Our Easter weekend was spent making a very early morning visit to our favorite mountain: The Cobbler, or Ben Arthur as it is also known. We never tire of it! It has everything you could want from a hillwalk if you’ve got two pesky Beagles: a safe, easy-to-follow route that is nevertheless a decent workout, great views, and seemingly little chance of bumping into sheep or deer. Even though we’re very familiar with The Cobbler, it is still a mountain, and as such it demands a certain amount of respect and preparation. On Saturday we packed up all the essentials – clothing, a blankie for sitting on, human/doggy first aid stuff, torches and batteries, water – and of course the all important OMEK (On Mountain Entertainment Kit). What goes into an OMEK you might ask? Well the the exact make-up varies from occasion to the next, but this time it contained:
- A big handful of small-bite dog biccies from Tesco
- A few odd pieces of paddywack
- Four twisted rawhide strips, and the same number of dried fish cubes from Fish4Dogs
The only thing we needed now was sleep. Allowing time for the drive to Arrochar and a leisurely ascent with some photo opportunities, I calculated that we’d have to leave the house at about 1:30am; that should get us to the top comfortably before sunrise at 6:40-ish am. Unfortunately Saturday evening was unexpectedly bright and sunny, definitely not the kind of weather that helps you nod off early. Even the Beagles had a bit of trouble napping.
It’s 8pm and with a maximum of only 5 hours or so sleep possible before we leave, Beanie’s a member of the (mostly) wide awake club
OK, Biggles is asleep here, but only because he’s just been out into the garden and had a vigorous long distance conversation with the farm collie. Five minutes later he was awake again and throwing his blankie around.
I tried everything I could think of to induce sleep. Dim lights and soothing music? Not a hope. A Star Trek movie I must have seen dozens of times? Well, to be fair I did lose consciousness briefly during a couple of scenes, but not enough to qualify as sleep. I even tried a bit of reverse psychology and played through three back-to-back episodes of Game of Thrones I’d recorded that I really wanted to see (don’t you always nod off when you really want to stay awake?) But I saw them all, and the ad breaks too, every last minute of them. Susan fared even worse; she’d gone to bed with Titanic playing on the laptop. I honestly can’t think of a single time Susan has made it all the way through a movie – whether at home or even at the cinema – without catching some zzzzs, but this time she didn’t drop off once. Departure time arrived all too soon, and we headed off with almost no sleep in the bank.
The tiredness that had eluded Susan hit her full force by the time we reached Arrochar. She just couldn’t fight through it, and decided to nap in the car. Hardened by years of sleep deprivation as a software programmer, I was still good to go, but the question was this: should I go alone, leaving Beanie & Biggles in the car (easier and safer), or take them with me. Now this may sound silly to canine behaviorists and non-dog owners, but I love the idea that my two Beagles get to see wonders of nature at crazy times of the day when other doggies and their owners are tucked up in bed. Perhaps it’s true they’d get more enjoyment from sniffing a big pile of horse manure on a regular walk than seeing a sunrise from a mountain top, but here’s the thing: I didn’t have any horse poo to give them at that moment, but I could give them a sunrise. Decision made. The three of us headed out into the night.
Beanie and Biggles illuminated by my head torch
The moon was so bright I barely needed the head torch. As we headed up the winding path I could see a thick mist moving in across Loch Long, but it seemed to be low lying, so we pressed on. I started up a one-sided conversation with Beanie & Biggles as I often do on solo walks. We talked about the contents of the OMEK (this got my pups’ attention several times, even though I did my best to avoid trigger words like “chew” and “biccie”), I voiced my concerns over how the mist seemed to be chasing us up the mountain, and we discussed the difficult subject of which path-side features deserve to be peed on and which don’t. I’ve been observing Beagle peeing habits for more than seven years now and I still can’t reliably predict what objects are going to get a thorough dousing. Apparently neither can Biggles, because on numerous occasions he lifted his leg then thought better of it.
Just as we emerged from the trees – still a little distance from the huge Narnain boulders – the mist caught up with us and visibility dropped almost instantly to ten or twenty metres. Not good. If it didn’t get any higher we’d rise above it as we climbed to the summit; on the other hand if it kept coming, there’d be no point even going to the summit, and it would be unwise to make to the attempt. After a brief discussion with Beanie, who was all for continuing, I decided we’d carry on to the rock “staircase” at the back of The Cobbler and then re-assess. It was a good call, because by the time we reached our first giant-sized boulder the mist had fallen far behind us.
The Cobbler in silhouette, with an incredibly bright moon behind it, and no clouds or mist in sight
The climb up the staircase to the Cobbler’s central ridge is always the toughest part of the walk – it’s relentlessly steep – but it was even tougher this time; recent snowfall had gone through a series of thaw-freeze cycles leaving a tough, thick coating of super-slick white ice. I had some slip-on crampons with me, but fortunately there were just enough gaps in the ice to let us ascend without needing them. Or I should say that Biggles and I didn’t need them, because we sensibly dodged the white stuff while the Beanster seemed determined to play her own version of snakes and ladders.
When we made it to the ridge the view was just amazing. The sky was just starting to get those beautiful pre-sunrise colors, and the mist had covered everything for miles around. Only the streetlights glowing through the mist hinted at the town below us. I just had to take a couple of shots, but night-time photographs like these are not a quick process. The tripod has to come out, and multiple exposure-bracketed shots have to be taken, each one lasting several seconds at least. Throughout all this the camera must remain perfectly still, which means that any pesky Beagles attached to the photographer also have to remain moderately still. Amazingly Beanie and Biggles obliged, and as a reward they each received a biccie from the On Mountain Entertainment Kit.
That pause for the photographs left me feeling quite shivery. The slight wind and lower temperature from being higher up – coupled with all the sweat I’d released on the climb to the ridge – was cooling me pretty fast and I was looking forward to swapping my damp top for a nice dry thermal when we reached the summit. It was then that I realised I’d forgotten to bring the dog coats. Biggles has lovely thick fur and doesn’t seem to feel the cold much, but Beanie soon starts shivering when she’s still and really needs a coat to keep her core warm. I began considering solutions to this problem as I packed up and headed back onto the short path to the central peak of The Cobbler. I didn’t have a spare tshirt to put on her, and my sweatshirt and jacket would absolutely drown her (leaving me freezing cold into the bargain).
Just as we hit the top I remembered that I had a thermal balaclava stuffed in my camera backpack somewhere. If you’ve never fitted a balaclava onto a little wriggly unhelpful Beagle before, I can recommend it – it’s quite entertaining. It goes on over the head – just as with a human – but then you keep pulling until the furry bonce emerges completely through the face-hole. Next, you have to contort the Beagle in question sufficiently to get both front legs through the face-hole too, before finally pulling the whole thing further down to form a nice wind-proof body warmer. It may not be the height of doggy fashion, but it works.
Beanie in her balaclava, and Biggles completely au naturel, as they survey the view from the summit
After a few moments Beanie became fascinated with the moon, and sat quietly staring at. The Bigglet on the other hand clearly had no appreciation for such things, and got started on a digging project beside her.
While the two of them were occupied, I got a couple of shots of the rocky “eye” structure and the surrounding landscape. Technically Susan, myself and the Beagles have never actually made it to the highest point of The Cobbler. To do that, you have to wriggle through the gap in the “eye” and clamber up the other side to the very top. While that’s probably quite easy to do, the thing you have to remember, and the thing that the excellent Walkhighlands site points out, is that you also have to be able to climb back down. Apparently the view down from the top of the eye is the stuff that brown pants are made of, and every so often people freeze and need to be rescued. Definitely not for us!
As soon as I’d taken those shots, two little photographer’s assistants appeared and demanded payment. Biggles was the ring-leader here; he’s very good at recognizing patterns and when he hears the sound of the shutter, he knows it’s a good time to go begging for treats. They’d been so well behaved up this point that I figured they’d earned a raw-hide chew each. This was very well received, but caused a delay in getting more photos because as everyone knows, you can’t eat a chew just anywhere. Biccies, fish and lumps of chicken can be consumed on the spot, but a chew is different; you have to wander around a bit and find a good place to lay down and really savor it. If that means tieing up your dad and his tripod legs in your leads, then so be it.
The next round of photographs were paid for with the fish cubes. They were pretty tasty, but some posed shots with the two B’s holding still and looking in the same direction cost an extra couple of biccies and another round of rawhide chews.
In between shots, photographers assistants often engage in a little digging. This new site looks promising, but who will be the first to make a new pothole on the top of The Cobbler?
Of course you can’t stay on the top of a mountain indefinitely, even if you have a really well stocked OMEK. I took one last shot, packed up my gear, rounded up my assistants and headed back down. The temperature rose quickly once we got below the summit; I started peeling off my extra layers and helped Beanie to wriggle out of my balaclava.
Dad, can we go soon? I’m getting seriously bored and I know you’ve run out of chews..
We made good progress until we reached the rocky, ice-covered stair section again. We picked our way around the ice for a bit, but by the time we were near the bottom I was running out of patience and my knees were complaining. For the final 30 metres or so, I resorted to the time-honored method of sliding down on my backside. Despite my best efforts to decelerate, I was moving faster than Beanie & Biggles could pick their way through the ice, and pulled by their leads, they started sliding too. For the last few yards all three of us were scooting down the slope on our bums together, and I can tell you that my anal glands felt much better afterwards. Scooting really works folks, believe it!