Aonach Beag - 1114m
Saturday 21st May 2011
Weather/Conditions: Bad weather! So-so in the morning with cloud passing and even a dusting of snow on Beinn a' Chaorainn's east face. The weather came in very rough on the summits, leaving me feeling incredibly cold and wet. An tolerance of suffering I have not felt in a long time.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 27.5km / 1050m / 8h 30m
Accompanying: Dave, Dougie, James S. and Paul
Cycling Loch Laggan - Lubvan
I don't think I've ever been so cold in my life.
Well, almost. The weekend was a mountaineering club meet and the venue was The Cabin, a JSMC-owned hut at Laggan. We all brought bikes along to get into some of the more remote areas, so started at the car park by Loch Laggan on Saturday morning. Seven of us (Dave, Dougie, James S., Paul, James M., Craig and I) started cycling which seemed to start with a brutal hill. I'd been here before - in April 2010 - and climbed the trio of Beinn a' Chlachair, Geal Charn and Creag Pitridh. I enjoyed those hills, but I also wanted to explore some new terrain today and see some new hills.
So I was pleased that shortly before we arrived at Loch na h-Earba (which is a beautiful area) the general vote was to turn right and head through the valley towards Beinn Eibhinn. We set our sights on the four Munros - Beinn Eibhinn, Aonach Beag, Geal-charn and Carn Dearg, although at the present they looked a hell of a long way away. Tucked right in at the back, it was obvious that they would require a big effort.
I hadn't been feeling well recently and that didn't help either. As we cycled along, I was conscious that I was still only recovering and that burn-out could occur at any time. My body worked if I set a pace and stuck to it. If I revved the engine and steamed ahead, the body complained and demanded I slow down. This must be what it's like to be old, I thought. I did as I was told and kept the pace down.
The bikes did a great job, in the end. We took them just over 6kms in the end and left them near the ruin Lubvan. The going had been rough, but we'd some good views of surrounding mountains anyway. But our hills still looked a long way away.
Walking was a welcome change in dynamic. The path (too rough for a bike) hugged the side of Allt Cam which today flowed with some force. We walked on without issue until we arrived at the foot of our mountains. We had a problem: the hills were on the opposite bank of the river. I tried many crossing points, all were too risky.
The group split - Paul walked upstream, everyone went downstream and I kind of stayed in the middle, unsure where to go. I had thoughts of turning back when Paul called from upstream - he'd got across. If he could, I'm sure the rest of us could follow on. The funny thing was when I got home, I realised my map mentioned stepping stones! I saw none of these although I'm sure they exist.
The boots came off, and one by one, we slid bare feet into the water. It was cold - I wouldn't want to do that again! But the temperature asides, Paul had found a relatively safe crossing point and we all arrived on the far bank.
With boots back on our feet, we continued. I've mentioned a couple of times that our hills always looked far away. Even now, at the foot of Beinn Eibhinn, it still didn't seem close. A long walk over the heather and grass would sort that and we contoured the hillsides, up onto Sron an Fhuarain and into the cloud.
I'm not sure exactly when the weather really turned on us, but it was about here. And I hardly remember a time when I've felt so miserable. We got onto Beinn Eibhinn's west arm, and headed east towards the summit, as wind and rain battered us. It was partly my fault that I chose not to wear waterproof trousers. The rain would cool the the trousers and the wind would make them stick to my skin. The weather was awful and there was no way around the feeling of being deeply cold. It was too wild to put my over-trousers on.
The summit followed shortly after, I took a quick photo (hard work in those conditions) and we decided to continue onward to Aonach Beag. At the time, I couldn't bear to go up another hill. When we reached the saddle between Eibhinn and Aonach Beag, I took a welcome break out the wind. The guys - probably warmer - talked about continuing to Aonach Beag, while I thought I could really do with going straight down.
Aonach Beag, descent and cycle out
I didn't speak up because somewhere, the thought of another hill was somehow appealing. Maybe the justification was that I'll be glad of it when I look back... Whatever it was, I continued upwards, in a way feeling tortured and numb from the waist down. It is rare that I have to make some growling noises to keep moving. (Although it happens...)
Aonach Beag was just another summit cairn, and I sat in the shaded side. (It was still cold!) I have never felt so vulnerable in this way before. Fighting bad health, I was very wet and very cold on a mountain an hours walk, a river crossing, another hours walk and a cycle from the road. I felt very far away. It was humbling to know my body could let me down and that I could do nothing but knuckle down and walk. Warmth and comfort were now a flicker of my imagination.
Time to get down. Everyone agreed, and we walked off the north ridge and to calmer weather below. I got a very moody photograph looking through An Lairig, but taking it was a lot of effort. When your stretched to the limit, it's amazing how something as simple as taking a photograph becomes so difficult. At the river, we crossed quite far upstream and with wet feet I walked right through.
And then a long, featureless walk would bring us back to the bikes. I walked on ahead, impatient and tired. Each step was taking me back to comfort but a warm room, a towel still seemed a long way off. I arrived back at the bikes first and the rest followed on soon after. We didn't hang about for long, I jumped on and the downhill track brought us back to the car remarkably quickly.
We were back at the car, but I still wasn't warm. More comfortable to stand with wet clothes, it took some courage to strip off wet jackets and boots, soaking socks containing sore feet. When the rest arrived back, we put the bikes on the cars and headed back to Laggan.
The vast majority of what is written focuses on the extreme discomfort of this walk. In no way I exaggerate, but a lot of the walk took place under very atmospheric conditions which deserves a mention. The picture of An Lairig catches my attention especially, which sums up the mystique of Scottish mountains especially well. These hills in this weather showed the craggy summits hidden in cloud, lowering in great walls to empty glens of heather and grass. Magnificence and emptiness are two words especially synonymous with the Scottish mountains.
But the cold was very hard to deal with. When we got back to the hut, the warmth of the bunkhouse was so welcomed. That night we went to the hotel in Balgowan and sat among coach parties until they closed up. The previous night had been a bit better - we went to Newtonmore and had some games of pool in one of it's pubs, (and I saw the cliffs of Creag Dhubh for the first time, too) All in all it was a good weekend - the pubs are just the bit in between the walking!
(0.00) 9.15am Car park
(1.10) 10.25am Left bikes
(5.00) 2.15pm Beinn Eibhinn
(5.45) c. 3.00pm Aonach Beag
(7.55) 5.10pm Picked up bikes
(8.30) 5.45pm Car park