/ Lost on the Hills- Confession -Blog post
I had decided to spend the night in Bearness Bothy, just south of Loch Carron. The day was cold and still as I pulled up beside the small group of houses huddled on the hillside just at the start of the track into the bothy. The temperature gauge in my car read minus seven and, as I pulled on my plastic boots, the grass and trees sparkled in the low sun with hoar frost. I could feel the cold seeping into my body even as I hauled my overweight sack onto my back. I was carrying in a supply of coal as it seemed pretty clear that the night would be a cold one and a bothy can be pretty grim if there isn’t enough wood about for a decent fire.
Trudging away up the track I tied to recall when I’d last carried such a heavy pack and decided it must have been a very, very long time ago, Perhaps on Mount Kenya. The first problem I encountered was that the track near the houses didn’t go where the map said it did.
Read More here http://johndburns.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/lost-on-the-hills-a-confession/
I think you're over-egging that slightly!
My biggest navigational error involved descending on the wrong side of a continent.
It was a simple error: descending a ridge in cloud we failed to notice the small, 10 feet, step in the ridge that separated a gentle curve to the left from a gentle curve to the right. Thus when we emerged from the cloud many thousands of feet lower, instead of seeing a nice friendly valley we saw miles and miles of ice as far as the eye could see.
There was some bad language. Going the other way, the cause of the error was easy to see.
Respect to you for posting this. I suspect that most of us have tales like this in our locker, although some of us bury them deeper than others. There is always much to be learned from a navigational fail, both for yourself and others!
A cheap GPS would have given you a confirmation (or otherwise ) of your map interpretation) particularly in amongst all the lochans.
I do understand that the purists will say you should rely only on Map and compass and not new fangled technology, but of course map and compass IS new fangled technology to those who navigate by the stars etc, so you can never please everyone.
A cheap GPS in your sack for confirmation can be a lifesaver, or at least could save a lot of wasted walking.
let the attacks begin........
A friend had attempted to Ben Vorlich (by Loch Earn) several times but for one reason or another had been thwarted. When the weather opened in late march he bundled his girlfriend in to the car and sped off to conquer the nemesis.
Ditching the car by a field gate and bearly pausing for his other half to get organised he started off up the farm tram in the forest. I think the need for speed was out of fear the hill was going to fall down or something.
Following the track for a couple hours up a glen started to raise suspicions that he wasn't quite where he thought he should be. Becoming frustrated the chap cut 90 degrees and went up the side of the glen. After several hundred feet of ascent he emerged on to a ridge which had a most glorious view of Ben Vorlich in it's winter coat.
He had parked about 5 miles before the Ben Vorlich car park
The delight on his girlfriends face when she also saw this can only be imagined. They went back to the car.
Three weeks later i did Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin with said friend, his girlfriend didn't come along :)
I had a "navigational moment" on the same Ben Vorlich, though in my defence I had made it to the summit and was intent on continuing to Stuc a Chroin. However the top 200m or so was in cloud and the SMC Munro book mentioned following the old fence line down to the col and on to Stuc a Chroin. The OS map for Ben Vorlich unhelpfully stops just south of the summit.
I duly followed the old fence posts downwards to be met by a view of an unfamiliar and unexpected glen. No col or large lump of rock and grass beyond were to be seen. I returned to the summit and then back to the car by the way I'd come.
Fences, even old ones, rarely stop on the summits of mountains and I'd followed "the other half" which happened to be more prominent near the summit.
Almost exactly 20 years ago I climbed the Carn Mairg group of Munros above Glen Lyon along with an experienced companion. It was a full-on winter day in deep snow and we reached the top of the fourth Munro not long before dark with the weather really starting to close in, to find a very fit-looking solo walker arriving at the summit from the other side. We exchanged a few words, something along the lines of "definitely time to head back to the car" and then he charged back down the way he had come up. Visibility was very poor, and we just assumed that we had become disoriented. After all, no-one in their right mind would climb these hills from the Schiehallion side. So we charged down after him.
After a few hundred metres of descent we were out of the cloud and it was clear that we were on the wrong side of the ridge. So we had no alternative but to head back up the slope, through soft snow that was knee-deep in places. My friend was absolutely knackered by this time and I was really worried that we weren't going to make it. By the time we regained the summit ridge it was completely dark and we were basically lost. We knew though that if we headed south we'd eventually get back down into the Glen, somewhere or other. It took hours for us to fight our way back down to the road in worsening weather. We could just make out the lights in a house, and when we spoke to the people inside it turned out that we were miles from our start-point. They plied us with hot drinks and then very kindly drove us to our car which would have been at Invervar, I think. We then had to dig the car out, and the drive back up Glen Lyon and down the A9 was almost as big an ordeal as our day in the hills.
An embarassing mistake but a valuable lesson learned - this was the last time I ever headed after someone on the basis that they looked like they knew what they were doing, without checking the compass. We very nearly became a statistic that day. We never heard about the other bloke so he must have got back OK. Maybe he did do the hills from the Loch Rannoch side?!
Mullach nan Choirean and Stob Ban from Glen Nevis. We took a bearing off Mullach nan Choirean even though it was completely obvious which direction we needed to walk in. Arrived at Stob Ban in clag and rain. Headed off down the obvious path. When we got below clag level we couldn't see the lochan at the bealach, and Glen Nevis looked surprisingly unlike Glen Nevis. In fact, the track along the glen floor looked remarkably like the West Highland Way.
Having not bothered to take a bearing, we'd come off the south west ridge rather than the east. How the heck do you get it that wrong?! Anyway, not wanting to re-ascend in the now unpleasant weather, we decided to leg it back to Kinlochleven where my car was, and drive round to Glen Nevis to pick up the other one. After descending another couple of hundred metres I asked where the cottage key was, because my car key was in the cottage. The cottage key was in the car in Glen Nevis.
Fortunately Alistair's Taxis Ballachiulish took pity on us and didn't charge us full rate to take us back to Glen Nevis, but the fare was enough to punish us for not taking a bearing, something I've never failed to do since.
You won’t have been the first to head off down the wrong ridge on Stob Ban – it’s a notorious boobytrap, as the main-ridge path heading east from the summit starts off down the SW ridge for maybe half a minute before jinking sharp left. Easy to miss in cloud, especially with so much scree around.
Re the various Ben Vorlich travails, I once met a man on his way down from one of the subsidiary bumps – not even the main top – on that 630m-ish Graham south of Loch Tay, the one with the high reservoir on it. The man thought he’d just come off the summit of Vorlich – even though where he’d actually been was 350m lower, not pointy, almost ten miles too far north and on completely the wrong side of Loch Earn. I’m as sure as I can be that if he hadn’t stopped for a chat then he’d have gone to his work on the Monday morning and told his pals – in good faith – that he’d been on Vorlich.
I’ve also met someone a long way down the back ridge of Vorlich (which is a fine thing) who – in thick weather, admittedly – had done the “wrong fence” thing as described by ALC. And at the summit trig point on Vorlich, in see-100-miles summer weather, I met a man who was about to set off to the cairn at the other end of the little summit ridge (about a minute’s walk away, with maybe 5m of reascent) who believed that to be Stuc a’Chroin.
I should hasten to add that in my time, among other misdemeanours, I’ve come off completely the wrong side of the Lawers ridge with only an hour of November daylight remaining, have walked for 30 minutes in the wrong direction along the Tarmachan ridge, and have descended several hundred metres down the boulderfield SW of Ben Macdui, decided I must have overshot the Carn a’Mhaim col and duly slogged back up in search of it only to find myself back at the Macdui cairn feeling confused and rather silly.
I believe this to be more common with those that should know better.
More tales with my mate Dave....
We'd decided to do the 5 munros of Ben Lawers, leaving bikes at the visitor centre and parking below Meall Greigh the summit of which was reached, there was cloud at around 800m.
Heading off to Meall Garbh we picked up a narrow path but my mate Dave having been burnt by other navigational errors before wasn't going to take any chances, got the map off me, lined up his compass as best he could and declared we were going the wrong way.
Impossible, was my reaction. Where else would this path lead but Meall Greagh
Are you saying the map and/or compass are wrong? Take a look your self, offered Dave. He'd taken the bearing on fleeting glances of Meall Greigh's summit in the cloud.
I looked as he offered up the map, Dave appeared to be right but I didn't buy it. There's no way this path is just a sheep track, more like an elephant track. It has to lead to Meall Garbh.
Well things deteriorated between us quite badly until we were having a full on shouting match with each other, lunging for my mate I wrestled control of the map, demanded the compass which came at me as a missile.
I lined everything up and magically the elephants path was now the right way to go. Dave took back the kit and tried again getting his strange reading, I pulled the map & compass away from him & the correct bearing appeared. There was a moments silence
Oh sh1t, exclaimed Dave and lifted his backpack water tube off it's holder which turned out to be... A magnet. Thanks North Face.
I know two unfortunates who one summer's evening after work set off from Edinburgh to drive north to Glen Lyon and 'bag' the easy Meall Buidhe (Munro) to the north-north-west of Loch an Daimh.
It helps to look at a map for this : http://binged.it/Wj5fb3
They drove north via Killin and then over the Lawers road to Bridge of Balgie turning left up the glen. Deep in conversation, they both failed to see the turn off to the dam of Loch an Daimh on the right and continued up Glen Lyon, before finally reaching the dam of Loch Lyon. As far as they were concerned (from their memories of the guidebook description), everything looked right. A single track road, a dam at the head and on the map to the north-north-west was..... Meall Buidhe. They geared up, still deep in conversation and set off onto the hillside. After an hour of trudging across heather, getting nowhere in particular, they pulled out the map to discover they were heading for the wrong Meall Buidhe....
I also heard a story of a group on the Mamores who had taken an incorrect compass bearing and headed 180º off the ridge to descend to the wrong glen. They climbed back up to a near summit where they met another group of walkers. Cunningly to avoid giving away their predicament, they asked the other group "How do you actually pronounce the name of this hill again?"
"Am Bodach I think," came the response.
Being lost on the hills is not only to be expected, but also, in my view part of the experience. They should add it as a section to training courses (if they don't already). I remember getting lost on the Carn Mairg round (mentioned above) in awful weather; we followed the fence line for the first three Munros (anticlockwise) but then descended far too far west and soon realised we didn't know where we were. Logic prevailed and knowing that the road our car was parked on (at Invervar) was south, we walked south. Remarkably we arrived at the 4th summit (Carn Gorm) on the way.
There seem to be a few stories about the Carn Mairg group. Fortunately I didn't have any mishaps when I did them. Well apart from walking, head down, past the footbridge I needed to cross the burn. I only saw it after fording another burn and had to return :-(
Road? Yes - the road in Glen Etive.
Allegedly even the great WH Murray did that once. Five mile road plod back to the car.
Like Bill Tilman "I've never been lost", but in his words "just mightily confused for (in his case) several days"
At the end of a very long late winters day – from Glen Feshie – over Carn Ban Mor, snow-blading across the Monadh Mor, picking up the peak of the same name in passing, then up onto Sgor an Lochain Uaine, and finally onto Braeriach, I could tell things were getting a bit fraught when my companion remarked – in the beautiful but cold evening light
“When are we going to get off this bloody awful mountain”
We started the descent down Sron na Lairig – we had intended to snow- blade down Corrie Gorm but by then the snow had turned to iron hard neve so that idea was ditched in favour of crampons.
We reached the Lairig Ghru track at dusk – on with headtorches and drag our weary legs another few miles. We’d left a car at Lochan Eilen.
On the ever improving path, the end seemed in sight but then……. the track disappeared into a fairly raging torrent to reappear by the light of our head torches on the other side.
It’s a while ago and I’m sure that we checked the map – maybe it was an old one or maybe …………?. Anyway. There seemed to be nothing for it but to ford the ford across the small river. It was the days of plastic boots and gaiters and we thought we might cross with only damp feet [how easily you can convince each other when the opposite is all too obvious?]. My mate went first and made it safely across. He gesticulated to me in the torch light and over the noise of the raging river to follow, which I did.
I started off with the aim of keeping my feet dry but that aim was quickly replaced as the water reached above knee level, with the one of keeping my balance so as to avoid falling headlong into the freezing white water You know that feeling - when its difficult to keep your leg in place because of the power of the water?. After a couple of dodgy minutes I reached the other side.
We set off again with feet sloshing about in our wet boots consoling ourselves that we were almost there.
About one hundred meters further on our torches lit up……………. a substantial metal bridge over the river – The Cairngorm Club Footbridge.
I think we managed to raise a smile, or was it a grimace.
I also had a wee navigational mishap coming of Beinn Narnain one misearble mild and drizzly winters day when the cloudbase was about level with the roof of my car. I bumped into a nice couple and we were blethering away when we reached the 3 way col, the Bealach a Mhaim. Neither me nor the other guy felt the need to dig out the map and take a bearing and promptly followed the wrong burn which deposited us half way up Glen Croe leaving us with a 7k walk of shame back to our cars. The other guys wife didnae mince her words!!!
> I also had a wee navigational mishap coming of Beinn Narnain one misearble mild and drizzly winters day when the cloudbase was about level with the roof of my car. I bumped into a nice couple and we were blethering away when we reached the 3 way col, the Bealach a Mhaim. Neither me nor the other guy felt the need to dig out the map and take a bearing and promptly followed the wrong burn which deposited us half way up Glen Croe leaving us with a 7k walk of shame back to our cars. The other guys wife didnae mince her words!!!
I went up Bynack Mor.. had no map so just guessed the hill.. got up and it seemed low for a munro.. and without the characteristic Tors.. then spotted the next higher hill.. with Tors.. so ran down and ran up that one.. nice day out..
"Ronnie was a short-legged hunchback and a social misfit; his navigation was pathetic and he was not competent even with a railway timetable-------
it was commonplace for him to be completely lost on the hill; he paid scant attention to advice from more experienecd folk and made daft decisions about routes. He took really silly risks in dangerous situations. He fell down places. And he enjoyed every minoute of it."
The Rev Ronald G Burn - the first man to complete all the Munros AND all the Munro tops (FRom the opening page of "Burn on the Hill")
Does anyone care to admit dropping off the back of Creag Meaghaidh in to Glen Roy rather than back to Aberardar? I believe the late Mick Geddes did it back in the 1970s. Looking at the map, it does look a very long way!
There was a guy called Christian Bonington who has that accolade. He was in a group consisting of Martin Boysen, John cleare and Eric Beard. It was was Hogmanay 1964. They descended into the northern wilderness before reascending via Stop Poite Coire Ardair and then descending into the corrie. They reached Aberarder at 1am. From his book The Next Horizon:
After topping out the group realised none of them knew the layout of the mountain with any certainty:
"Has anyone got a map?"
"I've got one," said Beardie.
But a compass without a map is only of limited value. (especially if you're not sure of the ground you're on)
Thanks to everyone who replied to this post, sounds like I struck a chord here. I'm especially grateful to everyone who shared their own moment of being 180 degrees out in their navigation, makes me feel a lot better knowing I'm not alone. Perhaps, rather than the mile high club, we should start the One Hundred and Eighty Degree club! If anyone could find it that is.
I'll hold up my hand to that one, although we realised what had happened before we got too far into the hinterland.
> we should start the One Hundred and Eighty Degree club! If anyone could find it that is.
Or 'the Jungle Club', perhaps...?
"Coming down the wrong ridge from the top of Cruachan
Coming down the wrong glen (Canness) rather than Callater when following Jock's Road from Glen Doll
Going over Stob Coire nan Lochan twice when coming back down from Bidean
Going out to the wrong top (Meall an Tionail) rather than Meall Coire na Saobhaidhe from the top of Lochnagar
Cloudy weather on the first two but just simple carelessness on the last.
And just to stop those who know me saying "But what about..." I need to make it clear the above list is illustrative rather than comprehensive.
This does not include the "kick for touch" days when you can't follow the route you'd planned and end up taking a bearing just to get safely off the hill.
Of course we've all had what can be described euphemistically as "navigational issues". I think even the great Hamish admitted to going the wrong way on a ridge on Ben y Ghlo.
All good experience."
> I think you're over-egging that slightly!
Hmm, don't think so. The Mountain Bothies Association has Bearnais bothy at NH 021 431, the OS gives Lochcarron village as NG 898 396. According to OS getamap that's 12.79km as the crow flies, on a bearing roughly north of east from the village.
Not that I haven't made some navigational howlers in my time. The one that annoys me still is the occasion when I managed to confuse the Burn of Sorrow at the top of Dollar Glen for the Burn of Care, and we ended up climbing the wrong hill. That walk ended up being a lot shorter than I had originally expected :-(
I can confirm from personal experience that the Bearnais bothy is a bloody long way from Lochcarron. I was in there in winter 15 years ago; used it as a base for Lurg Mhor. The worst of it is, I didn't do that top at the far end - so I'll need to go back one day.
My friend Ken Stewart is the “experienced companion” mentioned here. He doesn’t have a UKC login, and has asked me to post this for him:
Douglas Griffin’s account is broadly correct but I’d disagree with some details. We were actually on Meall Garbh as our third Munro when we met the other walker/runner. The plan had been to descend SSE from Meall Garbh but this involved a mile of walking into the near gale at high level, so when the other man suggested accompanying him down the NW ridge I regarded this as a good alternative with the plan to reach the col before An Sgorr and go down the Invervar Burn. He asked where my car was and I told him Invervar, but I thought afterwards I might as well have said “on the Moon”. He went much faster than us and I’ve now no doubt he was heading for Rannoch and got down no problem.
My mistake was much closer to Iain Thow’s in that at 900m the ridge splits and that there we should have angled L to the col. Instead we stayed R with the fence line down to 700m or so. Perhaps we should have gone back up to 900m but instead we crossed the big corrie N of Carn Gorm and regained the ridge somewhere to W of the summit. When we reached the ridge line I knew we were OK as it was then a case of following the valley down to the south, emerging at Camusvrachan, as it turned out. It was no doubt a surprise to the residents to find two men with axes and balaclavas at their door. We assisted them by moving a heavy carpet into or out of their van, after which we received a lift back to Invervar.
Aye done that too... pea souper start, not enough time studying map set on wrong munro! All along trying to make features stick to the map!! Did have a good day out but not where intended.
Been there, done that, though not (not) on Ben Vorlich...
Beautiful summer day
Walked up Carn a Mhaim thinking it was Stob Ban.
Ken's memory is clearly better than mine. :-) Please give him my very best regards when you speak to him!
ps - We've met too, Dave, I used to play chess (like Ken) and I think you and I met at a training event in Perth round about 1994.
Will do. He’s in good form and we potter up and down things – usually Ochils or local-ish Munros – on a reasonably regular basis. Coincidentally we did the Carn Mairg round together – in clear weather – in April this year and on the stretch from Meall Garbh to Carn Gorm he mentioned the earlier meanderings. (Incidentally, on another occasion, I set off from Invervar up one of the middle ridges intending the eastern two Munros, but went up the next ridge to the west by mistake so ended up doing the western pair instead.)
Hope you’re well. Ken’s a markedly stronger chess player than me, and I suspect you are too. Were you on his first Munro completion on Beinn Iutharn Mhor in 1994? I was on his second one (in 2010 on Carn Dearg in the Monadhliath – a fantastic weather day, could see Knoydart) and he likes to compare the strengths of the chess teams that could have been fielded on each occasion. Think he reckons it would be a good match (complicated by 16-years-apart versions of Ken appearing for the two teams), but I suspect the 1994 outfit was stronger given that Douglas Bryson was present.
Some years ago I worked in Inverness for the winter. I had finished a night shift and it was such a beautiful snowy day I drove down to Aviemore and then up to Coire Cas and the car park (this was >15 years ago, long before any funicular). A monday in march probably: not the busiest.
I put the big boots on and wandered across the base of Coire an Sneachda, up the Fiacaill ridge and up to the plateau, heading for Ben Macdui. Given that I'd been awake for about 24hrs and it was starting to catch up with me a bit, I sat propped up against the rocks just below the top, put a big duvet on and had some soup from my flask. Lovely. Aaah, and breathe out. Quite sheltered here, with some pale sunlight to warm me...
A few hours later I awoke, very cold, and quite disorientated. It was now snowing reasonably although I was well sheltered from the wind. At least it was still daytime - this was a bonus as a few years previously I had fallen asleep after a long shift on Dartmoor and woke in the dark because it had started to rain, but that's another story.
Well the soup was pretty cold by now too, but I had my map and... oh. Compass was in the drawer at home rather than in the top pocket of my pack. I creaked out from my sheltered spot and could see not a footprint. It wasn't a particularly malevolent day thankfully - just that eerie flat greyness of the winter Cairngorms. I could see about 20m in any one direction. And I did have a map, and a watch; no coal, but a bivvy bag and a duvet plus some food so I wasn't going to die or anything - provided i didn't fall off anything.
I'm not sure I have ever concentrated quite so much on navigation in my life as I did for the next couple of hours. Everything was done on pacings and timings, estimation of slopes, and a good slice of luck. A compass would have been lovely; despite my disdain for GPS, I would have sold my granny for one there & then. If I didn't concentrate on the map all I could think of was the shame of being found, compass-less, wandering the plateau.
Eventually I hit the flat neck above the top of the goat track, but under the circumstances I thought I might avoid the sketchy bit at the top for the safe but steeper Fiacaill which could be readily downclimbed to pick up the track back to the car. As I scraped my way down in the fading light I met the first person I had seen all day: he looked pretty alarmed when I greeted him like a long lost brother. Frankly I could have kissed him. The walk out was one of those suffused with relief, and the chips & curry sauce from the guy by the station in Aviemore was like nectar.
I now have my compass tied in to the zip of the top pocket :-)
"Crieff" she quipped. My reply is unprintable. After a short heated debate there was no agreement on whether the driver or the sleeping passenger was to blame. I then got out the car, had a hissy fit, roared, flung a bottle of Barrs Irn bru into a farmers field and started striding it out to god knows where. (In my defence I was a lot younger and fiery in them days!!) She eventually coaxed me back into the car and took me to a cafe in Crieff where I drowned my sorrows with tea and scones.
Marions mum and dad kept their caravan at sites in Comrie and Crieff back then which we both used quite a bit so the probable explanation is she must have went into a sort of vacant auto pilot. I have nothing against the rolling Perthshire hills, it's just that I had my heart set on Arrochar and only had the maps for that area with us. Oh how we laughed that day!!
> I lined everything up and magically the elephants path was now the right way to go. Dave took back the kit and tried again getting his strange reading, I pulled the map & compass away from him & the correct bearing appeared. There was a moments silence
> Oh sh1t, exclaimed Dave and lifted his backpack water tube off it's holder which turned out to be... A magnet. Thanks North Face.
When the new Croydon Slush and Rubble store opened I wnet in for a look around. A very enthusiastic sales assistant tried to sell me a new rucksack. I looked at the magnetic water hose holder and suggested that it might interfere rather badly with a compass. To which she said,
'Why would you want to use a compass?'
I suppose that's the difference between product knowledge and knowing what to do with it.
Glad to hear he's keeping fit!
I'm doing fine, Dave! I've not seen Ken for ages though, so missed both of his completions. We used to live not far from each other (I'm from Airdrie originally) but I moved to the north-east in 1993.
Chess-wise, I played seriously in my younger days but gradually stepped back from it from about 1990 onwards - round about the time I discovered the hills. :-) I was about 2250-2300 at my peak. I still retain an interest but haven't played regular competitive chess since 1996.
I so love this thread! How about an elite group within the 180 Club - the 360 Circle? My bid for founder member is setting off about 30 years ago from Tolmount for (I think) Tom Buidhe, in about 80% cloud, with wee bits of visibilty to nearby features. Down, onto a shallow col, hands in pockets (too bloody lazy to get the compass out, sure I could see where I was going at least some of the time. Another steady, gentle climb up to a summit, looks a bit like the one I've just left - sh*t, it is the one I've just left! I'd prescribed a 40 minute circle on those gentle, featureless slopes, convinced I had been able to see enough of my next objective to get there without a bearing.
As my grandfather would have put it, "weel, Ah ken noo...."
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