Beinn Heasgarnich: A hard-won Munro summit
Beinn Heasgarnich has a Gaelic meaning: “The peaceful or sheltering mountain.” I heard this description after Sunday’s hike to the top of the Munro and guffawed at the irony.
The fact that Mega Munroamer Tansy and I even made it to the base of the Munro, let alone the summit, still seems quite amazing. The day we hiked Heasgarnich, it was far from peaceful or sheltering!
This is the run up to the day of Munro bagging. Over the course of the previous week the weather forecast changed from:
- Looking ok for winter…
- To… Truly awful with 90pmh gusts of wind and almost constant rain
- To… It’s really pretty good for the time of year.
During the week my plans also changed from:
- Not going near the mountains in such bad weather
- To… Maybe I will see if there is someone to walk with, such as Mega Munroamer, if the weather turns out to be ok
- To… The G-Force deciding to come too because he would not be ski touring
- To… Let’s take on those two Munros near Killin that MM has not yet walked
- To… the G-Force being too unwell to walk or ski
- To… MM and me setting out on our own from near Killin beneath a beautiful blue sky on a bright winter’s morning.
MM had travelled from Aberdeenshire via Fort William the night before while I journeyed up from Glasgow early on the Sunday morning.
MM has only a handful of Munros left to walk and Beinn Heasgarnich and the neighbouring Creag Mhor are on her final hit list.
On WalkHighlands the Munro pairing is described as one of the more challenging routes in this part of the Highlands. And because the weather forecast suggested “changeable” at best we agreed to set out and see what happened.
We decided that if it became too windy and wet higher up we would turn back. We hoped we might bag both summits but if we reached just one that would be a “good day out”.
Being women we agreed, nodded, deferred, discussed, chatted and just got on with the hike.
I learned a lot during this Munro hike
Women CAN read maps and navigate.
Women discuss and plan route finding and navigation together (as compared to men who tend to navigate themselves and let others follow). I am generalising but I do find that two women are more inclusive and discursive than men when map reading.
Women do not push ahead without asking their friend if they are comfortable with that.
Women can be strong-minded and when the going gets tough they encourage each other along.
Women chat when walking. A lot. MM and I put our lives and the world to rights over the seven or so hours that we were hiking.
Even if the weather looks promising, this being Scotland, it can suddenly change. On Sunday the weather changed almost every 10 minutes from blue sky and sunshine to wind and rain to sleet and white-out to blue sky and again and again.
The first path up the hill is not always the one to take.
Having a Garmin GPS hiking gadget – and being able to transfer grid references to a map – is important when trying to work out where you are in a snowstorm.
Being able to adjust your route according to conditions and on a compass bearing map are greats skill.
Experience is important, especially if the conditions are variable. I have walked more than 200 mountains and Tansy is closing in on her first round of 282 Munros. Both of us know we can cope in high winds, white outs, on steep ascents and in locations where there is only a map and compass to follow and not a path and signposts.
It’s right to be cautious of winter snowfields. From a distance the snowfields looked walkable but close up we could se that many bridged rivers and ravines. If we had walked on top of these we may have risked falling through the snow.
Knowing where the greatest avalanche risks were that day was important. And being able to work out the steepness and therefore the avalanche risk of a large snowfield is utterly vital.
I appear to be strong, even if I am quite light. In high winds I am able to push on even when the gusts are threatening to push me over. I have learned through experience what I can cope with physically and mentally.
Walking arm in arm with MM was sometimes the only way forward. To reach the summit we held on to each other to create a larger weight in the face of extreme gusts of wind.
Kneeling down on a snowfield in a total whiteout can be very scary. It was. But knowing that whatever decision you make, to go up or to go down, will be agreeable to your walking partner is comforting.
Stopping for a while to let the weather make up its mind can make all the difference. We waited a few minutes, until the white-out lifted, and there, above us and beneath a blue sky, we saw the summit some 500m away. It gave us huge hope when, just minutes before, we had felt alone and desperate.
Reaching the top of a hard-won mountain makes you feel very alive, especially when you are treated to a stunning clear panoramic view.
Knowing when to turn back for home is important. The neighbouring Munro Creag Mhor could be easily seen through the break in the clouds. But we knew we would run out of daylight and energy so we agreed to head back to the cars.
The walk out always seems longer than the walk in.
Firm friendships are created through challenging conditions. Thanks Mega Munroamer Tansy for being such a great hiking partner in such tricky conditions.
Hikes like these are the stuff of lifetime memories.