Louie, The Ptarmigan and the cloud in the sky – Number 41 Meall Nan Tarmachan

26 05 2015
Arlene, Louie and Dennis on the descent from Meall Nan Tarmachan

Arlene, Louie and Dennis on the descent from Meall Nan Tarmachan

It has been some three months since my last Munro Blagging. I don’t know where the time has gone, I only know that work has been busy, and I have been writing and trying to finalise some music for release soon. Anyway, I was getting sick and tired of  another weekend flying by without me getting out climbing or walking and it was beginning to get to me. I had recently bought a new rucksack and replaced a pair of walking poles which I had somehow contrived to lose over last few months, and so, eager to get some use out of them, I decided to get out at the weekend.

With a bank holiday in the offing and Arlene and Louie both showing a keenness to join me, I thought that an easy walk would be the best for all of us; and with Dennis coming along too, I was mindful of the last time when I exhausted him on a five hour walk, it seemed only right that I should revisit Meall Nan Tarmachan and get this one over and done with.

Dennis and I had made a failed attempt some eight weeks ago and were stopped by driving snow and high winds, we had a point to prove. The hill starts high above Killin with ample parking at Ben Lawers. The road to the car-park saves a fair deal of walking and makes for an easy start for Louie. We arrived around 10.00am, I woke Louie who had been asleep in the back of the car for the entire journey, let Dennis out of the back of the Land Rover and we readied ourselves. The weather, although cold for a late May weekend, was dry. The sky though was dark and there were some pockets of blue shining through intermittently. We set off.

After about an hour of walking and encouraging Louie all the way, we reached what he had thought was the summit. Louie was introduced to that most depressing moral crunching experience of hill walkers – the false summit. The whole gammut of persuasion techniques were employed by his parents to get his bum off the “summit” cairn and head onwards; encouragement, praise, the sense of achievement, all the way through to bribery and the odd threat that we would leave him here if he didn’t (we didn’t do that but I thought about it). Whatever it was that worked I am still not sure, but up he got up and off we set for the final push. A couple of walkers had headed on in front to us and appeared to be in a quandary as to which way to go. Stopped in their tracks by a rather large snow bound gully with no visible path, they headed up left only to retrace their steps to their starting point and then head rightwards up a steep grassy slope next to the snow line. I headed up towards their start point to get a view. Louie looked unsure, but I convinced him just to concentrate on his feet and I would be immediately behind him in case he slipped. Which he did thankfully only once.

Louie and Dennis playing in one of the small snow patches just short of the

Louie and Dennis playing in one of the small snow patches just short of the “summit”.

We arrived at the top of the shallow gully in no time, and his confidence and enthusiasm was restored. I told him we were only about fifty feet from the top and that he should go on in front as I didn’t want to pop onto the summit and find I had to go all the way back down and NOT DO it all over again. So off he set with Arlene and Dennis in tow. I followed and rounding the bending track at the top, I saw the three of them at the top. This would be far enough for me.

Arlene, Dennis and Louie at the top of Meall Nan Tarmachan

Arlene, Dennis and Louie at the top of Meall Nan Tarmachan

I waited on them to return to me and we got the Finding Your Feet flag out.

Unfurling the flag....

Unfurling the flag….

We turned and headed back down hill stopping at a small lochan for a bite to eat and for Dennis to take a dip in the icy cold water. Louie’s gloves were wet and his hands were getting cold. He looked up at me, tears rolling down his face in pain. He had the hot aches. This is something he suffers with as a goalkeeper too, many times he has come home from football in agony. I took his wet gloves off, got my Arcteryx thermals from my rucksack and put them on him. I rubbed his hands with mine to try to warm them up. “But Dad that’s not fair, your hands are cold and wet too” I told him mine weren’t sore though, and his were.

“Anyway, do you know why this hill is called Meall Nan Tarmachan?” I said trying to change the subject.

“Why’s that?”

“Well, Peter would know exactly the reason, but I think its something to do with the bird called a Ptarmigan. They are very hard to spot and sometimes you only ever know they are because of their call”

“Have you seen any today Dad?” he asked

“No I have not, so maybe my theory is rubbish”

We gathered our stuff together and headed down. We dropped about 50 feet and I stopped to wait on Louie and Arlene catching up. He was still in pain and crying. I cuddled him and held his hands for a bit more for warmth.

“Dad, do we have to go down the same way we came up? It’s a bit steep isn’t it?”

“We’ll be fine don’t worry, I’ll keep a hold of you and you just have to make sure you get good foot placements on the way. You’ll be fine”

He looked out and down towards the Lawers Dam.

“Dad, look, what’s that!” he whispered. I turned around.

“Its a Ptarmigan!” I said.

The Ptarmigan appears!...

The Ptarmigan appears!…

It was about three feet from us and walking towards us up the steep grassy face. We all looked at it in amazement. It spotted us, it croaked a loud warning sending Dennis into a barking frenzy and signalling its flight off to safety.

“That was amazing” he said ” This MUST be the Hill of the Ptarmigan”

We made our way down to the steepening and I held onto him as he took each step, one by one, down the slippery grassy embankment. we followed the snow line down carefully and with every ounce of his concentration, he reached the bottom in no time at all. Knowing that that was the difficult part of the day complete, his mood lifted, the adrenalin and sense of achievement kicked in and the pain in his fingers eased.

We all set off down the well worn path towards the car.

“Can we stop at Killin for a hot chocolate and a doughnut?”

“Course we can!”

Another great day in the hills. Made more so by the company of my wife, my son and my dog. Another Munro blagged, another summit avoided for Finding Your Feet, and another great day of being a dad.

But the one moment I will remember from this day, was whilst walking with Louie back down the path to the car. He turned to me and said ” You know how in any great day Dad there’s always one thing that goes wrong? Always that wee cloud in the perfect sky. Well I’m just glad that my hot aches was that thing, and that was the worst thing that happened today”.

I only wish I had such words when I was that age.

“That’s a great thing to say Louie, and very Buddhist”.

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