One of my very first blog posts last year when I started was a trip report on our annual trip to the Southern Highlands. It’s become a bit of fixture in the calendar for our little posse of ex Manchester University Hiking Club friends and some extra waifs and strays we’ve adopted over the years and last year and this year we’ve managed to get 12 of us together. Everyone really looks forward to it and for a few of us who live down south and have young families it’s one of the few chances we get to visit the Scottish mountains so it’s an eagerly anticipated trip.
I decided to take a day off work and after a night at GM’s place in Berwick (dropping Jane off for a weekend of sloth and laziness with her sister) me, Mad Malcs, GM, and his mate S, who I’ll refer to as The Beer Monster for reasons which will become apparent later, set off for the mountains. It was the first time I’d met TBM although I felt acquainted through his seemingly limitless supply of bad-taste jokes he sends to GM which he sends on to me. After picking him up I was delighted to find he is also a fellow fan of the rude, lewd Australian comedian Kevin “Bloody” Wilson and we chuckled our way to Callender for a fry-up although I’m not sure MM approved.
As seems to be the case these days there was absolutely no snow on the mountains (I remember the 80’s – no jokes please – when you went to Scotland between November and April and there was snow, tons of the stuff, every time, bloody global warming) so I pitched an idea to climb the rather impressive skyline scramble up Sron na Creise in the Blackmount near Glen Etive. Unfortunately this involves fording the river Etive which is a pretty major water hazard. I leapt out the car and surveyed the options and was not entirely surprised to find no-one had leapt out with me. Strangely no-one seemed all that keen to cross the river without a bridge and I missed out a new munro. There then followed a mightily impressive display of indecisiveness as we lurched from one passing place to another, searching for a way to cross the river. We even contemplated a rather dodgy looking wire crossing until common sense got the better of us. We were left with no option and out came the maps to look for an alternative. GM to the rescue. He always has a dreary Corbett tucked up his sleeve that he hasn’t climbed and he’d found us another one, Stob Dubh overlooking Glen Etive. Seriously it looked a decent mountain and as it was pushing 1pm we thought we’d better make a start.
We had to walk up the road to get to the bridge over the Etive. The local estate had kindly placed a high barbed wire fence well up and beyond the access point to the bridge and right the way down to, and over the river. Nice of them. We had to hang from the fence over the river to straddle across although MM managed to squeeze through the wires – god knows how. Suitably grumpy and irked I composed myself by admiring the raging torrent I’d have been washed into if I’d lost my grip on the fence. Very impressive.
From the river it’s a relentless 2000 foot plus ascent up steep grass onto the broad ridge. TBM was struggling but we convinced him to carry on having done most of the hard work.
The dark crags to our right were split by a rather dark fault that had a perfectly clean face on one side that really caught the eye. The rest of the face looked greasy and verdant with a constant chatter of stone fall. It helped sustain the interest as we closed to the top of grass slopes that characterise the southern highlands.
There is a real sense of mass and scale about this range, perhaps its the sea-level start or just the sheer length of the slopes and depth of perfection of the glacially carved valleys. Sometimes it’s tough to recall that I used to visit Scotland about a dozen times a year, now it s just 2 or 3. I love my local hills but there is a sense of grandeur, scale and sheer vastness that only Scotland truly provides. I’m in my element on a Scottish mountain like nowehere else and even on a grey day like this it teaches you to make the most of each visit. It’s one hell of trip from Hereford for a weekend but as I sat with a brew and a couple of mates taking in the scene the long hours in the car melted away. This is true relaxation stress de-tox for me.
Once up on the ridge the angle eased but we were skidding in and out of the cloud. It had been a pretty grey day but there were regular hints of blue sky but it never seemed to quite clear. After rolling over a couple of small tops we were a little surprised to see the summit looming large and steep out of the mist.
I don’t know why but we were all expecting a gradual ascent to the top even though we had a map that showed the steep contours. Again we pressed TBM that he had to make the summit after all that hard work. By the time we hit the top it was after 4pm, the light was looking gloomy and we had to pick one of several steep and unpleasant options to get back down.
Scottish mountains are no place to be scrambling down in the dark. We picked a deep rocky valley just to the NE and plunged and slid down. It looked horrid from the top but in fact it wasn’t too bad and we made good time. Even what looks like a benign smaller summit can be a danger and this one was no different. It needed treating with respect. Near the bottom I tried to traverse onto easier slopes and got myself caught up on slimy, rocky slopes high above the stream and at one point found myself dangling from a rotten tree branch with my foothold of mud disintegrating rapidly. It was as edgy as I’ve been in the hills for a few years but I managed to squirm my way out and with heart pounding reached the river Etive again. Lack of respect could have cost me dear.
I could see the car about a hundred yards off but to reach it via the bridge was an extra mile up-river and back. The Etive didn’t look too deep so I decided to take my boots off and cross it. A few strides in and it was fast flowing and knee deep – oh and pretty much dark. And cold. Luckily I had my walking poles for balance so I was across without much more incident than throbbing feet. GM followed me across while MM and TBM decided that such tomfoolery was beyond them and took the easy option.
Back to the car by 6pm in the dark and off to the Suie Lodge, our home for the weekend for beer and vittles. It was there I discovered TBMs true calling as an expert in fine beers and selecting ridiculously strong ales for his unsuspecting companions who’s day’s of serious drinking are long behind them. He looked much happier in the bar than he did on the summit, a man at peace. We looked back on a pretty decent day but wondering if that was as good as it was going to get. The forecast for the next day was dire and not much better for Sunday. As luck would have it we’d invited someone for whom a bad weather forecast is but a myth and right on cue, EWO turned up with tales of an improving Saturday and stonking Sunday. He always says that
The rest of the team arrived and we drank beer, swapped stories and took the pish as only best mates of 20+ years can do. It was good to be back in the highlands.
The story continues….