Having visited the Smiddy, Dundonnell in May, the November meet brought the club to The Edinburgh JMCS’s other hut – the Cabin, in Balgowan, near Laggan. This was yet another hut in a great hillwalking area which has recently been upgraded and it proved a superb centre for our ventures.
Having experienced unbelievably good weather on our last two meets, there was a feeling that the law of averages might catch up with us this time – with the forecast offering no great cause for optimism.
Jim Aire, Raymond Evenden, James Fraser, George Henderson, Susan Henderson Rowena Hepple, Jim Hughes, Paul McGrandles, Ian Millar-Pollock and Norrie Shand.
As per established practice, George, Susan and Norrie headed off early on Friday to get a walk in. After some debate they decided to tackle the Munro of Beinn Teallach with the possibility (for George and Susan at least) of a continuation to its neighbour Beinn a Chaorainn. Conditions weren’t too bad as they set off through the forest. They tried to follow a path of sorts but the going was very boggy, however with a starting height of over 250m and a hill that only just attains Munro height it didn’t take them too long to reach the two cairns on the summit plateau. The weather by this time was pretty cold and blustery and the idea of continuing to the much higher peak of Beinn a Chaorainn was soon dismissed.
A quick descent followed, but with the tread on George’s boots having failed its MOT several years ago, he and Susan gave a fair impression of Torvill and Dean on the way down. The camel spin followed by salchow jump was particularly impressive.
With the hut not too far away, wood was soon chopped, the fire was lit and an early tea was taken.
Jim Hughes, then Ian arrived shortly afterwards followed by Raymond, James and Paul in Paul’s van. It seemed at first that an illegal immigrant had stowed on board in the rear of the van – but it transpired that it was only Jim Aire who preferred the company of a dozen crates of beer to that of his mates.
With Rowena arriving shortly afterwards a familiar evening emerged resulting eventually in at least two “deid men” whisky bottles.
During the course of the evening it was established why Jim Hughes always has a satisfied grin on his face – apparently it’s all down to the cool comfort of his merino wool Icebreaker underpants, although at £30 a pair (of which he had seven) the cost would probably have wiped the smile off the faces of most of the group.
This also explained why Jim Aire only had a satisfied grin twice a week – as he only had two pairs of posh pants.
At some point during the evening the Club’s motto was established – but until the Gaelic translation is established it will be referred to in print simply as DGUYP.
Later in the night, following some libation and much banter Raymond and Norrie got the guitars out and laldie was gied for an hour or so.
The following morning, James and Ian set off early to tackle the magnificent Munro of Creag Meagaidh together with its satellites, Stob Poite Coire Ardair and Carn Liath. With the rest of the party wondering how Fraser’s Way would manifest itself on these hills it came as some surprise later to find out that the route taken was fairly conventional. Like the others, their day started a bit on the claggy side but by the time they reached Carn Liath they were blessed with some superb autumn sunshine. With no navigational issues reported and nobody taking a dook they successfully avoided two of the three awards up for grabs.
Raymond, Paul and Jim Hughes decided that they would head for the Monadh Liath Munro of Carn Dearg, the highest in the group. To avoid having to push Paul’s van all the way up the A86 to Newtonmore, they pronounced that would simply set off from the hut – albeit leaving themselves a walk not far short of 30k. As it transpired a recently constructed land rover track took them practically all the way up to the top of the hill – a visit to a (just about) habitable bothy en-route more or less completed their adventures.
The highlight though was Jim Hughes being told “not to be so stupid” by a sparky wee octogenarian harridan from Turriff. She made it clear that his knowledge of Aberdeenshire geography left an awful lot to be desired and sent him off with his tail firmly between his icebreakers.
The remainder of the group, George, Susan, Norrie, Rowena and Jim Aire settled for the twin Munros of Stob Coire Sgriodain and Chno Dearg from Fersit farm – a pair of Munros so straight forward that absolutely nothing could possibly go wrong!
A fairly inglorious plod up the boggy hillside saw them attain the ridge of Sron na Garbh-bheinne and thence on to the summit which is apparently an excellent viewpoint. This wasn’t evident today though and sustenance had to be taken in the clag. Off they then headed over point 958m marked by a superb quartzite cairn before heading east up the easy angled sloped of the higher, but less dramatic Chno Dearg. Miraculously, as they reached the summit the clouds broke and there were rewarding views over to Creag Meagaidh in one direction and Glen Coe in the other.
At this point Jim Aire demonstrated extraordinary athleticism as a Crunchie wrapper was whisked from his hand by the wind. Like a cheetah loping across the Serengeti, Jim accelerated effortlessly across the plateau – pouncing on the doomed wrapper like a blur with a flash of his paws.
Unfortunately for Jim he transformed from cheetah to wildebeest on the descent with a clumsy splash into a burn ensuring that the coveted blue flipper would accompany him home.
The return was a straightforward drop-off north west down the slopes to the start point – straightforward for 80% of the group that is. Norrie as usual was listening to the beat of a different drummer and was lagging behind. An enforced stop to take care of some personal business ensured that the others were well ahead of him on the retreat.
Having spotted in the distance the owner of a red jacket heading towards a fence in the forest, he assumed that this was Jim – even though it eventually transpired that it was a woman with a dog – and headed for the same gate. Mistake number 1.
The hapless – and mapless – Norrie headed deeper into the forest day-dreaming as usual. After 10 or 15 minutes he realised his error but assumed that the forest track would break off back onto the Fersit road not far from the car park. Had he had a map he would have seen that there was indeed a loop round as he hoped, but not being able to see the wood for the trees he stuck to the main track. No problem he thought – I’ll phone the guys and get them to pick me up along the road where it comes out. A totally dead phone battery soon put paid to that idea. At that point in time the destination of the wooden compass was confirmed – especially as the forest track didn’t come out until the A86 – about 9km away from the car park as the crow flies and 12km by road.
As he pressed on, legs going like steam pistons the realisation grew that his small mistake had ballooned into a total cock-up. After an hour or so walking he eventually saw a 4×4 vehicle parked on the track – but with nobody in it. Turning round a figure emerged from the forest – peaked hat, bushy beard, camouflage jacket and a shotgun slung over his shoulder, followed by his side-kick similarly attired. With the strains of “Duelling Banjos” ringing in his head he stammered out his predicament. Fully expecting the response “This here road don’ go nowhere near Fersit”, the relief was immense as the two guys took pity on the poor befuddled hillwalker. Employees of Corrour Estate, they had been doing a bit of forest regeneration protection and agreed to give a lift to Norrie who was by this time dreading hearing the sound of helicopter blades on the lookout for him.
Eventually emerging on the A86 at Luiblea, they scooted along to the Fersit turn-off and down to where Norrie was hoping the others were still waiting. Happily, the two vehicles met on the road and Norrie profusely thanked his saviours as his erstwhile companions blurted out their own relief. Whether this was because they had found Norrie safe and well – or just that they could eventually get back to the hut and have a decent drink, only they know.
Back at the hut, Raymond, Jim Hughes and Paul had already returned and the fire was glowing. Paul’s “Here’s Johnny” impersonation was scary enough to make sure the axes were put back under lock and key. Raymond later demonstrated his prowess with a poker which was almost just as frightening.
The Fraser party arrived a short time later and the evening undertook a familiar direction with wine, song and mickey-taking us well beyond midnight. Presentations were made with appropriate ceremony to Jim (blue flipper) and Norrie (wooden compass).
The McGrandles Cup looked like it was going to become a “Rumble in Balgowan” between, in the blue corner Paul – and the upstart challenger George in the red corner. Some hefty jabs were exchanged early on and both contenders took a referee’s count on several occasions – however a decisive blow could not be landed and there was no alternative but to carry over the cup until the next meet.
Sunday dawned with a beautiful sunrise but unfortunately the day deteriorated as it went on. The still traumatised Norrie accepted a lift down the road from Jim Hughes – Jim Aire also joined them as all the beer had now disappeared from the back of Paul’s van.
Paul, Raymond, James and Rowena stretched their legs with a walk into a bothy near Newtonmore while George and Susan rounded off their weekend by climbing the Corbett of Gairbeinn in the Corrieyairack Forest.
All in all another memorable weekend was enjoyed and everyone now has a chance to lick their wounds before the December meet in Ballachulish.