A Lucozade Lolly on Beinn Chuirn

Corbetts: Beinn Chuirn

Date walked: 06/02/2018

Time taken: 5.45 hours

Distance: 15.5km

Ascent: 745m

There are days when you just ache to get out, you’ve whetted the appetite, rekindled the mojo and, despite the promising weather, it’s just not a day when you want to do any clearing up in the garden. And then there’s also new gear from Christmas to try out: mitts with the promise of tropical warmth and new water system.

I’m still in the “Corbetts for Winter” phase so was going for gold up Glen Cononish and aiming for Beinn Chuirn above the Tyndrum mines.

Beinn Chuirn along the Cononish

When there’s a weather window you’ve spotted and you’re confident in backing your judgement, you’ve got to go with your convictions – even when more pessimistic and sceptical comments question your sanity. Overnight snow was predicted to fall, but assessing a combination of forecasts (MWIS / SAIS / BBC / Met Office / MyWeather2) meant that I felt confident that conditions wouldn’t be any more difficult than they had been the previous week.

The game was on and I could look forward to enjoying clear skies and the promise of a good day.

In the end there’d been more snow on our front lawn back in South Ayrshire than there was on the ground between Crianlarich and Tyndrum at 9.00am when I left an almost empty car park at Dalrigh.

With snow on the surrounding tops, there can be few glens with a better prospect than Cononish. The asymmetrical shape of Beinn Chuirn sits full-square in the frame of the glen, with the black scar of Eas Anie on the left balancing the high summit crags on the right. As a stand-alone mountain it’s as imposing as any Munro. Even the presence of the neighbouring big brother of Ben Lui doesn’t detract, despite its huge bowl, swooping ridges and almost Himalayan appearance.

The obligatory image of Ben Lui's east face

Embracing the sound of the wind, the river and the crunch of boots through the fragile skin of ice covering puddles, there aren’t many better ways to start the day. However, gradually the metallic clank-clank-clank of a digger intruded as I approached some drainage works where huge new pipes were being laid across the track, and it made me wonder what the noise will be when and if the gold mining gets the necessary approvals and green lights.

Beinn Chuirn and the ravine of Eas Anie from Cononish

Anyway, despite the mechanical sounds, I was still lured on by the whole day’s exploits being set out in front of me. I strode on, passed the farm and through to the second set of gates to the open hillside to be climbed on the right.

Up, up and away - slowly

Parallel slashes of drainage ditches had been visible since nearing Cononish, and once on the hillside they could be easily mistaken for snow banked paths and a series of zig-zags; until that is, you plunged through and into a sticky gloop beneath. Clearly the ground was yet to freeze thoroughly to make progress easier.

It turned out to be a long slow trudge upwards, just upwards and upwards. Exposed rocks became targets for progress and I was even reduced to counting steps – and then denying myself the luxury of a rest after reaching each target. Gym-fit was yet to be translated into hill-fit, but I was getting there.

Finally the angle relented. It wasn’t the top, and instead of being met by a cairn and a sense of achievement, I was greeted by a full throated blast of wind and the spectacular prospect of cornices and the snow plastered crags of the summit dome.

Headwall cornices and crags of Coire na Saobhaidhe below the summit of Beinn Chuirn

Stunning views: we always say that don’t we. Well, there was the Arrochar “alps” spread out to the south, the Cruachan group to the west, the Glencoe giants and the Nevis group to the north, and round to the clutch of Munros surrounding Ben Lawers in the east – all snow-clad and popping in and out of view as the wind whipped curtains of cloud. So we go for one of those other clichés: sit and take it all in.

Cruachan group from summit of Beinn Chuirn

Ben Lui from Beinn Chuirn

South western horizon from encrusted posts on Beinn Chuirn

But with no large summit cairn behind which I could shelter, and with no shattered boulders to hunker down beside, the panorama had to be absorbed quickly, and with my camera braced on my walking pole for blur-free images. Now I like the wind. I’m intrigued by it, by its invisible and mysterious power. You can see and feel its impact yet there’s nothing tangible to reach out and touch. But there are times when you can get a tad too much of it, especially when the windchill is taking the temperature down into negative double figures.

It wasn’t a place to linger, so I dropped back down a little to get out of the wind and prevent my sandwiches from being fed to the four winds. My new Montane mitts performed perfectly along with a pair of fine Ice Breaker woollen inners. The only fly in the ointment was the new hydration pack I was christening: one part of the bite-valve stuck, leaving me reliant on a bottle of sport drink that I’d tucked into an outside pocket just before leaving the car. When I first had a drink on the top I sensed it was a bit granular. A few minutes later ice soon blocked the top and I was left with a Lucozade lolly. Alternately sucking and squeezing it I was drawn back to the frozen orange jubblys we used to buy from the corner shop outside school over half a century ago. Not wanting anything else to go the same way I simply decided to descend the way I came. There would be no circular route today, I declined the opportunity to make a traverse and return over the adjacent Meall Odhar.

A gentle walk-out along Glen Cononish - with Ben Challum ahead

Having enjoyed the walk-in, I was pleased that I wasn’t dreading the Cononish trudge out. I’d previously done it nine or ten years ago at the height of one summer after doing the Dubhchraig, Oss and Lui trio on the hottest day of the year. Legs ached, the soles of my feet burned, Dalrigh seemed to get no closer and I’d run out of suncream. It was torture. The experience was marginally better when I cycled in and out a few years later. But today, the timing and conditions lent themselves to a gentle wander alongside the river with the view of Ben Challum ahead. It was a welcome lesson in not writing something off after one bad encounter.

Sauntering, loitering, ambling back to the car, my remaining challenge was to decide whether the mug of tea and slab of carrot cake should be from the Green Welly or the Real Food Cafe.

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old danensian

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Location: Ayrshire
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