Doune Hill to Beinn Eich - stuck with a stick

Date walked: 06/05/2013

Time taken: 10 hours

Distance: 14km

Ascent: 1000m

No photos with this report but you can easily add plenty. Just hang up a piece of light grey flannel, take a couple of dozen photos of it and slot one in at each point where you want to see a view. That’s all the views I could have got between 11:30 and 17:30 last Monday.
In the four months since Christmas I’ve made three visits to the big Whitelee Windfarm, to check and walk every inch that my Cadets were to walk last week on their introduction to navigation and open moorland, four trips to Kelburn Windfarm above Largs preparing for their visit there this coming Sunday, plus two to Corrour, one to Roybridge and one to Rannoch, building up a new DofE Gold route. Every time it had to be in good visibility so I could get the precise grid refs on a GPS and it was always limited by the size of the route or the time between the morning and afternoon trains. In all that time I only did two trips just for fun.
I decided I wanted a bigger day with bad weather so that I could get back into more normal walking. So I chose Monday, with the forecast showing heavy cloud and mist down to 500m. The Grahams and Corbetts books suggest a clockwise horseshoe over Beinn Eich, Beinn Lochan and Doune Hill at the head of Glen Luss on the west side of Loch Lomond. I chose to reverse the books’ circuit because they always say up the easy slope and down the steep, which I hate. This gave me my bad weather without going anywhere too remote.
Well, I wanted bad weather practice and I got it. And a new experience.
I got off the bus at Luss at 07:50, checked out the bus stops for the 16:09 Citylink bus to Glasgow and the more-or-less hourly McGill’s buses to Balloch Station, and started walking at 08:00.
Easy walking up the tarmac road to Glenmollochan Farm then a very wet track up the Mollochan Burn to the SE ridge of Doune Hill. On the glacial bottom I was able to trace my progress by the meanders of the river. The track was of course very wet and the odd scraps of path beyond were wet mud and tussocks so I lost 30 minutes on that stretch. I found the broad ridge and headed up into the promised mist at 500m. I was hoping to see the paths worn by the descending baggers but, because the ridge was so broad, they were indistinct.
At about 11:00 just before entering the mist I found a beautiful walking stick – horn handle and what looked like gold filigree all the way down the pole, unusually long - a full meter. So I needed to take it with me and dump it in Luss for the owner to have a chance of recovering it.
Up in the drizzle and mist with 6m visibility, just trying to keep to the crest of the ridge, I came to a few rocks. I enjoyed scrambling up them, even with the stick hampering me, but they weren’t just a few: it was the outcrop Stuc Ban, about 40 meters of ascent. Once into them I could only get out upwards, more and more hampered by the stick. If I’d had viz I’d have seen them and either passed around them or abandoned the stick and enjoyed a good G1 scramble. From there on, every time I didn’t have clear ridge up in front, I’d to search around to make sure that straight upwards was OK. So I lost more time.
There was no mistaking the great flat summit platform – except that there was supposed to be a trig pillar. I walked all around, turning right every time that the 6m that I could see sloped downwards: no pillar. I criss-crossed the platform: no good. The reason is that there’s a wee dip between the platform and the pillar, completely obvious if you can see.
I have glaucoma and my occasional companion, the painter Keith Salmon, has zero sight in one eye and scraps of retina in the other. There aren’t many days in Scotland when you can open a map out and scan all over it with a torch magnifier to find the bit you’re after, so I take the 25k and 50k maps along but I work with A4 copies enlarged to 10cm/1km, in clear plastic bags. Since my GPS gives 10-digit grid refs, I’ve adapted my plotting spreadsheet to show the 10 digits, and I print several copies of the route onto 8x5 cards so I can get a fresh one out when the one I’m using gets sodden.
I never walk with the GPS but it lives in the sack so I set the 10-digit co-ordinates 29156 97013 from the card and I hit GOTO. It led me towards a steep descent beside some rocks. I looked again at the card and the enlarged map and I saw that 29156 should have been 29056. I reset, and it led me to another steep descent, beside more rocks. Back to the map: 97013 should have been 97113. When I had typed it in to the spreadsheet I’d transposed the 0 and 1. So the correct 29056 97113 took me straight across the wee dip to the pillar.
The pillar gave me my base to go on a safe bearing towards Beinn Lochan. My glasses were getting more and more fogged but there was a fairly clear path with just several dozen boggy wee stream crossings to skirt around. A cairn of 6 small stones gave me my base for the bearing for Beinn Eich, starting off towards a long edge passing above steep crags. Every time I came to a bit of a gully I had to search around within the 6m viz to see which was the right side of the gully.
The map shows a bealach low down between the two hills but it doesn’t show that there are two dips in it – and 6m viz doesn’t show the two.
By this time I had nothing dry enough to demist my glasses so I was peering at the ground and just vaguely making out the slight depression in the grass.
I came to a dip, climbed out of it and headed along on a clear path which started sloping down to the right. Opening out the map back home in the dry and out of the wind, I can see that it sloped right away down to the farm track in Gleann na Chaorainn – which by that time I could have happily taken.
I scrambled back up the very steep grass to the flat top of the ridge but I’d no idea where I was on it. I looked all around and around the 6m radius and could get no clue. Actually I was still on the flat bealach, in between the two dips. Alright, the GPS had got me to the Doune Hill trig. It could take me to Beinn Eich. I confirmed the card against the enlarged map, keyed in 30208 94676, hit GOTO and set off following the arrow. After about 15 minutes I should have been on a sharply narrowing ridge but I was on a broad one and the arrow was pointing me down a slope to the side. I had the bearing for Beinn Eich on the compass but that was out of harm’s way in my pocket because I needed one hand for the GPS and one for the walking stick. I got it out. It pointed behind me. Beinn Eich is SE of Beinn Lochan but the compass insisted that I was looking north.
It was like a horrible dream. Lost between two summits, in 6m viz with a compass that wouldn’t point the right way. Racking my brain to think at what point I could have turned myself around. I started walking along the compass bearing and the GPS said I was walking away from my target. It had brought me halfway up Beinn Lochan, heading back to the Doune Hill trig.
I deleted every waymark, set Beinn Eich again and it led me back down to the bealach, up to the narrowing ridge and along to the summit. Happily the drizzle stopped and the wind started to dry me out. I got to the summit at 17:06 and left at 17:07 My card said I was due there at 13:40.
I crept down past all the wee gullies and peat hags until I was out of the mist and could see the path down to Edentaggart Farm, then I phoned home to say I was safe but very late. About 18:20, 100m from the farm, both boots slipped and I sat down on the grass then my legs gave up and it took me five minutes to get them working. I walked very gingerly to the ladder stile over the wall beside the farm then found that my Vibrams were slipping on the wet timber like it was ice. There was a lowered part of the wall alongside so I got over that then across to the stile over the fence at the road. I very cautiously clambered over that then stopped by the roadside to sort myself out for the walk down to Luss. 10½ hours since I left Luss and the only time I’d sat down was when I slipped at 18:20.
A pickup truck from the farm stopped alongside me and the driver opened the passenger window and looked out with a worried smile. I said “If you’re offering me a lift, this is one day when I’ll very happily accept.” He was. He thought I looked bedraggled. I said I was and told him how.
He said I was the second man he’d rescued who had been lost in the mist that day. The tenant of Glenmollochan Farm has quit so my farmer’s sheep now graze right across to Glen Douglas: he’d been working at the top of that road and as he set off home he was flagged down by a man who asked him where he was. The man had gone up Doune Hill from Glen Luss and got lost in the mist, and his wife was waiting with the car in Glen Luss. Hopefully she’ll pack him off to Glenmore Lodge before she lets him set foot on any other hill.
I was enjoying the conversation on the road down when he said “I can drop you in Luss but I’m heading to meet someone in Partick so I could drop you at the station there if you like.” So I enjoyed an hour of really good bivvi chat then got the train from Partick to Central and got the 20:30 train home to Troon.
I didn’t need to drop the stick off in Luss: he thought he knew the owner.
I’ve always reckoned that I only have good days on the hills. On Beinn Eich I was admitting that I was having a bad one. That farmer turned it into a wonderful one.

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Location: Troon, Ayrshire
Occupation: retired
Interests: CofS, ATC, environment
Activity: Rambler
Pub: Ballyhennan, Tarbet
Mountain: Beinn an Lochain
Place: Arran
Gear: Grivel Spiders
Member: MCofS
Camera: Canon Powershot A630
Ideal day out: Grade 3S scramble
Ambition: Keep going

Munros: 137
Corbetts: 55
Grahams: 25
Donalds: 21
Wainwrights: 3
Hewitts: 3
Sub 2000: 7

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Trips: 1
Distance: 14 km
Ascent: 1000m


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Distance: 22 km
Ascent: 920m


Trips: 1
Distance: 43 km
Ascent: 2480m
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Corbetts: 1


Trips: 1
Distance: 43 km
Ascent: 2030m
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Joined: Feb 09, 2011
Last visited: Jun 13, 2019
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