walk out there, some tough climbing and walking while we were there and a speedy long distance trek back. We felt fantastic when we had finished. True, we were tired and we ached but we felt great about what we’d achieved.

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