Written May 2009
When I walked the West Highland Way (WHW) in 2005, I couldn't help but eye up the galaxy of Munros that the WHW weaves its way through, imagining possibilities for future trips. In 2006 I returned to traverse the Munros surrounding the north end of the WHW, namely the Grey Corries, Ben Nevis Group, The Mamores, The Glen Coe Group, The Black Mount and Bridge of Orchy Hills. This report covers the follow-up trek, traversing the peaks around the southern end of the WHW.
The initial plan was to start in the Arrochar Alps, then visit the Ben Lui Group, the Mamlorn Hills, the Crianlarich Hills, and at the end, if time, walk along Loch Lomond and back to visit the isolated Ben Lomond. At the last minute I changed my mind and decided to do the route in reverse. The main reason was that I was feeling quite unfit, and the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond were more attractive warm up territory than the steep and rocky Arrochar Alps. My plan was to walk eight days, then restock at a Strathfillan Wigwams, two miles south of Tyndrum, and continue for another six days. Wigwams are wooden huts, where the roofs slope diagonally almost to the ground. It's a bit like staying in a bunkhouse.
I had the whole weekend to do last minute preparations and caught the train from Southampton at 17:25 on Sunday evening. The sleeper departed from London Euston at 20:57. This time I had a cabin to myself, at higher cost, since all the shared berths had sold out. It was annoying to have to pay extra for something I didn't want, and prevent someone else from using the sleeper! This was also the case on the return journey. The total cost of the tickets £247.90. Quite expensive, but since I was camping for free most nights and my only other cost was food, it was still quite a reasonable price for a two week holiday.
Monday 11th May 2009
I was brought breakfast in bed around 6:30am and instructed to get ready by the train door by 7:21. Ardlui is a request stop and my hostess had to make special arrangements with the guard for the train to halt. As I washed and packed, I peeped out of my cabin window at heart-achingly beautiful views of Loch Long, bathed in sunshine, reflecting the surrounding hills like a mirror.
There is a ferry across Loch Lomond from Ardlui to join the WHW on the east back. Since it was early, I didn't expect the ferry to be running, so I walked two miles north along the road, which was quiet at this time. I then picked up the WHW near Inverarnan and headed south along the WHW towards Ben Lomond. There were good views of the snow-capped pyramid of Ben Lui further north. The ferry was just making its way across the loch when I passed the landing stage on the east bank at 9:30am. If you want to summon the ferry from this side you must raise an orange buoy to the top of a flag pole. Shortly after this I came to Doune Byre Bothy, I had a quick look inside and inadvertently woke the occupant, who was still in bed at 10am!
Without a doubt the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond are the most beautiful section of the WHW. A narrow path hugs the sinuous shoreline, weaving its way through native woodland, scrambling over rocks and fording tumbling steams. Loch Lomond is the largest fresh water body in the UK and supplies water to Glasgow. Along the route I saw some very tame deer and feral goats.
That evening I stopped at Rowchoish Bothy. On arrival I fancied sitting outside in the sunshine. There is a concrete platform built up outside against the wall of the bothy. There was moss and short grass growing out of the concrete, but as a seating place, I thought it would be safe from ticks. I was wrong, and very shortly found four ticks crawling on me. I also spotted many ticks on the tips of the reeds growing alongside the path to the bothy.
So I went back inside. The place was very dirty, and I spent some time brushing down the sleeping platform, filling the room with clouds of dust. Unusually for a bothy, the main floor is covered in woodchips. I collected up lots of minor items of rubbish such as sweet papers and cigarette ends that were mixed up in the woodchips. In the midst of my cleaning efforts a couple turned up; they were considering staying at the bothy, but since it was early and the weather nice, they elected to keep walking and find somewhere to camp instead (the clouds of dust may have put them off!).
Tuesday 12th May 2009
I had to walk a few more miles south before leaving the WHW to climb Ben Lomond. Along this section there are two route options - the path that hugs the shoreline or a forestry track. I chose the track, thinking it would be easier, but in reality it involved several hundred metres of ascent, then descent back to the shore at Rowardennan.
There are two choices for climbing Ben Lomond - the tourist path or Ptarmigan Ridge. This time I made the correct choice, avoiding the uninspiring eroded scar of the tourist path for the unfrequented Ptarmigan side.
The weather was wonderfully sunny and there were lovely views of the many islands that dot the southern end Loch Lomond (38 islands in total). I could see the Arrochar Alps clearly, with the rocky crest of The Cobbler (Ben Arthur) taking centre-stage. Eventually I reached Bealach Buidhe, where I was surprised to find someone wild camping. It was quite windy up here, but the tent looked pretty stable.
Shortly after Bealach Buidhe I dumped my pack to climb the remaining 200m to the summit trig of Ben Lomond. It was surprisingly cold and windy on the summit. The whaleback of Ben Nevis was clearly visible further north, peeking up from behind the Mamores ridge.
There are no paths on the north side of Ben Lomond, but it made sense to go down this way to rejoin the WHW further up, rather than retracing my steps to Rowardennan. I knew the route was feasible from a traverse of Ben Lomond described in "Challenging Walks". The descent initially follows the north ridge, then drops down to follow the Cailness Burn. The book suggested following the Cailness Burn all the way down to the loch. I was concerned about ticks in the lower section, so instead I followed a boggy track north, which joins the access track zigzagging down to the house at Cailness on the shore.
In the hot weather my feet overheated and my toes started rubbing on the descent. By the time I reached the WHW I had to stop for emergency foot repair with plasters. I then followed the WHW north for a few more miles, passing the hotel and waterfalls at Inversnaid. Just north of Inversnaid I stopped at a designated WHW "wild" campsite, where camping is permitted from dusk to dawn. Byelaws restricting wild camping on the east side of Loch Lomond have recently been introduced to help tackle problems of mis-use and overuse. The northern extent of the restrictions is just beyond Rowardennan at Ptarmigan Lodge, so does not apply to Inversnaid.
I was again concerned about ticks, so chose a shady camping spot, void of grass, under a tree by the shore. As it turned out I was correct - I put my water bottle down on some short grass nearby and soon there was a tick crawling up it!
Later on a German couple showed up and put up their tent near me. A group of Scottish lads also showed up, but decided to camp on the pebbles on a small beach nearby. One of them was scouting around for firewood, but nothing seemed to come of it.
Wednesday 13th May 2009
In the morning the German chap came to say hello. He couldn't speak much English, but we did manage short conversation. They had lots of fancy kit - air mattresses, air pillows and were preparing a cooked breakfast. He said his pack weighed 18 kilos! They said that they were walking the WHW and were heading north today towards Crianlarich.
I then continued north along the WHW, reversing my route of two days previous. I finally left the WHW at Beinglas Farm, following a path on the north side of the Ben Glas Burn. My plan was to get as high as possible on the slopes of Beinn Chabhair, so that I could reach the summit with little effort the following morning.
Eventually I reached Lochan Beinn Chabhair, which was a potential camp site, but still a little low. On my map there looked to be a flattish area higher up, so I followed a little stream steeply upwards, eventually reaching a wonderfully flat area, with streams snaking through it, at around 700m. This proved to be a wonderful wild camping spot. After the to-ing and fro-ing along Loch Lomond, I felt the trip was now properly underway.
Thursday 14th May 2009
According to the forecast this was to be the last day in the run of fine weather. The wind was much stronger and clouds were beginning to build. I made an early start since I was hoping to climb five Munros this day! Beinn Chabhair was gained really quickly. One of my guidebooks advised against the next connecting section, due to steep slopes and gullies that lead you off in the wrong direction. In good visibility it was fine and the steep sections could be easily avoided. The ascent and re-ascent looked horrendous, but soon I emerged on An Caisteal a few hundred metres below the summit. I dumped my pack to make the short 'there and back again' to the top.
The path then dropped down to Bealach Buidhe, with a short tricky scramble that in retrospect was avoidable. The path takes a devious line up the steep sides of Beinn a' Chroin, with another short scramble to clamber up. For many years the east peak of Beinn a' Chroin was believed to be the true summit at 940m. This was revoked in the year 2000 when Harvey Maps carried out a re-survey and found the middle summit to be the highest point at 942m. After some debate, other mapmakers, including Ordnance Survey, were forced to agree! I decided against visiting the east peak, trusting the surveyors, and instead took a shortcut path to descend the north ridge.
I was not too sure on the most efficient route across some quite complex terrain, to reach the next two Munros. The route I chose followed a stream up Stob Glas, avoiding the summit, then crossed upper Coire Earb and up steep grass to reach the ridge.
This route was pleasant and didn't involve an undue amount of descent and re-ascent. On the ridge there was a convenient rocky hollow in which to hide my pack, while I walked a mile 'there and back again' to visit Beinn Tulaichean. I always worry about leaving my pack for long periods of time. But in general people are trustworthy in the mountains. Its more likely that someone finds it and assumes it has been abandoned, so I sometimes wonder if I should leave a note.
The fifth and last Munro of the day was Cruach Àrdrain - a fine rocky mountain that still had little patches of snow on top. The descent on the north side was ridiculously steep, zigzagging down a little gully with lots of loose stones. This must be very dangerous in icy conditions. The last pull over the north top Stob Garbh, was quite a struggle - my total ascent for the day was 1560m, the toughest day on the whole trek. I found a nice spot by a stream high up in Coire Buidhe and settled down for the night, totally exhausted.
Friday 15th May 2009
As I was taking the tent down it was already beginning to drizzle and reluctantly I put on my waterproofs. The route up to the col between Stob Binnein and Ben More was a bit of a slog, particularly as I was beginning to overheat in the waterproofs.
At the col I dumped my pack behind a huge boulder to do a 'there and back again' to Stob Binnein. This pair of Munros are very high for the Southern Highlands - Ben More is the 16th highest mountain in Scotland and Stob Binnein is the 18th highest. Above the col I entered into thick cloud, the monotony being broken only by glimpses of steep snowfields on the east side of the ridge.
Back at the col I sheltered behind the boulder to have a snack, then shouldered the pack to start the long plod up Ben More. The higher I got, the more windswept and wet it became. The summit was very inhospitable. The route down followed the north east ridge. This ridge is seldom climbed, so the path is not well defined. I descended following a compass bearing and carefully crossed a large snowfield. Soon I picked up the path, but it kept fading in and out.
The guidebook said that there are some rocky outcrops and steep sections, but it is always possible to find a way around. In these conditions it was very difficult to find the way around. At one point I lost the path and all I could see was ground falling away steeply in all directions. I tried descending one side, but it ended in large snowfields. Eventually I climbed back to the crest and luckily found the path again. A bit lower down the wind really picked up and it literally became impossible to stand up. For a short section I had to slide along the path on my bottom! At one point I was descending directly into the wind, and incredibly the wind got inside my waterproof trousers, turning them into wind socks. The wind kept whipping off my rucksack cover, so I gave up using it and let the pack get wet.
Lower down the ridge became less distinct and eventually I reached the fence marking the boundary of the Forestry Commission land. I followed the fence eastwards for over a mile, continually descending until I emerged from the cloud. I then hopped the fence (there was no gate), to reach the point where a track enters the forest. There were a few potential camping spots under the conifers, but I decided to descend further since it was still fairly early. I also wanted to get as far away from the wind as possible.
The track zigzagged down steeply, then to my horror emerged on a major track following the edge of a huge area where the conifers had been felled. Absolutely no wild camping spots or shelter! In my exhaustion I turned the wrong way on the track, but with the help of the GPS I didn't go far. I had no choice but to follow the major track down to the road and hope for a suitable camp site.
A few hundred metres from the road a little-used side track joined the main track. There was quite a large vehicle turning area and a stream nearby, so it would have to do as my camp for the night. At least it was fairly sheltered from the wind and the surface was dry. My clothes were not too wet under the waterproofs, so I was able to mostly dry out before getting into my sleeping bag. This was the first time I'd taken an mp3 player on a trek, and it was really comforting to be able to shut out the sound of the wind and enjoy some familiar tunes. It really made the tent feel more homely!
In the morning I discovered that my tent leaks if the inner tent touches the outer. Consequently my gloves had become drenched in the night. It was still raining and the clouds were down to about 400m. I left the forestry plantation, seeing a notice on the gate warning that the premises are monitored by CCTV! I followed the road for a short distance, then walked through Auchessan Farm to make my way onto the Mamlorn Hills. The farm had erected a seemingly helpful notice illustrating the routes onto the hill. I took what looked to be the most appropriate route, but this ended in a bog with no sign of a path. I then retraced my steps picking up a more prominent path along the Allt Essan, around a forestry plantation and along the Allt Riobain.
The path soon disappeared into boggy ground as I climbed up into the clouds. For this day all I remember is an endless cycle of checking my location on the GPS, taking a bearing, walking 10 minutes and checking my location again. Only on the ridge of Sgiath Chùil did the path reappear. I then dropped down pathless terrain to Lairig a' Churain, and regained height up to the trig point on Beinn Cheathaich, then followed a path along to the highest point, Meall Glas. I descended on the mainly pathless north west ridge, dropping down to camp by a stream in Coire Cheathaich.
The clouds lifted and the rain stopped for a short time. I had some nice views down into Glen Lochay. As I was putting the tent up the heavens opened and puddles of water began forming on the flattened tent. By the time I got inside I was drenched and there was no choice but to remove all my wet clothes and quarantine them until the morning. I then discovered that my tent floor is no longer waterproof when the tent is pitched on damp boggy ground. Everywhere pressure is applied, water seeps through.
With the damp from the floor and condensation on the flysheet, my down sleeping bag was getting quite wet. This was the first time I've taken a down bag to Scotland and I was beginning to think it was a mistake, since down loses its thermal properties when it gets wet. I didn't have a sleeping mat, so spread my drysack and plastic bags about the floor as best as I could to stop the water seeping in. I still had three Munros to climb in the Mamlorn Hills, but I decided that if the weather was bad tomorrow I would just climb one of them and get to the Strathfillan Wigwans to dry off.
Sunday 17th May 2009
It was still raining in the morning, so I decided to aim to get to the wigwams by evening and headed off in that direction. Suddenly the clouds lifted, the rain stopped and the sun came out! So I changed my mind and stuck to the original plan for climbing all the Mamlorn Hills, spending an extra day out before going to the wigwams.
I descended down ridiculously steep grass slopes, weaving around crags, aiming for a footbridge. The River Lochay is deep and wide, so in this area footbridges are important. I met a large group of walkers in the glen, who were on their way to climb the same two Munros as me. They told me the forecast was for dry weather up until 4 o'clock today. Perfect!
The group were climbing the steep ridge of Sròn nan Eun to reach Creag Mhòr first, but I opted for the gentler valley route along the Allt Bad a' Mhàim. At the pass between the two Munros I left my pack behind a large rock at 12:15pm so that I could quickly climb Beinn Sheasgarnaich. I decided to chance it and not take waterproofs.
The path climbed steeply to gain the summit plateau of Beinn Sheasgarnaich. On the way up I met a pair of walkers travelling in the opposite direction, who had started from Kenknock. They were heading for Creag Mhòr.
The ridge undulated endlessly, with several false summits until the final summit cairn on the eastern end of the ridge. I turned around immediately to hurry back to my pack. Thankfully the rain held off and I got back at 1:45pm, so had been away for an hour and a half! I sheltered from the wind behind the rock to have a late lunch and watched the large group of walkers descending Creag Mhòr towards me. We exchanged a few words at the col, but were mainly concentrating on finding a safe route across the boggy ground.
The route up Creag Mhòr was pleasant and soon I was enjoying good views of Ben More and Stob Binnein in the south and Loch Lyon in the north. From the summit I dropped down cross-country to camp just above Lairig Mhic Bhaidein. I found a dry spot, that was fairly windy, so that there would be no problems with condensation. The wind had dried out my clothes and rucksack during the day, so this was quite a pleasant camp.
Monday 18th May 2009
By morning more rain and thick cloud had arrived, but at least I had a wigwam to look forward to in the evening! The first obstacle was a minor ridge between me and Beinn Challuim. This only involved 100m of ascent, then 300m of descent to Bealach Ghlas Leathaid at the foot of Beinn Challuim. This is the most impressive side Beinn Challuim and there were some glimpses through the cloud of the steep and rocky north face.
The route up the north west ridge was initially quite steep and rocky, but soon became more gentle and it wasn't long before I gained the highest point at the north summit. The ridge to the south summit is quite narrow, but the southern side of the mountain soon broadens. The descent route is made simple by a line of old fence posts, which eventually meet a more modern fence that you can follow all the way down. Unfortunately this side of the mountain is extremely boggy and waterlogged.
I met the same two walkers that I'd seen yesterday. They had spent the night at the wigwams and today they were traversing three Munros to get back to their car at Kenknock. Lower down I met a couple of Munro baggers who'd already climbed 200 Munros. One of them kept saying "good on you mate" when I told him what I'd been doing!
Lower down the path went over two huge stiles on high deer fences, then crossed a footbridge over the railway to reach Kirkton Farm. Here there are two old graveyards and the remains of St Fillan's Priory. It was then a short walk along the WHW to reach Strathfillan Wigwams. I opted for a large wigwam called "Big Chief", which had a heater and a fridge and cost £16.50. The lady didn't tell me where it was, so I assumed it was easy to find. I wandered around for 10 minutes in the rain before giving up and going back to ask. The lady said "oh you wouldn't have seen it because its up in the woods", and only then did she bother to get a map out to show me where it was!
Later on I returned to the shop to stock up on food for the next six days. I bought a tin of vegetarian haggis, a tin of soup and a packet of crisps for my evening meal, since they had a kitchen in a big facilities block. The owner was being particularly unhelpful and said "your eyes are as good as mine" when I asked if they had any more flapjacks. Fortunately a new lady was also serving and she went off to the store cupboard and found some more. So for supplies I bought six flapjacks, six 'Eat Natural' bars, three packs of oatcakes, a bag of muesli, two packets of nuts, two packets of dried fruit, two packets of chocolate-coated raisins, a bar of chocolate, a bag of pasta, a small block of cheese and a jar of smoked salmon terrine. The shop was ridiculously expensive and they looked quite embarrassed when they announced the total of £41.83, which I paid for by card.
I then asked about the checking the weather forecast on the internet and they told me it would be one pound for half and hour. They wouldn't accept card payment for such a small amount and I didn't want to split a note and end up with loads of change. By now the owner had disappeared so the kindly new lady said I could quickly check it for free. The forecast predicted showers for the next few days - at least not as bad as continuous rain.
I went back to the wigwam and set to work trying to suspend items of wet gear above the heater to dry them out. In the facilities block there was a drying room, but this seemed to have no form of heat - just a dehumidifier that wasn't plugged in. A bit later I went to the kitchen and bumped into a Scottish lad pilfering washing up liquid to use as shower gel! Him and his mate from Aberdeen were doing the WHW and we compared notes about our smelly socks and soggy boots.
Tuesday 19th May 2009
In the morning I woke early and got going before the shop opened, posting my key through the letterbox. Thankfully it was not raining. Soon I left the WHW and branched off west following the railway line. The path then crossed over the railway line, disappeared into a bog and crossed a footbridge to emerge in the beautiful native woodland in Coire Coille Chuilc. This small patch of Scots pine and juniper is a tiny remnant of the woodland that once covered much of Scotland. Higher up the corrie has been insensitively planted with conifers.
Just as I was emerging from the firebreak in the conifers into the upper corrie, it started raining again. So the waterproofs went back on. My back overheats with a rucksack pressed against it all day, especially in waterproofs, and I was now getting prickly heat, which is most uncomfortable. The path soon disappeared into bog and I plodded upwards through rough grassland. It wasn't long before I reached the head of the corrie where I dumped my pack to do a 'there and back again' in the clouds to Beinn Dubhchraig.
I then dropped down to Bealach Buidhe, picking up a path on the way down. From the bealach the path takes a cunning contouring line around the side of Ben Oss, rather than follow the more undulating ridge. Every so often I got dramatic glimpses of Loch Oss. While I was busy trying to get a photograph, a pair of walkers overtook me. They looked to be in a hurry - they didn't stop to chat and soon were out of sight.
I kept looking for the place where the path returns to the ridge to gain the summit, but the path continued to contour. Eventually the GPS told me I'd gone too far. I had to climb steep slopes and double back to gain the summit of Ben Oss. By now the rain was continuous and the summit was cold and inhospitable. I'd been high up for quite some time and I was getting chilly in just a shirt under my waterproof jacket.
The ridge descending from Ben Oss to Ben Lui is broad and pathless, so I relied on the GPS to get me down. Even so I descended too far north and had to regain some height to get back on the ridge. I had a strange sensation of going round in circles. Eventually I emerged from the cloud just above the col between the two Munros. Just as I found a dryish camping spot on a vegetated mound, the rain stopped, the clouds lifted and the sun came out! I contemplated continuing over the next two Munros, since it was still early (around 3ish). However I was quite cold and shivery, having missed lunch due to the rain.
Soon the tent was up and I was drying off and enjoying a belated lunch. The clouds kept lifting and I got great views of the massive bulk of Ben Lui and back towards Ben Oss. Later on there were views to Beinn Chuirn in the north and the Arrochar Alps in the south.
In the evening I tried cooking a new style of meal - dried soya bolognaise mix with some pasta shells I'd bought from the shop. Unfortunately this type of pasta took a long time to cook, and my gas canister felt really empty when I shook it afterwards. For the remainder of the trip, I still had four meals to cook, two of which were quick cook pasta and two of which were this 'slow cook' pasta. I decided that the next two should be the quick cook pasta. The longer I could string out the gas, the better!
Wednesday 20th May 2009
In the morning there were showers, but perhaps not so heavy as the previous day. Ben Lui was shrouded in cloud, which was quite a shame since it is a beautiful peak and I was hoping to see the large snowfields that line its northern corrie. Ben Lui is the 28th highest mountain in Scotland. The only glimpse of snow I got was near the summit. I then descended down to the col between Ben Lui and Beinn a' Chlèibh.
At the col the clouds cleared slightly and I had some views of the upper slopes of Ben Lui from this side.
The rain stopped and I had a pleasant walk up to the summit of Beinn a' Chlèibh, which remarkably was clear of cloud. The next section of the trek was a long cross-country stretch towards Beinn Bhuidhe. The first part was a descent towards an ugly electricity transmission line.
I came across an ancient moss-covered cairn that presumably marked the head of a pass on an ancient route. I then skirted around the south side of Meall nan Gabhar, before dropping down to Glen Fyne.
I followed a track for a short distance, which was wonderful after all that boggy ground! The track commenced at some dams that looked to be part of a hydro scheme.
Since it was still early, I took the opportunity to climb high on the slopes of Beinn Bhuidhe to camp. I found a lovely spot in wild Coire Bhuide, with views of a dramatic waterfall in the corrie and northwards to a reservoir. Once again the rain stopped to let me put the tent up. The sunset was beautiful.
Thursday 21st May 2009
In the morning the cloud was down again and I headed off on a compass bearing for the north ridge of Beinn Bhuidhe. Soon the showers were back in action, but it wasn't long before I reached the summit. The trig point had been destroyed. I wondered if it had been struck by lightning or simply smashed up by vandals.
The descent route traversed the north east ridge for a short distance, then followed a beautiful cascading stream. Lower down the clouds cleared and I spied a good path on the far side of the corrie. To reach this path required a bold move across a stream just above a waterfall!
The path descended past dramatic waterfalls, then entered a steep gorge filled with birch trees. A few sections of the path were very steep and required awkward scrambling. I had to clip my trekking poles to my pack and remove my gloves to get a decent grip on the rock. A slip would have meant a long fall into the gorge!
At Inverchorachan I met a walker who'd cycled along the glen. He'd just started climbing the Munros and had done eight already. He was surprised that I'd camped on the mountain and had been up on the summit so early. I advised him on the scrambling difficulty on the ascent path, but he seemed quite keen for adventure.
Now the rain had stopped and the sun had come out, so I had a pleasant walk following the track south through Glen Fyne. I now had to reach the Arrochar Alps, but between them and me was a large area of boggy moorland. I opted for a reservoir track to gain most of the height, then had exhausting two miles across pathless undulating moorland to reach Lochan Strath Dubh-uisge. I was treated to one last heavy shower before the rain finally stopped and I could put up my tent.
The locking mechanism on one of my trekking poles was refusing to grip, so I spent a frustrating half an hour being buffeted by the wind trying to get the poles to hold the tent up properly. The skies across the lochan towards the Crianlarich Hills were dramatic. I enjoyed hearing one final song on my mp3 player before the battery finally ran out.
Friday 22nd May 2009
It was drizzling in the morning as I dropped down to Strath Dubh-uisage. Rather than head directly up Ben Vorlich, I walked north on a track for a short distance, following an aqueduct that is part of the Loch Sloy hydro-electric scheme. A little further on a stream emerged from a man-made tunnel that was diverting water around from another side of the mountain into the aqueduct. I picked up a vague track up gentler slopes to the col between Ben Vorlich and Stob nan Coinnich Bhacain.
At the col a path materialised that lead me all the way up the north ridge to the summit. On the ascent, the clouds were lifting and the rain stopped, and by the time I reached the top it was bathed in beautiful sunshine, with great views of Loch Lomond, Ben Lomond, the rest of the Arrochar Alps and down to the Loch Sloy reservoir.
I descended steep grassy slopes towards the dam at the head of the reservoir. The last section was particularly steep and required caution. It would have been much easier to see the correct route when ascending this way. I ignored the "authorised personnel access only" sign and crossed over the dam.
On the far side of the dam I went through an unlined access tunnel which was also signed "no unauthorised entry". The tunnel was full of sheep droppings - presumably the sheep use it as a shelter in bad weather!
On leaving of the tunnel, I picked up a gently ascending path that seemed to be a relic from the construction of the reservoir. There were many rotten sleepers, so presumably it was an old railway line for transporting building materials. Half way along the path I branched off to find a camping site in a little secluded corrie, thankfully with no views of the ugly dam. The views down the corrie towards Ben Lomond were beautiful as the sun set and the light changed.
This morning it was misty but dry and after a short distance on the railway path, I turned to climb a path steeply up Ben Vane. The rain held off until I was beyond the summit, but then started up in earnest on the descent. This time it was not a shower and it rained relentlessly for the rest of the day.
At Lag Uaine I considered following the dramatic north east ridge up Beinn Ìme, but it looked rather exposed. Instead I followed a stream up steeply into a corrie on the sheltered north side of Beinn Ìme. Then from Glas Bhealach I took the north ridge to the summit. Once out of the shelter of the north side, the full force of the rain and wind hit. I could feel the water seeping in to my clothes as I descended the waterlogged southern slopes to Bealach a' Mhàim. It was here that I was hoping to camp, but the wind was ridiculous, so I was forced down the north side of the col.
I kept seeing what looked like flat camping spots from above, but on closer inspection were always sloping. After over 200m of descent I found a reasonable spot, and battled to get the tent up in the rain and the wind. After twenty minutes I got the tent up, but the wind was blowing one side convex, and I knew it would leak if that kept up all night. Reluctantly I pulled all the pegs out, and carried the tent further down, to behind a row of young conifers on the edge of a sparse plantation. It was more sheltered here and after more struggling and cursing I got the tent up. It must have taken nearly an hour.
Once again I was totally drenched and had to quarantine my wet clothes. A sponge is an essential item of kit in Scotland and I had to bail out puddles from floor. I lined the floor of my tent with all the plastic bags I could find, in a futile attempt to keep my sleeping bag dry. Not the nicest last night camping! I was praying that the gas would hold out for the final evening meal, since by now the canister sounded pitifully empty when I shook it. The water all boiled down, but the pasta wasn't quite cooked, so I added some more water and as this was boiling down the gas finally stopped. The pasta was a little al dente, but quite acceptable - what a relief!
Sunday 24th May 2009
The weather was thankfully dry in the morning. I had one more Munro to climb, Beinn Nàrnain, plus I wanted to round off the trek on The Cobbler. Although not tall enough for Munro status, The Cobber's remarkable shape demonstrates that size isn't everything! It has three distinctive summits, the north peak for walkers, the central and highest peak for scramblers and the south peak for rock climbers. I wanted to reach the first two!
The ascent of Beinn Nàrnain was very pleasant and there were splendid views of The Cobbler across the glen. The cloud lifted giving me great summit views of the Arrochar Alps. Soon I was on my way down and heading up the stone steps of the improved path on the ascent of The Cobbler. I gained the north peak fairly easily up a stone slab that could have been tricky in the wet, emerging on a dramatic overhanging prow of rock. I peered down on some rock climbers below.
On the way down I chatted to a chap with a dog from Helensburgh who had climbed The Cobbler two months previously with ice axe and crampons. There was a good view of him standing on the north peak as I headed towards the central peak.
The central peak is similar in character to the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye - a rock pinnacle attached to the top of a mountain. The Cobbler is much easier to climb than the In Pin, though. The route is through a fissure in the rock, then along a narrow ledge with steep drops on one side and finally up some boulders with big drops on both sides, to gain the summit.
The rock is very polished so it was fortunate the rain was holding off. Coming down was slightly trickier that coming up. Just as I got down a lady emerged from the corrie below. I asked if she could take my picture on the summit, and I repeated the scramble to get the photographic evidence, although the mist had descend again so the photo isn't very clear! We sat on a boulder having lunch, then she headed off towards Beinn Nàrnain. Shortly after a Polish couple came up to photograph, but not climb the pinnacle. They asked me about the way down, and I offered to show them the way.
This path has also been improved with stone steps, due to the popularity of the Cobbler. I saw plenty of people on the ascent as I made my way down. I passed the Narnain Boulders - overhanging and spacious enough to shelter a large party on a rainy day. After the Shelter Stone in the Cairngorms, this is one of Scotland's most famous bivvy sites. Working class climbers used to sleep here at the weekends in the 1930s, putting up new climbing routes on The Cobbler by day.
I turned off the main path, following a contouring path to get closer to the village of Arrochar. This also seemed to be an old railway track, another relic from hydro construction. Amazingly I bumped into the same lady that I'd met earlier on The Cobbler as she descended from Beinn Nàrnain.
We chatted as we followed the 'pipe path' down to the road. This path follows the route of an old pipeline of which only the concrete blocks remain. In places it was more like a stream than a path. She introduced herself as Lorna and offered to give me a lift into Arrochar. By now it was drizzling and I was grateful not to have to walk the last section in the rain. She dropped me off at Ben Arthur's Bothy, a pub that was crammed full of people watching Celtic vs Rangers on TV.
I found a quiet table by the window and sat relaxing and drinking Guinness for the rest of the day. There was a good view over the tidal Loch Long, and during the day I watched the water go out and start to come back in again. Around 5pm I ordered haddock and chips, which tasted wonderful. After a few more pints I left the pub around 9pm and walked a mile along the road to Arrochar & Tarbet Station.
My ticket was supposed to be from Ardlui Station, but I'd asked my parents to contact ScotRail to change the ticket. They weren't certain the message would get through, but all was fine when the sleeper arrived at 21:57. The cabin attendant said that if I wanted breakfast it would be £4 since the sleeper was going via Edinburgh. I didn't quite understand, but decided to pay for the luxury (on the way up breakfast was free).
In the morning the cabin attendant said that "Edinburgh didn't have what we asked for, so here's £4 refund and a Kellogg's breakfast box instead". I didn't really understand, but saw no reason to argue! The sleeper got into Euston an hour early, so I was able to catch an earlier train to Southampton and was back by 11am.
Overall it was a an enjoyable holiday and very satisfying to succeed despite the weather. Now I know I can cope with wet weather for days on end! 11 out of the 22 Munros I climbed were clear of cloud on the summits. Four days were total washouts, but on the remaining wet days there were times when the sun came out.