Mountain climbing is a funny old game. These were just our 3rd and 4th Munros but i'm learning fast just how different each climb is and how the link between mental and physical motivation plays a part in making it to these amazing summits.
We opted for Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin as we were desperate to get out again after our last climb in April up a very cloudy Beinn Ime. They were close - just an hour away and the weather promised to behave.
After a busy end to the working week, it would be just the thing to blow the cobwebs away, refresh, de-pressurise - and try out the new boots.
We set off from Ardvorlich on the South Loch Earn Rd just by the little bridge and up the path with the sign outside the big house clearly pointing us in the right direction.
It was 8.30am on Sunday, hardly any cars parked on the verge and as we climbed, we barely saw another soul. The warmth even that early was beginning to tell.
We continued on the route described perfectly on the WH site and soon made the wee bridge that crosses the river. Ben Vorlich has been described as one of the easier Munros to ascend. This was in my head as I began to struggle on the increasingly steep path up the backbone of the mountain. If it was one of the more straightforward mountains, why was i struggling so badly? As it got even more steep I found myself really suffering. Sun cream stinging the eyes, glasses slipping off the nose, short of breath and legs and thighs beginning to protest loudly. My brothers and teenage son seemed to be having none of these problems and were moving further ahead, having to wait on me catching up after the increasingly frequent stops.
A heavy work night out on Friday night? Was that to blame? This was Sunday - surely any effects would have worn off? Saturday was a reasonably relaxed kinda day. I found myself for the first time in my fledgling climbing career really beginning to doubt if I could manage this summit.
I had it in my head that on reaching the summit of Vorlich and Stuc A Chroin, which were also keen to attempt, I was determined to lay a small stone at the cairn. Just a small stone, almost unnoticeable, but I had it in my head this is what i wanted to do.
My son really put on a burst and walked way ahead up the final really steep stretch to the summit. My brothers were waiting on me every time i stopped to catch my breath. Boy wonder was out of sight. I said to S & S that i was determined to do this no matter how long it took. There might have been some swearing involved.
That little pebble at the top was all I had in my head.
Before I knew it, I saw my son sitting atop the trig point and I pushed on. It was such a relief to make the top and we walked along the short ridge East to the 2nd cairn, where we refuelled and I crashed out. I had picked up a small stone and laid it right on the top of the cairn.
We spent half an hour or so on Vorlich's stunning summit and re-energised Stuc A Chroin was up next. Again following the great route described here, we walked North West off the summit and down into the bealach using a path which winds it's way through a really rocky section. It was only when we reached the bealach proper and looked back we realised how far we had descended and how rocky the descent had actually been.
Walking across to the base of The Prow, we were eyeing up the bypass path - but it looked incredibly steep. The Prow looked incredibly ominous. We kept seeing the odd climber picking their way up but then losing them. The route up didn't seem immediately obvious or clear. Another nagging doubt for 4 relatively new climbing enthusiasts.
I was just about to give in. In fact as we deliberated what to do next, I said twice I think that I was done. The slight up-slope towards the boulders at the base of the Prow had knocked whatever I had left out of me. At least that's what I thought.
Then a young couple came by and we spoke about what route to go up; an elderly man with a dog went by nodding in acknowledgement; an elderly couple went by, not going fast but slowly making their way up; a group of 3 stopped for a natter about how best to approach. And then it happened. Any doubt I had went. I grabbed the backpack and shouldered it, and off we set. I knew how badly I wanted to get to the top. I knew how rotten I'd feel to walk off before completing what we had set out to do. I know the mountain would still be there to do another day (as we'd done with Ime). But this one was being climbed - and climbed today.
The boys took a more direct route up the boulders. I followed some of the people who'd gone by us moments before. The path takes you left then right up the face of The Prow. It's not easy, it's far from it. But taking it section by section, zig-zagging up, it's do-able. As I picked my way up, I went by the young couple who we'd spoken to below. I caught up with the group of 3. I stopped when i felt like stopping (trying not to think too much about the exposed setting I was perched on). My brother who was a few metres ahead, stopped and encouraged me from above.
The path is there - just keep your eyes open and take your time and it's there. What seemed a daunting task from below suddenly seemed achievable. Not only that I looked up and saw one of my brothers disappear over the top. My other brother shouted back that I was only 20m from the top. And suddenly, there I was. On top of The Prow.
The summit itself is another short walk south across an easy path, which winds it's way through some white quartzite deposits. After catching my breath we set off. A quartzite pebble was picked up... and then placed gently on the cairn.
The feeling was unbelievable. We had done both Munros. We had done them despite at various points feeling like they were beyond me. They're not the biggest, the scariest, the most technical... but the real sense of having made it to the top of each really overwhelmed me.
I would have walked off had it not been for those people who went by us at the base of The Prow. So thanks to the young couple from Kelso (who offered me chocolate when I shouted up to my brother I was on my last reserves of energy; they may also have heard me muttering about how I would not be beaten by this mountain; I hope the photos turned out ok); thanks to the gentleman from Hexham who passed us on the way up Vorlich and caught up with again on the long walk down Glen Vorlich back to the car (I hope you enjoy the rest of your week up here and you get up Ledi).
And despite the aches, the sunburn (how do you do one of these expeditions without getting sunburned but without the suncream sweating off within 15 mins and nipping your eyes?) and the exhaustion... yes, already itching to get back up and do it all again.
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