It’s hard to believe the spring call of that bloody bird could prophesy calamity two years on the trot, but it did! For the second year running the Glen Etive cuckoo mocked our efforts as myself, Cap’n Jack and the Fatdog trudged our way past the recently renovated “Stalag” Coiletir and began the long slog up to the bealach (767m) between Ghlas Bheinn Mhor and Ben Starav. The idea was to move on to Beinn nan Aighenan but as you’ll find out some of our ideas struggle a bit when it comes to putting them into practice.
You have to suspect things will go slightly pear shaped when you begin the day scooping up cold, congealed, dog vomit. FD looked sheepish (which is quite an achievement for a black Labrador) as a bucket of hot water, disinfectant and sick cleaning cloths appeared. With J and I both out yesterday evening our respective returns home had provided the Fatdog with an overload of treats late in the evening and had thus caused FD’s automatic stomach purge valve to open.
The vomit shovelling duties done, the Fatdog and I loaded up the “tank” and set off to pick up Cap’n Jack. A sluggish two hour drive later, having been stuck behind a wide load up Loch Lubnaig, the three of us began our walk down the rough track to Coiletir in Glen Etive.
My legs were like lumps of concrete after last night’s 10 pin bowling. My back had obviously forwarded a letter of complaint and my lower limbs were giving it some serious consideration. Having burned out last year on these hills I was determined it wasn’t happening again. To my relief as the gradient increased the reluctant leg muscles spluttered fitfully into life. I was feeling pretty good…at this point. The cuckoo obviously knew better.
We were only a couple of minutes past Coiletir when the Fatdog took exception to a big-packed walker coming from the opposite direction. As he approached she gave a deep rumbling growl and a warning bark. The walker froze as FD slowly stalked the gap between them. This is really unusual behaviour for Maisie but it has happened before…and I knew exactly what the problem was. Cap’n Jack endeavoured to apologise and I tried to explain but we were totally ignored by the man who refused to even look at us never mind communicate. FD by this time couldn’t have cared less about him and was wandering off. Quite frankly I had reached the point where I couldn’t have cared less about him either, as he seemed more intent on being outraged (judging by his facial expression) than on being mollified. On the couple of occasions this has happened in the past, once explained, it has ended with the Fatdog and her victim becoming friends for life.
What this particular individual didn’t realise (and wouldn’t listen to our explanation of) was that it was him that was scaring FD, or more precisely it was his bright yellow sleeping mat lying on top of his pack (which appeared to be sticking out either side of his head) that was causing the problem. Dogs don’t like weirdos, accidental or otherwise. Dogs are very good judges of character I’ve found.
There was a bit more water about than last year. The burns were running higher and on the path treacherous grey silt patches sucked boots a few more centimetres into the mire than on last year’s ascent. After a visit to the lower cascades and flumes, we only stopped a couple of times for a brief drink until we reached the approach to the coll between Ghlas Bheinn Mhor and Ben Starav, some two and a half hours from the car. All the way up the trail the bloody cuckoo voiced its lowly opinion of us, barely stopping to draw breath.
High in the corrie, close to the final ascent to the bealach, we came across two deer a mere 30m from the path. They both appeared happy to stand at that distance and be photographed. Wonder if they’ll be so keen to hang around into the early Autumn when the fee paying, gun toting, sadists arrive. The Fatdog paid them no heed whatsoever which was surprising considering both Cap’n Jack and I could pick up their scent on the breeze. Photos taken, the deer went back to their munching while we made our way up to the coll for lunch.
We had been sheltered from the wind for most of the morning, only noticing it sneaking up behind us on the latter stages of the ascent. Even at the coll the anticipated 50mph gusts failed to materialise a fact which didn’t disappoint us overmuch.
From our lunchtime vantage point we could see the summit approach to Beinn nan Aighenan. What we couldn’t see was the extent of the drop from our current position before we would have to begin climbing again. From the coll there was a choice of 2 paths.
(A bit of advice…take the right hand one which appears to be dropping into the glen below. If you take the left hand path, which heads off level around the shoulder of …………, you will end up in a boulder field…like wot we did! It’s not a particularly difficult boulder field…but eminently missable.)
Our chosen path dropped towards a puddle filled coll with views down Glen Kinglass towards Loch Tulla. It was on this descent, with the wind now gusting sharply from Bridge of Orchy, that my back started to issue its intention to take action should this foolhardy operation continue. Things had gone well up until now, but with a few hundred metres of steepish ascent left to go from the coll (not to mention the long walk back out) it was fairly obvious that the curse of the cuckoo was beginning to take effect. Cap’n Jack wasn’t happy either. He was having trouble keeping his glasses on his face as the sudden blasts of air came close to knocking him off his feet. I called a halt. The decision was unanimous, it was time to turn around and head back to the first coll and have a second lunch before heading back to the car.
As we started back up the slope I noticed a problem with the legs. They had tightened considerably with the muscles going into permanent spasm. There was almost no thrust left in them. The right leg seemed to be buckling under me each time I tried to push off it and as a result the left leg was forced into doing all the work. The consequences of this imbalance in my walking technique would visit me the following day with me now unable to push off the left leg while going upstairs!
A wee bit of luck found us on the easier, alternative, path (the right hand path from the first coll) back to our lunch spot. I had by now now realised that the walk out was going to be a long one. When your walking poles become walking sticks you know the game’s up. And so it was game definitely over as we made the long descent, my poles propping me up as I tentatively stepped down the steep path from the coll. By this time the lower back had decided enough was enough and from time to time strongly voiced its objection to this unwarranted maltreatment with a sharp, breath drawing, prod. Never mind only 4km to go.
Our early retreat had left us with a bit of time on our hands so we went back to the lower cascades and flumes of the Allt Mheuran to play with the camera settings before shuffling pathetically back to the car. As we made our way down the hillside the bloody cuckoo returned, once more casting scorn on our inglorious defeat.
Perched on an upper branch of a solitary pine tree high above the Allt Mheuren the cuckoo watched the 3 figures slowly make there way at snails pace down the glen. The bird picked up a pointed twig in its beak and jabbed it viciously into the little cloth doll at its feet. One of the figures below twitched sharply and stopped moving for a few seconds, its groan bringing the ghost of a smile to the face of the watching bird. The “bloody” cuckoo had waited a whole year for this moment.