Meall Buidhe - 719m
Meall na Cloiche - 663
Beinn Leabhainn - 709m

Sunday 4th May 2014

Weather/Conditions: Dense mist all day and drizzle. Real 'pea soup' weather and one of the very (only?) times I've felt almost claustrophobic with the density of mist. But it wasn't to be worried about or feared: the whole experience was fun.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 10.3km / 630m / 3h 50m
Accompanying: Alone

The seeds for this were sown in March, when I did Ben Nevis in full winter conditions with Tom L. It was the first time I'd ever been in a situation of using pacing and highly accurate navigation. (The summit plateau of Nevis in whiteout is a pretty serious place). It also showed me I could do with learning more about pacing, and the weather on this day provided a good excuse to do so.

I left Boat of Garten intent on heading home via. a hill. But I didn't know what I wanted to climb. I headed down the A9 to Ballinluig and stopped by for food. Unwilling to drive the toil down by Perth and Dunblane, I cut west to Loch Tay, mulling over possibilities for a short walk. I considered the little Corbett above Loch an na Lairige (now there's a real cop out!) but something dissuaded me. I drove instead to Glen Ogle, and parked at the road summit car park. Conditions were pretty dull, and I got my things together and headed off for Meall Buidhe, an anonymous 'Graham' on rolling moor and a pretty safe bet in very bad visibility.

I headed up the track to a transmitter, then cut off onto the moor. I took nav legs: setting a bearing and distance, then estimating double paces. When I arrived at a destination, and my pacing was out, I questioned why. Was the terrain easier or harder? Was it steeper? What happened when I walked a downhill? I gained the summit of Meall Buidhe under very tight control and found the experience of doing so thrilling and enjoyable. My original plan was just to head to Beinn Leabhainn, but with this new experience and understanding of the map, how about heading out to Beinn na Cloiche, too?

I headed out across featureless moorland, always in this self-contained bubble in the mist, never getting a break or an easy resolution. It was pretty intense, and showed me the subtleties of the landscape that just aren't shown on a map. I was so in the zone, and enjoying it immensely.

There is an area on the way to Meall na Cloiche of pretty featureless ground before it kicks up into knolls again, and when I reached the far end, I had to assume I actually was where I thought I was. In other words, I had an idea where I was on the map, but it wasn't always apparent on the ground.

Little gullies would bend the right way, then the wrong way, and I was always trying to correct myself in this maze of terrain features. I never actually quite worked out where I was on Meall na Cloiche and was never 100% sure I reached the top. But I passed a few cairns, a couple more knolls without cairns, then found myself walking eastward, downhill off the side of hill. So I'm essentially sure I nailed it. I'm just not sure when! In these instances 10m contours just don't seem enough!

I headed back toward the road, managing to pick up a shallow gully leading onto Beinn Leabhainn. I was still always self-correcting, learning about the subtleties of precise navigation. But until the cairn of Beinn Leabhainn announced arrival, I was always focused, always creating a mental picture of features I'd passed and how far apart... From Leabhainn, I dropped west toward the mast. When I eventually emerged at an access track, I couldn't quite believe I'd walked all the way around the mast without actually seeing it. Again, the mist was very thick.

On the map, my day's route looked tiny. I looked at the Corbetts on the other side of the glen, and they were miles away. I thought about navigating to them, and how difficult it would be today. Suddenly the hills all seemed rather big! But only for a day. Visibility really accounts for so much.

This day was nearly two years ago, but I still remember so much of it. It was one of the most educational days I've had, and revealed the joy to me of really precise navigation. I suddenly had an appetite for visiting boggy, knolly hills in the worst of weather: here was an unexpected challenge in the more mundane of Scottish upland environments. Not sure I actually ever fulfilled that appetite, though!

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 1.55pm Glen Ogle
(1.12) 3.07pm Meall Buidhe
(2.05) c. 4.00pm Meall na Cloiche
(3.10) 5.05pm Beinn Leabhainn
(3.50) 5.45pm Glen Ogle

Written: 2016-03-26