A day on Beinn Chuirn …..but not on good form

View from the coire Ben Chuirn

View from the coire Ben Chuirn

It’s amazing, I’ve been walking in the hills since the age of ten ….introduced to the mountains by my father shortly after we moved to Wales from Essex in 1969.   I loved these wild places so much that when my sight went bad back in the early 90’s I was still determined to continue these walks despite the practical difficulties.  I’m certainly not an outdoor expert, (I still have much to learn) but I am I guess fairly experienced when it comes to walking in the hills. This said however, every once in a while I have a day when I really struggle, where quite simply I lose my nerve somewhat.  Yesterday was just such an occasion.

What should have been another fantastic day, turned into a difficult and quite stressful one for me.  The forecast for the Loch Lomond National Park area had improved rapidly over the previous 24 hours and although there was much snow falling over in the east of the country, on the west coast it was dry, bright and cold.  We planned to drive up to Tyndrum and walk into Cononish glen as far as the farm of Cononish.  Here the track splits, one continuing up the glen to end below Ben Lui, the other heading up hill to the entrance of the small gold mine at the base of Beinn Chuirn…..the hill we were hoping to walk.

Beinn Chuirn

Beinn Chuirn

There was a dusting of snow on the ground at Tyndrum but most of the hills around had little or no snow on them.  As the path entered the Cononish glen though, we got our first view of Ben Lui …and it was well covered with snow.  It looked superb and all of its 1100m.  Its neighbour, Beinn Chuirn (880m) was though, virtually clear of the white stuff.  It all looked rather strange.  Beinn Chuirn has an impressive coire below its summit and we hoped we would be able to walk up into this and then out onto its rim and around that to the summit cairn.  This looked fairly steep but as we approached the hill above Cononish, Anita and our friend Guy both said it looked OK.

At this point though we left the track and headed across the rough ground aiming for the coire …and things became pretty difficult.  Although there was no snow, the ground was completely frozen in most places, there were numerous areas of solid ice hidden in the grass and heather, some areas were frosted, some in bright sun, some in deep shadow and of course there were numerous rocks.

From the coire, Ben Chuirn

From the coire, Ben Chuirn

Now then, I’ve walked on ground like this plenty of times before and although it’s difficult I’ve not had a problem.  Yesterday however, for whatever reason, I just found it very challenging. I moved exceedingly slowly despite putting on the spiders to help give me extra grip on the icy ground.  Nita and Guy were as always, very patient and guided me excellently, but with the prospect of the ground getting much steeper I really wasn’t looking forward to the ascent.  At this time of year the days are almost at their shortest and I knew I had to get back to the big track in the glen before it got dark.  I looked at the slow pace I was going and realised there was no way that I would be able to get up to the top and back down in time.

We decided instead to carry on into the coire but simply try to get to a point where we could see our route to the top ….then at least we’d know for a future trip.  Well then, we did manage this and the coire was dramatic and the views back out, very impressive …but I was really struggling on this patchwork of surfaces.  After a lunch break we retreated back down into the glen and arrived back at the car as it was getting dusk.  Nita and Guy had enjoyed their day…..I on the other hand, felt rather glum.  I honestly don’t know why I found it so difficult yesterday.  Perhaps though it’s that on this occasion I thought just a little bit too much about what I was doing.

Dusk, Ben Lui from Cononish

Dusk, Ben Lui from Cononish

Walking hills and mountains when you have such a limited amount of sight, really is quite difficult.  It takes a huge amount of concentration, great guides (which I’m lucky to have in Nita and Guy), and at times a little bit of bottle.  Either that or you just need to be completely mad!  I think most of the times I’m out in these wonderful wild places; it’s a little bit of all of these.   Sometimes though, like yesterday, reality cuts in and I find it quite scary!   Next time though I’ll get it right again… with a bit of luck.

Photos by Anita Groves

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