In the early 80’s I was into big days on the hills. In Mountain Rescue we trained hard for the inevitable call out after a long day on the hill or after work! To get fit we pushed out the boat chasing big days and our big egos!
We were out most weekends averaging about 100 days plus on the hill a year. During the break between seasons ( summer and winter) we did long hill days building our stamina for the inevitable winter. I was ice climbing a lot not great but very fit! This was the time to get winter fit.
This was a period usually late September and October when the my dog Teallach seemed to change the colour of his coat and shed hairs everywhere. He knew winter was coming! It also meant no more shorts and lightweight bags gloves hats and extra kit for the winter were essential. We also carried a sleeping bag and bivy bag all the time plus all the other normal gear. Add to that a rope and radios it was a bit more than most carry but great for the winter training but not for my body!
One plan I had always wanted was to go out with the team to Dundonnell and climb the two Munros on An Teallach then push on if possible and climb the Munros at Fisherfield there were 6 then. That is a big day and was one I was after! A bit of ego and competition which was rife in the team. We arrived as normal on Late Friday night at our bothy the JSMC hut below An Teallach. The pub was shut and we had an early night. It was going to be a huge day. I had looked at the maps done the hills several times and with us going lightweight for MR Rescue. Now that is a contradiction of terms and we walked in the dark away just after 0430.
This is from Steve Fallons website
“The 5 Munros in Fisherfield along with the Corbett Beinn a’Chlaidheimh are affectionately known as the “Fisherfield Big 6”. Most people back-pack into Shenavall and tick the peaks off over two of three days, leaving An Teallach to be climbed another day.
It is however perfectly possible for fit hill-walkers to do all seven Munro peaks of An Teallach and Fisherfield in one outing. This will require the classic scramble over Corrage Bhuidhe to be omitted. However this is compensated for, by finding a huge, hidden waterfall cascading into a dark chasm on the south side of An Teallach.
Good paths are present along most of the route and a fine track is followed out of the area at the end of the day. It should be noted that where there are no paths, well-honed navigation skills are essential for progress in mist, particularly when heading off A’Mhaighdean and the route between Sgurr Ban and Beinn a’Chlaidheimh. ”
Steve guides and is an authority on the Munros well worth a visit to his website !
We were on the first Munro on An Teallach before sunrise. It took two hours along the ridge and then the steep descent of the ridge to Sheneval where we stopped for a brew. The bothy was empty so we dumped some gear in an upstairs room.
The weather was good to start and after a tricky river crossing (bare feet )we we soon up onto the ridge up a very steep line and Teallach Route finding. This let us switch of and follow as he powered above waiting for us.
I had done the Fisherfield hills several times in these days it was fairly remote and had a reputation. I had always wanted to add An Teallach to the day. I was fit and strong what could go wrong! Halfway along the weather changed and it started raining/ sleet we should have aborted half way but pushed on. The wind got up and it was hard work navigation was tricky . On the last Munro A Mhaighden we lost the last of the light. One of the party was struggling but I knew there was a good path at the beleach ( saddle) . It was tricky as there is a lot of crags about and add tiredness and no GPS this was early 80’s . We made the path forced fed the poor troop he was suffering and kept going!
It got wetter and wetter and the rain was now sleet in your face made the descent even more tricky. Our struggling troop now lost his torch his batteries failed but I had a spare and eventually we reached the river .
I had two radios with us myself and Al carried them. I got a message out that we would stay the night in the bothy and walk out in the morning.
There were no mobile phones then and once we descended we would lose all communications. I was pretty worried but big Al MacLeod was with me a powerful man and we worked hard to keep our poor man going. It was “march or die time “
River crossings at night are not easy but Teallach swam across and we followed.If I remember there were two river crossing then the heavy bog for about a kilometre and the last river. How we crossed it I will never know.
I could see the faint light of Sheneval bothy in the blackness and the smell in the wind of the fire. We had made it we were nearly there.
It was now about 11 pm and I charged on to the bothy with the dog where I had a small stove and brew material hidden with our spare kit! We would need it.
It was busy in the bothy about 10 folk all drunk and the smell off “wacky backy” in the air. I was soaked and greeted with “there’s no room we have booked it and …..,,,,0ff.
Not the bothy culture !
Now they must have thought that I was a 10 stone weakling which I looked and soaked and tired I was ready for anything !
I went upstairs and started throwing some kit down the stair when there was a commotion and angry eyes looked at me!
Then they saw this big Alsatian who has a great sense of when trouble was coming . He did a big growl and they scuttled of picking up their bags from the stair and making room for us! No words were spoken it was a strange experience .
The troops and Big Al arrived our other bothy mates were very quiet. Al was a hugely impressive man there was no trouble and we soon got our mate in dry clothes a brew and in his sleeping bag.
We all I had a brew and I had hidden some stuff of previous trips nearby so we had a few extras and we stayed the night.
We were never bothered by the noisy crew they became very quiet I think they saw our radios and thought we were police! Or maybe Big Al was a bit scary as was the wee man with the dog.
We left early at first light it was a long walk out with a tired troop.
I learned lots that day about pushing the boat out. We should have dropped of half way when the weather changed. We thought we were invincible as you do at that age.
River crossings at night are not easy now I would really think about that in bad weather and in the dark.
When on a big day it’s easy to let the objective get in the way of your thinking. I knew my mate was struggling and should have said let’s go down earlier but he was after the hills and wanted to give it everything. I was so lucky as Big Al took most of his gear off him! We shared the responsibility all day that made life so much easier.
The torch failure could have been a nightmare but we stayed together he always had me or Big Al with him as one of us navigated and with tricky route finding it was not easy in the dark. In these days of limited paths on the hills unlike nowadays . No GPS mobile phones and a long way from assistance.
The bothy code that is accepted by all was not by these idiots could have been costly if we had not sorted it. They were in the bothy to drink and smoke not for the hills. I doubt our pal would have made it back that night if we had tried to continue. Sometimes being diplomatic does not work!
I learned so much on that weekend and was glad that Big Al was with me he was an impressive man and fiery !
It could have been all so different!