Having climbed Ben Lomond before in our early munro days, we decided this year to attempt it slightly
differently by going up the Ptarmigan Ridge. First of all, the "ridge" is not a ridge in the true sense of the word, it is not narrow or with steep drops on either side. On the contrary it is a wide and amazingly diverse and interesting route with much to retain your involvement with your surroundings.
Anyhow starting from the Rowardennan part of the lochside car park where parking is free we set off in search of the SYHA building; after finding it, the Ardess signs and then the cottage with the tree house. All of which was easily accomplished and we set off uphill. It was to be the last piece of truly flat ground we would see until much later that day.
You do gain height really quickly and by the time we had reached a 15 minute rest point we could already see part of the loch and things were beginning to seem quite small down at ground level. By now the sweat was starting to pour off because although the forecast was for rain and low cloud it was incredibly close and warm and yet without that cooling breeze you would typically start to get as you ascend.
Up and up we went on the clear and very even path. It is narrow compared with the tourist route but perfectly adequate for a pair of boots.
Once you're past the stile over to the waterfall (sorry - no pics) you can see the route ahead skirting the side of the ridge, taking the worst of the ascent out of the climb. A cuckoo seemed to be following us for part of the way. Funny really, its taken me over 50 years to regularly hear the cuckoo in Scotland: not quite so endemic yet as the fox or magpie (both creatures when I was a kid were only to be found in story books).
Soon we arrived at Stone table (my name) which is a huge flat rock affair and on which my two companions sat. You can see one pair of legs hanging over in the picture...
As we passed this area we could see the cloud and mist overhanging the summit which we glimpsed but there was hope: Beinn Ime on the other side of the Loch was almost cloud free at over a 1000m.
The full majesty of Ben Lomond arrived shortly afterwards, after a few rocky paths and more zig zags than you could shake a stick at (or want to). The steepness of this side is more obvious than on the tourist route and the final pull up to the summit seems impossible from ground level. The clouds began to drift off the top; people could be seen both ascending our end of the mountain and walking about on top.
Lets just put this one to bed, we said almost to a man and off we went across the stepping stone river/bog bed and before we knew it - in fact you weren't really properly aware that you had started on the final ascent until you were a bit of the way up - we were on the first set of zig zags . There are some bits of lingering snow on Ben Lomond even in May but we didnt expect the path to be blocked by this huge sheet of snowy ice. Oh well we'll have to start the scrambly stuff a bit sooner...
Sort of like Ben Lawers, the climb up is conveniently split into about 3 bits plus the top with a useful flattish bit in between each stage. The final scramble can sound far worse than it is: first of all its upon you before you have any time to think about it and its really just a series of rocky steps and just needs some commonsense - like, Don't look down! You dont have time to anyway you are far too busy figuring out which of the many possible routes to follow. Fortunately I had John in front so I simply followed him.
The really weird bit is that as you haul yourself up the last step or two there are people sitting having lunch. Sort of like climbing Everest and discovering there are people who seem to have arrived before you by helicopter. Anyway Ptarmigan is conquered and it actually felt like a proper climb up a mountain, next it's the CMD.
We sat down to have lunch but soon there were fragments of cloud trickling round the Eastern side of the mountain which of course soon turned to rain and off we headed down the easy way of course.
The MWIS forecast was crazy for today, promising 25-35mph winds and 60mph gusts, intermittent heavy showers of rain and really low cloud (perhaps as low as 300m). By now of course I thought, even MWIS clearly get the forecast wrong but I was to be proved wholly incorrect.
We headed across the hillside enjoying the flat traverse although by now there was nothing to see as the clag had surrounded the summit area but as we neared the start of the descent proper, we were slammed by the strongest wind I'd ever encountered (with maybe one exception - on Dumgoyne - where you could actually "lean back on the wind" with your full body weight and still be hurtled forward). I'm a big guy and it nearly knocked me off my feet several times. On we went though downhill and then we were pelted by what it seemed like were small stones or bits of gravel and then the rain and hail started - still at 35mph or more, making the stony path more slippery and coupled with the high winds an extremely difficult descent. Although Andrew was unphased by all of this and seemed to maintain his speed regardless.
Before too long we were all soaked through: it had really become fierce without us having time to change our gear up to full waterprooofs and on we trudged, thankfully with the wind at our back but becoming more waterlogged as the day progressed. We met loads of people who seemed determined to keep going to the top despite the foul conditions which to me made no sense: Ben Lomond isn't going anywhere and there is no fun in doing this hill in zero visibility with high winds and rain.
The Tourist route is not really much longer than the way up but it felt interminable on the way down and the long flattish stretch across the "other ridge" seemed to stretch forever. The rain did go off, although the wind maintained its force but I started to feel this wet feeling inside my boots as the water sloshed around. Despite my gaiters the rain had just seeped through but it was pointless stopping to carry out a full sock change as I'd've got even more wet and the boots were already wet inside.
We did eventually get back to the car where a full change of clothing was required - yes - we were wet through to our pants: it was that bad!
We did have an amazing day and can thoroughly recommend the Ptarmigan route up - you just need a good pair of lungs!
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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.