Published 10th March 2024, 20:32

    THE last time I tackled Beinn Odhar things didn't quite pan out as I had planned.

    My relief at having reached the summit cairn after the short but relentlessly steep ascent on a beautiful icy February morning was soon tempered by the realisation that I had left my crampons in the car.

    Suddenly any hope of doing all five Corbetts in this unique ring above Tyndrum looked like a mission impossible. Although the slopes I had climbed were soft and trouble-free, the same couldn't be said for the ones on the opposite flank. Now I was faced with trying to pick my way down through wide swathes of solid ice.

    The next hour or so was spent bum-sliding and relying on the ice axe as a brake but the prospect of doing this for another four big hills didn't appeal. I bailed out after the third summit, Cam Chreag, a wise move especially after a particularly painful blow to the tail bone.

    I was back on Beinn Odhar last weekend but despite being exactly the same time of year as that first visit, crisp and clear conditions had been replaced by unseasonably warmer temps, it was soggy underfoot and the high tops were mostly in hiding with drizzle blowing through.

    The route was also different, an approach by the old St Fillans Priory then up on to Beinn Chaorach and over to Beinn Odhar, partly driven by the desire for a change of scenery but also taking into account our time restraints. No one was thinking about a five-hill circuit. Once again, however, things didn't quite go to plan.

    As we neared the final rise of the long steady pull up the grassy slopes of Beinn Chaorach I stopped to adjust layers – then found I simply couldn't get going again. Every step became a struggle. It seemed my energy levels had sprung a leak during that short pause. The trig pillar was a welcome sight, and a chance to reboot. 

    The deep descent to the col was enlivened by the slow-motion machinations of the cloud at the top of the glen which provided tantalising glimpses of Beinn Dorain and Beinn a' Chaisteil. It also cleared enough for a spell to reveal Beinn Odhar in all its glory – if I had forgotten just how brutally steep these hills were, this was a timely reminder. 

    The initial plod uphill wasn't too bad, but about halfway up I again hit a wall. And this time it was much worse. Every muscle seemed to be rebelling against the effort: legs were leaden, neck and shoulders heavy. It was becoming hard to lift my head. Even my arms started to give up the ghost. It was time for some group therapy.

    Some of the party offered to cut short the walk and head down. But I had been through this scenario before, albeit less severe. I knew if I kept going, hard though it was, I would come out the other side. The compromise was a sharing of packs, a redistribution of weight.

    The mist had closed in again and every rise seemed to tease, but eventually we were at the highest point with its now much reduced summit cairn, the result of a tidy-up by that man of mountain measurements Alan Dawson. As far as I was concerned, normal service had been resumed and those ferocious steep slopes got us down to the West Highland Way in under an hour, a real work-out for the knees to avoid freewheeling out of control.

    It's often hard to pinpoint exactly the reasons for a bad day on the hill. It strikes once or twice a year and lack of sleep seems to be the biggest factor. I still find it easier to travel by night and have a sleep in the car rather than have to get out of bed early and then travel. 

    When going out with a group, the nights are even more restless as there's an overriding fear you will miss the rendezvous. It tends not to happen on solo outings when the only person you can let down is yourself.

    I had had some sniffles in the week leading up to the walk but they never came to much and I was fine when I set off. If I had been feeling unwell, I would have chosen an easier walk. The hidden effects of stress should never be underestimated either, and the fact I had been dealing with a family bereavement may have added to whatever else was swirling around.

    There was a slight chicken and egg factor in that I couldn't be sure if I had been coming down with something beforehand or whether the walk itself had triggered a problem.

    Or maybe it was just the muscles remembering the strains of that day on Beinn Odhar from 20 years ago better than I had.