It was a late start. I had actually thought of heading up to Beinn Dubhcraig at Tyndrum which would have provided a day out on an easy gradient of (hopefully) hard snow, but I was too late in starting and with more snow forecast for dusk I decided a shorter day was in order. Today was to be the first outing for my Spiders, the little yellow hobnailed plates that strap to the instep of ones boots. I reckoned that the popular short trail up Ben A’n near Aberfoyle would comprise hard packed snow and ice and provide a decent test for my new boot attachments. The Fatdog with her in-built spiders should find little by way of difficulty with today’s walk.
Having completed my conquest of the Trossachs “Sugar Loaf” I intended to cut cross country to the main top of this little range of hills, Meall Gainmheach, listed as a Marilyn. Hopefully there would be some small sheets of crusted snow en route to check out the grip. I shall assume that by now you’ve worked out the shockingly corny title for this “Tail”. Hopefully “Spiderman” would be saving this particular Marilyn from relative obscurity!
We had just passed Blair Drummond Safari Park when a sulphurous stench wafted in the general direction of my nostrils. Instinctively I glared at FD in the back whose digestive system was busily reprising the odours of last night’s chilli. The Fatdog glared back offended, then turned huffily towards the window and resumed her perusal of passing fields.
The car park at the foot of the hill was busy and it wasn’t long after leaving the loch side when the sound of multiple weans, grannies and dugs echoed downwards through the bare larch wood.
As expected the path was lethal, a deadly combination of packed snow and ice filling the gaps between tree roots and rocks. We caught up with the tail end stragglers of a larger party, the main body of whom I could pick out further up the hill.
We had by now left the forest and were starting the steep rock-steps. Normally this section of the trail is a quick and easy ascent but tricky patches of solid ice and frozen spills from the adjacent burn crossed the path intermittently, necessitating minor diversions. Having run out of white slippy stuff earlier I had removed the Spiders, but was now wishing I had kept them on.
As the rock steps ended we met a middle aged couple who were on there way down. We chatted and the woman, who had taken a tumble just a minute before described, in her most polite Milngavie accent, the location of her injuries as…
“Left erse, left elbow!”
The summit was heavily populated with a brightly coloured human rookery with no safe passage to the top to be granted to the obsessed bagger. I knew how to clear it …but I kept the Fatdog on her leash. Squawking noisily the hungry occupants scavenged frantically through the rubbish in their bags. I left them to their rocky perch and checked out my route NE away from the endless chattering din of Ben A’n.
Some fifteen minutes later the terrain between our current position and Meall Gainmheach was laid out before us. Typically trossach-like it was a series of heather clad humps and soggy grassy hollows. Cross country my legs have limitations so I stood for a few minutes picking out a winding route designed to minimise the gradient but at the same time keep us out of snow covered bog.
Normally I walk at the heather/grass interface. At this point my feet are dry but I’m not wading through knee deep calluna vulgaris. In snow this presents complications. The snow in the heather was powdery and at the edge of the heather was just downright bloody treacherous. One minute it was rock solid the next I had disappeared up to my nether regions. However the snow was hard over the grassed bogland and was easy to traverse. We moved onto the large hard flats of crispy snow and marched quickly towards our new target. You learn something new every trip.
We were only a 100m from the summit when the Spiders truly came into their own. A steepish snow slope lay between us and the fence at the hilltop. Straight up the hard white crust I strolled. Not a hint of a foot slip. Two and a half hours from the car park, including a brief detour via Ben A’n we arrived at the fence a mere 5m from the summit of Meall Gainmheach. Only 5m away, but one necessary operation away from triumph. DOG TOSSING! My most hated hillwalking activity. You may mock, but I bet you wouldn’t like to have to lift 35kg+ of black lab across a fence!
Meall Gainmheach is a wonderful viewpoint with all surrounding hills clearly visible. I was disappointed that the view down into Glen Finglas wasn’t as extensive as I thought it might be, but sections of the path which goes all the way around Meall Cala, to the north, were clearly visible in the snow. From our viewpoint we could pick out our walk into Glen Finglas the previous weekend.
I had a quick cuppa and the Fatdog had an even quicker Bonio as we sat on the summit.
A breeze had picked up and the once still air now had a chill edge as the build up of grey behind Ben Lomond suggested it was time to go. Something was definitely moving in our direction. As we started off two astonished members of the Crow family, delighted to find a new food source in their bleak domain swooped onto the summit as we stomped off down the short snow slope. They had obviously never seen a Fatdog before. The probability of so much as a crumb being left was slim to remote. They would have far richer pickings back on Ben A’n.
Having successfully tossed the Fatdog back over the fence we started down the slope sticking to the streaks of solid snow, my Spiders biting just enough on the steepish ground to ensure I stayed upright. I felt my foot slip slightly a couple of times so I decided to pay a bit more attention to what I was doing instead of relying totally on the two wee bits of plastic. We must have been 200m or so away from the summit when I worked out why the descent had been a little awkward. I was missing a Spider. Back up the hill we trudged in a peculiar hop-slip motion as the remaining spikes took my full weight. FD refused point blank to retrieve, no doubt remembering the chilli incident in the car on the way up. Being bright yellow the little gadgets are difficult to miss in snow so we had no problem locating the errant attachment. After that it was a mad dash back to the car as small flakes of snow began to fall.
This was my first real hillwalk for some months and the legs had bourn up well. The best analogy I have for my legs is that they are like springs which, because of the sciatic thingy, are stretched beyond what they should be. Hill walking appears to put them back in compression thus seeming to make them relatively comfortable and so the ache decreases. However springs under compression will pop open when the pressure comes off…which at 4.36pm precisely, and within 200m of the car, is exactly what happened. The spring in the left leg which had been working quite happily under compression, felt the weight come off as I squatted to remove the spiders from my boots. With a force equivalent to 5FD’s of strain, it sprung open. Jerked instantaneously from compression into tension the muscle panicked and set off all sorts of alarm bells ringing around my nervous system. As the cartoon bulging eyes popped out of their sockets on long stalks, the mouth shot opened in such a contorted manner as to make Edvard Munch’s “Scream” look endearing. I quickly put the weight back on the complaining leg and the muscle quietened to an unhappy grumble. As quickly as it had appeared the pain suddenly vanished leaving only the merest threat of further punishment behind. Thank god that didn’t happen an hour earlier.
We were just reaching Blair Drummond Safari Park when a sulphurous stench wafted in the general direction of my nostrils. Instinctively I glared at FD in the back whose digestive system was busily reprising the odours of last night’s chilli. Just a minute we’ve been here before! As I was loudly pointing out her shortcomings I realised it was the same point on the road where the awful smell had struck on the way up. The Fatdog sat with smug, self satisfied grin on face. It was a face which spoke of total vindication and many Bonios compensation.
The Spiders performed well on the icy trails and amazingly well on the steeper crisp snow slopes. My only complaint was the strap which runs around the heel of the boot. With nothing to hold it in place it kept loosening and slipping off. I found it near impossible when the straps chilled down to pull them through the side slots successfully such that the heel section could be tightened. I must have stopped a dozen times to either adjust them or put them back on. Something to work on.