Tuesday, 1 February 2011

It's lonely at the top

On Friday there, I was free to get out for a walk. I had originally intended to go for my first wild camp of the year on the Saturday night but we ended up making plans to visit friends over the weekend, so a wild camp over Sat/Sun turned into a wander on Fri. And, if I'm honest, it actually turned out for the best as I was craving some peace and quiet and some solitude in the hills. The hills are generally quieter during the week (about the only thing I miss from working a 4 on 4 off shift pattern!) which is worth bearing in mind if tackling some of the more popular routes.

Even though I had swapped to a much shorter route, I was still mind full of my terribly slow pace a couple of weeks ago on Ben Vane, so I got up and left the flat pretty early. Not quite an alpine start but so early that Louise wasn't up yet for work and I pretty much had the road to myself the whole way. The sun was just breaking over the city filled skyline in a thick band of deep orange to my right as I drove over the Erskine bridge and would have made for some great photies had I been able to stop.

As I wound my way in to Glen Croe the hills were tall, dark and featureless shapes silhouetted against the dull sky as the weak sun crept upwards. Parking up I felt a little trepidation creep in given my lack of hill fitness and that the hills were looking a little unforgiving.

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I shouldered my pack and crossed the stream. Setting off across the short boggy section to the foot of the ridge rising up to my left, I was cold in that damp shivery sort of way but I was soon comfortable as I settled into my pace. As I hit the ridge line and continued on I was becoming more and more pleased with myself as I found that I was able to keep my pace steady without the constant start/stop progress that has dogged me of late. There was still some effort involved but my breathing was easier with none of the wheezing or crackling in my chest when I press on too hard. I can only assume that the preventer that the doc has me on is starting to work.

I picked my way further up the very clear path and quickly the views started to open up. The Arrochar Alps looked a little alien yet still strangely familiar as I recognised their dark shapes. I had never really viewed them from this angle before as this was my first ascent of Beinn an Lochainn. I was really enjoying being alone in this still half asleep landscape.

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As I mentioned in the video I upped a few days ago I was now beginning to feel a bit silly having left the crampons in my pack given the complete lack of snow cover. I wasn't fussed about the weight as they were only nice light Kahtoolas for strapping to my bendy Keen's but I still had my axe strapped to the pack as I believe that if you have to fit crampons onto feet then your axe should really be in your hands at the same time also. The path had sections where the snow melt running down it had frozen solid. Some of it would have been quite treacherous to the unobservant but I was able to very easily scramble around it avoiding any slips or mishaps.

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The quick way back down to Loch Restil!

I was making decent progress upwards and as the ridge flattens out around 650metres or so I stopped for a wee bit to fanny around with the camera, take in the views and have a drink. The cloud base was beginning to drop to the summits as forecast but it was looking more and more unlikely that there would be any chance of the inversions MWIS hinted at...they must've been for further north.

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Rested and watered I set off for the last push towards the summit which was looking spectacularly steep and craggy. To the novice they would look like a pretty daunting route I would think but the well worn path picks its way through easily avoiding any brown trouser moments. The only section I had any thought about really was the last 100 metres or so of path that takes you between steep crags to the right and the biggish patch of snow you can see to the left of the summit (see pic below). As the few remaining patches of snow up here have been through the freeze/thaw cycle a good few time whats left is iron hard and would be a struggle to kick steps into in even 4 season boots. Crampons on and it was a skoosh! Just shows you though that if you have to think about whether to bring them or not then the answer is yes...I only wish I had slung my microspikes into the car as well that morning though!

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The summit was a cold, frosty affair with the damp cloud all around sucking the heat of me as soon as I stopped moving. I pulled on my down sweater and got the duo-mat out the back of my pack for a warmer seat. I hung about for a while drinking cuppa's and eating my sandwiches hoping that the cloud would drop even further but I was being hopelessly optimistic, I'd need a higher summit for that. I'd had a crackin' day out enjoying the peacefulness of a quiet hill and I was feeling good about my ease of movement as I was ascending...even if it is the medication and not a sudden increase in hill fitness. It's hard not to feel good in the hills!

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More please!

6 comments:

  1. Hah - just got my bearings from the photies there as to exactly whereabouts you were. (I know I could have looked at a map, but I should really be able to work these things out.)
    ;0)

    I do like the pictures - it's genuinely typical Scottish hillwalking weather.

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  2. Great post, not done anything other than the Cobbler out that way, really should do more that way instead of being sucked up the A82

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  3. Still to do this one. Like Jamie says, need to stop and turn left rather than right at Tarbet
    BTW microspikes should ALWAYS be in the pack

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  4. Scott- It was fun for me picking out the peaks I could see from the map as they all look slightly different from the back!

    Jamie- It's too easy to be lured further north. At least once a year I try to head south to the hills around Moffat just for a change of scenery.

    Elaina- Lesson learnt, I think microspikes shall just live in the car from now on.

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  5. Where's the snow? :-o
    I've just invested in some microspikes, though sadly haven't had a chance to play in them.

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  6. Cairngorms hidden at the back of some deep and dark corries?

    It's still early yet, there may be more snow before we're out of winter. This is the time of year when microspikes come into their own on those days where you're not sure what's on the tops.

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