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Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian

Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian


Postby dogplodder » Fri Jan 06, 2017 1:45 pm

Route description: Bidean nam Bian

Munros included on this walk: Bidean nam Bian

Date walked: 16/08/2016

Distance: 11 km

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I was at the tail end of a virus that had struck both of us during our trip to Arran, but this was too good an opportunity to miss. It was always going to be a special day. It was Liz and Roger's 200th Munro which made it special enough; but besides that it was one of those mountains I was a little afraid of and thought I would never climb. The awesome Bidean nam Bian.

One of my friends had a close call on Bidean one late spring when he was out minus axe and crampons, which proved to be an almost fatal mistake. He slipped on a steep icy slope, went into a slide and only stopped himself by jabbing his hand into the frozen ground and his finger miraculously finding a hole made by someone elses's axe. Had he failed to stop he could have gone off a sheer drop which he probably wouldn't have survived. He was so shaken by that experience he didn't tell anyone about it for quite a long time.

The second sobering story about Bidean nam Bian was in January 2013 when six experienced walkers were caught in an avalanche, leaving four dead and one critically injured.

So I had a healthy respect for Bidean nam Bian. But we weren't going in winter or spring; we were going in August when snow and ice would not be an issue. The route as described on WH sounded straightforward, with a path all the way, and the only thing that worried me was the start of the eroded path dropping down into the Lost Valley. I'm not keen on loose scree.... but I would just have to cross that bridge when I came to it.

We parked in the large car park opposite the Three Sisters, which later in the day would be thronged with tourists with a piper in attendance. At 9.30am we didn't have the piper's company but there was already an impressive number of cars parked. We wouldn't have the hills to ourselves then - not surprising on a good weather summer's day in Glencoe.

From the car park we dropped down to reach the path heading up between two of the sisters, Gear Aonach and Aonach Dubh. We turned right along the track at the bottom of the glen then took a path to the left towards a footbridge over the River Coe and followed it up into Coire nan Lochan. This well maintained path makes for good progress as it climbs high on the left side of the valley.

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Our main objective for the day is quite a secretive mountain and can't be seen from the road, being obscured by the Three Sisters, and even as we gained height we couldn't initially see it. Looking ahead we could only see the subsidiary peak of Stob Coire nan Lochan which we would have to climb to reach the central peak of Bidean nam Bian.

Zoomed to Stob Coire nan Lochan, our first target hill
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For the first part of the climb we walked together. Liz and Roger's son Clem kept us entertained with insights and exploits on various aspects of life and work, but soon the group separated as we each found our own pace. We passed some pretty waterfalls and pools which if we'd had time would have been tempting for a refreshing paddle. But the men were pushing on at a phenomenal rate so we needed to keep our heads down and keep up as best we could.

Looking down to the road and over to the Aonach Eagach ridge
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There was one short scrambly bit where the path came close to the stream and then we were heading up towards a waterfall in a small 'box canyon' and the point a decision has to be made as to which way we would go to reach the ridge. We had already decided we would follow the WH route, which meant crossing the stream and heading west over grassy ground then SW into the coire.

Somewhere about here I noticed we were being watched. Ever since far off summer holidays as a small child I've had a fascination with wild deer. The red deer population in Scotland has grown a lot since the late 1950s and in those days they were only distant specks and if it wasn't for my father's eagle eye and WW2 binoculars I would never have seen them.

So it's in my DNA to be looking out for deer and I've see them most days I've been out in the high corries and ridges, their usual summer habitat. I love walking with the dogs but when I've got them with me the deer are off at speed to put distance between them and their age old predator (wolves), so I don't usually get decent photos. But today neither Liz nor I had our dogs with us and we were about to reap the benefit of that in a closer than normal cervine encounter.

Three pairs of antlers were watching us from behind. Then their heads and bodies appeared and more of the group emerged. I counted ten, but there might have been more. They were fully grown stags making up what's known as a 'bachelor group' - which is how deer go about, in single sex groups, at all times apart from the rut. We stood still and watched them, expecting them to do what deer usually do and run away.

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But they didn't. They milled around a bit, as if not sure what to do, then they trotted over to the right of our position and started moving uphill towards us.

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I had never seen deer behaving like this; they were coming towards us with the clear intention of passing us. I'm not sure if they'd have used the path if we hadn't been on it but they took a line parallel to the path instead. Thinking about it afterwards I realised this was their normal routine. They would feed lower down in the early morning then as the sun rose would go higher up to get away from biting insects. We just happened to be in their way, but they weren't going to let that stop them getting to where they wanted to be.

Stags on overtaking manoeuvre
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Then something happened I would never have imagined happening and wouldn't have believed except that I saw it. One of the stags was lame. Whether it was down to old age or injury I don't know, but he was struggling to keep up with the others. There was a point about level with us they had to cross a rocky gully which involved some fancy footwork and a bit of a jump. The able-bodied stags had all crossed but the lame one stopped at the obstacle, as if he didn't like the look of it.

Here's the remarkable thing. Two of the stags who had already crossed turned back and waited for him. It looked as if they were encouraging him to cross and they weren't going anywhere until he'd done it. He was a bit hesitant but he did cross and the three of them trotted or in his case hobbled off to catch up with the rest of the group who were disappearing up the slopes of Stob Coire nan Lochan.

This old boy was lame
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To think that in a few more weeks these chaps would be slugging it out over females, but here they were looking out for each other. Natural selection would say the lame stag should have been left behind to fend for himself - but that's not what we saw happening. There was some kind of group loyalty that made those two stags stop in the presence of possible danger (us) to make sure the one who was struggling didn't get left behind.

We must have spent about 15 minutes watching and taking photos while all the time Roger and Clem were increasing the distance between us, oblivious as to why we were taking so long. Apart from the interest of watching the deer our surroundings were spectacular. This was not a walk to be rushed but one to be enjoyed and savoured. On our left we could now see the great Pinnacle and South Buttresses of Stob Coire Lochan towering above us. The direction of the overhead sun made it awkward to photograph - the low evening sun lighting it up from the west would have been better.

The so called toast rack
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Our path continued NW to reach the ridge which would lead us along the top of the buttresses and up to the summit. Once on the ridge we got one of those sudden lovely views - this one of Loch Leven stretching away from us with Glencoe village nestled at the near end. There was a bit of haze about so we didn't have the clarity we needed for long clear sharp views. Not that we were complaining; how could we on a such a beautiful day.

Glencoe village and Loch Leven
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We turned left along the ridge which was level walking at first, then became steeper as the path wended its way through and over a jumble of large angular rocks.

Part of the toast rack close up
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Looking down to where we had our deer encounter
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Stob Coire nan Lochan's north ridge
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When we reached the top it appeared the men had been there for some time already and looked like Clem had been catching up on his sleep! Although an impressive peak in it's own right, Stob Coire nan Lochan standing at 1115m is too close to the summit of Bidean nam Bian to count as a separate Munro. The whole of this complex mountain range is part of Bidean nam Bian, with the northern ridges that are the Three Sisters acting as guardians to the hidden central summit, which is the highest point in Argyll at 1150m.

Sunbathing on Stob Coire nan Lochan summit (1115m)
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From Stob Coire nan Lochan we followed the scree path down to the bealach before climbing again, higher up quite steeply through rocks. I remember finding the final steep ascent hard-going in the heat but then suddenly we were there - the top of Bidean nam Bian with fabulous if hazy views all round.

Our route from Stob Coire nan Lochan to Bidean nam Bian
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Roger and Liz were in jubilant mood as this was their 200th Munro together (Roger having climbed an undisclosed number in his youth).

Roger and Liz (aka Huff_n_Puff) on their 200th Munro, Bidean nam Bian (1150m)
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I think the superfit Clem had not bargained for the time it would take to cover this route with an old slow coach like me in tow. He hadn't thought of it as an all day event and hadn't brought much food with him (although I'm sure his parents would have helped him out in that department!). So a plan was hatched that he and Roger would forge ahead at their own speed, climb Stob Coire Sgreamhach (promoted to Munro status in 1997) then nip down to Glencoe village to pick up cold drinks and pizza which they would bring back to meet us at the car park.

With Roger and Clem at BnB summit (Liz's photo)
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Loch Etive from Bidean nam Bian
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It sounded a good plan and in some ways Liz and I were relieved we could go at our slower speed without feeling we were holding up the men. So after a few photos Roger and Clem set off and Liz and I stayed a bit longer at the summit and chatted with a young Dutch couple who had arrived shortly after us. With the pressure off we were in no particular rush and by the time we left the summit I felt I'd had a good rest. The route ahead looked superb with wonderful scenery on all sides and no difficulties to be negotiated.

The way ahead
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Next objective was Stob Coire Sgreamhach
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Away down there is the Lost Valley
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Maybe I relaxed a bit too much, or maybe it was the path being covered with gravel with the potential to behave like tiny ball bearings. All I know is that one moment I was watching two tiny figures on the top of Stob Coire Sgreamhach, which I took to be Roger and Clem, and the next moment my feet went from under me as I executed a banana skin type of acrobatic move and landed awkwardly on my pole, bending it in the process. It's the first of two pole-related incidents I've had in the last six months, the second of which fractured my wrist. I'd not fractured anything on this occasion but I'd tweaked my thigh and my legs had gone to jelly.

I got up gingerly and continued along the path after Liz. My instinct was to say nothing and carry right on and climb the second Munro. It was so close and having come all this way it seemed a waste not to and if I didn't do it now was I realistically going to have another chance? Such were the thoughts running through my head. But my sensible head was telling me the wise thing would be to concentrate on getting down safely and leave out the extra climb.... except that I didn't want to leave Liz to climb it on her own. But if we got to Bealach Dearg before the men had disappeared down into Coire Gabhail it would mean one of them could accompany Liz up SCS, the other could go for food as planned and I could take my time slithering down the steep scree path, the part of the day's route I'd been least looking forward to.

By the time I reached the bealach Liz was standing chatting to the men. So I had a choice. To go on with Liz, or start the descent. What clinched it was knowing if I opted for the climb with a tweaked thigh muscle I was going to slow her down and these poor guys were going to have to wait even longer before we got back to the car. Once I shared my thinking Clem agreed to accompany his mum back up SCS and Roger volunteered to escort me off the hill. Not sure which was the more noble offer!

Looking down the eroded gravel path it reminded me of the stone chute off Beinn Eighe, but I think the top was narrower and it was possible to get hand and foot holds on one or other of the rock sides. It wasn't the most elegant descent but it was fine and Roger (who could have gone far more quickly) waited patiently a short distance ahead. I thought of the two stags waiting for the lame one and that made me smile.

Once we were down the first steep part there was a kind of zig zag path through the scree and what I really wanted was for Roger to romp away to collect the cold drinks and pizza, as was originally floated and the idea of which became more appealing in my mind as time passed! But no, he would not relinquish his duty to get this very slow person safely down into the Lost Valley. There were some funny moments. Whenever I didn't have confidence that my feet would stay exactly where I put them my default position was to sit down and bum shuffle. But Roger wasn't for that approach at all and would say "No no, stand up. Look, it's just like stairs at home!" which made me laugh out loud at the suggestion this scree slope with the occasional solid rock was anything like the stairs at home!

Now on a good path
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Once we reached the level I had previously walked up to when I came to the Lost Valley before we found a suitable spot to sit down and wait for the other two, whom we could see initially as small stick figures descending the path behind us. They had made good time but Liz looked done in and later told me that Clem had been urging her to run down the path. I think she was relieved to be able to revert to a more sedate pace, avec moi.

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Being in the Lost Valley again brought back a flood of emotion. This was the place the MacDonalds of Glencoe had hidden their cattle, including those they had rustled from neighbouring clans. It was also very likely the place adults and children had run to early in the morning of 13th February 1692, when 120 government soldiers billeted in their homes had received orders to turn on them with musket and sword. The number killed was 38 but the weather was so severe that of those who escaped 40 more died of exposure, possibly in this very place.

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The Massacre of Glencoe by James Hamilton hangs in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery
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The massacre was allegedly due to lateness in signing the oath of allegiance. But the oath had been signed and it was probably more to do with making an example of a particular group, the reasons for which are lost in the mists of time. For Highlanders to have shown their characteristic generous hospitality to strangers and then be betrayed by them was acknowledged to be a most heinous crime and Glencoe became known as the 'valley of weeping'. My granny was a MacDonald and both times I've been in the Lost Valley I've felt it to be a sombre, haunted place.

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Roger and Clem sped ahead, but unaware of where the path was followed the course of the river which involved clambering over moss covered rocks. I'd been before so Liz and I took the less intuitive but easier route up to the right before starting down towards Glen Coe. I would not describe this as a tourist friendly route, although we met a number, and as someone else has commented it's remarkable to think the MacDonalds had ever persuaded their cattle to come up here. How did they manage the bit near the river where a metal chain has been bolted to the rock? They must have been goat-like cattle.

As we climbed up from the river towards the car park we were faced with a barrage of people with cameras pointed at the Three Sisters and the way we'd just come. I said to Liz "Does this make you feel a bit smug?" and she said "I was thinking just that". There's nothing wrong with getting out of a bus to take photos of this dramatic landscape but it's a world away from walking into it and exploring the hidden wonders, unseen from the road. It was such a privilege to be able to do that.

It also left me pondering the apparent loyalty of the stags and the betrayal of the massacre. I'm not attributing any notion of morality to animals and even if I think my dogs like me and would stick by me, the bottom line is they're dogs - opportunistic experts who will do whatever works best for them. And yet there's a kind of innate goodness about dumb beasts, in which they are true to their kind and behave in the way that dogs or stags should. The behaviour I saw of two stags waiting for a lame one couldn't be described as kindness, although it did look kind. Roger making sure I got down to the Lost Valley in one piece when he would rather have raced ahead was kind. Clem escorting his mum up a peak he'd just climbed when he was desperate for a hot meal was kind. Some of the soldiers ordered to slaughter their hosts breaking their swords so they couldn't obey the order, and in so doing risking their own lives, was both brave and kind.

What happened in Glencoe in 1692 was an atrocity, but seen alongside atrocities currently happening it looks almost commonplace. Something has gone very wrong with the so called crown of creation, the top of the pyramid. Having a great potential for endeavour and good also means a frightening potential for brokenness and evil. The higher we are the further we can fall.

My last photo was taken the following week and later in the day. It's of a sunset over Loch Leven from Glencoe village, the beauty of it contrasting with the wrong done there. It's a mix of light and darkness - and it's only the light that shows up the darkness. So to end on a less depressing and more hopeful note, here's a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Here's to a 2017 with more light than darkness and more love than hate - for all of us.
Last edited by dogplodder on Fri Jan 06, 2017 11:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian

Postby dogplodder » Fri Jan 06, 2017 1:48 pm

Sunset over Loch Leven
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Re: Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian

Postby Petr Dakota » Fri Jan 06, 2017 2:17 pm

This is completely GREAT report ! :clap: :clap: :clap:
...a great day out, great area, great mountains, weather, conditions...a part of education, history :thumbup:
...and also the achievement - Congratulations to Roger and Liz and congratulations to all of you as you made it so special ! :clap: :D :clap:
Take my hat off to you...thank you for the report, all your reports shows your dedication... :clap: :clap:
Respect :clap:
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Re: Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian

Postby katyhills » Fri Jan 06, 2017 2:40 pm

I'm constantly humbled by the walk reports people submit. This is stunning. Thank you - for the story, the photos, the deer and probably most of all - for the quote. I've got tears inmy eyes now :oops:

It's a helluva hill and walk, and you're right, we're priviledged to be part of the great community that goes beyond getting out of a car or bus an dtaking a few photos.

Long may you have the health to do it, in 2017 and beyond. Hope you're well healed now :)
Has to be a winner this month - surely? :D
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Re: Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian

Postby Huff_n_Puff » Fri Jan 06, 2017 6:14 pm

Absolutely stunning report, you really capture the wonder of that day and the amazing mixture of loyalty and betrayal that made up our day in that beautiful location. It's great to relive it through someone else's eyes, yes we are privileged to live here and have the time and inclination to explore this wonderful land. A big thank you :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:
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Re: Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian

Postby Towser » Fri Jan 06, 2017 10:19 pm

That report really lived Dogplodder. You took me with you all the way, seeing the sights and hearing the sounds, feeling the heat and the heartbeat. And a timely reminder of what mankind is capable of - both bad and good. Lets all strive to help and encourage our fellowmen and women in 2017 and make this world a more loving place.
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Re: Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian

Postby Sunset tripper » Sat Jan 07, 2017 9:12 am

Great words and pictures. One of my favourite places especially the Lost Valley which I have visited a few times on its own and a few including the mountain. You feel the history in Glencoe and even more so in the Lost Valley. Cheers :D
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Re: Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian

Postby Mal Grey » Sat Jan 07, 2017 9:35 pm

A lovely, inspiring and thoughtful report. Superb, thank you for spending the time to write it.

:clap:
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Re: Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian

Postby malky_c » Sun Jan 08, 2017 10:51 pm

Great place obviously, and well photographed, but also a really good report 8) .
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Re: Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian

Postby Alteknacker » Mon Jan 09, 2017 12:38 am

Brilliant report - text and pics. Nothing I can really add to what Petr, KH, and the others have already said.

I have a tremendous sense of how fortunate I am to be living at this point in time - relatively well-off (compared to most of the world), no wars that I or my family have to be involved in, and the good health to enjoy the wonder of places like this. You capture that sense of appreciating our privileged situation really well.

Definite candidate for report of the month :) :clap: :clap: :clap:
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Re: Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian

Postby dogplodder » Mon Jan 09, 2017 9:55 pm

Petr Dakota wrote:This is completely GREAT report ! :clap: :clap: :clap:
...a great day out, great area, great mountains, weather, conditions...a part of education, history :thumbup:
...and also the achievement - Congratulations to Roger and Liz and congratulations to all of you as you made it so special ! :clap: :D :clap:
Take my hat off to you...thank you for the report, all your reports shows your dedication... :clap: :clap:
Respect :clap:


Wow thank you Petr. That is such a kind comment. :D
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Re: Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian

Postby past my sell by date » Tue Jan 10, 2017 5:37 pm

Great report and lovely photos - all those wonderful greens! I visited this area a lot in the 60-70s but never saw the Northern corries without any snow. Normally the descent into Coire Gabhail involved finding the gap in the cornice, facing in, planting the (long) axe firmly, and kicking into the big steps. After 10m or so the angle eased and you could turn round.
Your pic of Loch Etive looks straight over Beinn Maol Chaluim - one of Etives great group of Corbetts that I've been enjoing this last couple of years. They feel much more like Munros
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Re: Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian

Postby Petr Dakota » Tue Jan 10, 2017 8:22 pm

dogplodder wrote:
Petr Dakota wrote:This is completely GREAT report ! :clap: :clap: :clap:
...a great day out, great area, great mountains, weather, conditions...a part of education, history :thumbup:
...and also the achievement - Congratulations to Roger and Liz and congratulations to all of you as you made it so special ! :clap: :D :clap:
Take my hat off to you...thank you for the report, all your reports shows your dedication... :clap: :clap:
Respect :clap:


Wow thank you Petr. That is such a kind comment. :D

...such a kind report :wink: Place like Glencoe deserves that...so thank you :D
Here is the pic from Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow where I was with Cheyenne just 6 weeks ago. I kept looking at the picture for a long time there...and I felt the history...
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20160826_161945.jpg
...and in The Lost Valley with Cheyenne last Summer
:D
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Re: Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian

Postby dogplodder » Thu Jan 12, 2017 1:36 pm

katyhills wrote:
It's a helluva hill and walk, and you're right, we're priviledged to be part of the great community that goes beyond getting out of a car or bus an dtaking a few photos.



Hard to put into words how glad I was to get the chance to do this one! :thumbup:
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Re: Beast versus man on Bidean nam Bian

Postby dogplodder » Thu Jan 12, 2017 1:41 pm

Huff_n_Puff wrote:Absolutely stunning report, you really capture the wonder of that day and the amazing mixture of loyalty and betrayal that made up our day in that beautiful location. It's great to relive it through someone else's eyes, yes we are privileged to live here and have the time and inclination to explore this wonderful land. A big thank you :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:


A big thank you to you for letting me share your 200th! :D :clap:
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