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A Mountain Too High

Author: Debra Murphy
Year: Adventure

I was trying to get fit again after my heart attack last year at the top of Ben Lawers. With my successful climb up Ben Ledi the previous week, I felt on top of the world. I was starting to believe I’d soon be fit enough to climb back up Ben Lawers before the winter weather made the single-track road up Glen Lyon too scary for me and my little car.

As I chatted with Mr M, I told him I’d tackle the Cobbler (Ben Arthur) in the Arrochar Alps on Monday. Our discussions often result in a raised eyebrow from him, and they were nearly over the back of his head when I mentioned this. To give Mr M his due, he’s never once asked me not to go up the hills again after my heart attack. He sighed, asking if I’d be taking Beatrix (our Border Collie) with me. Of course, I would. Climbing the mountains without Beatrix would be like Christmas Cake without Wensleydale Cheese.

Sunday night Beatrix planned the route with me, telling me I was not going up Beinn Narnain but saving that for winter when we’d get the most amazing views over Loch Long. Instead, we’d go up the Cobbler and look across to Beinn Narnain in anticipation of longer walks soon.

I’ve been spoiled with my hikes in Scotland across all four seasons. Ok, across the two seasons we have – Summer and Winter. I’ve walked in glorious sunshine, basked in the heat on the hills, climbed in virgin snow and had views where I swear I could see as far as the end of the earth. I even think that if I’d made more of an effort to look out of the helicopter’s window as they transported me off the mountain to the hospital, I’d have had fantastic views over Perthshire and the surrounding mountains.

This morning, the rain was pouring, and the sky was heavy. But as Billy Connolly says, there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.

I packed all my Gore-Tex gear, an extra layer for on top of the mountain and even dug out my gloves. Gloves in September! Mr M made my packed lunch and a flask of hot tea and waved as Beatrix and I drove away.

By 8.30am, we had arrived at Succoth by Arrochar. Donning all my waterproofs, I looked up at the mountain. Ok, I looked up at the clouds in front of me. At least I knew the route well. Beatrix wasn’t bothered; she just needed me to help her across the busy A83 so she could be free from the lead and go stick and stone hunting.

The walk up the Cobbler starts with a long zig-zaggy track up the hillside. The rain eased a little, though the clouds still hung heavily, so views were non-existent.

As you leave the shelter of the trees and the forestry track, you’re usually rewarded with your first view of the Cobbler. Today I was rewarded with more clouds, forcing me to have some Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.

Despite the lack of views, the hills opened, and I felt a sense of total freedom, and as the track levelled a little, I could get my breath back for a while.

Unexpectedly, my confidence took a bit of a nosedive. My thoughts drifted back to last August. What if the same thing happens? What if I have to be rescued again? What if Beatrix has to be left on the hill again? What if? What if? What if?

Weighed down with all the negative thoughts, my legs were heavy, my rucksack was too full, and my waterproofs started to let in the rain! What was I to do?

‘Do you feel strong enough to go up the hill?’ the voice in my head whispered.
‘Yes, of course I do?’ I replied.
‘But are you sure?’ the voice asked.
‘Well, I think so,’ I said quietly, already doubting myself.

Walking alone the doubts began to grow.

‘You can’t do it,’ the voice in my head screamed.

As I walked, I chatted with other walkers coming the other way, who told me that the weather didn’t get any better further up the hill. I decided that, to avoid any mishaps and deal with my unexpected lack of confidence, I would just climb up the hill to where the path splits to either climb the Cobbler’s final ascent or tackle Beinn Narnain.

My disappointment grew at my turning point, and even Beatrix looked up the hill with sad eyes.

Heading back down the track, I stopped at a large rock which formed a natural shelter from the weather and sat down for a well-deserved lunch break. Sitting there, I felt angry with myself and a bit of a failure. As I cuddled my flask of hot tea, I thought about the last year, remembering how ill and weak I’d been. But I also thought about the support many people gave me. I thought about my progress, and gradually, my disappointment eased, and I began to see positives about the day. I’d climbed a considerable height in miserable weather and once again felt the freedom of the mountains. I’d chatted with lovely like-minded people and had seen Beatrix enjoying roaming the hills once again. She never doubted me.

We made our way back down the track and then the zig-zaggy path. Halfway down, there’s a welcome bench to rest your tired legs and feet as you look across Loch Long. Resting on the bench, I had a fantastic view of Ben Lomond appearing out of the clouds.

By the time I reached the car, the sun shone brightly, and the clouds had all but disappeared.

Driving around the end of Loch Long towards Tarbet, I glanced back at the Arrochar Alps, and there was the Cobbler waving goodbye to me in the sunshine and clear blue sky.

Until next time Debra.