During our first visit to the Loch Lomond area, we decided to tackle Ben Lomond on day 1 as the weather forecast for the rest of the week looked bleak! A good choice. We went clockwise around the circular route over Ptarmigan and Ben Lomond, since we'd much rather go up steep routes than down them, and we were happy we'd made that decision.
We set off from the car-park at midday (rather disapointed to find the visitor's centre and loos were closed, despite this being the school holidays!). The first part of the walk is delightful, along the edge of Loch Lomond through native deciduous woodland. Past the Youth Hostel, the path soon starts to climb, and keeps climbing! This route gives spectacular views of the loch, which become more extensive with every metre climbed. First of all, the mid to southern end of the loch appears, and eventually almost the whole loch is visible. The sun was shining on the southern end, and picking out some of the hills on the west side of the loch, so it was quite beautiful and dramatic.
The path is relatively small on this side of the mountain, but very clear, and Ptarmigan is clearly visible most of the time, whereas Ben Lomond is hidden for quite some time. From below, it looks as though Ptarmigan is quite a distinct peak, with steep descents from it, but once you arrive, you find there's a mass of land behind it, with a small lochan, and a very pleasant stroll across to the foot of the last ascent to reach the peak of Ben Lomond. The views here to all sides are superb, and this was probably our favourite part of the walk. If you're looking for somewhere to eat lunch with a bit of shelter from the wind, there are a few good options here, whereas we found we were in the teeth of an icy wind for most of the descent down the main tourist route from Ben Lomond.
We were in some trepidation about the final climb up Ben Lomond, as it looked very steep and exposed from our viewpoint from Ptarmigan, and we'd met a jovial group from Glasgow coming in the opposite direction who'd said 'never again' and 'surely you're not going up that?' in incredulous tones as we met. Thanks guys! Anyway, it turned out to be not nearly as tricky as they implied. If the wind had been fully side on, it could have been awkward as the gusts were very strong, but most of the time we were sheltered from the wind. The route is steep enough to require some scrambling, but the rock is grippy with plenty of hand- and foot-holds, so not a problem.
We arrived on the top to find it momentarily deserted, and surprisingly calm - hardly any wind here. The views were stunning! After a few photos, a young couple arrived from the opposite direction. surprised to find us in t-shirts. Everyone we'd met coming from the opposite direction had been thoroughly togged up in fleeces, hats, gloves and jackets. We soon found out why as we started our descent down the main route - the wind was relentless and very cold. We were soon wearing our warm clothing too! It began to drizzle, and the cloud descended to hide the peak of the mountain, but not for long. The path down was relatively uninteresting compared with the route up, but it was a much more gentle descent, and the views south were wonderful. About 2/3 of the way down, the wind dropped a little, so we stopped and had a very late lunch and admired the black Galloway hill cattle dotted around the hill. Eventually we reached the birch woodland, which was lovely, and got back to the car park about 5.30 pm (including about half an hour for our lunch, and a few stops for photos).
We can recommend the Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha for its wonderful atmosphere and extensive menu with tasty food. All in all, a very pleasant way to spend a few hours!
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.