Days Like This, No 13: Suddenly Night on A’ Ghlas-bheinn

beinn fhada 2

THE ground is white with frost and a sharp wind cuts along the glen from Loch Duich. Heavy clouds roll in from somewhere unknown. The weather forecast is far from encouraging. My wife drops me off at the head of Strath Croe. Then off she drives in a nice warm car. Off I walk into the east, following a grey river along Gleann Choinneachain towards a mountain called Beinn Fhada . . .

This is a retro post for Because They’re There. It’s a letter from the past featuring a memorable walk and the contemporary events surrounding it . . .

Thin rain begins to fall. Through gaps in rolling clouds I catch glimpses of snow on high slopes. It’s not going to be pleasant up there. It will be cold, uncomfortable, and with poor visibility.

Here’s a sobering thought. According to this morning’s TV news, today is the 198th anniversary of Admiral Lord Nelson’s death at Trafalgar. Poor old Horatio – the hero of the Battle of the Nile and the bombardment of Copenhagen – copped a bullet in the bosom.

That puts things into perspective as I slither about on wet ice and mud. Not only did Nelson have to watch where he put his feet in all the blood and mayhem, and command the British fleet at the same time – he had to dodge French snipers too.

beinn fhada 4beinn fhada 9

Click maps to zoom in

Click maps to zoom in

Beinn Fhada, which also rejoices in the name Ben Attow, stands at an altitude of 1,032m (3,385ft) in the mountain wilderness between the Great Glen and Glen Carron. It’s lonely country this. It seems even lonelier today as I climb into the clouds and enter that bleak zone where thin rain becomes powdery snow and wind scours your cheeks.

beinn fhada 1I follow a zigzagging stalker’s path onto the summit plateau, and with the help of my compass locate the cairn with little trouble. But now I’ve a decision to make. My plan was to head due north from the summit to a subsidiary peak called Meall a’ Bhealaich then drop down to the pass of Bealach an Sgairne, but the guidebook says this is best avoided in bad weather because of the steep terrain.

beinn fhada 3So I play it safe and retrace my steps down the stalker’s path to the relative shelter of Gleann Choinneachain, where a thought occurs to me. It’s still pretty early. If I step out I’ve time to climb the neighbouring peak of A’ Ghlas-bheinn (918m, 3,011ft). But I’ll have to look sharp. So off I shoot to the top of the pass then veer north up steep ground as sunlight breaks through gaps in the clouds.

beinn fhada 5I reach the top of A’ Ghlas-bheinn as the sun goes down and daylight fades. Freezing wind whistles through the stones of the summit cairn. I’m in a very cold and lonely place on proud and secluded mountains and I wish I was somewhere warmer. So I plot a north-westerly course down a shoulder called A’ Mhuc and descend gingerly into the welling gloom.

beinn fhada 6By the time I reach the valley the darkness is complete. I have my Petzl head-torch so at least I can see where I’m putting my feet. But a couple of miles of steady walking along forest trails lies in front of me before I reach the car park at Innis a’ Chròtha in Strath Croe.

There is something satisfying about walking through mountains at night. Perhaps we’ve inherited some spark of memory from ancient times when our ancestors lived half the winter in total darkness, and it was second nature to rely on senses other than sight.

Or perhaps it’s the thought of a peat fire, a hot bath, a fish supper and a bottle of whisky that raises the spirits and keeps the arms swinging.

Darkness fell suddenly on A’ Ghlas-bheinn on October 21, 2003

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About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Climbing, Footpaths, Hiking, Mountains, Walking, Weather and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Days Like This, No 13: Suddenly Night on A’ Ghlas-bheinn

  1. Mjollnir says:

    If you’re anything like me it was the thought of the whisky that kept you going!

    Like

  2. David says:

    Really enjoying these retro posts Alen. Like you I find night walking very satisfying, at least as long as it is planned anyway. That said I particularly enjoy walking up a hill in the dark to see the world waking up.
    Cheers, David

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    • McEff says:

      Hi David. This night walk wasn’t part of my original plan but it was factored in just in case. I had a similar walk along High Street a few years ago which finished with walking the complete length of the Haweswater valley in darkness on rough paths, and that was very enjoyable. It’s very satisfying – so long as you’re prepared, that is.
      All the best, Alen

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  3. That fourth photo almost looks like a painting by Turner. Extraordinary shot. Not sure I would have carried on in that weather, but you live and learn.

    And I also love walking in the dark. In the past I’ve deliberately left it late so that part of the route finishes off in darkness. One thing to watch out for though if you’re wearing a head torch and you’re a nosey sod like me: don’t look through the front windows of houses as you walk past!

    Chris

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Chris. The pictures are conversions from Kodachrome slides, so they have a grainy quality which can look a bit arty at times but is really down to me buying cheap equipment and probably not using it properly.
      I had a laugh at the windows thing. I’ve done that myself. The same thing happens if you buy a van. Suddenly you’re elevated above car roofs and garden hedges and can’t resist peering into people’s property. I might try driving the van and wearing a head-torch at the same time just out of curiosity.
      Cheers, Alen

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  4. Ash says:

    Alen, you’re making my jealous! What wonderful treks you’ve had. My walks have been generally on the level & much “softer”. But that’s what happens when you’re not introduced to these things when growing up. I’m afraid looking back is something I’m doing a lot of recently & as I move into “pension-age” it only makes the yearning worse!

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Ash. I sometimes look back and wish I could start again at the beginning – but I suppose everyone feels like that at sometime or other. I’ve got nine years to go to bus pass age, and my plan is to keep active because there is little doubt that bus passes will have fallen victim to austerity measures long before I get there.
      All the best, Alen

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  5. Well, my Geoff hit 60 in 2013 and was really looking forward to his bus pass – even though he’d probably never use it – but they changed the rules just as he got there! Suddenly, it’s not 60 anymore!

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  6. Looks terrific and great pics as always.

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  7. Hanna says:

    Hi Alen. It’s a really good story which I enjoyed reading. I understand that a dull weather forecast doesn’t slow down your mountain tours but I like that you played safe along the way.
    The bombardment of Copenhagen has been called the history’s first terrorist attack on a European city.
    The attack happened on false rumors that Denmark was about to re-arm the fleet and it should be used against the English.
    New research shows that one of the rumors were planted by Napoleon himself.
    The English went after the civilian population in Copenhagen to put pressure on the Danish military to hand over the Danish fleet and they succeeded.
    I found a link to the English newspaper published in 1807 : http://1807.dk/engelsk%20reportage.htm
    By the way an interesting idea you have about memory. I have a similar.
    Magnificently sight from A Ghlas-bheinn. I see you brought along an ice ax, did you need it?
    All the best,
    Hanna

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Hanna. It’s always advisable to carry an ice axe when walking in snow in a mountain environment. I find its main use is as a brake if I happen to slip while crossing or ascending a steep slope, though I can probably count the number of times I’ve had to use it in this manner on the fingers of one hand. It’s also useful for controlling a fast descent while sitting on your backside, which is fun but you always get a pile of snow up the back of your shirt, and that’s very uncomfortable indeed.
      I thought you might have something to say concerning the bombardment of Copenhagen. We English have always been good at going into other people’s countries and causing havoc. We’re still doing it all these years later – and still on the back of false rumours (WMD), though we tend to make up our own these days and not rely on the French.
      All the best, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hanna says:

        I’ve only had the use of ice ax once. We were going up a steep rock padded with ice. But fortunately, people had left a rope and the rope wasn’t frayed 🙂
        Next time you make a quick descent remember Pro Camera on the helmet or put your camera on a very long trigger time. But then again no point of making a fast descent if not for a great picture. You are going back to fetch the camera.
        I am still glad that the British arranged for Christmas gifts for the Danish soldiers in the War of Iraq. Thank you ❤
        Hanna

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      • Fully agree with you on that Alan – I’d far rather carry an ice axe and not need it than be stuck without it!
        Carol.

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        • McEff says:

          My ice axe is nearly forty years old and I would never be without it in snow on the mountains. I hardly ever use it when I’m up in the snow, other than as a walking stick, but you just know that the day you leave it behind is the day you’re going to need it.

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  8. Tynemouth calling. I just got up and I found the staff revolting!( in every sense) I have to fly to Reo, I was just interested if you glimpsed the sign at the border WELCOME TO SCOTLAND followed by the warning NO SALADS FOR 200 MILES..? Pip pip. Peter. ( photos and blog v.v.g ! )

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  9. You were lucky to get down off that ridge-end of A’ Ghlas Bheinn – that’s where me and Richard had a truly awful epic! WE tried to call the mountain rescue for advice on how to get off the end of the ridge but, luckily really, couldn’t get a signal on either of our phones. We eventually smashed our way down through the steep forest on the ridge end (backwards – if you read the post you’ll see why! 😉 ) and got back well after 2200! Not a hill I’d ever do again!
    Carol.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Carol. Just read your account of A’ Ghlas-bheinn. What a terrible ordeal. I’m glad I opted for a different route.
      I chose the north-west ridge down A’ Mhuc because it was in my guidebook and it said to intercept the Bealach na Sroine path and avoid the forest. Having said that, A’Mhuc is incredibly steep, and I remember at one point sitting down in the tussocks and tobogganing down on my backside because it was easier and quicker than trying to stay upright. It was getting dark by that point and I was lucky not to sustain any injuries.
      I got a right bollocking when I got back to the holiday cottage – and that was in my original post but Anne made me cut it out.
      Cheers, Alen

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  10. EchoohcE says:

    Hi Alen thanks for your post, it reminded me that I’ve been over A’ Ghlas-bheinn before! A long time ago, on a walk with friends to go and see the Falls of Glomach (which were very impressive). Our return walk on the same path seemed a bit boring so I went off alone up the hill from the bealach. Can’t remember which way I came down, but it could have been down the ridge of A’Mhuc. It wasn’t dark or foggy though..
    Cheers, Mike

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    • McEff says:

      Hiya Mike. The Falls of Glomach are very impressive. I walked over the bealach about eight years ago while doing the Cape Wrath Trail then dropped down into Glen Elchaid on the other side. Beautiful country.
      A’ Ghlas-bheinn must possess something special because it’s stirring some memories – good and bad. Looking at the map, I think your ascent route from Bealach na Sroine is the most sensible of the lot and that’s the one I’d pick for a swift descent should the necessity arise again in the future. I’m hoping it won’t.
      All the best, Alen

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  11. David says:

    I’ve been lurking and enjoying your posts for a while, but couldn’t help commenting on this one: the third picture from the end is truly stunning! I used to do a bit of walking in Scotland, lakes etc but now I live in the Netherlands, so not so easy to find hills. Your posts keep reminding me to go back!

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    • McEff says:

      Hi David. I’m glad you enjoy reading the blog. Shame about the Netherlands though – it’s a nice country but not ideal for mountain walking!
      All the best< Alen

      Like

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