BEN MORE & A WORLD OF PAIN June 23

Chad went out to get the car this morning while I finished packing up. His first words to me as we lugged our bags down to the basement of The Carlton were, “Don’t mind the burning oil smell.” Okay. I contemplated pretending he didn’t say that. But I was too curious. Turns out you burn a lot of oil trying to come up a ramp in 3rd gear, instead of 1st. My job while we have the car is to remind Chad that left hand turns must be sharp and to please not hug the left shoulder quite so much.

We were heading up to get the oldest geocache in Scotland on a mountain called Ben More. The cache wasn’t at the top, but off the main trail a bit. I didn’t have topos, but the description didn’t seem bad and we hike in the Mon National Forest at home all the time. Big deal. (And that, kids, is called foreshadowing in the world of literary devices.)

We stopped in Stirling for lunch (Stirling’s CRAP! – the infamous line uttered by the publican on our first trip). It was a bit confusing trying to find the town center off the A85 or whatever A it was. Finally Chad sorted it all out. And then we had our first problem. In Edinburgh, pretty much all the parking meters whether they be curbside or in car parks let you pay by credit card. Oh but not in Stirling. No, we needed change. I had 20 pound notes. We hiked up the hill to get some change. Then we came back down the hill to our car, only to find that the nearest pay kiosk was out of order. So was the next one. But, a group of our fellow countrymen told us, the one down at the bottom worked find. Lovely. Because you have to put the ticket on your dash.

That having been sufficiently taken care of, we picked a pub on Baker Street (no, not that one, we’re in Scotland) and had delicious food while sitting outside and enjoying the sunshine.

Stirling appeared to be a cute little town, not CRAP! As we’d been warned. But I suppose a lot can change in 11 years.

Since we had an appointment with a cache, we just drove by Stirling Castle (there was a line of cars trying to get in) and headed to Ben More.

We parked at an actual car park about .5 mile from the trailhead. It seemed smarter to do that than try to squeeze off the road. After all, it’s only added another mile to our trek. Big deal, we figured.

So first a few things:

  1. The highest point in WV is Spruce Knob at 4863 feet; Ben More is 3820 feet.
  2. Thanks to Garmin being U.S. centric, the maps of Scotland that I was able to load to the 60CSX were OSM Street Maps, not topos.
  3. Chad and I both had loaded the GPX trail for the Ben More summit trail. We knew that the oldest cache was off the left most loop of the trail.
  4. We thought we were prepared.

You start out up a wide farm road that winds back and forth through a sheep field. Ahead loomed Ben More and it looked steep, but we were not daunted.

The first bit of trail, once off the road, wasn’t the most discernable path. It was more like “choose the way you best think you should go and keep going”.

Fortunately we’re fairly seasoned hikers and had no problem spotting fresh boot prints as we picked our way up.

The path went from fairly indiscernible trail to muck to rocks to rocks & muck to just rocks, with various combinations therein.

Basically, everything you’d prefer not to walk on; it was more like climbing the worst, most uneven staircase you’ve ever imagined with no visible end in sight.

With short sharp cutbacks because it was indeed, that steep. Also, it was squishy, even when you didn’t expect it. I don’t know how, but this entire country, we would come to find out, was pretty squishy.

Climbing was hot work and we were both soon back down to t-shirts. But the wind was ferocious. So basically my arms were numb and my back was soaked; and we’ll not discuss my hair as I was sans hat at the time.

After a terrible amount of going up, up, up, up I realized that the cache, which I foolishly thought would soon be ours, was not simply right off the trail. No, rather it was .19 mile OVER and most likely on a lower topo line which would require crossing a few dips in terrain, some running water and a small waterfall.

Translated that means we were walking horizontal (more or less) on the side of a hill that was, in my estimation, ridiculously steep and soppy wet. At one point it was so steep that I just sat down and slid because it was easier. By the time we got to the general vicinity of ground zero I was beat. I’d had to layer up because I was starting to feel that perhaps letting my exposed skin go numb was not smart and so I was both cold and hot, which happens from time to time when outdoors.

Fortunately the search for the cache itself was brief and soon we were wallowing in our glory. Which was about the time a couple of cachers from Austria appeared out of absolutely nowhere and scared the life out of us.

At this point, we had realized that we should have gone ahead and summited Ben More first and grabbed the cache on our way back down. We also were thinking that perhaps we should have taken the other side of the loop. As we sat there, getting ready to gear back up, Chad patted me on the knee and said, “If you’re up for it we should just go back to the trail and hit the summit.” If I’m up for it? Really? Does he even know me? Has he not been married to me for 16 years? If I’m up for it, indeed. Hrumph. So yes, we climbed back up/over to the trail we’d left, all the while me thinking that the pain in my knee was not going to get any better and that dear god in heaven I really, really wanted to be done with this. I also very much wanted to summit that ridiculous mountain.

We hit the trail more or less where we’d left off. I looked at my Garmin. We had .39 mile up to the top. It was not going to be a gentle climb. Not at all. Slowly we went. One foot, the other. Repeat ad nauseum. Up. Up. Up. This. This is why I walk and hike and go to yoga and all that other nonsense. It’s not to live longer. It’s so I can do this – climb a 3820 foot mountain for no good reason other than it’s here and I’m here. This is why. The reward was spectacular.

It really was a long brutal climb, but we made it.

It was windy and crazy and you could see for miles. That ridge, that’s the loop normal folks use to ascend the mountain. Normal, non-idiot folks who look at things like topography maps and don’t assume that just because they come from a mountainous state, that all 3800 foot mountains are created equal.

As usual we took photos, but they never really capture what you are seeing. Which, of course, is why people climb mountains in the first place. We’d started at 2:15, we hit the summit at 5:55 – not too bad considering our detour for the cache.

Why yes, we are badasses.

We did not dawdle because we were a bit under a time crunch to get to our next place of lodging. Plus the wind was truly ridiculous in it’s ferocity and I was still dealing with being half soaked with sweat and half freezing. Not to mention, I really, really wanted to take my shoes off and never put them back on again!

Going down was brutal. If I thought up was terrible, this made up seem lovely. I’d mucked up my right knee and each step was new pain shooting everywhere. I didn’t tell Chad. I just hoped I hadn’t hosed up our entire vacation.

Below is the elevation profile of our hike. The dip is where we left the trail and headed for the oldest cache. So if you look at basically the last half of the elevation profile, you can get a good idea of how steep Ben More really is. And it’s foolishly steep. The flat parts are our walk from and back to the car a half mile from the trailhead.

And this what our tracklog looked like. You can see where I lost the trail heading back down and was a little West of where I should have been. Not that the trail was that discernible to begin with. Basically I ended up in a slightly squishier section of the sheep pasture.

We arrived at the car at 7:30. That extra .5 of a mile back to the car, oh my god. It felt like miles and miles. But we did it. And I would do it again. I said that the next morning, even as I was shuffling around the hotel room, trying not to move my knee. I would do it again in a heartbeat

As usual, more photos to be viewed and enjoyed in the gallery!

chris on June 23rd 2015 in Geocaching, Travel

to “BEN MORE & A WORLD OF PAIN June 23”

  1. 4hamricks responded on 20 Jul 2015 at 4:46 am #

    Thank you Chris for writing this article it was fun to read and I thank you and Chad for adventurous, bad-ass geocaching skills. I often live vicariously through cachers such as yourselves for I am only that adventurous at heart not in reality. Again Thank you.

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