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Would you believe it? The weather forecast had been appalling and yet we awoke to a glorious sunrise over the Isle of Mull. It was too good to be true and surely wouldn’t last for our day on Cruachan. The mood continued in fine fettle. Initially it was a result of being able to help our selves to as much fry up as possible and then it continued when the Mickey take started. During yesterdays walk Mike and Craig had caused much merriment with their dress sense. For some reason they both set off wearing their shorts over the top of their leggings. I didn’t know whether they’re budding ballerinas, a pair of p….s or simply daft Americans. Either way the sight of the other five of us arriving in the lobby wearing similar clobber aping their dress sense was enough to set the tone for the rest of the day.
Twenty miles out of Oban we passed the Cruachan hydro electric power plant (intact with its great empty car park and its “No Parking” signs) and then somewhat ironically struggled to find enough grass verge to abandon the cars on. Once more there was a great deal of messing around and for the second day in succession I lost patience and set off across the railway line with Craig and Mike. The old woodlands that we found ourselves in were brilliant. They comprised a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees, many were mature, some had fallen and new growth was starting to take their place. There was sunshine by the bucket full, some degree of a path, a wonderful stream plunging down towards Loch Awe and the tough gradient ensured plenty of sweat. The only thing missing was the other four. In fact it must have been half an hour later when I finally heard their familiar voices. Not from our path, but the other side of the gully.
So far our views had been no further than the trees in front and then all of a sudden we were out in the open (and exposed to more hot sunshine) plodding towards the near horizon. I say plodding, but the sight of the others making tracks up the other bank ensured that our pace was a little more like a yomp. Then straight in front of us, right out of the blue and character was the great concrete monstrosity that formed the Cruachan Dam. Although stunning, it did seem a pity that this structure had been built in such a wild out of the way location. I suppose the Glaswegians have to drink and wash (some would say they do plenty of one and very little of the other). After a zig zag up the tarmacked service road and we found ourselves on top of the dam with views one way over Loch Awe and the other across the Cruachan Reservoir and up to the ridgeline high above. For the first time in the day we could see much of our objective. When Mark, Paul, Stu and Gary eventually arrived there were a few sarcastic comments thrown at the rest of us. It generally had something to do with my impatience. Just before we finally left behind the creations of man we passed what looked like an outlet of a stream. It actually turned out to be a man made tunnel right the way through the adjacent hill side. The miniscule bright dot at the far end was obviously the light shining in. This water carrying structure must have been seven or eight feet high, perhaps a mile in length and had been hacked out of solid rock. One look at the OS map showed this tunnel to be just one of many that moved water through the hill to the Cruachan Dam. Anyway we had a hill to climb and so far we hadn’t realty made a great deal of progress.
The route to the ridge was clearly visible. As Cruachan is a popular hill, not only was there an obvious eroded path to follow, but also a steady stream of other fell walkers. We still had bright sunny weather coupled with great visibility. In the hope of catching some crackin views before the weather changed we made sure that a swift pace was followed right up to the 3,000 feet contour. Yesterday within the clag Craig had seamed appreciative but unexcited at the scenic splendour that had greeted us when we were up high. Today in the sunshine it was another thing. Both he and Mike (ok, the rest of us as well) were pointing out new views, posing for our photos on great rocks and generally running around like the excited kids we undoubtedly are. Yes, we could see a great swell of cloud out east, but for the time being we had 360 degree views that included Beinna’Chochuill (yesterdays walk), Loch Awe, Ben Nevis, Loch Etive, the coastline, right in the distance the vague outline of the Inner Hebrides and if you were unfortunate to look towards Beinn Eunaich the sight of Chris doing a moon.
All the guide books promised an undulating ridge walk that was full of interest. They weren’t far wrong. It looked pretty intimidating, but thankfully as far as Paul and Gary were concerned, turned out to be pretty manageable. The clouds continued to come and go, but once more out luck was in. We simply looked on as they retreated in front of us or alternatively looked back to see them engulf the hill we’d been on an hour or two before. Drochaid Glas came and went, however it was the granny stopper in the beallach that provided the interest. This great sloping chunk of rock which slanted at approximately 45 degrees on one side but was sheer on another two proved a little awkward for a few of the party. All I can say is “thank god it wasn’t winter”.
Mark in true fashion seemed to fret somewhat when I leant over one of the vertical sides. He has so little nerve and masses of over concern. Perhaps he’d say that I’m the other way around. From the beallach the last ascent to Ben Cruachans summit looked pretty intimidating. It wasn’t too exposed, but really did prove to be a cracking rock staircase. In Craig’s words “it was right at his limit and not what he expected of our rounded grassy hills”. It struck me that Mike had been a little conservative in his description of what lay ahead. Perhaps that was part of the plan to coerce him into coming over here. I seem to recall Craig saying he’d expected hills something like those rounded lumps on the film “the sound of music”.
All that’s written about Ben Cruachan seemed correct. We had expected stunning views, plenty of excitement, a real feeling of achievement and that’s exactly what we got. Put all this together with buckets full of enthusiasm and crackin weather and our Scotland 2004 trip had all of a sudden exceeded our expectations. What we didn’t yet know was that our excitement was not yet over. Just as we were making our way down to the bealach the faint buzz of an RAF Sea Rescue helicopter could be heard. Sure enough it appeared and duly completed one loop around the great corrie below us. What was it doing? We were soon to find out. The next time it came around a body appeared at the side door and slowly descended via a winch. The chopper duly flew off and we were left wandering what on earth had happened. Two minutes later, back it came and then time after time it repeatedly circled above the corrie. More excitement was to follow as a further person was winched down above the same spot as the last. The penny had taken ages to drop. This was a mountain rescue and within minutes we could clearly see not only one of the crew, but also a full stretcher being winched back into the helicopter. What had happened to the casualty and how had he managed to cadge a lift back down the hill? During this quarter hour period all seven of us had clicked away non stop with our cameras. Over the last ten years of hill walking none of us had come across a close up sight of such a rescue. Tinged with a little concern for the poor sole who had been rescued this event was to become the highlight of the day.
After the chopper had left we could make out the faint outline of four people who had been left at the sight of the rescue. Should I really catch them up and have a nosey by finding out what had happened? Well, I chose to set a decent pace and catch them up. The rest thought me rude (there’s a change) and told me to leave them alone. What had intrigued me most was the steady trail of blood droplets that could be found all the way down and beyond the Cruachan Dam. Perhaps the person who ran for the help was also injured? Well there was one way of finding out, sod the rest of them I’d have to ask. It transpired one of their party had taken a small fall and either bust his achilles or broken his ankle. The call for help had been made by three mobile phones (only one of which worked) and assistance had arrived less than forty five minutes later. As for the source of the blood we’d never know. The remainder of the descent became a trog in the wet. The rain had initially started as a light drizzle and by the time the cars were reached we were all totally sodden.
Well, we had covered just seven and a half miles but had taken virtually all day. Craig just couldn’t believe how little ground we’d covered. I suppose the terrain, weather, events and companionship had all combined to form a top notch day. Perhaps everything that had happened during the day had contributed to the events in the pub that night. All seven of us managed to find a table in the corner, a serving wench who was more than happy to bring pint after pint to the table and we simply laughed away the next few hours. A brilliant day.
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