From the map this looks a really trivial summit. As such I’ve kept it back for another time, such as when Mrs. FMF can come and play. I was looking at doing something a bit bigger to get me back into the swing but the WX report was not good. MWIS was reporting strong upland gales with snow about 500m. This made me pick something not too far away and not too high and hence Meall Gainmheach was duly popped off the list of standby hills. It might only be a 2pt hill but it was another unique.
I’ve read a few reports and looking at the map the obvious route is up the popular Ben A’an path and then from there out and follow the fence that runs to to the summit of Meall Gainmheach. Didn’t look hard really, 3.3kms and 500m+, a gentle stroll to be honest!
Parking is at the substantial Ben A’an car park by Loch Achray in the heart of The Trossachs ( cue lots of schoolboy jokes about being caught by The Trossachs etc.) From here there is a very well made path that runs through the woods to the summit of Ben A’an. Now Ben A’an is massively popular despite being of few hill lists. Not surprising when you actually see the summit. It does stick in the mind when you see it for the first time. The view from the top is superb as well.
I arrived in good time to find a single car in the large car park. I was booting up and listening to the birds singing. I wasn’t sure where the winds were, it was still, or the cloud, the sky was bright blue. Certainly no snow or rain. In fact apart from it being a wee bit cool it was a fine spring morning. I’d passed plenty of snowdrops in bloom suggesting spring is on the way. Anyway, I was trying to figure out what the big lump of rock was as the head of Loch Achray but couldn’t remember. Bag packed and boots on I was off.
The path is quite steep as it climbs through the forest. I always adore walking in woods so this was pleasant. The path is essentially dirt packed about rocks and wasn’t wet but firm. The path follows the course of a stream and wanders about a bit. There’s a bridge to cross the stream and slowly the path slackens off and the odd boggy bit appears, mainly through poor drainage and too many boots. There’s a long gentle section and then the woods thin out and you get to see Ben A’an and the big lump. The big lump is, of course, Ben Ben Venue. Ben A’an looks completely impenetrable. Out of the trees you see there is a path but the slope is set to a little bit more than very steep, say really-quite-stupidly-steep! However, it’s good stones cut like a staircase.
Up, up, up and more up. At one point it became a scramble with a big step. That seemed far too hard and careful looking about showed I’d missed the path. Back down 10m or so, cross the stream and continue on the steps. I lost the path again higher up but I just kept going on the long grass. It was real quite easy despite being “proper steep”. There’s a direct scramble up to the top of Ben A’an. Or you can continue on and take it from behind on much more gentle paths. For me, it was a case of straight on and down a bit. I knew I had to follow a fence and I could see several in the distance in sort of the right place. The ground was heavy going, bog with heather, long heather, and clumps of tussock grass. Oh how I hate that stuff.
At the junction of fences I set off over really nasty terrain. Severe heavy going and really tiring. After a bit things felt wrong and a quick check on the GPS said I was not following the right fence. Rather than back track I crossed the fence and headed in a straight line for where I wanted to be. That was the wrong move. Waist deep heather, uneven ground, wet patches. The kind of walking where you have to concentrate on every step. 10 mins later and I was following the right path on easier ground. Then more of the horrible ground. In fact it continued like this for the rest of the walk. Truly diabolical.
So hard going was the walk that what I expected to take 35mins took 1hr 20mins. When I got to the top I was tattered completely. But it’s amazingly remote, the area bounded by roads and lochs contains some 17 SOTA peaks including the highest in the area (Ben More SS-001 1185m) which is also the 16th highest in Scotland. The WX had stayed good all the way. A wonderful blue sky with just the odd cloud. The wind was cold though but I was plenty warm due to the ground. If it hadn’t been so sunny I think I’d have turned back the ground was so horrible.
At the summit I used the fence to support the HF dipole. In fact there’s a very funny fence here. It’s a deer fence so about 3m+ high. Except the mesh wire is only the top 1.5m. There are big posts but no fence material at ground level. Obviously deer are stupid and see the fence and realise the can’t jump it and don’t know to go under it. Also the well plump SOTA activator sees a fence like this in the distance and knows he can’t go over it. So wanders about looking for somewhere to cross only to feel a right plank when seeing the lack of lower fence when up close. D’Oh!
Conditions on 60m where very good and I was happily talking nonsense when a solitary figure clad in a black Berghaus jacket like mine appeared over the rise. Out of his pack stuck a fishing rod and a some white PVC waste pipe. All of this was accompanied by a cherry red face and a fair amount of huffing and puffing. I know that man… we met at last year’s Magnum Rally. It was Graeme 2M0GIL. I stopped and greeted him. His opening comments where the same as I thought when I got to the top. We both agreed it was a helluva walk for 2pts. (OK we’d get 5 being winter but doing this on a summer’s day would be a killer.)
Graeme setup and was soon busy on 2m whilst I moved to 40m CW. A good and well behaved pile up ensued and I had a great time working G, DL, ON, F, PA, LA, SM & 9A. Two calls cut through the melee… G4SSH and G4DDL. Not having been on the key for a few weeks I was rusty at first but managed a total of 17 QSOs in 35mins. I wandered over and had a chat to Graeme. He was well qualified and was working Neil 2M0NCM. We agreed we were about done so I packed up whilst Graeme finished off. After that, some photos and a game of spot the summit. Ben Ledi, Ben Venue, Meikle Bin, Stronend, Carleatheren, Ben Lomond, Ben Vane, Ben Narnain, The Cobbler, Ben Lui, An Casteill, Cruach Ardrain, Ben More, Stob Binneine, Stob a Choin and Benvane where some of the SOTA summits in view.
I’ve moaned about the ground and I wont be rushing back here but the views were fairly amazing. The ground was dull green and brown after winter, but with the blue sky, the fresh white snow on the large peaks gleaming in the strong sun was exceptional. Had there been no views I would have not enjoyed myself one bit. But as it was, it was hard work and reward worthy of the effort.
With that we wandered out. Both of us nattering away and putting the world to rights. In fact so pleasant was the inane banter that I we crossed the horrible ground in no time at all and soon were on our way down to the steep Ben A’an path. I failed to note the time it took to get back. But despite going down rather than up it was still quite tiring. Debooted and changed slightly we bid our farewells and I followed Graeme down the Duke’s Pass to Aberfoyle where we went our separate ways.
Total walked: 7.5km, total ascent: 570m, distance driven: 110miles.
I feel I walked further and definitely climbed more with the up/down nature of the ground. Hard work for the points but the view, this in particular, http://www.flickr.com/photos/mm0fmf/5483420408/in/pool-sota_pics#/photos/mm0fmf/5483420408/in/pool-640391@N21/ made up for it with the bonus of meeting a fellow SOTA loony who’s company made the day much, much more pleasant.