The plan was to leave Dundee, arrive in Glasgow to celebrate Jen's Dad's birthday, arms laden with lovingly wrapped gifts then off to the Arrocher Alps to complete the Glen loin circuit with a camp and climbing Beinn Ime and Beinn Narnain halfway around.
We packed our gear in the car and took off for Glasgow. We were expected at 4pm. Everything was going to plan until we went to wrap the final gift we had, a photo album that we just needed to copy one photo to complete. It was at this point that we realised we had left the bag containing the wrapping paper, scissors, tape, and most importantly, his card and all the other gifts back in Dundee.
After charging about Glasgow diving in and out of shops looking for replacements we got in the car with our meager offerings and wrapped them. We arrived embarrassed after 6pm to lovely but slightly stale sandwiches, (I'm sure they were lovely at 4pm) and a good bit of fun before we set off for Arrochar at 8pm.
We arrived at the car park and the meter was out of order so parking was free. We got our boots and packs on and took off up the path beside the bridge. We had our big packs on and were making good time, then the path started to climb, and climb, and climb some more. It was heavy going at the end of a long day and we were running out of light. We planned to camp near Loch Sloy but that idea went out the window. Looking around for anywhere to camp as we walked we were depressed by acres and acres of tussocky, lumpy, damp meadows on all sides.
It was late when we first detected their arrival, the incessant shaking as they got closer was scaring the younger recruits, we hoped they would pass us by but it was not to be. They stood there, surveying the ground, unaware of our presence they stumbled around in the dark setting up their headquarters, oblivious to the regiment only a few meters from their base. The call was made and the troops were gathered to prepare for an attack.
At the top of the climb we found the only spot so far fit for a tent. We left our packs and scouted ahead for water and any other campsite as we didn't really want to camp right next to the path. We found water but it was now quite dark and no joy on a camp. We set up the tent and sat down to beef casserole and a nice merlot. It was a beautiful night, still and warm but a high, light cloud cover.
The beasts appeared sedated, rallying the troops we formed a few units of crack squads to reconnoiter and gather intelligence. Two squads were assigned to approach the beasts from the front and two from the rear. Squad four were unable to gain any foothold due to a large foam barrier covering the smaller beasts rear, squad three had more luck at the rear of the larger beast where the foam barrier was easily overcome by utilising a rock the beast was leaning against. A bridgehead was established and communications were put in place. Squads 1 and two were scattered with many lost, without comms we had no way of knowing if they made it past the shiny, roped defences around the beasts feet. Reports were sketchy from the few stragglers that made it back. Knowing our tentative bridgehead needed reinforcing urgently we planned for an early morning attack in numbers.
We had a great nights sleep and were up at the crack of dawn. I set off for water and spooked a Barn Owl from a tree right in front of me. Never seen one up so close, truly beautiful. I made porridge while Jen did her makeup and we started to pack away just as the first walkers arrived. One fellow who was much older than me (I'm in my 40s) came running up the path, legs like tree trunks wrapped in thick ropes he told us he was running over all 4 mountains after racing at Ben Lomond the day before. As we were almost packed I made some coffee and had a wee sit down on a rock before we set off.
It was during the Regimental briefing that the large beast unleashed his surprise attack. We believed we were undetected but it made straight for us in a lightning full frontal attack, the Regiment stood frozen as the ground shook beneath us. I finished my briefing with some words of encouragement "Some of us shall die today but we will not die without first giving all our fight!" "Take cover and prepare for incoming" I screamed as the troops ran in every direction. The sky darkened as an ominous shadow was cast over our entire base. So many were lost as the rear of the beast crushed them without mercy, grinding down after it's preliminary attack for optimum effect. It was a dark day, a massacre that survivors were intent on avenging.
Some of us were lucky, a large valley offered us protection from the two crushing orbs and with a rallying cry we made our way onto the beast. We were perhaps a Battalion strong as we clung to any purchase we could get, communications were cut but scattered reports came in of other successful incursions and probes were underway across the beast, one patrol of four reported making it onto a plateau but their screams were the last thing we heard as the beast began it's counter attack. With communications broken we searched for cover and dug in. Some were caught in the open between the tree lines and were mercilessly plucked by the smaller beast and crushed, recruits were screaming all around, scared and unable to move they waited for the sharp talons to descend. Those of us remaining waited with baited breath, hidden in trees or the many warm, boggy areas for a chance to regroup. After what seemed an age the counter attack stopped and we began to take stock of our position.
When I stood up after my coffee I noticed movement on my hand and there were 4 little spiders on my hand, Jen is afraid of spiders so I went to show/scare her and we both suddenly realised what they were. I swept the four of them off my hand and Jen stripped my top off. She started pulling ticks out of my stomach and back. I couldn't really strip any further as there were constant comers and goers up the path. We got our packs on and set off. We split our gear into our small packs near the bridge and stashed the large packs in the forest. Some kind soul had left a large jobby on the side of the path which I stood in and we decided this was as good a marker as any for finding the packs on our return.
I will hold my hands up here. I had taken just a cursory glance at our map having bought it the day before. They had no explorer so it was the landranger. I was looking at the walk report just before we set off and so knew where to find the start path and I knew there was nothing to worry about. Well, having decided we were on a parallel path than the one we were I also decided the hill in front of us was Ben Vane and we changed our mind about climbing the other two and set off to climb Ben Vane. We got to the bridge (wrong bridge) and turned right to go around Ben Vane to Loch Sloy. Instead we ended up at Loch Lomond. Puzzled, I looked for some landmark on the Landranger map. Nothing much around us so we headed for the mast we could see on the map. We got there and had a reassessment of what to do, we decided to go over Little Hills and then up Ben Vorlich.
We found a little steep, boggy path going up by the waterfall and climbed for a while passing the tunnels that vibrate with the water flowing through the mountain, aiming for Little Hills we crossed a small ridge on sheep tracks, we saw a lizard and a few frogs/toads. We finally got to the big Corrie and traversed across it. We sat down at the burn and had a cup of tea and planned our next move. Little Hills was very rocky and steep so we decided to drop a bit and go straight up the west side. It was amazing. Blue skies all around and the views of Loch Lomond extending as we climbed. Truly spectacular. I pointed out to Jen for the hundredth time 'Nice view, shame we don't have a camera.' (She left it in her big pack)
My vertigo was playing tricks on me every time I turned around but I just plowed on. It was quite scrambly on the route we picked but we were both loving it and looking up I saw a herd of deer on the summit looking at us before they scampered away.
We made the summit in good time and decided to go straight up Ben Vorlich from where we were. It looked daunting but we got the map out and had a good look at routes and planned a strategy. I took a bearing for the summit, (first time ever) and we set off back down just as another chap appeared and disappeared as quick as he came. Another Fell runner. Amazing to watch. We picked our way down, past lochans and bogs then started the steep climb pretty much straight up. Using the compass properly for the first time we knew our direction when we lost sight of it and we made our final assault on the summit between two packs of snow which narrowed into a boulder field we climbed and scrambled through. Great fun. I was very pleased when our bearing brought us directly onto the summit from the West. I reminded Jen how great it would be to have a camera.
While the beast was distracted we have made great gains, comms are reestablished and we have found scattered remnants of Recon squad 1 and 2. News is not so good from the smaller beast where the terrain was unsuitable due to lack of cover and unscalable peaks. Only three of our number remain there for now they have dug in awaiting rescue. Here on our primary assault we have the battered remains of a brigade, we have established a field hospital for the wounded under a plastic shield with a strange green flashing glow around the arm of the beast. The rest of us regrouped around the rally point in the forest below the ladder of crabs. We now plan our final advance to the eyes of the beast. Many obstacles stand in our way, there is a large overhang to be negotiated above us with a central cave to be investigated, beyond this the next cover is the tree line on the beast's chin. It is a formidable barrier to overcome and many of our jungle specialists were lost. We await the beast's next move.
We stayed on the summit for a while, we moved down past the trig point to the shelter of some rocks as there was a bit of wind and broke out the stove and some more Beef casserole. Nothing ever tasted so good. We got out the map and both had A-HA! moments as we looked around us. A cup of tea and we set off down the main track to descend to Loch Sloy. The path was more demanding than we expected but great fun until about half way down when my bipolar meds kicked in and I started feeling light headed. I had stupidly taken them at the top. I had to take quite a few breaks on the way down.
The beast appears to be tiring, reports are coming in from isolated units stuck in boggy ground that attacks are ongoing in isolated pockets all over the beast. There appears to be some kind of chemical attack from the beast, individuals are reported to be dazed and confused after attacks. Our main strike force remains undeterred. I have decided on a risky strategy of splitting my troops. The main force will head for the eyes whilst a smaller unit will descend to investigate the large outcrop between the beasts legs for potential attack zones. May god be with us on this day as we venture into the unknown.
We got down and walked back to the forest to collect our packs. After repacking our large bags I broke the news to Jen that I wanted to finish the loop and see if we could cross the bealach to join the trail past the cobbler. Jen was not amused
A picture of us repacking our big packs after Jen finally found her camera.
DSC_0002 by jon jen, on Flickr
We carried up back the way we came and turned left up a stony track, it climbed, then climbed and then climbed some more.
Ben Vorlich as we left.
DSC_0003 by jon jen, on Flickr
Assuring Jen that it wouldn't go up much more we rounded Ben Vane to find an enormous Bealach in the way of the Cobbler path. Much protesting from Jen ensued but I reassured her we would go back the loop through the forest. I had no intention of climbing over that with heavy packs and it was getting late. We then noticed the massive hill we had to climb to get there. I wished the world would swallow me up and apologised to Jen. (A lot)
We carried on, marvelling at the ruggedness of Ben Vane and trying to pick routes up it.
Ben Vane as the sun was going down. At this point Jen's camera's battery died.
DSC_0001 by jon jen, on Flickr
We climbed the steep hill and came to a small Dam and then split left into the forest. We trudged along, bored of the view, trees, trees and more trees. (I hate forest walks) until a Fox just appeared on the track in front of us. It stopped and had a look at us approaching then nonchalantly skipped off down the hill. It was beginning to get dark by this point but we needed some sustenance so we got the stove out and had a cup of tea and some chocolate.
Reports received from the descending party seem positive. They have located a hanging installation seemingly of importance to the beast as it frequently adjusts the positioning as if checking it is still there. Scouting parties have ascertained a formidable smelly bog on the approach from the rear, the forward approach is also protected by a swinging pendulum that sweeps all in it's path. A tricky approach from the side is being reconnoitered and I await confirmation of units successfully traversing the obstacle. Reports of a breakdown in communication between the two beasts from our intercept team were gladly received. A fracture in the alliance would aid our cause greatly. Translation teams have translated one side of the interchange but our cypher is still working trying to break the encryption key used by the smaller beast. It seems they are utilising a code known as Glaswegian and it is almost impossible to crack.
Our group has made slow progress, the overhang was a larger obstacle than we anticipated, one of our party was left in the cave to cover the rear as we advanced through the sparse forest towards two more overhangs with pinnacles. These provided little obstacle and we made good time to the tree line at the neck of the beast. Good news came when communications were restored and various stragglers reported in seemingly scattered across all the limbs of the beast awaiting orders. Dig in and await instructions was the order of the day, the main assault was pressing ahead seemingly unchallenged. The beast appeared to be too preoccupied to counter but reports were received of sporadic scratching attacks, especially around the second force below. These attacks proved ineffective and failed to dislodge even the most precarious of our positions. We press on through the jungle that is on the beasts chin. It will be our last objective before we rest. The climb has tired the troops.
The walk out was long and tedious due to the constant trees blocking the view. It was now 11pm and dark so we just trudged on until we saw the lights of Arrochar below us. By now we had sore feet and the packs were heavy, the lights enticed us as the path kept undulating closer. We eventually reached a junction and a sign appeared out of the darkness as we were about to get the map out. Car parks it said. Happy days we said and took off in what seemed the wrong direction. Figuring it would zig-zag down to the car park we were surprised when it started climbing again, we persevered as the car got further and further away. I complained loudly at every rise and every corner and every straight until Jen told me to shut up. Fair enough, we trudged in silence until eventually we dropped down, through a gate and out onto a track across the field. It took us by some houses and then to a junction. We figured the left looked more inviting as the right disappeared into darkness. We found a path that led to a small bridge and then we were suddenly by the loch, opposite the car park. No time was lost getting in the car and changing into trainers. (Jen forgot hers) I reminded her about the camera. It was now 23.40 and we set off back to Dundee. When we got back Jen pulled a bunch more ticks out of me and we fell asleep. Next morning after a shower she got a bunch more from unmentionable places. This morning I found what I hope to be the last one from the very corner of my eye. I'm still worried there are some in my beard but can't see them. So far, nearly 30 in me and 3 in Jen.
We loved the Arrochar Alps and all the wildlife we saw. (Not you ticks) It's a really special place and our first view from a Munro, and such views. If only we had had a camera. We will be back soon for Ben Vane and buddies. It's the first time we have strayed from the route and we found we enjoyed it much more. We are currently studying maps, understanding contours and distance and beginning to understand the tools a bit better. We also bought tick removers today. I phoned my doctor and he told me not to worry until I see a halo, which I haven't so all seems good.
It's Jen's pick this weekend, it seems we will be going to Ben Mcdui and Derry Cairngorm. Can't wait. She will be writing the report for that one. Not sure why. We might even have a few more pictures, eh Jen?
This will be my final report. Our initial assault on the chin has failed. We struggled through heavy growth to the overhang expecting a quick ascent to the eyes for our final attack. We were dismayed to find it was a false summit and our objective was much further ahead. Morale collapsed and we had to rest. A couple of special forces went ahead fueled with bravado but we lost contact with them as they crested the chin. Communications failed as we entered deeper growth and we were forced to resort to runners to keep lines of communication open, this depleted the main attack force considerably. Units scattered everywhere relayed messages of a concerted attack from the southern flank. The small beast was rapidly decimating our rearguard. One by one we lost contact with our comrades as the beast forced them from their foxholes and incarcerated them in a prison they have codenamed IRN-BRU. All contact was lost with the special installation team at 00.23 hours. Runners no longer return. We have been bombarded at our jungle position with search and destroy missions by the smaller beast and committed and sustained scratching attacks from the large beast. All hope is now lost, our chemical weapons team are lost, along with their cargo of Lymes ordnance. I received word from the last runner that one of the special forces made it to the eye and dug in awaiting our arrival. I recommend him for the distinguished service medal with oak leaves. Never a braver trooper have I seen in my many months of service. He shall be remembered.
As I write I lay wounded, a sneak scratch attack from the left caught us off guard. Killing 2 and injuring myself. I fear I will not last the day. Perhaps it is the loss of blood but I find myself questioning the validity of this war we wage upon the beasts. So many lives lost, so many more ruined and for what? Generations of our kind have fought this war and while a few battles may be won we see more and more of the beasts on our land. Perhaps it is time we offer terms of surrender. If only so my wife Theresa will never have to see little Thomas and Tarquin endure the hardship I and so many others have suffered.
We just didn't have the numbers, communication equipment failed, the initial pre-emptive attack by the beast decimated command and control, our maps did not show the true size of the overhang and we lost our primary weapon with the chemical weapon team early on in the fight. Still we had a fighting chance in the rear but for the alliance with the smaller beast we may have overcome but the onslaught from 2 fronts was too strong. Perhaps I should never have split my forces. Who knows?
I am weakening. Tell my family I love them and I fought this battle with honour.
Lieutenant Tiberious Tick.