I looked up.
First mistake. Eyeballs peppered with fine shot.
Blinking frantically to clear my eyes I looked back down at my feet again, to find The Fatdog looking up at me accusingly. She had gone white on one side and was staring up at me through eyelashes heavy with melting hail. She didn’t look pleased.
I sympathised. I wasn’t feeling pleased either. I stopped, turned, and leaned back into the wind for a brief rest. I wondered if I could lean back far enough to fall over but I was sure that couldn’t happen. Ol’ Steve was only some 10m behind pushing through the icy blast onto the bealach.
This was the sort of day you wonder “WHY?”
Ol’ Steve and I have worked in the same office for about 14 years. Over the past few years, since I started hillwalking. we’ve regularly discussed our plans and exploits, but this was the first time they’d coincided…all because of a misleading forecast. We had both thought Perthshire was to be dry and if not sunny then at least pretty much clear of cloud. That was proving to be a load of old b******s!
From the start it hadn’t been pleasant. As soon as the car stopped at the “parking area” for Beinn a Chuallaich‘s eastern approach, the rain had begun to piddle down driven by a strong westerly. I loathe having to put on the wet weather gear right at the start of the day…it sets the tone and usually ends up in an undignified wrestling match with rapidly chilling fingers battling with unaccustomed items of clothing.
Although they’ve taken up near permanent residence in the bottom of my pack my waterproof trousers and I are relative strangers. This became evident as I attempted to pull them on whilst balanced precariously on one un-booted foot. The subsequent 5 minutes saw a comprehensive demonstration of octopus wrestling as I eventually pulled on both trousers and socks and footwear. The rain went off.
At least the initial part of the Corbett looked straight forward.
Two unlocked gates and a field crossing later we began our ascent of the bracken clad slope. Perfect timing, I thought, the old bracken was almost gone and there was no sign of the new. I reckon this slope could be a lot tougher in summer when you find yourself wading through metre high swathes of tough green fronds. Today it was a steady grassy climb. At about the 200m mark we ran out of grass and reached the heather. This change in vegetation made for slow going. Where the heather covered smooth hillside it was easy enough, but where it had grown through small boulders the going was less predictable.
I seem to think we made it as far as the shallow corrie before the cloud, which had been threatening since our arrival, eventually opted to deposit its payload. Up went the hood as the fine driving hail swept across the heather- brown corrie floor. It wasn’t long before I had to keep my head firmly pointed towards my feet as the gusting wind whipped up tiny pinpricks of ice, peppering my face. I tried to look up a couple of times but as the tiny fragments bounced painfully off my eyeballs I reckoned navigation wasn’t really that important anyway. Ol’ Steve was somewhere behind me but I sure as hell wasn’t going to try and see where.
A few minutes the blast subsided and I was able to see where I was going once more. I studied the dark grey cloud over Beinn Chuallaich. Sadly it wouldn’t be long until we were assailed by the next volley from the westerly blunderbuss. Ol’ Steve and The Fatdog shot past me heading for the corrie end.
The short climb up to the bealach from the corrie was made interesting by the need to cross a couple of remaining swathes of snow. Like the snowfields on the rest of this winter’s trips their crossing proved to be a lottery. The snow was soft, with deep hollows discovered on every second footfall. Whole legs had a nasty tendency to disappear. We tried to avoid them but that proved impossible. Once more I was carrying my microspikes and unable to use them! Where was all the brick hard snow I’d slid and wobbled across in previous years when I didn’t have the bloody things!
I kicked steps as I led up the last short band of white, arriving on the bealach, my quads burning. My God they ached…which was strange. I don’t ever recall having had that particular problem before but at least I had gained a new complaint to bleat about.
Up until now we had been relatively sheltered from the full force of the wind, now it skelped us good and proper. But it was an easy stroll from the bealach up to the summit…or would have been if the wind hadn’t been trying to blow as away. At least the quads had gone quiet again. As Ol’ Steve and I veered left towards the big cairn and the trig point, The Fatdog veered right.
Two startled ptarmigan had been mistaken for big white bunnies. FD instantly realised her mistake and bounced back apologetically. Normally she would just wander past these birds but half an hour earlier she had been tracking two mountain hares in the corrie, so I can only assume she noticed the two white mounds and thought “At last!”
A constant blast of cold air from the west meant we didn’t hang around at the summit. Low cloud chopped off any decent views with the best of a bad bunch the view down Loch Rannoch and across the glen to Schiehallion. I managed a couple of shots but between the sharp wind and me beginning to lose the feeling in my fingers, photographs came second to dropping back downhill out of the penetrating chill.
We were hailed on at various times, occasionally rained on and at one point I definitely detected snow sweeping past. All in all there were very few moments when there was no form of precipitation bouncing off the waterproofs. Ol’ Steve and I definitely need to sort out our weather forecasting before the next walk!
Then the sun came out. Ten minutes from the car…the sun came out! We met two walkers just having set out from their car. They were smiling in the sunshine. I told them how bad it was on top. I can be spiteful.