Last week Beanie and Biggles sniffed, pulled and aarrffed their way up no less than two distinct peaks in one day: Ben Luibhean and Ben Ime.
We’d had a go at Ben Luibhean earlier in the year, but that expedition had been marred by snow. We had made it to the top, but it had been a very hard slog with no pay-off other than a handful of overly-refrigerated meat and cheese nibbles. This time around with no snow to fight through I was sure our journey would be easier and more rewarding.
As it turned out it was a little easier, but not much. Instead of frozen earth with a thick coating of snow we had to trudge our way over slippy, boggy ground; it soaked up energy like a sponge and gave nothing back. To add to the difficulty we also encountered groups of sheep which made certain team members very noisy and prone to pulling in the wrong direction. Nevertheless, after about a hundred minutes of slog we finally got to see what the summit cairn looks like without all that pesky white stuff on top of it.
I was a little worried that its central upright stone might suffer a mishap when I dug into my pocket for the first serving of mini-jumbones; things always get exciting when the edibles come out and Biggles seemed intent on winding his lead round everything he could. He tied up my legs, he tied up the legs of my tripod, and he even tied up his own legs, but somehow he didn’t knock over that pretty summit marker.
We hung around the top of Luibhean for a few minutes while I took photos, but I was very conscious of the need to get moving if we were to reach the summit of neighboring Ben Ime before sunset. For her part, Beanie was very conscious of the fact that there were still two mini-jumbones in my pocket, and became very irritated when I refused to release them. She was clearly unware that we had another climb ahead of us, just as I was unaware of the trouble I was storing up by not serving all the treats in one go.
Ben Narnain (left) and the distinctive serrated head of The Cobbler to the right
Ben Chorranach and Ben Ime in shade on the right.
Before we could get started on Ben Ime we first had to make a partial descent of Ben Luibhean and cross the very marshy “Bealach a’ Mhargaidh”. This part of the route was as pretty as it was wet. I tried to use Beanie & Biggles as indicators of the best and worst places to tread to avoid going deep into the mush. Biggles seemed particularly good at finding unexpected mud baths so I put my faith in Beanie, but as I discovered not everything that supports a nimble eleven kilo Beagle can also handle a human.
Crossing Bealach a’ Mhargaidh. Presumably “Mhargaidh” is Gaelic for “wet feet” (if it isn’t, it should be)
Ben Ime looked a lot bigger as we got closer to it. I’d climbed Ben Ime solo some years before and found it pretty tough, but that had been in snow and from a much lower starting point. Still, I began to have doubts about my ability to get to the top before sunset, especially with the “help” of Team Beagle. Don’t get me wrong: put our two pups on a well-trodden path and they’re great, in fact Biggles could even be described as an asset for hillwalks in the right conditions. However, on an open grassy hill with pockets of sheep and no clear path to follow they can best be described as.. troublesome. I decided I’d be happy enough just to get to a reasonably high viewpoint, but every time I set myself a target and checked my watch, I found that we could go on just that bit further. Quite suddenly we intersected with a path coming from Ben Narnain and our rate of progress increased dramatically. We reached the summit very shortly afterwards!
The summit cairn of Ben Ime has a low stone windbreak around it, but on this day the windchill was pretty mild.
Cloud blew over us almost as soon as we arrived, but I still managed to grab a few shots.
In between those photos I handed out treats to my furry companions (obviously), but I made a crucial error in judgment: I served up the two big cow ears in my bag instead of first dishing out the remaining jumbones from my pocket. This might not sound like a big deal, especially for food-obsessed Beagles, but it demonstrated the huge difference in outlook between Beanie and Biggles.
Biggles is a “glass half full” kind of a boy. He approaches each day unburdened by expectations; when something good happens he just enjoys the moment. When I held out the cow ear to him on Ben Ime he wagged furiously, grabbed it, found a place to settle down (within the bounds of his lead) and set about chomping down on it.
Beanie is the polar opposite of The Bigglet. She’s acutely aware when routine isn’t followed, and is always careful to ensure sure she isn’t being cheated out of something owed to her. At mealtimes if a crumb hits the floor she’ll pursue it obsessively, even if that blinds her to the many bigger, easier mouthfuls of food still in her bowl. Accordingly when I gave her the cow ear, she was still thinking about the other treats that were still in my pocket. She took the ear half-heartedly, but then dropped it and started scratching at my pocket and grumbling. I pointed at her ear (the cow ear, not her big furry lug flapping in the breeze) and tried to convince her to go back to it, but she wasn’t interested. Biggles however was. “I don’t mind if I do!” is a phrase we often attribute to Biggles, and it was written all over his face as he merrily grabbed Beanie’s ear and carried it over to his own.
Beanie wasn’t immediately concerned about the ear she’d just lost; all that mattered currently was the jumbone still in my pocket that had her name on it. Stupidly I gave in and handed it to her, and she devoured it in record time. Biggles was still knee deep in cow ears at this point, but he’d noticed that extra food was on offer and of course shot me an appealing “can I have some too?” look. I directed him back to his ears, which he accepted quite happily; in Biggles’ world it’s always a good idea to ask for things, but if it doesn’t work out that’s OK too.
As you might expect, the moment Beanie finished her jumbone she remembered the lost cow ear and began whining about it. I could easily have taken an ear back from Biggles – he wouldn’t have objected – but that just didn’t seem fair, so instead I gave Beanie the remaining jumbone. That finally seemed to settle the issue, but now of course Beanie and I had to sit on our bums for an extra ten minutes watching Biggles battle through jaw fatigue to finish the last chunk of cow ear.
After this – even in the dark – the journey back to the Beaglemobile passed surprisingly quickly and easily; from time to time I could see the eyes of sheep glinting in my torchlight but the pups thankfully remained oblivious!