Benvane

The Benvane story is not a particularly happy “Tail”.  For the first time I ran myself near my limit.  It was a miserable day of plodding along a soggy ridge with nothing to see due to the low cloud.  I wrote this next part a year or so ago when I first thought of re-editing The Fatdog”Tails”.

Sometimes there is elation…and on other occasions nothing but utter relief.  The ascent of Benvane on the 28th December 2006 came into the latter category.  The snow depth varied on the ridge but was generally upwards of 3″ deep, the distance from the car to Benvane was some  9km and the visibility was about 20m in cloud.  I remember little of the journey other than it took us over 3 long hours to reach the summit, navigating by the old boundary fence posts…and that there was nobody else stupid enough to tackle the route at that time of year (given the absence of footprints).

We also had the dreaded Loch nan Corp to deal with…I think the name is a bit of a giveaway.  It is said that a funeral party crossing the bealach to St Bride’s Chapel on the Loch Lubnaig side of the hill fell through the ice on the lochan and drowned.  This is not the sort of thing you want going through your mind on a dull, dreary, day in low visibility where the light plays tricks on your eyes.  We moved sharply past.

We’d seen bugger all on the way to Benvane, other than the odd short, steep, descent to a burn and those fabulous fenceposts that were keeping us on track.  One of the great features of many Scottish mountain ridges are those ancient 3′ high metal fenceposts that have long since lost their wires to weather and corrosion but stand as implacable route markers in poor visibily.  Sadly the miles and miles of treacherous trip wire, now partialy hidden by reed and heather, is a less welcome feature.  I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to give the natural high point of the ridge a wide berth to keep Maisie away from the risk of cut paws.

It was a dull, miserable plod, the snow slushy from the naturally soggy nature of the Ben Ledi – Benvane ridge, soaking through boots and socks.  There was no elation today…only relief that we’d eventually made the summit.  It seemed perverse that, in that this remote world of near total grey, my mobile phone should work.  I gave J a call to tell her we were well behind schedule and it would likely be dark by the time we got back to the car.  As I turned round, phone still at my ear, I was astonished to see that the murk had dissipated somewhat and that we were sitting between two cloud layers.  In the distance the twin summits of Ben Venue were sticking above the lower blanket – just and no more.  For a brief spell Ben Ledi was also visble and gave me the only semi-clear shot of the day.

The cloud piled back in and once more we were in the dull dreary world of all enveloping grey.  As we dropped back down the first part of the trail the cloud thickened and visibility dropped…

The way back was hell on earth.  I wasn’t used to walking so long in snow and my legs almost gave out as we struggled back up the numerous rises on the ridge between Benvane and Ben Ledi.  I finally hitched up Maisie to give me a bit of a tow on the last few uphill sections as an incredible tiredness set in.  Our passing of Lochan nan Corp for the second time today, exhausted and the light fading fast, was not one of life’s more reassuring moments.

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So here’s the “Tail”

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The Fatdog Plods the Soggy Ridge

After a couple of weeks using Meikle Bin in the Campsies as a Saturday am practice run it was time for me and the Fatdog to return to something a bit more taxing.

Saturday was going to be the last day of “reasonable” weather before New Year so I’d a couple of hills in mind. As I’m under strict instructions to get Fatdog back by dark, my winter options tend to be somewhat limited. Fortunately Callander is only some 40 minutes from the house making its surrounding hills easy winter targets.

Ben Ledi and Benvane (253500, 713700) are two Corbett’s bordering the west shore of Loch Lubnaig a few miles north of Callander. They are connected by what I have seen described as a “broad grassy ridge”.

This is the point where the word bollocks comes to mind.

Grassy my a*** ! I’m sure the author meant to say boggy…or possibly peat crevasse ridden. This pleasant little amble was to prove more taxing than I would have liked.

We’d tackled Ben Ledi a couple of times and were now familiar with the Stank Glen route so it seemed fairly logical that we should just head up the glen, take a sharp right at the top and head along the ridge to Benvane.

I peered out of the window at 8.30am to be treated to fog. Well, that could be good…or bad. With a bit of luck we might reach above the clouds on the summit approach.

By 9.30 we’d arrived at the car park at the south end of Loch Lubnaig. The signs were ominous. I couldn’t see the hills for cloud…but it was dry. Undeterred by the lack of blue sky we plodded our way up Stank Glen to Bealach nan Corp and turned right at the line of fence posts, heading along an obvious path traversing the ridge to Benvane. As we trudged our way NW it was pretty obvious from the light dusting of snow that we were the only souls on the ridge.

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Navigation on Ben Ledi/Benvane is pretty easy. Stick to the line of old metal fence posts and you can’t go wrong. They come from south of Ben Ledi, head up over its summit and along the ridge, passing about 50m west of the summit of Benvane.
I notice from the map that the same fence line heads past the next Corbett to the NW (Stob Fear tomhais or Beinn Stacath – I’ve seen both names used )

For those readers familiar with Strictly Come Dancing the now famous phrase “Dull!…Dull!..Dull!” comes to mind. In 6 hours, with the exception of a 10 minute “wow” phase, the weather treated us to dull, grey cloud with visibility of about 50m.
The grassy ridge was, for a substantial part, peat bog which, luckily for us, had a light crusting of snow making walking marginally less of a chore than it might have been. Another plus was that there was almost no breeze to speak of.

We crept quietly past an eerie Lochan nan Corp (Lochan of the Dead Bodies). Crunching and squelching our way across semi frozen peat bog, with its black soggy ravines, I must admit to having doubts about why we were doing this.

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It was dank, creepy, boring and I could see bugger all. Here we were on this deserted ridge with limited visibility about to climb a hill we couldn’t see. In fact we almost missed it!  As there was almost no visibility I was navigating using my map and the changes in direction of the fence posts. We almost went straight past the summit. Just in time I realised the dot marking the summit was not on the line of posts but just off to the east of where I was standing. A short stride up a little rise took us to the summit.

I called J to let her know we’d made it…at the same time complaining about the lack of visibility when the breeze suddenly picked up, the cloud swept away and we were treated to an inversion towards Ben Venue

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Seconds later Ben Ledi came into view with the intervening ridge lines following the route we had taken.

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We seemed to be sitting between 2 cloud layers.

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The Fatdog was dispirited due to the lack of potential lunch providers and started nosing under the cairn. What she hoped to find under a pile of rocks in the middle of nowhere…I really didn’t want to think about too hard.

Glancing at my watch I knew the clock was too far past one for comfort. It had taken us 3 hours and 30 minutes to reach the top and it was going to have to be flat out on the way back to get the Fatdog back to the car before dark.   As we headed back down the ridge I looked back and saw the faint outline of the east side of Benvane. It was the only time we were to get a glimpse of the hill all day.

I think that journey back was one of the longest I have ever known. Remembering the time constraint on the day, I’d put a fair bit of effort into getting to the summit and I was finding that I didn’t have as much in the tank for the way back as I would have liked. The cloud became greyer and darker, the breeze brought with it a constant, almost imperceptible drizzle and visibility dropped even further than on the outward journey. Each little rise back along the ridge was energy sapping. Even the Fatdog, normally ambling out front, was jammed against my heel nudging me forward. Two buzzards circled ominously. It was time to dig in and plod! I did, however, make an effort to sprint past an almost invisible (and incredibly spine chilling) Lochan nan Corp!

We were 20 minutes away from the car when 2 guys appeared behind us. They had been on Ben Ledi which as usual had been densely populated. They were the first people we had seen in 6 hours.  As they (plus the Fatdog) strode along the cycle track back towards the car park I waddled along in an attempt to keep up. Why is everyone on the hills faster than me? On the other hand the 2 pacemakers had dragged us along to the car before darkness finally descended so I would be in J’s good books.

Once more at the car the Fatdog sat in the back grinning from ear to ear. It had been a close call but she had done her job well. Easing him up those last few little slopes coming back along the ridge had been a worry. She now contemplated the supper J had promised her for making sure that I was dragged back to the car before dark.

Happy New Year from myself and the Fatdog

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