Friday, 14 January 2011

It had been a long time...

...since I had been out to play in the hills. So long in fact that it took me an embarrassingly long time to pack for Sunday there. I had to keep going through the mental checklist of stuff I'd need and stuff I should carry whether I'd need it or not. I was glad then that I'd packed the night before so that when the alarm roused me I simply got washed, dressed, fed, had my caffeine hit and then slung the pack in the motor.

The drive to Inveruglas was uneventful until I hit the A82. That's where I came across two of life's cretins who presumably got their licenses as a free gifts in their breakfast cereal.

The first was sat inches from my rear bumper from the the roundabout at Balloch, obviously I wasn't going fast enough for him despite the black ice and patches of snow on the road. I didn't need this, so I pulled into the first parking spot I came to and let him pass. I sat for a few minutes checking my route on the map before I set off again. 10 Min's later I found myself chuckling quietly as I drove around the same car sitting at the side of the road with its front passenger side wheel folded in underneath like the Delorean in Back to the future as it flies away.

Cretin number 2 however, was wholly more spectacular and terrifying. He decided that he would overtake me on the twisty section as you come out of Tarbet. A risky manoeuvre at the best of times. As he passed me his back end started to slide out which caught a glancing blow from the barrier on the water side and sent him spinning across my path and into the ditch on the other. I barely managed to stop before I hit him. I got out the car as he climbed out of his. My memory is a little hazy through the mist of red but I think the exchange went something like...

"Holy f*ck! Are you OK?"
"um...err...yeah...I...uhh"
"Are you hurt or anything?"
"Um...no, but my car"
"Got breakdown cover?"
"Em..yeah"
"Ok, see you later d*ckhead!"

I slammed my door and I'd like to say that I roared off but it was still slippy, so I gingerly pulled away and made it to Inveruglas car park without further incident.

Once my heart rate had returned to normal I pulled on my boots and gaiters, took a few pictures of Loch Lomond as the sun started to creep higher in the sky and set off.

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I wasn't long in leaving the main road behind as I wandered up the snow covered tarmac access road towards the Loch Sloy Dam. I like this place. It's a strange place of contrasting images. There are Arrochar Alps towering all around you as you wind your way in here but all around there are the marks of man and industrialisation. It appeals to both the the mountaineer and the engineer in me. It's strange as I don't find the dam, substation or large pipes too intrusive for some reason. They've been here long enough to become features in their own right I reckon, plus, the road gives you a great easy access into these hills. They aren't large enough either to be a blot on the landscape like the wind farms that are constantly springing up and it's not long before you leave the tarmac and head off up the open side of your chosen hill here.

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I turned left at the bridge onto the forestry commission road and followed it round to the next bridge that crosses the wee stream. I left the road here following the two pairs of footprints I had been seeing since the car park. My heart fell slightly as I realised they were heading up the same hill as me and that I'd probably have company at some point. It lifted again when I began to realise just how deep the snow was. I was glad it was those two who were breaking ground and not me. The going was hard and it was at least knee deep every step and it was getting deeper as I hit the first real steep rise onto the ridge. Picking my way through the crags, the going was slow. I reckon there would be some cracking scrambling along here in the summer.

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I pushed on, gaining more height and having to slow my pace a bit as I started to wheeze. I could feel a crackling sensation in my chest while sucking in lungfuls of the cold air. I had a few coughing fits and I knew my pace was pathetic but a few puffs on the inhaler and deliberately slowing down kept me steady and right. This asthma or whatever it is, is a nuisance but thinking back it's always been there. It just seems to have been getting worse over the last year or so. I hope the doctors can sort it out. I had a few more rest stops than usual, but that's not a bad thing really. It just means more time enjoying the views, enjoying being outside and simply feeling the elements on your face. Time in the hills is a glorious thing and should never be wasted.

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I was caught up by a bloke who's name I never caught even though we chatted and plowed on through the deep stuff together for a bit. I let him go on in front as I didn't want to slow him. We parted when I stopped to fit crampons as the route was starting to take us over ice encrusted rocky outcrops. I didn't see him again until just before the last false summit. He was descending and I was still going up.

I also briefly met the owners of the two sets of footprints I'd been following all morning. Two lads in their twenties I'd guess. We spoke briefly about the sheer depth of the snow and they warned me about the last filled gully before the summit. Chest deep in places!! 20 Min's later I dragged myself on my belly out of the snow chute and onto the small summit plateau. I felt like I was swimming through the snow for the last bit. I touched the summit cairn and hung about for a little while hoping that the clag would lift out giving me some views. The wind was strong up here where it was exposed and was buffeting me about. I was getting cold not moving so took a quick couple of snaps and a video before dropping back down out of the wind.

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As I descended I was able to lose the height I'd fought for so hard earlier with the greatest of ease. I was able to heel plunge in a style almost like scree running. I wiped out a few time but the snow was so deep it was always a soft landing. When I did stop I realised that the clouds up top had cleared out. Bugger! If only I'd hung on for a few more minutes. Never mind though, the view from here was fantastic too as the sun was getting lower making the light go all soft and golden where it was reflected on the snow.

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I descended further and even more quickly it seemed. At times I was simply sitting on my arse and sliding down using my axe to steer and slow me. When I got back to the first rise up onto the ridge proper again I stopped and pulled on my insulated top, had a hot cuppa and gave Louise a ring to let her know I'd survived my first hill since June.

What did I learn? I learned that I hadn't lost it completely, I'm just a little slower than I used to be but that will get fixed...and if you're going to slide down the snow then it's a good idea to zip you're pockets closed first.

I can't wait till I can get out again!

7 comments:

  1. Magic, still plenty of snow by the looks of it. I've been past Sloy loads of times but only ever stop at Firkin Point to stretch my legs, before racing north. I really should stop for longer.

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  2. Excellent, good to see you out again after what seems like ages. You've spruced the place up a bit too...

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  3. Nice to see you got out. Great read and photos are superb.

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  4. Glad you've managed to get out matey, can't wait to see you next week all suited and booted! Don't be wearing yer Innov8s btw!

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  5. Looks like a crackin day oot Sandy. Sorry we wimped out and didn't join you but looking at the amount of snow I'd have been really struggling with this gammy knee. Sometime soon we'll get on the hill together....
    As for Bassnett's comment, the same could be said for him turning up without any evidence of gear!!

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  6. I enjoyed that from the warmth of my office! Good luck with the asthma control - the preventers are really worthwhile if you can get hold of them.

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  7. Mac E, The Arrochar Alps are my closest "real" hills and possibly my favourite ones too. You could spend a few days wandering around them all.

    Fraser, Martin, It's great to be out and about again.

    Jamie, Kilted and booted surely?

    Elaina, No worries. It was really hard going at times due to the depth of the snow. As for the gear...well it is my big day too and I demand that somebody wears some Haglof's.

    Alan, I've now been given a steroid preventer inhaler to be taken 1 puff twice a day, morning and night for the next 2 to 3 weeks before going back for more tests. It's early days yet but it seems to be helping.

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