The fog is an illusion
A master of disguise
Which hides the tangible
Before our very eyes
Walterrean Salley - The Fog
After much consideration and soul searching, early last year I finally made up my mind to take up the challenge of climbing the Scottish Munros. And why not indeed; the children are old enough to fend for themselves (I hope) and my wife has indicated that she will be more than happy to support and assist whenever she can. What more could one ask for?
My initial research made it clear to me this challenge was going to be a lot harder and tougher than I had first thought. For sure over the years I have climbed most of the major peaks in the Lake District and lots of other hills up and down the country. I did Ten Tors a couple of times whilst at school and have walked the Pennine Way but even so, to me at least, a number of the Munros look a little more difficult, An Teallach, Sgurr nan Gillean, Liatach and the In Pin to name but a few and in no particular order. I had no doubt this was going to be a good challenge from which there was no turning back; but I needed to make a start and the sooner the better.
So in August last year the adventure began with a trip to the Arrochar Alps. (This is not quite true in that in 1991 I climbed Ben Nevis via the Alt a'Mhulin route with a friend but we stupidly missed out Carn Mor Dearg and the arête (well some of it) so the summit of Ben Nevis will definitely be one that I shall have to visit for a second time, (if for no other reason than to take that all important photograph without which the collection will never be complete).
I have to confess my knowledge of Hotels and B&Bs throughout Scotland is, so far at least, somewhat lacking, in which case I merely booked myself into the Arrochar Hotel. The only criteria used for doing so was that the hotel was situated on the banks of Loch Long. As good a reason as any.
Let's just say my arrival must have lowered the overall average age of the guests staying that particular weekend even though, at the time, I myself was 54. As soon as I walked into the reception I knew there would be virtually no chance whatsoever of meeting any fellow walkers and alas, on this occasion, so it proved to be. C'est le vie. At least I had a great view of the Cobbler from my room, and, if the truth be known, the food was quite palatable and the staff most helpful. I have certainly stayed in worse establishments and one should never forget, it is, after all, just a room.
Having climbed the highest the next logical step (to me at least) would be to go for the lowest after which I would then merely have to fill in the 280 gaps in between. Ben Vane was therefore the chosen Munro for both the first day of the challenge and of this particular trip.
Ben Vane- 16/08/2013
Time taken - 6 hours (I did have lots of stops)
Alas the weather forecast provided by the hotel (so it must cater for walkers sometimes?) was, for most of the day at least, not so good and so it proved to be. Regardless, the 16th August 2013 was to be the start of the great adventure in which case a little bad weather was never going to dampen my enthusiasm; So with walking boots on and haversack full of goodies my first walk began in earnest.
Along the A82 under the railway bridge followed by a steady but easy climb up the service road to the Electricity substation.
Now the generating station virtually opposite the car park is a most impressive structure, no doubt a major feet of engineering at the time of its construction with the building at the bottom being particularly impressive. The question therefore has to be why have the powers that be allowed the electricity substation to be built and to become such an eyesore over the years? The entrance into what must have once been a beautiful valley has been spoilt through man's intervention.
Thankfully the substation was soon left behind and put to the back of my mind especially when the view of the lower slopes (only) of Ben Vane first came into view as, I would guess, at this stage the mist was down to about 400m.
The description of the route suggests there is a clear path to follow but it was not so obvious to me from the bottom. It is there of course and what a good path it proved to be. Yes it is steep in places, involves a little (minimal) scrambling and there are a number of false summits but I thoroughly enjoyed the whole climb.
Starting the challenge with this particular Munro had been a good choice for sure.
As for the weather, on the odd occasion the mist did clear long enough for me to have some views: Loch Stoy, Ben Vorlich and even, for just a few (all to brief) seconds, Ben Lomond came into view but that was that. The rest of the climb was spent in varying degrees of mist with the odd shower and downpour thrown in just for fun. At least the air was clean and there was very little wind so no chill factor.
Shortly before reaching the summit, I did meet a fellow bagger who was on the way back down. Originally from Kirkintilloch he was actually visiting his parents after having flown in from Germany. Odd that the very first person I should meet on this challenge was originally from the only place in Scotland from where I actually have some relatives.
During the course of our chat we both agreed that, and after all the effort of getting there, it would be rather annoying for those in the know to undertake a re measure only for them to then announce this fine little mountain to be below the all important 3000. It is too good a hill to be downgraded, its steepness alone makes it worthy of Munro status no matter what.
All the way up I had hoped the mist would lift by the time I reached the summit but, whilst not quite so thick, it was not to be but at least the rain had stopped; this is me on the summit of Ben Vane:
At least the mountain had been bagged and I had made my start.
The descent followed the same pattern; mainly in mist which did lift occasionally followed by an ever increasing number of heavy downpours, so heavy at times the drops were bouncing off the rocks et al. And yet I still passed several people making the effort to reach the top some of whom then passed me on the way back down but all of whom, and without exception, took the time to have a chat (and no doubt a breather at the same time). I have always thought the further North you go, generally, the more polite and sociable people are.
One conversation started particularly well in that myself and fellow bagger did discuss the possibilities of opening a bar on (the summit of) Ben Vane (a joint venture) but, and after he tried to tell me how to descend the mountain, I decided he could never be my business partner. I therefore took the opportunity to take a well earned break to let him get out of sight before I proceeded any further. Some you win, some you lose, but I have to admit the rest of his crack was very good.
At least the rain finally stopped and the mist lifted shortly before returning to Inveruglas which meant I had the benefit of a fantastic view of both Ben and Loch Lomond whilst enjoying that 99 I had promised myself before setting out on the days walk. Delicious.
The car park (free) and facilities at Inveruglas are excellent; Not only is there a fine cafe, (from the above you will know I would personally recommend the ice cream), there is also hot water for a good wash and freshen up. A luxury that is not often immediately available after a long days walking.
Whilst sitting there I did contemplate why it had taken so long for the sun to finally appear......
"I hope it is not an omen for things to come".
Whatever, it was time for a pint of the Arrochar Hotel's finest ale; it had been well earnt.
However, I was not expecting that nights rest and recuperation to be disturbed by the evening's entertainment the like of which I hope never to have to hear again. Saga Holidays have a lot to answer for.
Ben Bhuidhe - 17/08/13
Time taken - 7 hours 25 mins (even more stops but principally for route finding in extremely difficult conditions)
Even when driving away from the Arrochar Hotel I knew this was going to be a very wet day; but this day was not just wet for at times the rain was torrential. I do believe I would have been drier if I had merely jumped into a bath.
There are obviously a lot more people out there with more sense than me. The car park at the top of Loch Fyne was empty (a bad sign) as was the cycle park shortly before Inverchorachan (even worse). I knew from that moment on there was every chance I would be the only person on the mountain that day and so it proved to be. I did not see a sole, absolutely no one.
At least the cycle in was fun trying to avoid the highland cattle. At first I must confess I did find them a little intimidating just standing there and staring at you but, and after several encounters, I finally decided they really are quite docile and somewhat lacking in intelligence. Why, for instance, do they choose to stand in the middle of the road rather than on the grass they so like to eat? Their logic is beyond me.
I estimate the cycle in was about 5km each way which, given the total distance to be covered that day (and weather for that matter), made life a lot easier. Highly recommended especially given the facilities provided for cyclists to secure their bikes at the "end of the road" are really quite good.
The initial walk through the woods was very pleasant and, despite the ever worsening weather, the climb up the gorge along by the Allt na Faing was excellent with all the rain of the previous few days having made the river a torrent and the nameless waterfall at the top absolutely spectacular.
I could have turned back there and then and felt satisfied with the day's efforts but no, there was an objective to be achieved.
A couple of points of note:
1. At first I did decide to try and avoid the "tricky scrambling move" but soon tired of the laborious detour so ended up going back to make the move anyway which was not too bad after all; and
2. In spate, at times I did find it difficult to cross a number of the tributary streams towards the top of the gorge that fed into the river. Longer legs than mine would have coped more easily.
The section above the waterfall towards the gully was very boggy with the route being very difficult to follow in the heavy mist that had now descended across the mountain. The use of a compass was essential as, even at its best, one could see no more than 50ft ahead so when the craggy ridge of Beinn Bhuidhe appeared out of the mist it was like a giant wave coming at me. I must confess I was quite amazed by the fact that I had actually found the start of the gully without any problem despite the difficult route finding conditions.
Climbing up the gully, whilst very wet, was quite exhilarating as was the walk along the top of the ridge towards the summit even though I could not see the drop (probably a good thing). It was certainly easy to follow but, alas, the view at the summit itself was nonexistent so I stayed just long enough to take a picture of me followed by a quick bite to eat.
Munros bagged two; views nil.
As it had taken me so long to reach the summit time was against me. Added to that I was starting to get a little cold especially as the wind had now picked up. So strong in fact I had to be extremely careful whilst walking back along the ridge to the top of the gully.
At this point, especially given the recommended return route was pathless, I did debate whether or not to go back down the same way (i.e. the gully) but in the end chose to stick with the recommended route. This ultimately proved to be the correct decision in that, on reaching the low point, the mist did clear long enough for me to make a proper assessment of exactly where I actually was and to take a bearing to a line of trees marked on the map which led me back to the top of the North side of the gorge and from there it was easy to follow the route down through a number of fields that eventually took me to the old cottage at Inverchorachan.
It is a real shame the cottage is no longer inhabited as it would, on most days, make a lovely place for someone to open a cafe but if they had they would have had very little reason to open on Saturday 17th August 2013. Probably why no one has.
If opportunity permits I plan to revisit Glen Fyne as I am sure it would be a glorious place to be. It also has the added benefit of the Loch Fyne Fine Ales Brewery which I had to skip this time as the heavens had opened once again during the cycle ride back to the car park. I was wet through (sodden) and those blessed Highland Cattle didn't help much either; they need training.
Having dried off I decided to cheer myself up by driving down the Loch to The Creggans Inn which is recommended in the Michelin (no less) pub guide. I should say recommended for its food (being in the Michelin guide) and not just its choice of beers.
Em, not sure why.
Despite the sign outside clearly stating "Bar meals served all day" they are not. From 6.00 pm only and not a minute before.
They clearly had no idea whatsoever of the day I had experienced. Surely they only had to take a good look at me to have realised. All I wanted was a little sympathy (more like pity); none was forthcoming.
With that said, I have to concede the beer was very good.
We shall never know about the food.
Beinn Narnain and Beinn Ime - 18/08/13
Time taken - 6 hours 40 minutes (Getting quicker)
This proved to be a much better day. Yes the cloud was still there at the start but at least the rain was restricted to just a few heavy showers. Even better the cloud had all but gone by the time I passed The Cobbler on the descent which made the walk back to Arrochar very pleasant indeed.
The initial climb away from the car park was through what has now become a quite dense wood. It is fair to say that, in places, it was very difficult to keep to the path without getting the odd twig or occasional branch in the face. Indeed I would go as far as to say that, at this stage of the walk, a Machete would have been a useful addition to the items being carried in my haversack. Coupled with the steepness it was an interesting challenge to say the least.
But once above the wood the climb up to the top of Narnain was a delight with some light scrambling within the last 500' or so. Lower down, and through a few boggy sections, the path was not obvious in parts which, given the number of people who clearly climb this particular Munro, I thought was somewhat odd.
For quite a lot of the ascent I had the benefit of some fine views of both Arrochar and Ben Lomond. Alas they were not to last as the clouds came down as I was nearing the summit so I was once again in mist. At least I was getting use to it but I am pleased to say it did not dampen my spirits; this was a good climb that was made even more enjoyable by a young couple from Glasgow (again) with whom I had some good banter all the way to the top. We then spent some time together whilst eating lunch after which they pushed off leaving me to take my usual photo of the summit cairn.
No view again; Munros bagged three, views nil.
From there the descent to the bealach was quite straightforward and easy to follow and quite uneventful.
The climb up to the summit of Beinn Ime I found to be somewhat a bit of a trudge, especially through the boggy sections of which there appeared to me to be many. Indeed I did debate to myself whether or not I should write to Walkhighlands and suggest the so called "Bog Factor" be increased from a three to a four. After all it was, in my view, much worse than Ben Vane and that had a three. Just a thought.
The dullness of the climb was not helped by the fact the mist was, at this stage, thicker than ever. Great and with no wind to blow it away. But, and rather strangely, towards the summit there was a section of some 100 to, say, 150 meters where a very strong wind indeed was actually blowing and directly into my face whilst, and after gaining the summit there was virtually no wind at all. A quirk of nature I guess as, on walking that some 100 to 150 meters on the way back down, that same strong wind was still blowing. There was nothing obvious to me what could have created this phenomenon but there you go.
For five minutes or so I had the summit all to myself which was long enough for me to take a picture.
After that the first to arrive was another chap from Glasgow (again) who had all but lost his accent after many years working in London. He had recently moved back and, after having done so, had started his Munro career. I wonder how long before the accent returns?
Next was a young couple whom I had actually passed during the climb. Not that I was being particularly quick you understand but more because they were stopping every few feet just to take lots of photos of each other. They kept themselves to themselves. Young love; how nice to see.
Lastly yet another Glaswegian with his mate (not sure where he was from) both of whom had already "done" Narnain and The Cobbler that day and who were then going on to climb Ben Vane. All in one day? And in this weather? I wished them luck whilst at the same time questioned their sanity and strength of character. Why they had decided not to do Ben Vorlich as well just for good measure I just don't know. Deep down they must have been a couple of whimps to miss that one out.
The mist did not lift the whole of the time I was at the summit nor, for that matter, on the way back down to the bealach; Munros bagged four, views nil.
However, would you believe it but once at the bealach the weather began to show the first signs of improvement. Nevertheless I have to admit I chose not to climb The Cobbler as, to be fair, I was fairly tired (knackered in fact) by this time. A picture from the appropriate angle would be good enough for me on this day.
There was another very important fact which could not be overlooked which had to be taken into consideration when reaching this decision . The pint of beer with my name on it waiting for me at the Arrochar Hotel and I wanted to get to the bar before the Saga rush at 5.00. It takes an awful long time to serve tea and biscuits you know; one after another and another....
I am pleased to report I did get there in plenty of time to beat the Saga rush the descent on a very good path being far easier than I had thought it would be. Indeed I was able to grab a table right at the front of the hotel that provided me with a clear view of where I had been that day which made the beer taste that much better.
As for the Saga people; when they finally arrive I paid them no attention whatsoever.
Ben Lomond - 19/08/13
Time taken - 4 hours 20 minutes (virtually a sprint for me)
Whilst driving around Loch Lomond to the car park at Rowardennan the summit was clear; could my luck have changed at last?
By the time I reached the car park (£3 charge you know but that must have been to cover the cost of the soap and hot water) the cloud had started to build but there was still lots of blue sky so one would think (hope) there was a good chance but.......
Whilst the sun did shine for most of the early part of the climb (along some very well maintained paths), by the time I arrived at the final steep section that leads to the summit the mist had come down (again) coupled with a strong wind coming from the west. To be fair I did catch the odd glimpse of Ben Lomond's eastern corries which looked most impressive but that was it. Nothing else apart from mist of course.
I found that last section relatively easy to climb ( that's what four days consecutive walking does) but, and alas, no one was actually at the summit when I arrived even though there had been a number of walkers in front of me. Not that surprising really given that the view was nonexistent and the wind so incredibly strong it was difficult just to stand up. It was also very cold despite it being mid August. Given the conditions I must confess I did not hang about myself, just time for a quick photo and then off.
Out of all the walks this particular weekend I think Ben Lomond was by far the most similar to the majority of the hills to be found in the English Lake District. Just a thought.
As for the view, nothing new for me; Munros bagged five; views nil. So much for the walk description provided by Walkhighlands and I quote:
".....there are stunning views in all directions,...."
Oh well I guess it wasn't their fault.
At least by the time I reached Bealach Buidhe on the descent the wind had all but died and I was out of the mist so decided this was the ideal place to stop and have a bite to eat and a drink. And as I sat there enjoying the peace and quiet the mist lifted just long enough for me to see back up to the summit; Rest assured I had not appreciated how steep the descent had actually been but there you go.
The walk over Ptarmigan and eventually back to the car park was a particularly pleasant stroll. Especially for the last half hour or so as the clouds had all but gone and I was walking in bright warm sunshine. A real treat. And yes, by that time, the summit of Ben Lomond was completely clear.
In hindsight, even though I could not see a thing from the top and despite it being so very cold for the short time spent up there, I very much enjoyed this walk.
Rest assured I made full use of the facilities at the car park (after all, at a cost of £3 I had to make sure I got my monies worth). It was also going to be a long drive back to Newcastle; four hours minimum. More than enough time for me to reflect on the weekends events and to start planning for the next trip......
But no pint for me this time, I was driving.
Ben Vorlich (Loch Lomond) 19/10/13
Time taken - 4 hours 25 minutes (well there was nothing to hang about for)
As this was my second trip, and having learnt so much after the first, I took a lot more time before choosing my accommodation. In the end I went for The Suie Lodge Hotel which is situated on the A85 about halfway between Killin and Crianlarich. Much better. I was made to feel most welcome by not only the family that run the hotel but also the locals congregated at the bar. Rest assured, after such a long drive up from Newcastle, it was much appreciated. The food was nice and the beer (Belhaven Best) particularly well maintained. So much so, the latter went down with consummate ease. Possibly too much so; what the heck.
As for the room, not the best I have ever stayed in but, and far more importantly, it was comfortable and certainly more than adequate for my needs on the night. I have to confess I was particularly amused by the notice that made it clear one would have to run the tap for 10 minutes before hot water would be dispensed but so be it; if you know about it you can deal with it.
The breakfast, served from 8.00, was good as well which, and given the atrocious weather, I chose to take my time over whilst having a lengthy chat with the owners Mother. If I didn't quite get her life story it wasn't far short. No matter, I was in no rush to leave the comforts of the Suie and indeed did not actually reach the Inveruglas car park until just after 10. That made it a near two hour breakfast. As I said, almost her whole life story.
With the weather being so poor there was no problem with parking; there were empty spots all over the place. Loch Lomond was becalmed, the only ripples being from the odd boat moving along on the water. If the sun had been shining the view would have been absolutely idyllic.
Despite the car park having been so empty I passed loads of people on the early part of the walk along by the hydro electric scheme and then up to the substation. There must have been a coach parked somewhere which I had not spotted. The Ramblers per chance?
Once past the masses I caught up with a Polish Accountant who lived in Aberdeen with whom I walked all the way along the glen to the cairn that marks the start of the climb. He is certainly a wise chap after having decided to go munro bagging for the weekend whilst his in-laws were visiting from Poland to see their two month old granddaughter for the very first time. Good on him.
He was an experienced bagger with 136 under his belt. Even so not the best of climbers as I soon left him behind. Given that the mist was closing in the higher I went and the drizzle had started to turn to light rain, I had to really for which I do apologise. He did have one of those ski pole things which to me just get in the way especially when tackling steeper ground. Nice lad though.
Thereafter at different times I passed a few more people all of whom were on their way back down and all of whom, without exception, stopped for a chat and a breather even in such poor conditions.
But yet again there was no one at the true summit. Indeed it was a good 10 minutes before the Pole arrived. More than enough time for me to have a bite to eat and to take the usual photograph.
As for a view 20' at best; Munros six, views nil. Alas the theme had continued.
So after a further brief chat it was time for me to head down and back to the car. The descent was much less interesting the mist now being so thick one could literally not see anything. But they do say going down is just as dangerous as going up which proved to be in that, and during a moments loss in concentration, I slipped some 5 or 6 feet before arresting the fall. Not only was it quite painful it was a very important wake up call. Perhaps those blessed ski pole things are not such a bad idea after all.
Thereafter the walk was completed without further incident and so I arrived back at the car park safe and sound.
Alas the cafe was not open so no 99 this time. Even so, after a change of clothing, a freshen up and a cup of Bovril followed, I felt really refreshed.
It was a good 15 mins before the Pole arrived back. Still, whilst he may have been slow he was a wise man; not only did he have ski poles so no mud on his trousers but he had also escaped those blessed in-laws.
I wonder what happened to the Ramblers?
For me the Arrochar Alps had been bagged. The hills around Killin and Crianlarich are next which will no doubt offer further challenges; one can only hope the weather isn't one of them.
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