Donich always be the last place you look...
by electricfly » Fri Apr 26, 2013 12:29 am
Corbetts included on this walk: Ben Donich
Date walked: 27/12/2012
Time taken: 22 hours
Ascent: 800m25 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
With family duties on Christmas and Boxing Day out of the way, Shona and I had decided that Thursday 27th would have to include some kind of hill-walking activity to work off the rich foodstuffs we'd been scoffing during the last week.
The weather was still looking a bit iffy on Thursday, so we decided that we wouldn't venture too far north. A drive up Arrochar way was planned and we considered possibly going up Beinn An Lochain, but we'd see how conditions looked when we got there.
As we drove up Glen Croe towards the Rest and be Thankful Shona remarked at how Ben Donich looked nice with plenty of snow upon it. We'd just been discussing the possible difficulties of crossing the river to get onto Beinn An Lochain, so Ben Donich seemed a far more sensible option. Although I knew the route to it's summit, I hadn't really spent time looking at any other terrain notes on Donich, but things looked fairly straightforward from the road.
We pulled off the Lochgoilhead road onto the forestry track and parked on the verge just before the point where the path starts up the hill. A fresh layer of snow had fallen on Boxing day, and with the car parked already above the snowline, it all felt nice and christmassy as we walked up through sporadically planted firs. We got to the fence with a poorly aligned walker's gate which led onto a steeper part of the hillside.
We passed by a little weather observation post and continued to head up the spine of the ridge, although the visibility wasn't great, we began to get some reasonably good views opening up over the surrounding glens. We were soon past the initial steep pull onto the track which winds it's way up the ridge to the summit. With much new snow, it made following the path quite tricky at times, but Alfie our male spaniel has a good nose for finding human trodden paths under the snow.
We approached and passed a few rocky outcrops which were quite iced over, so as we came to what looked like a bigger version of what we had just negotiated, we decided to get out the axes just to be safe. I remember as we got into the guts of this section that there was a little v-shaped area with a bent over fir that looked out of place, when nearing it, I saw that it was strewn with garden-shed-sized boulders so decided to stay on Alfie's sniffed out route.
His route was a good way up onto a broad plateau area which had some rather steep drop-offs on both sides. We noticed that further along there appeared to be a tricky down-climb which would be required before a final section which would lead to the proper summit plateau. I saw Alfie up ahead and whistled on him to return so we could manage the down-climb. It was at this point that Shona mentioned the lack of second dog... ..."umm, where's Bracken?".
Still feeling quite calm, we began shouting for her. She does sometimes like to veer off to explore things of interest and usually a head pops up over the horizon with ears flapping as she dashes in from the opposite of where you were first looking. This time, this wasn't happening. We began calling a little more frantic than before, and I started back along our route to see if she had gotten stuck climbing up onto this flat area.
There was no sign of her. I looked over to the sides of the plateau and felt a well of unease filling up inside my gut. The huge shed-sized boulders were holding seige to both sides of this area, lying stacked up hap-hazardly as though they had once been attached to the plateau, but been blown away with dynamite.
Shona had moved further up the route to check if Bracken had carried on ahead, but she too was now returning saying that there was no sign of her there. We were both beginning to notice that as well as the large drops on the sides, there were quite a lot of holes in the snow on the surface of the plateau. We peered into some of them and even more dread began to loom over us. They were like black holes dropping deep into the mountain. Shona was still shouting for her, but we couldn't hear anything. No barks, no whimpers, all we could hear was the wind whipping across us and the rocks which were hiding Bracken somewhere.
We had to try and be logical about looking for her. I asked Shona to keep hold of Alfie not only for his own safety but also to prevent him from making paw-prints in the snow. Prints I was now relying on to tell me if Bracken had dropped down one of these holes. Although the holes were numerous, each one that I examined seemed to be free of any tracks leading to them. It was much the same situation with the sides of the plateau. I kept thinking I would find a set of tracks leading over the edge somewhere, but there were none. It was like she had just vanished, where could she be?
I was going to have to drop down and examine either side of this area now. This was quite perilous, as I began to clamber from boulder to boulder I could see how it would be easy to bounce down between the rocks and into the chasms of cracks and fissures which were rife here. Where I could, I crawled into some of the slots and made my way through and among some of the cracks, testing the snow to make sure there was solid rock underneath my feet. Calling out for Bracken, I began to notice the despair in my own voice. I knew by what I was seeing down here that things were looking pretty hopeless. There were places here I couldn't risk trying to drop into. Several times already I had found myself straining to get out of places and having to wedge my axe between cracks to pull myself up. It was dangerous, but I needed to check both sides.
The north side which drops down to Coire Leitir-achain was deeper and it's boulders stretched out over a larger area. The snow was deeper here too and was creating false bridges which fell into deep fissures between the large rocks. I had to combine looking for traces of disturbance with watching out for my own safety. I could hear Shona up above, although I couldn't see her I could tell that she was now also becoming worried about my safety in the terrain I was searching.
As I eventually hauled myself back onto the plateau shelf, I looked up to see Shona sunken to her knees in the snow. At first I thought maybe she was peering down a hole, but as I got nearer I realised that she was just totally in despair, crying her eyes out. The strongest woman I have ever known was torn apart. She was cold, I pulled her up onto her feet and gave her a long hug, before noticing that I too had tears tumbling down my cheeks. The clouds above had thickened and appeared more grey than they had been, the intermittent flurries of snow had now become constant and the wind increased making it harder to hear barking if there was any.
I looked at my watch and saw that we had been searching now for almost two hours. I couldn't believe so much time had passed so quickly, we were going to run out of daylight soon. The snow was falling steadily and making conditions almost whiteout, we had to make the decision to head off the hill. It was tough, but if we stayed much longer we would be risking hypothermia. Reluctantly we both began heading back down our route. As we reached the bottom of the climb onto the plateau I noticed Alfie had pricked up his ears. Had he seen or heard something. We all stood for a moment listening intently, but could only hear the howling of the wind. We carried on again, slowly back down, probably the slowest walk I have ever made. Stopping every now and then to hug Shona and try to console her, try to quell her wails of utter despair.
The lower down we got, the more real the situation became. We passed through the dodgy forestry gate and were getting near to where the car was parked. My heart held out a glimmer of hope that perhaps Bracken had lost sight of us and headed back down to the car. I knew in my head that this wouldn't be so, and as we got to the car there was no sign of her. Alfie jumped into the back alone, Shona got in the passenger side and I started the engine to heat us all up. We waited a while to thaw out, but also because we couldn't find the power to drive off. As I eventually pulled off the verge and trundled along the forestry road I think we both believed we had been on our last hike with Bracken our little Springer Spaniel.
The drive down Glen Croe into Arrochar was a somber one. Maybe it was a blessing, but we couldn't see Ben Donich any longer due to darkness and clouds rolling in. At Arrochar we ventured down to the MRT station and took a note of the team leader's non-emergency telephone number. I made the call to inform them of the afternoon's events, knowing that it would be for information purposes only. MRT will only respond to such a rescue if you can be certain of the dog's exact location and can vouch that it is alive and in distress. For us, well we had no exact location and no idea if Bracken was still alive.
Back home, I made Shona a warm drink and offered to cook some dinner, although neither of us felt like we could eat anything. All I could think about all evening was where could she be? Was she still alive? What can I do to try and find her? Shona had sloped off to bed, but wasn't sleeping, just lying crying in the dark. "I have to go back up tomorrow" I said, "I have to give her that chance"... "You can't go up there alone" Shona said, "You'll need help". I really didn't want Shona going back up there, especially if it was going to be a bad outcome. Choking back her tears she whispered "even if you find her dead, please bring her back to me". That was when I turned to the Walk Highlands community.
General Discussion Forum Post, Thursday 27th Dec 2012... http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=27681
Day Two: Ben Donich - 28th Dec 2012.
My hiking friend Ross from Meetup's (Scottish Hillwalking and Activities Group) had got back to me saying he would help with the search. I travelled into Glasgow city centre to pick him up, then set off for Arrochar to meet up with WH's Andy Fitz who was heading there for first light. Andy had arrived at the Rest and be thankful ahead of us and had carried out an initial search of the area near to the road. He had spoken with the snack bar operators and given them Bracken's details just in case she should wander down off the hill at some stage, smart thinking there.
As we turned into the forestry parking area the rain was pounding off the ground. Andy had jumped out his Landy to discuss a plan of action and was soaked within a minute. WH's Dave (Spiderweb) was on his way from Muir of Ord (what an amazing gesture, He must have been out his bed before 5am!). While Andy waited for Dave, Ross and I headed along to the start point and I parked my car in the same spot where it had been the day before.
It wasn't long before Dave and Andy appeared and we all got on with getting our kit together for this foul weather challenge. By the time we were ready to set off from the cars we were all suitably soaked through. Setting off up the forestry path, I tried to explain the terrain we'd be faced with further up the corbett. The heavy rain had changed things. The previous day's thick soft snow was now of slush puppy consistency. This made the going really wet and slippy underfoot, but further up I noticed it had helped to reveal more sink holes than had been apparent before.
following rescue images courtesy of Ross McBeth.
Once up over the steep pull and onto the ridge, we stopped for a short rest to take on some fluid and catch our breath. After this, we all began to spread out. I sped onwards to the place where I remembered stopping to get out my ice axe. This had been where I had last recalled seeing Bracken, and was also the same area where Alfie had stopped suddenly on the slow walk down the day before. I noticed that Ross was moving to the NW heading for the boulders on the Coire Leitir-achain side with Andy just inside his arch whilst Dave had moved up along the southern Glen Croe side of the path. We were all shouting her name, but nothing was coming back.
I reached the place where I'd previously noticed the v-shaped area with the bent over fir tree. Again it stuck out as there were no other trees up this high. Just to the side of the path here I found myself looking at a small hole which was about 15 inches wide, there was a smaller hole a few inches across which seemed to slope into the larger one at a strange angle. While all other areas of melt seemed to be going with the slope of the land, this hole appeared to cut into the slope against the grain. On taking a closer look at the back wall of the larger hole I could see a slight area of disturbance almost like someone had come along and patted the smooth snow with their hand. Could this be a dog's backside bumping off the side as it flipped over and into the hole?
I looked into the darkness of the hole and called down, but there was no reply. I was going to walk on, but something I can't explain kept me staring down this hole. I wasn't sure if I could actually see the bottom, but I thought I could see something moving away down there. Yes, but it was probably just melt water running through the fissures. The feint glints of light were perhaps little streams of water and bubbles splashing around. The more I concentrated on these glints of light, the more I struggled to interpret what I was looking at. Was that eye shine I saw? If it was, why wasn't she barking back when I called her name? Again I saw what looked like eye shine but still couldn't be sure it wasn't just bubbles. Then, that eye shine again, but it looked so small, was it perhaps a hare or a ptarmigan hiding down there?
I was about to move on, convinced that the melt water was playing tricks on me when something moved again. It was her! I'm sure it was her, but it happened so fast and now I couldn't see anything. I called down to her again, but still there was no barking nor whimpering to be heard. I knew I needed a second opinion, so began shouting the others over to where I was. At first nobody was able to hear me, or more so what I was shouting. I think they all just thought I was still just shouting for Bracken. "I've found her!" I cried out, Ross and Andy started across to where I was. Andy came alongside and I explained what I thought I had seen. We both peered down into the darkness, and then as Andy shone his headtorch down, we saw her and the unmistakable outline of her harness! It was only when Andy called her name that she decided to bark back up to us, probably because she didn't recognize his voice. It makes sense now when I think of it, as she doesn't bark at Shona or I, only things she doesn't understand or people she doesn't know.
Ross and Dave arrived from north and south of the path respectively, both looking at Andy and I quizically... "have you found her?". As quick as you like Dave had himself harnessed up. Ross and I got the rope anchored to a nearby hefty boulder, while Andy worked away with the shovel to widen the opening of Bracken's hiding place. Dave was soon hooked onto the rope and was lowering himself with his petzl descender down into the dark, wet crevice.
Bracken seemed a wee bit grumpy with Dave at first as he dropped down alongside her, but once she realised he was kind and there to help she seemed rather pleased of his company. By attaching a few slings and caribiners to her harness, Dave managed to fashion a makeshift cradle with which we could hoist Bracken out of the crack. Judging by the length of rope used, the hole seemed to be about 4-5 metres deep. No wonder the eye shine had looked so small, she was farther away than I'd anticipated.
Soon enough we had Bracken back on the surface. We were all amazed that she seemed unhurt and unfazed by her ordeal. In between giving her big cuddles I tried to unravel and unhook her from the slings and caribiners. Andy got the rope back down to Dave and it wasn't long before he too was poking his head back out into the wet and windy world up above.
Once we were all squared off and ready to make tracks, Dave was joking about us all carrying on to bag the summit. We let Bracken decide, needless to say, she began dragging me in the opposite direction. For a while I was a bit speechless, anything that I managed to say wasn't really making a great deal of sense. I was just so surprised and amazed that we had got her, and that she was completely fine. I kept her on the lead untill we were well away from the holes and crevices of the upper area. A few times Bracken managed to pull me on my backside as we all slipped and slid our way down off the slushy hillside.
I was glad to get to the forestry fence where I could let her off the lead. We got back to the cars and I was soon giving Bracken a good rub down with a nice clean bath towel. She was pleased to get tucked into some food and we were all relieved to get out of our soaking waterproofs and boots. A celebratory pint was required, so we made for Ben Arthur's Bothy, where Bracken became her bolshy self again, barking at people coming in and out of the bar. The manageress was great though and excused her bad manners seeing as she'd been stuck down a hole 800m up for 22 hours.
image courtesy of Spiderweb
It was around this time that the good news was beginning to filter through. Shona had received the texts to say we had got her safe and well and couldn't believe it. Gammy had gotten wind of the successfull mission too and had spread the word on the WH forum. Ross, Andy, Dave and I were all sitting in the pub in damp breeks but with big smiles on our faces!
Shona was delighted when she got to see Bracken again, spoilt is not the word for it. Alfie seemed rather pleased too as he was also getting to indulge in all the doggy treats that were on offer. We all had a cosy night in and toasted the return of our wee Bracken with a large dram of Ben Bracken Whisky no less! During the night Bracken's harness slipped from it's resting place on the cupboard door handle, it landed on the tiled floor in a special shape. I like to think it was perhaps a little subliminal message from the Dog Angels thanking Andy Dave and Ross for all their help that day.
For New Year we took things a little more laid back. After a relaxing night under the stars at the Kingshouse Hotel's camping area we spent the day in Glen Orchy enjoying the 2013 drizzle. Bracken's first venture back into the hills came a week later when we climbed Lochnagar. She was a little more tentative the following Sunday when bagging Mount Keen in deep snow, but since the new year she has added a further 13 munros to her tally and Blencathra on Valentine's day with a little more post-hike action than expected (thanks to Alfie). A winter ascent of Ben Lui at the beginning of April there was her last climb before giving birth to two very chunky and handsome boys last week!
Thankyou guys and girls of Walk Highlands for all your well-wishes and support at a time when we really needed it. A big high paw from Bracken, Alfie and family... Still not that sold on calling the pups Spider and Fitzy however!
by soulminer » Fri Apr 26, 2013 8:04 am
I was up there recently with the Chaos Collies, and stuck them on the leads as I remembered the story- and advice from others. Some deep holes to be falling into, even for humans
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by laconic surf » Fri Apr 26, 2013 8:08 am
I remember trying desperately trying to rearrange work that night to come with you to search for her but to no avail. We were all hoping against all odds there would be some good news, I think it was a mix of disbelief and sheer joy when the news filtered through that you'd found her alive and well.
Again big to the rescue party.
Congrats to you all on the 2 pups.
A very emotional story with such a happy ending
by Lenore » Fri Apr 26, 2013 8:38 am
by electricfly » Fri Apr 26, 2013 9:30 am
Having seen the dogs managing ok on the AE, the CMD arete, the Cuillins etc and matching me on some steep icy winter ascents, you tend to forget that they can still fall foul of certain hidden dangers like these cracks on Donich.
I know from doing a bit of research (in hindsight) that a German Shepherd came to grief here and as you mentioned, some of these fissures in the rock could easily swallow a human.
*passes the kleenex man-sized along to LS and Lenore*
by RyanfaeScotland » Fri Apr 26, 2013 9:35 am
by adamg » Fri Apr 26, 2013 10:14 am
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by RyanfaeScotland » Fri Apr 26, 2013 12:08 pm
adamg wrote:Didn't think I'd ever have a tear in my eye reading a walk report on Walk Highlands! Surely a candidate for some Webtogs vouchers?!
Don't do that; then everyone will be throwing their dogs down crevices!!
by quoman » Fri Apr 26, 2013 5:10 pm
by Hill-loving lady » Fri Apr 26, 2013 7:56 pm
by Klaasloopt » Fri Apr 26, 2013 8:11 pm
What a story, dramatic stuff, I read it like mad wanting to know how it would end.
by mrssanta » Fri Apr 26, 2013 8:25 pm
by colingray8 » Fri Apr 26, 2013 8:51 pm
A fantastic result. Just goes to show that there are lots of good people out there.
Well done to everyone involved and a special well done to Bracken on her two lovely pups.
Thanks to electricfly for taking the time to type this up!
by Graeme D » Fri Apr 26, 2013 9:14 pm