“Minus bloody 11 degrees Celcius!”
I stared goggle-eyed at the “Tank’s” temperature gauge in disbelief. Normally we just don’t do those sort of negative numbers of cold. The Fatdog was totally oblivious to this wee bit of winter chill and was gambolling around the car park at Dalrigh like a puppy on Irn Bru. FD likes snow but I wondered how she was going to feel after a few hours in these arctic temperatures. We were parked just south of the village of Tyndrum which had, the previous night, been the coldest place in Scotland at a nippy -16C. It was to achieve the same distinction on the night of our visit, though thankfully not until we had departed south.
I had a relatively simple plan in mind for today’s walk – shuffle along an estate track for a few kilometres, then once arriving at a fence strike uphill beside it until we reached the summit of Fiarach (652m). Plans don’t come much simpler. Execution was as usual another matter.
I thought I was going to have to use my ice axe on a solidly frozen gate latch at the old masonry arch bridge across the frozen River Fillan but the contrary catch surrendered just as I reached over my shoulder. Shame…I needed a bit of practice. Maybe I would find something else …
Memories flooded back as I looked upstream over the stone parapet. In 1982 my site office was where the Dalrigh car park is now and I used to bring our dog to work with me. I remember rolling rocks on this same stretch of iced over river for Hovis to chase.
Back in the present two barking border terriers had claimed the bridge as theirs and were giving FD a hard time. Their owners looked up just as I reached over my shoulder…
Maybe I would find something else …
The Fatdog and I followed the track as it curved upwards towards the edges of the old native woodland. Yesterday the sun was blazing down but today it was struggling to peek out from behind the cloud so the trees appeared a bit lifeless and decent photos were hard to come by. Even the mountains were a bit dull through the lens. One particular hill proved an exception and the eye was constantly drawn towards it…Ben Dorain. This steep sided Munro with its narrow rounded top sits to the north beyond Tyndrum with easy access from Bridge of Orchy. It’s been a couple of years since we walked in that area.
After an hour of plodding through about 100mm of powder snow on the track we reached the fence where our uphill battle would commence.
I was pleased. For the first hundred metres we followed a trail through the snow cut by a fellow walker in previous days. I looked down to check the boot prints. Hmm much smaller feet than the normal hillwalker…oh, that’s interesting …and four legs too! Oh Bugger, we were following a sheep track! Maybe we would be lucky and it would be a Graham bagging woolly quadroped. We were lucky…up to a point. We met our grass munching benefactor after about three quarters of an hour of uphill slog.
Having run out of sheep prints to follow I was now having to cut a trail. Unfortunately the ground had steepened and the going was getting tougher. I attempted to kick steps in the snow, which proved to be a bit pointless as it had the consistency of hour glass sand and promptly swept away from under my feet.
We would have been about 20m up the slope when I could sense gravity acting on both feet as they began to slip their way back down. I thought of waving the ice axe at it to get some anchorage, but that was going to have sod all effect. The snow was fine dust.
I had no option but to make the feet work frantically and hope that momentum would carry me up. To be honest slipping down the slope would have been a damn site more fun than scrambling up it, but pride was at stake. The legs windmilled and I staggered up the remaining part thankfully without the ignominy of creating a face-down “snow angel”. The Fatdog sat and watched, waiting for me to do something clever or at least entertaining. Deprived of any stimulus she turned and plodded on, puzzled at what all the fuss was about.
The battle temporarily over I had time to contemplate various ways of making easy our ascent, the most practical being to tuck The Fatdog under my arm, bum facing upwards and replicate the arm action mostly associated with the “playing of the pipes” – thus blowing the offending powder snow into the next county. The Fatdog sensed my mood and backed away.
We had reached the broad north ridge…and a stiff easterly wind. The temperature plummeted (forecast -16C) and I could feel the chill sinking into my bones. FD was not looking happy at all. Her tail had gone down earlier after some “popping“ sounds in the distance and she hadn’t recovered. I couldn’t tell whether she was still stressed from that or whether it was the wind chill. I looked at the distance we had still to travel and the terrain we had still to cross. Possibly up to an hour at our current rate of progress. Seconds later I had taken the decision to bail out.
We thundered back down the hill in a cloud of sparkling snow dust The Fatdog’s tail spinning wildly. All was well once more. It had taken an hour to clamber up this section…and ten minutes to come down!
The sun tried its best to provide some decent light on our return trip down the estate track, glinting on tiny shards of ice on top of the snow. This was going to make deadly spindrift when a wind picked up.
We were almost back at the railway line when I noticed a walker cutting across in front of us from the direction of Beinn Dubhchraig. Maybe someone to walk back to the car with…we picked up speed.
As he crossed the railway bridge he passed a group of 3 guys heading our way. We were about 20m behind at this point. I should have sensed something was not quite right when the first of the group was a fraction of a second slow with the customary smile and greeting and the others seemed strangely slow to speak.
We got closer to the walker…and closer…but oddly he still didn’t turn around. I moved to pass and still no reaction. Once alongside I bellowed a loud “HELLO!” to be “greeted” by a mumbled, almost indecipherable, “hello” in return accompanied by an amazing lack of eye contact given we were the only 2 people on this section of the track. I took one look at his face – lucky me! Looked like today was the annual meet of the Association of Nerdy Hillwalkers – Sociopath Division. The face had the semi-glaikit, f*** off look of one displeased to find another walker on his path.
I started to speed up – he had an ice axe. The Fatdog had no such intentions. The deep growl started and a “Don’t mess” warning bark blared out in his general direction. FD is the quietest of souls but when she comes across someone, how can I put this – not quite right, she becomes a wee bit agitated. This one she wanted to see off completely and I virtually had to drag her away.
Still humphing and grumphing The Fatdog was marched along the track with only a brief stop at the bridge for a last look at the River Fillan before the short stroll back to the car.
I started the “Tank” and checked the temperature.
“Still minus bloody 11 degrees Celcius!”
…and a last shot of Beinn Dorain