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Ben Cruachan Twice in one day? something went very wrong!

Ben Cruachan Twice in one day? something went very wrong!


Postby mvapesuk » Mon Jun 20, 2016 10:49 am

Munros included on this walk: Ben Cruachan

Date walked: 19/06/2016

Time taken: 13 hours

Ascent: 1126m

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Fairly new to mountain walking but experienced rock climbers we thought oh its Sunday lets climb ben Cruachan, we knew it would be low level cloud but didn't think it would be a problem as the previous week we had climbed Ben lawers in the fog and although no stunning views you can still see the well trodden path so cant really get lost.
However on Cruachan a different story all together!
The walk started of really well, we thoroughly enjoyed the approach and views of the Damn and took the usual path up to cruachan.
After reaching the summit we sat down for lunch and a hot drink.
After a good rest we decided to head on across the ridge to Stob diamh, visibility was very poor due to the cloud/fog and rain.

I think where we went wrong was that we veered slightly left and ended up taking the north ridge behind Cruachan, we followed it along for a while but as we had never been on cruachan or stob diamh before we did not know if we were going the right way.
The ridge slowly descended and we ended up in a valley with a burn and some pools of water, for some reason i thought we had gone round it a large circle and with the limited visibility thought i could see what looked like a valley between some mountains that would take up back up or between stob diamh. by this time we were a little disheartened and disorientated and cold and wet, we did have really good water proof jackets and warm base layers but just standard walking trousers which by this time were soaked through.
So we headed back up the mountain hoping it would join us up with a path or something recognisable.
Little were we to know that we would end up is a very terrifying situation!

We kept on climbing up with the route getting steeper and steeper passing some snow and onto a very loose scree section until a point that we had to use our hands and some climbing techniques, eventually we got to a point that was so steep and so slippery we could not go any further it was at this point genuine fear for our safety was setting in.
We were both lost, disorientated, scared, cold and terrified. We ended up using our legs to jam ourselves into a small crevice with sheer rocks either side and above us.
We were genuinely terrified. we knew we could not go up any further and down was just to dangerous.
My girlfriend was in tears and so terrified.
I put on a brave face and calmed my girlfriend down offering a hot drink and making sure she was secure. I had a look to see if up was at all possible but decided it was beyond my skill.
It was at this point we checked our phones for signal because at this point we know the only way off was by mountain rescue, but guess what no signal so tried the ol whatsaap trick but nothing, tried 999 and nothing.
This was not looking to good!
I continued to calm my girlfriend taking time to have a drink and calm down trying to work out was to do.

After evaluating the situation we knew that staying put was not an option with no signal no chance of passers by, and deteriorating weather that was not an option to sit tight, so i checked to see if up was at all possible i knew we were only about 10 maybe 15 meters from the summit of something but it was near vertical and i thought just to dangerous to try.
So down was out only option.
We composed ourselves and with me me leading sat on out bums used our hands and feet any very very slowly started to make our way down to very steep and loose surface.
I cannot even comprehend or put into words how terrifying that was and I have never felt fear for our safety and lives but yesterday i did and it was not nice.
Eventually after a very slow decent we made it back past the snow fields and eventually onto something not so steep.
Still being over cautious we made a steady slow decent following the burn down.

As we were obviously completely lost and did not want to get into a situation like that again we decided the very simple way out navigation option which was Water must flow to the sea/sea level! So we followed burns as best we could eventually finding ourselves in the valley we had passed, we then followed the larger burn and traversed along side the river Noe, we caught a glimpse of a loch so knew if we just followed the flow of water it would take us to that, using the last of my phones battery i checked the gps on google maps and could see that it was loch Etive so we know there must be civilisation near there that we could ask for help. eventually finding a track which led to a house we knocked at the door, no one home :-( so carried on the track, by this time we were so tied and soaked to the bone i think we had by this time been out in the rain for 10 hours our boots were full of water so gortex does have its limits! even our really good waterproof jackets were starting to soak through.
Eventually we found another house after a few more miles, and this time someone was in, sadly the guy thought our ordeal was funny and continued to explain he had had a drink tonight so could not give us a lift. but did tell us that if we continue up the track for about 3 miles it will take us to the main road.
So on we marched by this time i think it was 10pm, eventually we found a smaller road which we knew if we turned left onto it then we would eventually end up on the A85 and could thumb a lift back to the car another 7 miles away, or if we found a house would ask for help.

After a few more miles we found a group of house i could see one had the television on so we knocked at the door.
A man answered and we explained our situation I told him we had been walking for over 10 hours had a near death experience both dehydrated cold wet and hungry could he please help us and take us to our car.
He was more than happy to help and was a fellow walker and climber so knew what it was like, I offered him money for the lift but he would not take any and was such a kind a helpful man, we owe alot to him as i do not think either of us would have managed the last 6 or 7 miles after already walking about 16miles and 11 hours and what i now know climbed ben cruachan twice! once up the normal way and once up the north face!
Lots of lessons learnt today we both ache so much and can hardly walk.
On the plus side we did see some Dipper birds and also some red deer and about a million frogs! and we are both alive.
(pictures below are in order last to first, The last picture i took was of the snow before things got very dangerous)
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mvapesuk
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Re: Ben Cruachan Twice in one day? something went very wrong

Postby Borderhugh » Mon Jun 20, 2016 11:27 am

Yikes. Its amazing how easily you can get lost in such situations. Glad that you are both safe.

I did Cruachan & Stob Diamh on friday evening in great viz. Found the initial jungle section interesting and as for that stile with me on board it was like a metronome on heat :)
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Re: Ben Cruachan Twice in one day? something went very wrong

Postby Fiona Reid » Mon Jun 20, 2016 12:38 pm

That sounds like some experience and I'm really very glad you both got down safely. I suspect you'll learn quite a lot from it.

These may seem like daft questions...

1. How did you generate the track in your report? I'm asking as it looks like it came from a GPS device if so why didn't you just use that to work out where you were?

2. Did you have a map/compass/gps etc with you?

Had you taken a bearing on the summit of Cruachan you'd just have needed to go roughly eastwards and you'd have ended up on the ridge and path leading towards Stob Diamh etc. For me the alarm bells would have been ringing two fold. One, I'd have expected to be on a ridge with a pretty steep drop to the left hand side, two, I'd have started to get worried when I kept descending as you don't drop that much (maybe 150m tops) to get over to Stob Diamh.

Also, if either of you have a smart phone then you can download various free apps that will give you a grid reference without needing any phone signal. With that you can at least check your location if things don't feel quite right. It's also worth considering putting your smart phone in airplane mode when on the hills (unless you really need to be contactable) as the battery drains really fast when it can't find a signal. I carry an old school 10 quid Nokia as a back up in case my smart phone battery dies as I know that phone will always work in an emergency situation and doesn't suffer from the battery issues that a smart phone might.

I'd (and I suspect other may also) suggest that you both book yourselves onto a navigation course so you can avoid any such mishaps in future.

Don't let this experience put you off walking though, learn from your mistakes and make sure you don't make them again. Cruachan is a lovely hill and one worth returning to in decent weather as the views are awesome.

Fiona
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Re: Ben Cruachan Twice in one day? something went very wrong

Postby flipside » Mon Jun 20, 2016 12:41 pm

Thank you for sharing this harrowing and personnel experience, I missed the cairn moving from Ben Cruachan onto Stob Daimh. With a stroke of luck my senses kicked in straight away and I knew I was going the wrong way albeit for a short time.

I am glad you are both safe and well, and the kindness of strangers will never be forgotten by anybody who has received help given freely. I came off the south glen shiel ridge knackered, stuck my thumb out to hitch back, a campervan pulled over and took us straight to the car, I could have hugged that kind gentleman :D

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Re: Ben Cruachan Twice in one day? something went very wrong

Postby Sunset tripper » Tue Jun 21, 2016 12:57 am

A gripping tale. Well done for making it home. :D
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Re: Ben Cruachan Twice in one day? something went very wrong

Postby mvapesuk » Wed Jun 22, 2016 7:51 am

Thanks for all the comments guys,
Many lessons were definitely learnt that day and we are looking into navigation courses and also purchasing a gps tracker like a garmin.
We both had smart phones on us and i used mine once we had got down from the north face just used google maps gps locator this helps show where we were and helped us head to the river and loch and main road. however phone was not waterproof and the amount of rain that day made it very tricky to check the phone without getting it to wet.
I think with the fog, rain wind lack of visibility tied legs it all got a bit to much and i lost all sense of direction and ability to think clearly. normally im a very logical and calm person and ive never got lost or in trouble before, i really felt i had let myself and my girlfriend down and put us into a dangerous situation.

I think also a compass and taking a reference at the summit is a very good idea thank you :-)

Like i say many many lessons learnt im just glad we both have some rock climbing abilities as certain moves probably saved us up there on a near vertical slope. and most importantly we both live to fight another day :-)
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Re: Ben Cruachan Twice in one day? something went very wrong

Postby Fiona Reid » Wed Jun 22, 2016 10:33 am

Please please book onto a navigation course and learn how to use a map and compass. Had you known how to do this you could have avoided what sounds like a truly horrendous experience.

Relying on Google Maps is really not a good idea in the hills as as you've discovered the phone battery can run out and you need to keep the phone dry. A hand held GPS may help but your smartphone can give you a grid reference. Personally, I'd save the money you'd spend on a GPS and use it to do a navigation course instead. On the smartphone, just turn put it into airplane mode to preserve battery and use an app like:

Android: Grid Reference (simple and free), OS Locate (lots of bells and whistles), GPS Test (gives satellite positions etc but also gives a grid ref).

Apple: OS Locate is definitely available. There are other Apple apps too but as I'm Android user I'm not familiar with them.

For keeping the phone dry there are lots of options out there that enable the phone to still be useable in the rain. I keep mine in an Aquapac case, it's essentially a glorified plastic bag but is fully immersible and the touch screen works just fine through the case. Most of the big outdoors retailers stock Aquapac or something similar. http://store.aquapac.net/product-category/phone-gps/

Rock climbing abilities can get you both into and out of trouble :) . I suspect had you not been climbers you'd probably have turned around long before you ended up on such sketchy terrain as you'd have been well out of your comfort zones much lower down. I'm a climber myself I have to remind myself that what I find easy scrambling is often a non climbers idea of precipitous hell.

I'll look forward to reading your next trip report with any luck showing off your newly learned navigation and route finding skills :wink:
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