Saturday, 1 March 2014

February half-term break

No running in an attempt to rest my achilles and the weird sore bit on the other foot. I was however persuading myself that some big hills in Scotland would at least get some miles (slowly) and some climbs under my belt. We drove up to Scotland in worsening weather and by the time we left Hamilton services it was close to a blizzard. The road after Drymen was an interesting experience but we made it to Rowardenen unscathed. A quick meal and we fell into bed.
By morning the snow and rain had stopped and we set off on the first Munroe of the year and kicked Bob's adventure off to a happy start. The first section of path up Ben Lomond was through pleasant woodland that I remembered from the Highland Fling and then a rather muddy path onto the moor. The snow low down was rather soft but it wasn't long before we were plodding steadily upwards on firmer and firmer snow and then deciding we needed crampons  to make easy progress rather than picking our way timidly. The views back towards Glasgow were superb and the Loch seemed to stretch forever in a rather monochrome scenery.
Before the summit ridge we were lost in low cloud and picking a route to carefully avoid any cornices. The cloud cleared and we had great views in all directions- strong winds but blue skies and dramatic cloud-scapes. The snow had been blown into spectacular shapes and the summit cairn was well encrusted. We started a northward descent to return via the Ptarmigan ridge but after a few hundred metres at the first steepness the ice was too firm and getting the front points of crampons to bite was not easy. I was less than comfortable so we returned by the way we had come.
A shame but probably the best decision. Once off the top the wind dropped and it was quite mild- certainly warm enough for a quick picnic in the snow. Only as we were coming of the summit area did we see our first people of the day on their way up. Camping in the van had given us an early start and we had had the mountain to ourselves. We made good time on the descent and now had plenty of footprints to follow. The snow and path was even wetter lower down but we were happy with our little adventure.
We also had the best of the day as by mid afternoon the cloud and drizzle arrived. We sat and chilled in the van with coffee, soup and more food and made plans for the next day.
The next cluster of Munroe's were not far up Loch Lomond although the drive meant retracing our steps back to the south end of the loch first. A nice little lay by by the loch, sheltered from the road by a huge rock bank gave us a good camp site and another fairly early start. We moved the van to the visitor centre near the HEP station and walked back up the road and on up to the huge sub station. This was familiar ground for me as a LAMM had bussed us the same car park and then started on the electric/ water company road. It meant we also had an alternative map of the area. Neither of us were keen on starting with a long walk towards Sloy dam so we scaled the south ridge immediately behind the electric works.
 It was steep and the wet snow and grass were incredibly slippy. It was a joy to get higher onto less steep ground and deeper firmer snow. We followed our noses and headed north and upwards. We seemed to have the place to ourselves again and were rewarded by some fantastic views. We crossed the col where the main path comes up and spotted others climbing too. It was warm!! and when the sun came out I even sat and sunbathed. By the summit cairn of Ben Vorlich the snow was firm and the trig point was buried under wind blasted snow.
We had company here but nobody came with us to the true summit which was sadly in low cloud. In retrospect we should perhaps have continued to the north summit or returned over little hills but we wanted to conserve energy so that we could walk every day. We returned to the col and sat sunbathing and eating our lunch. Dropping to the dam road we realised that our route up had perhaps not been as bad as we thought. The walk back along the road was easy, if a bit boring. In summer we could have continued and taken in Ben Vane but we knew we had a shorter day light and the snow was sapping some energy.
Others reported a retreat off Ben Vane and the steep wet snow made us unsure what to plan next. Certainly the big corrie on Ben Lui would be too much of an avalanche risk.
We spent the night at the aptly named Rest and be Thankful. It was damp but the view back down the valley was almost alpine. The plan for the next day was Ben Ime and Ben Narnain.

 It wasn't too bad when we set off although it was already damp and the hillside was soaking. My boots and gaiters were struggling to keep the water out and once we gained height and hit deep wet snow it was worse. It seemed to take an age to make progress and arrive at the little dam.
Ben Vorlich done- 2 Munroes now completed.
It was now raining - not much but steadily. We trudged up and entered the cloud. Fortunately we were able to follow the fence line to the col and the gate where the paths cross between the two mountains. It was now true white out and I even felt a little sea sick. The rain up here had turned into snow which was some improvement. We decided on Ben Narnain as it was slightly closer- probably a mistake as it had more crags to worry about. we drifted a bit too far north and were on steep ground but unable to see a thing. It was getting dangerous so we retreated. By the time we arrived back at the fence our footprints had virtually vanished and neither of us were really keen on an attempt on Ben Ime.

After Ben Vorlich- no photos on rainy day
It was a hard slog back down the valley in deep wet snow and a very muddy path in rain back to the van. thank God for the van- we were both changed, warm and dry in no time.  It also allowed us an excursion into Fort William, where I managed to get anti-balling plates for my crampons, and a long drive round to Ben Cruachan which dried out all the gear!
Our campsite for the night was great- quiet and with a tiny lochan which in the morning was perfectly still and with a superb reflection.
We both knew the Ben Cruachan bit from a LAMM. Given the snow we decided against the dam and main ridge, although I suspect it would have been OK. Instead we did a horseshoe from the Dalmally end. It had the advantage of a big track up into the hills for the first few kilometres- not something I would normally go for but anything to avoid the deep wet snow of yesterday.
The ridge was steep but we made good time ( Bob complains that it is not him that is slow but me that is fast, and now he has the recommended times to back him up. It was a pleasant walk and the grass was not so steep or slippy as on Ben Vorlich, or maybe the anti-ball plates were just doing their job. As we neared the top of the ridge we entered the cloud again. It was compass and pacing with quite a bit of checking! I was even glad of the GPS altimeter of Bob's Garmin as it did confirm each minor summit we were on.
 Stob Garbh, then the summit Stob Daimh and then Sron an Isean which we felt deserved to be a peak in its own right. We were lucky- every now and again the cloud broke and we got a few minutes of stolen views- down Glen Noe, across the the Ben Cruachan ridge and back down our valley. It was tempting to think of a jaunt across to Ben Cruachan and we could probably of made it but we left that horseshoe for another day.
We descended the northern ridge of our horseshoe until we left the cloud and found a large rock for lunch. Bob needed a toilet break and we split up. I descended west thinking I could cross near a small dam. He went much more due south. We both saw deer and I had earlier seen a fox. The dam was a sheet of curved steel- not crossable so I wandered upstream looking for somewhere safer. My feet got wetter. I then hit the big land rover track and met Bob as he arrived at the broken and missing bridge and also had to ford the stream. It was then an easy walk back along the track to the van.
We had been able to see another land rover track for much of the afternoon and it got me thinking about an easy route for the next day. Using it would get us two Munros - Beinn a'Chochuill and Beinn Eunaich. We were now off the main A road and had a lovely quiet lay by. We also had our earliest start and were out of the van before 8. It was mild but dry. As we headed up the track there were Highland cattle or shaggy cows as we refer to them. First there were sheep- stupid creatures herded themselves into a dead-end and then panicked. The cattle were placid but it was a bit disconcerting to find the bull with us while his lady friends were in the next field.
Stob Garbh - the day with views
Above the next gate were more cattle with very young calves. the track was steep but it got us a long way up the hill.  The other bonus was the footprints from others that had done the walk the day before. I would not religiously follow them but it did make it easy as they had compressed the snow and found a good line. The pull up the ridge to Beinn a'Chochuill was an effort but we soon disappeared into the cloud.  The summit ridge was a succession of false summits, especially as we could see noting! The garmin was useful again and told us to keep going, you are not there yet. We reached the summit but got no views sadly.
The ridge south was a joy and we were soon at the col where masses of snow had been dumped and the wind was howling. As we climbed to Beinn Eunaich we met a party coming the other way. They had no crampons on and were having to kick steps and proceed with extreme caution. It was great in crampons to just yomp along. Plus we still had all the foot prints to follow- which given how little we could see were a bonus. 
The descent was over amazingly quickly and the snow started to disappear. The sheep gave us an odd look. The grass suddenly got very steep and although we had taken our crampons off I got my ice axe out again! It was slippy and Bob took a tumble but we were soon safely down on the track. The cows stood and scowled at us- or perhaps given the shaggy fringe they just couldn't really see us.  It was mild again as we hot the valley floor but at least it was dry. The sheep were being herded and I got molested by a friendly collie. A shame not to get any views  but I enjoyed our walk anyway.  The forecast for the next day and the following ones was dire so we decided to cut and run. By 8pm we were at home and the van was pretty much emptied.
A deserted Glen Noe
A good start to Bob's adventure. Only 5 Munroes in 5 days but given the conditions I think we did pretty well. My achilles was sore but far from unbearable. We had managed to walk for 5 consecutive days and had had a good time.
A great start to half term and Bob's campaign

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