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Once More Unto The Breach - Conival and Beyond

Once More Unto The Breach - Conival and Beyond


Postby old danensian » Tue Apr 01, 2014 12:09 pm

Munros included on this walk: Ben More Assynt, Conival

Date walked: 29/03/2014

Time taken: 8 hours

Distance: 18 km

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There’ll be plenty of tales told about this escapade amongst those that endured, then enjoyed, this spectacular day. Apart from the game of two halves cliché, some will tell of mankind’s visceral encounter with earth’s elemental forces. Others will recall the essential mountain camaraderie that saw everyone through safely. A tender few will carry the marks of sacrificial blood that should qualify any outing as an epic; and the torn trousers were but a flesh wound so someone could “strip his sleeve and show his scars.”

In fact, I sense a Shakespearean muse about to emerge. Apologies to Burns, but I am English after all.

Henry V: eat your heart out.

Inchnadamph was our Calais: Conival and Ben More Assynt our Agincourt. I’m not sure how Charlie the dog fits into the script: maybe he was Henry himself, encouraging us on with his limitless energy and enthusiasm.

We had our “dark night of the soul” on the eve of battle as the wind buffeted and slammed into anything that rose above the horizontal during the night.

“If it’s like that down here, what’s it going to be like higher up?” Rhetorical or not, we already knew the answer. The site of future battle was lost in the mists that clung with Velcro-like stubbornness to the hills above.

Conival-01.jpg
There's a mountain up there somewhere - up the Gleann Dubh


As we began the trudge up the River Traligill, past the caves and up the Gleann Dubh, the comic appeared with the predictable assumption that someone else had a map, and was actually using it. Of course, we all did: but no-one was. Instead, our attention was deflected by the bizarre laxity of the Sutherland planning department and the turret sprouting from the hillside in defiance of the Quinag behind: another holiday home for a southern laird or a future location for WH meet?

Conival-02.jpg
A planning aberration - or the French camp above Inchnadamph


In a landscape where the mountains rise abruptly from the surrounding scoured ground, the brutal preparation for war was soon upon us. It’s a mixed blessing when you can’t see what lies ahead, just upwards, ever upwards.

To a “high grassy alp” the SMC guide insists. Oh, it sounds so idyllic and redolent of balmy summer afternoons frolicking in the Swiss summer sunshine with Heidi. However, as the shoulder of the ridge was finally reached we were back in Henry V’s territory, “when the blast of war blows in our ears.” And boy, was it blowing by now.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” and together we got our heads down and ploughed on upwards. Sinews were definitely stiffened and at times during the next hour I’m sure the temptation-ridden question was asked by more than one: “would I were in an alehouse in London! I would give all my fame for a pot of ale, and safety.”

Conival-03.jpg
Onward, upwards - and unto the breach


Conival-04.jpg
Final summit stretch on Conival


Conival-05.jpg
The tigers and greyhounds arrive


With that unspoken mutual encouragement we plodded on until, as a flatter stretch of crag emerged from the mist a couple of hundred metres ahead, a curious sphere appeared above. With perfect timing and tactics, and seemingly outnumbered by those elemental forces ranged against us, not only did the summit cairn appear, and a sliver of blue sky, but so did ...

... the swooping ridge to the east. The Harfleur of Ben More Assynt had surrendered; we were now ready to “imitate the action of the tiger.”

Conival-06.jpg
The ridge to Ben More Assynt appears


The struggles of the previous couple of hours were behind us and our enthusiasms reborn, we definitely did:

“stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit ; and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry! England and Saint George!’”

Well, OK, that last bit might be a bit tenuous and dependent on a vote in September, but you get the drift. Should it be “Cry ‘God for Alex, Nicola and Walkhighlands”?

Anyway, the day had now changed. Wider views appeared as the clouds raced by or twisted in their hurtling journey across the ridge. The wind hadn’t relented, but the prospect for the remainder of the day had. It was still hard work keeping balance as the gusts buffeted us from one side then the other, but the ridge lured us on.

The weather gods had the last laugh though. They stubbornly refused to relent while we crouched like huddled masses on reaching the top of Ben More. It was hardly Ellis Island and the cairn was no Statue of Liberty, but this was the promised land: at the start of the ascent it had been touch and go.

Conival-07.jpg
Ben More Assynt still cloaked in mist


Conival-08.jpg
The huddled masses on the summit of Ben More Assynt


Charlie was fed on the scraps of sandwiches hurled into the snow, while copious quantities of jelly babies and wine gums were consumed by those of a less discerning nature. Then it was time to return.

Conival-09.jpg
The return journey - looking back towards Conival


Conival, take-two wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It’s surprising how uplifting spectacular views can be: that, and good company fuels the body and the spirit.

Conival-10.jpg
Ben More Assynt and its alluring ridge from Conival


The descent was taken more gently so the soaring cliffs of Na Tuadhan and the ice-flows on its surrounding lochans could be admired. The wind had dropped, the day was becoming almost pleasant – and so concentration lapsed. Either that or obeisance was being paid to the mountain gods as knee and forehead of one of the group met the horizontal hard stuff. Dressings, patches and the occasional “this might sting a bit” and the casualty bore the badge of the walking wounded, and the bill for a new pair of trousers: there’s a limit on what a Goretex patch can cover.

Conival-11.jpg
Warriors return - with cliffs Na Tuadhan in the background


Like hyped-up warriors returning in victory, the walk-out was a buzz of amiable conversation and that glorious ability we all seem to have to blot out the more painful experiences of the day when it has been so successful.

Conival-12.jpg
So there was a hill up there after all - Conival in its glory


“My best EVER day on the hills” was one conclusion against which few would argue.

In fact, “... gentlemen in England, now a-bed shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here.”

Now, how can I weave Macbeth into a report?
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Re: Once More Unto The Breach - Conival and Beyond

Postby The Rodmiester » Tue Apr 01, 2014 4:00 pm

Excellent report and pictures of a wonderful weekend, Nigel! :D
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Re: Once More Unto The Breach - Conival and Beyond

Postby Graeme D » Tue Apr 01, 2014 4:24 pm

Brilliant report Nigel. Almost as much a pleasure to read as it actually was to be there! :clap:
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Re: Once More Unto The Breach - Conival and Beyond

Postby Fife Flyer » Tue Apr 01, 2014 4:32 pm

Very entertaining Nigel :clap: :clap:
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Re: Once More Unto The Breach - Conival and Beyond

Postby Clach Liath » Tue Apr 01, 2014 5:04 pm

Ah! the benefits of a classical education!

You very much "suit the action to the word, the word to the action". On first reading, I fear'd you had entered "the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns". But I am glad you did not, and came back to tell the tale.

Entertaining report :D
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Re: Once More Unto The Breach - Conival and Beyond

Postby trekker53 » Tue Apr 01, 2014 5:23 pm

Very entertaining report there Nigel. :clap: :clap: Surely walk report of the month.
Seems you got more visibility on the BMA ridge than we did the previous day.

The following 3 photos shows it all. Blue skies, white out and then improves for the descent.

SAM_1593.JPG

SAM_1603.JPG

SAM_1607.JPG
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Re: Once More Unto The Breach - Conival and Beyond

Postby dogplodder » Tue Apr 01, 2014 5:31 pm

That was a good read and all the literary references make up for the patchy visibility - although some of the later pics are lovely! :D
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Re: Once More Unto The Breach - Conival and Beyond

Postby hutchy1 » Tue Apr 01, 2014 9:51 pm

A great report Nigel the bodies healing better than the pants :lol: was a great day out.
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Re: Once More Unto The Breach - Conival and Beyond

Postby jepsonscotland » Wed Apr 02, 2014 1:53 pm

Great report.
It was a real "game of two halves".
Wind, winter kit and white out followed by sun, shades and baselayers on the way back. :crazy:
A great effort by all and as good a day on the hill as anyone could wish for. :D
Chris
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Re: Once More Unto The Breach - Conival and Beyond

Postby old danensian » Thu Apr 03, 2014 11:48 am

Thanks for the comments guys.

Clach Liath wrote:Ah! the benefits of a classical education!

You very much "suit the action to the word, the word to the action". On first reading, I fear'd you had entered "the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns". But I am glad you did not, and came back to tell the tale.

Entertaining report :D


Yes, Clach Liath, it's surprising what you learn with a Yorkshire grammar school experience. You were quite close with the Hamlet quote - the line before was just as apt:

"Who would fardels bear, to grunt and sweat under a weary life."

Better stop this now before a plague of erudition breaks out.

OD
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