Ha! All good plans and all that. So the plan was to do Meall na Fearna SS-035, one of the few unactivated SS summits remaining. I’ve always been interested in doing unactivated summits not to get my call displayed as there is no skill whatsoever in being first but to support the many unique chasers there are. There’s no point activating without chasers and so I feel offering something extra to them is well worthwhile. I have said before in that being a lardy boy I get my kicks from succeeding in climbing the hills and the radio is a bonus.
So Meall na Fearna it was. This is a quite remote summit for this part of the world and there are many bigger and easier hills nearby which is one of the reasons it is still unactivated after so many years. There are a few approaches the path through Glen Vorlich being one and the other being the approach from Glenartney in the south. My work colleague (Mr done all the Munros (twice) and all the Corbetts and all the Grahams and…) said the route from Glenartney is totally hellish. He did Ben Alder in a day once (walked in, climbed it and a few others and walked out) which is serious by any stretch of the imagination so if he says hellish I know it to impossible for me. I had a look at the Glen Vorlich route on the map and studied some Geograph photos and thought it didn’t look too bad. The only problems I foresaw where the vast peat hags in a couple of places but I should be able to avoid them.
So off up the Ben Vorlich path with the many walkers. Ben Vorlich is an extremely popular hill due to its location and the quality of the path. The last time I did it with Brian G(M)4ZRP we could see the trig point for most of the ascent but this time it was in cloud. I wasn’t worried because Meall na Fearna is nearly 200m lower and the cloud was predicted to lift. After about 15-20mins you hit the fork in the path and off I set. The path is poor, overgrown and boggy with lots of bracken (lovely) hanging over. It had rained heavily in the night so everywhere was soaking wet. Regardless I set off with my head held high. I’ve not been too well recently and so had been confined to barracks by the quack but I had the OK to start walking again. Couple that with an awful summer and a business trip to the USA and I haven’t done much proper walking since late May/early June. It felt great to be out again.
Not too far up the path I came across the burn. It was high both from recent rain and the long wet summer we’ve had. There were signs of lots of vehicle movements near the ford and which churned up the path. I studied this and at the obvious crossing the water was well above by boots. 25 mins in to a walk of approx 5 hours is far too early to get wet feet. So I went exploring the burn for crossing points. Anywhere where the rocks were close enough to use as stepping stones they were very slippy and elsewhere was too deep. I found one bit with an overhanging branch which looked promising but checking the branch for strength it came away in my hands. After about 25 mins I came to the conclusion either I was a wuss or it wasn’t possible to cross. I wasn’t going to take the chance so studied the map carefully. It looked like I could backtrack and take the Ben Vorlich path further and then contour round to this path but checking further showed 3 more burns to cross. I wasn’t sure if they were going to be as big as this. I really needed to consult the 1:25000 map but only had a 1:50000 with me. This was the point when I decided that as Meall na Fearna wasn’t going anywhere I could abort my attempt to climb it and divert up Ben Vorlich instead. I wasn’t going back without doing something especially as I was now allowed out again although doing Ben Vorlich again would go against trying to do more uniques to me.
So off up the Ben Vorlich path. I’d forgotten how relentless the climb is up Vorlich. But I just pressed on through gritted teeth. I was astounded how much fitness I’d lost by not getting out for a few weeks. The strain of exercising hard was exhilaration but it was match by the lack of fitness. Still Anquet says 2hr30 walking time for Ben Vorlich and including all the faffing about I made the summit in an elapsed time of 2hr20. Still well ahead so perhaps I wasn’t that unfit after all! Now the weather had been getting better most of the way up with the cloud lifting from the summit sometime back. But as I reached the final two steep sections the weather got worse again. The wind was now gusting strongly and it was clear the cloud was coming back. I was particularly annoyed by this because whilst I had had great views from Vorlich’s summit in the past this time I wanted to check out the land over to Meall na Fearna. Not to be though as I touched the trig point the mist returned. Boo!
There’s not much room at the top and the wind made setting up very hard. I had an equipment failure in that my guy ring snapped but I was still able to get the HF antenna up though in the wind the elements were only about 4ft AGL. I couldn’t hear VOLMET on 60m so I expected the worse but Brian G4ZRP answered my call. It didn’t take too much effort to get 4 contacts but the wind was fierce. I couldn’t believe I needed two fleeces and the winter hat for an August activation even at 984m ASL! When I got to 7 contacts the guy ring started slipping and at that point I decided to quit. So no 40m SSB/CW and no 2m. It was getting crazy as I took the gear down and packed up. Of course the other side of the ridge was tranquil in the mist out of the wind but if the side I was on was steep then the leeward side is quintuple-steep!
I ate lunch, repacked the bag, adjusted clothes and picked my way down the badly eroded and steep path. At the bottom of the summit dome I emerged from the mist and removed some layers. For the entire walk down I was followed by the cloud. It either drizzled or I was just in the bottom layers of cloud. As typical for Ben Vorlich even at 2.30pm there were another 10 groups of people on their way up. Busy, busy, busy! Back at the car I was exhausted. My front thighs were screaming and I had jelly leg a few times on the way down. This is what happens when you stop exercising. I was delighted to have been out though. Today my legs just don’t work and I’ve got the same again this Thursday when I should be doing Carn Liath Cs-029 with Sarah. Still no pain no gain!
I hadn’t noticed that Martyn and Caroline had done the same reccy manoeuvre I attempted this June. I was surprised they managed the path back but I think we hadn’t had too much rain by then. I’d be interested to know how they found the assorted crossings when they tried the path. However, for the time being, Meall na Fearna remains unactivated. I know I won’t be going back until we’ve had a good dry spell (ha!).
Total walked: 11.5kms, total ascent: 959m, total driven: 127miles.
Thanks to Frank G3RMD for the spot and all the other regulars. It was good to hear your voices after such a long time away from the summits.