As the years pass by I have become increasingly edgy when I find I’ve led The Fatdog into an exposed situation. Narrow summit ridges are a case in point. Narrow summit ridges covered in snow promote me to a superior league of “edginess” altogether. As we neared the final push up the white covered ridge to the summit of Binnein Mor I was feeling very edgy indeed.
I hadn’t even considered doing a Munro when I scanned the weather forecasts during the week. In fact I hadn’t been thinking much about hillwalking at all (“Burn the Heretic” they scream!). For me and The Fatdog November is a time when thoughts turn to easier pursuits so I was quite surprised when, on Thursday evening, I began to plot a major outing. The forecast had an optimistic feel to it with potentially a bit of brightness and a reasonable chance of walking cloud free Munros in the west. Too good a chance to miss really.
The alarm went off at 6am and by 9am we were off on the wrong track from Kinlochleven to Loch Eilde Mor. As usual the most difficult part of the day is getting out of the car park and once more we had failed the most basic of navigation tests. Still we ended up almost where we had intended, we had just taken the roundabout tourist route to get there. It did however give us our first photo of the day…
I have no intention of detailing the route for the next couple of hours – follow track is about as detailed as it gets. I couldn’t call the route scenic other than the early looks back down Loch Leven.. Mostly it was relatively bleak moorland on the right with the uninspiring south slopes of the easterly Mamores to our left.
We gained height as the path climbed gently across the south face of Sgor Eilde Beag, the panorama to the south gradually expanding in all its glory. From Beinn a’ Bheithir in the west past the dramatic Aonach Eagach Ridge all the way to Schiehallion in the east, mountain top after mountain top became etched on a clear skyline.
I found a great path! Not just a good path…a great path. On my Harvey map I noticed a zig-zag line, climbing from the main path across the south face of Sgor Eilde Beag. It was where I wanted to go but I was dreading it. I imagined a badly eroded trail with death defying scree. Much to my amazement it was in perfect condition with the type of finished surface that allows you to ease your way upwards with barely any effort. I couldn’t believe my luck. The Fatdog and I virtually flew up the face of Sgor Eilde Beag to the ridge beyond! It was there we caught our first glimpse of Binnein Mor…and the snow.
If you look at the photo above – we headed straight for the top in the middle – then cut east (right) to the summit of Binnein Mor. But first I wanted to have a quick look down to Coire an Lochain and Sgurr Eilde Mor (off right of photo).
Sometimes you get the light, and sometimes you don’t. Today we were lucky. Although the sky didn’t look too promising on the way up when we gained the east –west Mamore ridge a localised band of sunlight floodlit both the Mamores and Ben Nevis on the opposite side of the glen. The low, late autumn sun brought the panorama to life. The mountains gleamed. From the car park it had taken us 3 hours to reach this point but as I looked west along the Mamore ridge I had to admit it had been 3 hours well spent.
As we stood admiring the view the bright sunshine began to dull and the colours on the surrounding hills began to fade. It had been spectacular while it lasted though. For FD and I it was time to get down to the serious business of the day, the ascent of Binnean Mor. I looked at the approach for a wee while trying to anticipate any problems for the Fatdog, but it looked a straight run in with only a couple of places nearer the top where things were narrowing a bit. On went Maisie’s lead and off along the ridge we tramped. I realise that the lead won’t stop a fall (which I really don’t anticipate) but it does at least stop her casually wandering near the edge or rushing off to the summit cairn in search of discarded food.
It went pretty much as expected with no real dodgy bits other than at the very top but it did narrow “interestingly” a couple of times. I imagine it would feel nothing on a summer’s day but with a little snow on the ground there is always that wee doubt at the back of the mind.
Summit done! Hmmm…now, could I be sure that the point at which we were uncomfortably perched was the summit…or was it at that pile of rocks 20m away…at the far end of the rocky arête? I looked closer…it didn’t matter. No matter if it was, there was no way I was taking The Fatdog across that snow covered knife edge of jaggy boulders. As it was feet and paws were jammed together while we shuffled around on very top of the mountain in an area some 600mm square with large droppy-off bits to either side. It was time to beat a snappy retreat. We stepped down. I checked my watch 12.45pm, time for nibbles.
I scraped the snow from a flattish rock to make way for my foam mat and began removing various items from the pack. Flask, lunch box, choccy bar, Labrador head…I retrieved FD’s goody bag from the bottom of the pack and gave her a chew to keep her occupied whilst I sorted out my snack.
The Fatdog was trying to stare me out. I glared back, my fruit scone with strawberry jam wedged firmly in my gob. From somewhere behind us, hidden by the summit rocks, there was a determined scraping noise. A lone figure appeared, slowly clambered off the arête and made its way down to where we sitting.
“What a great day!” the stranger exclaimed.
“Absullty fashntshc!” I responded, my mouth crammed full of scone and jam.
“Houw, Houw, Ho-uuwww!” added The Fatdog, totally ignoring our new acquaintance, eyes firmly fixed on the remains of Asda’s finest home baking crumbling in my hand.
“Shooshhk!!!” I spluttered at FD, fragments of semi-chewed scone spraying into the chill mountain air..
“Houw, Houw, Ho-uuwww!” insisted The Fatdog completely ignoring my unintelligible command.
With no discernable hesitation the new arrival continued to pretend he was talking to a normal human being and continued the conversation as if I hadn’t covered the summit in a fine layer of scone crumb residue. I swallowed a big mouthful of tea to clear the last of the bun from my throat and made a stab at coherent conversation.
The Fatdog, persistent as ever, continued the demanding “Houw, Houw, Ho-uuwww!” until her gob was firmly in possession of the last drop of strawberry jam from the last crumb of scone.
Our man from Greenock was heading off to Na Gruagaichean and from there back down the corrie towards Mamore Lodge. It would have been good to do the circular but I had no idea how difficult the rock section of Na Gruagaichean would be for FD. We had had a good day so there was no point in pushing our luck. We sat and watched our brief acquaintance quickly make his way along the ridge towards the adjacent Munro.
A quick look at my watch told me that, at our sedate pace, there was no chance of us doing another hill anyway, so for me and The Fatdog it would be a straight forward walk-out the way we had come in. It was now 1.10pm and it would take us until roughly 4pm to reach the “Tank”. I packed up the non edible remains of lunch and whipped my walking poles from the back of the rucksack. Then, for FD and I, it was the long empty descent back to sea level at Kinlochleven.
It’s 3pm and FD and I are sitting at a granite memorial bench just off the estate track looking down on Loch Leven. Unfortunately the sun isn’t far enough round yet for a classic sunset and is lurking behind the dark solid mass of Beinn a’ Bheithir, but there’s a growing shine to the loch’s surface. I pull out the camera for the last time today. In the distance I can see the mobile phone mast just along from the high perch of Mamore Lodge Hotel so it’s time to call home. J’s pleased that I’ve “clocked in” early (still daylight) and we have a chat as I pour the last of the tea into my cup with the light gradually dropping over Loch Leven. I munch yet another choccy bar and The Fatdog pillages the pack for another Bonio. We’ve about an easy hour’s walking to the car but it’ll pass pretty quickly as we drop back down through the native woodland to Kinlochleven below. Another 5 minutes and we’ll start back down the track but for now we’ll just sit here and take in the view.