Prior to my ascent of Beinn Luibhean every single major hill I’d climbed had involved zig-zags; they’d either been part of the path – trading increased distance for a gentler gradient – or had been forced on me by natural obstacles. More than once I’d considered them irritating and unnecessary, and wondered what it would be like simply to set my sights on the top of a hill and head straight for it in an uncompromising straight line. If you’ve ever wondered that too, I can tell you right now exactly what it’s like: awful, especially if you’ve got deep snow to go through.
It’s even worse if you’ve got little boy called “Oh Biggles!!!” tied to your waist. Yes, during the course of our most recent hill climb I did indeed change my boy’s name from plain “Biggles” to “Oh Biggles!!!” with no less than three exclamation marks, but sometimes five or six. He earned this new appellation by constantly – and I do mean constantly – getting himself tied up in his own lead, forcing me to grind to a halt and untangle him. On several occasions he even got himself caught up in Beanie’s lead while I was still trying to free his back legs from his own.
Munching on cow ears before the final push to the summit, and Oh Biggles!!! has got himself tied up yet again
The supreme irony of this whole venture was that I’d chosen Beinn Luibhean as a nice “warmup” hill for 2017 due to its modest height, easy path-free navigation (set your eyes on the summit and start walking), short length (less than 5km) and safe grassy surface. Thanks to the snow and my little furry numpty on legs it mutated into the freezing cold mother of all workouts. At times I was forced to scramble on all fours to get past the steeper snow-covered sections; Beanie & Biggles were scrambling on all fours too (it is after all their default state) but it wasn’t working for them. There was one particularly rough bit that went something like this:
- Dig my hands into the snow for extra purchase and take one big step up and forward
- Discover that Biggles is stuck behind me; pick him up and lift him forward, and in doing so, slip back one foot
- Extract Biggles from the tangle he created almost immediately on being released
- Discover that Beanie is stuck behind me; pick her up and lift her forward while sticking my head under Biggles’ bum to stop him slipping back
- Extract Beanie’s lead from between Biggles’ legs (he’s just re-tangled)
- Repeat all the above, over and over again
I’d long given up hope of getting any decent photograpy from the summit due to the white-out conditions; now it was just about beating what should have been a pretty trivial hill. Beanie at least was fully behind the “get to the top” plan – she was the first to get moving again after our cow ear-break.
Onward and upward! Beanie’s never happy until she’s reached the top.
By the time we reached what appeared to be the highest point I was more than ready for my traditional summit treat – chocolate milk – except that by now it had frozen solid. Fortunately other treats – specifically a packet of meat and cheese nibbles with a picture of a happy labrador on the front – were unaffected by the conditions. I saw no point staying up there in the cold with nothing to see, so we started back down even before all the nibbles had been fully nibbled.
No Dad, one serving is not going to cut it this time!
If going up a steep snow-covered hill is extra hard, going down is extra easy and extra fun. Even if you slip you’re guaranteed a soft landing! The lower we went, the more the white-out cleared, revealing glimpses of neighbouring mountains. And of course it got it warmer too; as our van came into view at the bottom of the hill my chocolate milk had thawed enough to drink, and I gave myself a thumping ice-cream headache with my first gulp.
Doggy breakfast was served at the van, after which we drove just a couple of miles up the road to visit an old pictoresque stone bridge known as “The Butterbridge“. I’d had the satnav coordinates for the bridge in my phone for over two years, but had always given it a miss, often citing the excuse that the weather was “too good” – it’s one of those sites that looks disappointingly bland under sun and blues skies. On this day, there was no such problem :)