Every now and again, you endure a day on the hills so unremittingly grim that it colours your perception of the hill you’ve visited for some time afterwards! Cat and I had just such an experience a few years back when we went up Beinn Eunaich and Beinn a Chochuill, where we trudged around the two hills in heavy rain, which turned to sleety snow over the summits, driven into our faces on the outward journey by the wind, and buffeting us around on the way back. My abiding memory of the day was of moisture running down the insides of my jacket and trousers, and it was sufficient to put me off both Event as a waterproof membrane and these two hills, for the foreseeable future.
Given that experience, it’s probably not hard to imagine the sort of inner response that rose up when my mate Richard suggested paying them a visit the other week. A little part of me died at the thought of ‘wasting’ a day in another dreary trudge, but lacking any inspiration for a better suggestion, I agreed while mentally kicking myself for my mouth’s intemperate use of the phrase “aye, why not“!
The weather forecast didn’t make for particularly inspiring reading the night before our trip, and as I sat in the Real Food Cafe waiting for Richard to arrive, I had the feeling that the link sausage roll I was eating for breakfast might turn out to be the highlight of the day. It was something of a pleasant surprise to arrive at the parking spot just beyond Dalmally and spot blue sky; the forecast hadn’t offered much hope of anything beyond the cloud clearing the summits, but there was enough of a break for the sun to catch the white slopes of the ‘Dalmally Horseshoe’ and give it a distinctly alpine aura as it rose up to our left.
It’s a relatively long haul up to the summit of Beinn a Chochuill, with the steep pathless climb up the SE ridge made trickier underfoot by a coating of wet snow. The wind was fairly bracing when we popped out onto the main ridge, with little swirls of spindrift adding to the atmosphere as we made our way onto the summit.
The views were pretty spectacular, with swirls of cloud making Ben Cruachan seem even more imposing than usual. Cruachan always seems like the forgotten giant of the southern highlands; it’s complex network of ridges and summits gives options for multiple days out, especially in winter, yet it rarely gets a mention in comparison to the likes of Ben Lawers. There was enough ‘bite’ in the wind to chase us off the top however, and we made steady time back down the ridge, across the saddle and up the ascent to Beinn Eunaich. I’d not noticed in my previous visit here, but the top of Beinn Eunaich is no place for mucking up navigation in poor visibility; there’s an abrupt drop about 5 metres beyond the summit cairn which would probably be masked by a cornice later in winter, so definitely one where precision is required!
Another quick stop for a snack and some pictures and we started to drop down the curving south ridge as the sun dropped low on the horizon. Behind us, a wall of dark cloud hinted that the forecast snowfall wasn’t far away, and encouraged us to keep up a brisk pace until we reached the point where the path drops steeply back down to the glen and the final couple of kilometres back along the farm tracks to the cars, with the reputation of this pair of hills firmly rehabilitated as a venue for future days out.