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Hidden Horrors on Meal na Fearna

Hidden Horrors on Meal na Fearna

Postby old danensian » Fri Feb 09, 2018 8:08 pm

Corbetts included on this walk: Meall na Fearna

Date walked: 01/02/2018

Time taken: 4.5 hours

Distance: 13 km

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It had taken until February to kick-start my year. And, since last July I’d only been on a couple of Arrochar Corbetts at the tail-end of 2017, I was curious to know how my legs and lungs would fare. So, with the added frustration of early morning traffic jams in Glasgow, on the M80 and around Stirling, I was desperate to launch myself into action – albeit at a relatively late 10.00am.

It’s become a habit to look for some reachable and interesting Corbetts to rid the system of any remnants of festive debauchery. For two or three years I’ve broken my duck by visiting The Merrick, enticingly visible from our village. Last year I paid a visit to the pair of Corbetts to the west of Lochearnhead: Creag Mac Ranaich and Meall an t Seallaidh.

Wind whipping up the ripples on Loch Earn

This year I found myself on southern shore of Loch Earn with Meall na Fearna as the objective. Yes, I know, Ben Vorlich is just next door. They would make an attractive pair. But I wanted to enjoy the day, not have to endure it. Let’s ease back into this malarkey gradually.

At last we were getting a prolonged cold spell and so, with temperatures forecast to be below zero all day, I was grateful for the foresight to put boots and gaiters on before leaving home. The forecast was clear, but threatening strong winds at 900m. As soon as I stepped from the car the wind-chill wrenched the warmth from my fingers. With hat pulled down low and bag on quickly, I was away. There’d be no hanging around today.

From the lochside, the bulk of Ben Vorlich loomed and for a moment I might have changed my mind an been enticed by its north ridge, Sgiath nam Tarmachan, plunging down. However my objective lurked, hidden away to the east of its grander neighbour.

Ben Vorlich tempts from above

I was entertained by a red squirrel playing on the frosty grass as I passed Ardvorlich House and slowly got the legs in working order by following the track south as it snaked up the glen and gained height gradually.

For a while I looked in vain for those responsible for the footprints in the snow that struck off to the right towards Ben Vorlich. Soon knew I was to be on my own for the day with no evidence of anyone preceding me as I kept left and followed the Ardvorlich Burn.

Ben Vorlich - the constant companion

At some point the snow from the previous couple of days obliterated any evidence of the path so I simply ploughed on upwards, instinctively heading directly towards Beinn Domhnuill.

And so it continued. There might have been the vestige of a track somewhere but it seemed pointless thrashing around searching for it. Reports I’d read the day before suggested avoiding Beinn Domhnuill but, as it dominated the skyline ahead, it would have been rude not to pay it the compliment and respect of a visit. It was obscuring any view of Meall na Fearna so I would simply see what I could see from the top.

Ben Vorlich loomed upwards to my right, a constant companion for the day, and finally the domed summit of Meall na Fearna became visible as I crested the shoulder.

Meall na Fearna - finally appears from Beinn Domhnuill

But it wasn’t as close as I thought it was going to be. And it proved to be even further.

The expanse of undulating peat hags ahead was dappled and speckled with the wind-blown snow and streaked with stretches of drifted banks, all masking the ups and downs that had to be crossed.

It took fifty laborious minutes to get across, assisted by the wind at my back that had by now picked up to its promised strength. The final slopes didn’t offer any respite from the soft powdery snow and so I plugged and plodded my way to the top.

Back across the blanketed peat hags to Beinn Domhnuill

Stuc a Chroin and Ben Vorlich from Meall na Fearna

Conditions on the summit didn’t prompt any lingering. I hunkered down for a brief snack with my back to the northerly wind which meant I wasn’t treated to the best of the views. Some hazy horizons spread to the south and south east where I’d hoped to see Stirling Castle; but no joy. There’s a limit to the amount of entertainment that can be squeezed out of the lumbering mass of Ben Chonzie and its neighbours in the distance.

So I turned round to face the wind. For the previous couple of hours I’d been blessed by the protection of my rucksack, hood and hat. I now faced and felt the full force of the wind which must have been getting close to the predicted 40 – 50 mph.

Threatening skies above Ben Vorlich

Sprindrift sandblasted and scoured me. I’m sure there’s a less painful way to exfoliate. Goggles went on for the next hour as I descended into the maze of hags again.

I’d been lucky so far. While tracing a route between barely concealed tussocks on the way up, the going had been tough but not tortuous. However, following a bee-line for the glen on the way down, I optimistically hoped it would be quicker.

A more benign descent towards Loch Earn

Ankle-deep or knee-deep would have been fine. Instead I plunged thigh deep and occasionally waist deep and fought to clamber from drift after drift. It’s most worrying when you can feel your feet flailing around in a nothingness below – and when you manage to partially extract yourself you hear the noise of running water below.

What if – what if – what if?

Well it didn’t, so just be more careful next time.

In the end I safely slalomed my way out of the horrendous hidden traps and was able to enjoy watching the wind tear across the summit of Ben Vorlich from the relative solid ground. Snow devils were pirouetting and spiralling along the ridge before being drawn into a spectacular plume from the summit. Mercifully, as I lost height, the wind dropped and conditions became more comfortable.

For a while a darkening cloud made Ben Vorlich appear menacing and I could only imagine what the wind was like for the two or three bristles that I saw making their way down on the skyline: it must have been a bracing day.

At last, I stumbled across my outward footsteps, or the vague trench which remained before they were filled, and strode into patches of sun that made the snow gleam and the whole experience far more benign.

Back at the car, it’s a cliché to say the cobwebs had been blown away. I might have been gym-fit but, with my first outing to the hills for 2018, I knew that meant little when it came to being hill-fit.

Now, what next?
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old danensian
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Re: Hidden Horrors on Meal na Fearna

Postby Mal Grey » Fri Feb 09, 2018 9:10 pm

Hah, sounds like a tough outing for a first hill in a while. Unusual angle on Vorlich shows the summit ridge nicely. Good effort for the first of the season.

Hoping for similar hard work in a few weeks, as the alternative will mean the snow has all thawed and gone as usually happens before our annual winter week...

I've developed a "commando roll" as my feet plummet downwards in soft snow, deployed when I know I'm crossing a "dip", having once seen a mate disappear up to his shoulders into a "small" snow covered puddle. This usually leads to unnecessary hilarity for my mates, who pile in and kick snow over me, but just occasionally saves me a dunking so is worth the humiliation. :lol:
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Re: Hidden Horrors on Meal na Fearna

Postby Coop » Fri Feb 09, 2018 9:29 pm

Hehe; had the " pleasure" of one of those bogs a few days ago myself. Ben Vorlich looks stunning from Meall na Fearna
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Re: Hidden Horrors on Meal na Fearna

Postby Sgurr » Fri Feb 09, 2018 9:57 pm

Fond memories of this hill as it was the first I visited (many years ago) after having a cataract done. I just couldn't believe how clearly I could see people on Beinn Vorlich...moreover I could jump onto a boulder across a stream without missing and best of all see where people had gone. A brilliant return to the hill for me, and by all accounts for you. Had also the pleasure of descending thigh deep into the snow and noticing it was made up of separate particles instead of the horrible reflecting blurr I had got used to.
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