I had decided that Carn Bhac was a good plan for today. There was supposed to be a bit less rain further East, and depending on which book/article/website I looked at there were a variety of ways to do the hill, depending on just how wet and windy it turned out to be.
When I was making my plans, I had of course forgotten that we had been invited to a wee do on Friday evening, via Marion's work. Things went on a bit later than anticipated, and even though I wasn't drinking, by the time we got home it was clear that a long drive the next day was improbable. Certainly, when I was printing out routes & maps at quarter to one in the morning, I kind of knew that I wouldny be getting up at half five to drive to Inverey. I decided to play it by ear, see what time I woke up, and take it from there.
Not surprisingly, when I surfaced at 8am, a trip to the closest new rucksack testing ground seemed to be in order, so I loaded up the dugs and set off for Ben Venue. This had the added advantage of making sure I avoided the Old Firm game excitement that invariably grips darkest Lanarkshire.
The weather was bogging as I drove past Loch Achray and it didn't improve thereafter. I however cared not a jot, partly because I think the Jirishanca is a work of art. I tell you, those hip belt pockets, together with the ability to get to your water bottle - and put it back - in the side pockets without taking the thing off are going to transform my entire hillgoing experience.
It's a great thing. Comfy, well thought out, well-made and very, very orange. Whit's not to like? Oh, and a tip of the cap to Big Kev, whose fault the purchase was, if one analyses it closely.
The walk was fine. Wet - indeed extremely wet - but it was nice traditional vertical rain, rather than horizontal wind whipped Scottish hill rain so it was OK. The wee Marmot Precip jacket that I got from Cotswold in the sale is just the job when it's wet but not all that cold. In fact, apart from taking that as opposed to my Cioch jacket, I stuck all the normal winter hillwalking clothes in the rucksack, and even took my big flask, just to test the thing room-wise. Admittedly if it was the winter I'd likely have an axe, and maybe a bit more food with me, but there's plenty of space and I'm in no doubt it'll be a good investment for a winter daysack. To be honest, it compresses so well (and I admit I had reservations about yon cord compression setup initially) I can see this being the year round daysack.
I always enjoy the walk through the forests on the approach to Ben Venue. Today, everywhere you looked there was new spring growth. Vivid green ferns spearing through last years mattress of brown foliage. The conifers literally bursting with this years near fluorescent lime-coloured needles. Flashes of bright yellow flowers on the broom at the side of the track catch the eye as you peer out from under your hood.
Then the bastard dugs decided to set off after some deer.
I had reached the plateau above the waterfall at the head of Glen Riabhach. The dogs had been playing as they do; both grabbing an end of a stick and then running off up the track and back; playfighting; jumping through the burns etc etc. While they were having a round of that, I decided I was so wet that I might as well just have a wee seat on a rock and a brew from my flask. And a sandwich maybe. As I started the sandwich I began to wonder where the eternally hungry Wee Black Dug was.
A flash of muddy apricot labradoodle caught my eye as I peered out from under my hood. Closely followed by a flash of black. The two of them were on the hillside opposite, haring up it like there was no tomorrow. They must have been about half a mile away. I shouted but even if they had still been in earshot (which I seriously doubt), they were too intent on getting after - well whatever it was, because I couldn't see anything at that point.
They disappeared behind a rocky outcrop. I shouted for a bit longer, but I knew fine that in reality what I was doing was simply waiting to see whether they would decide to come back. It was at that moment that visibility dwindled remarkably quickly, and it started to snow.
I gave it five minutes. Nothing. So I set off in the direction I'd last seen them, secure in the knowledge that the speed they'd been going at, they could have been in Aberfoyle main street by then. Or, and this was the most likely option as far as I was concerned, they were both lying at the foot of a cliff somewhere, having proved to be less hillwise than the mountain goats which I had begun to assume was their intended target. (I have actually seen proper big shaggy feral goats around there before.)
Another five minutes had passed by now. In my head, I was beginning to run through excuses for Marion as to how I had managed to kill both her dugs during a two hour wander in the Trossachs.
Suddenly a peching Wee Black Dug popped up from behind a hillock. Yon "raging but glad" emotion is a hard one to describe. Invariably Molly arrives a few moments later, as she's not got Jorja's stamina, and aye lags behind after a brisk workout.
A few moments passed.
Hmm. No Molly.
What to do? Well, in true Lassie fashion, I said to Jorja - "Where's Molly?!? Find Molly!! Good dog!! Good dog Jorja!!" And in true Lassie fashion she immediately turned on her heel and ran fifty yards to the crest of a small rise...and then picked up a fallen antler, ran back and dropped it at my feet with her "gonny throw this" expression.
At least I then knew what they'd been chasing.
Just as genuine concern was turning to mild panic, I saw Molly making a rather weary way back down from the hillside above. If ever a dug looked like it was going to vomit from over exertion, this was that dug. At the top of the hill, I could see the faint silhouettes of two deer - stock still, gazing down unconcernedly at the daft animals they'd just comprehensively ripped the pish out of.
It probably goes without saying that I headed back down after that. Interestingly, both dugs walked perfectly to heel all the way to the car. They do have a sixth sense, you know, just like folk say. It's the sense of self-preservation.