Monday, 25 November 2013

Autumn's last stand

I know this trip report is a little overdue but since I got back it's been all early starts and late finishes with work, training courses at the weekend and a Landy with a battery on it's last legs. I found myself at 06:00am thinking about the words I'd put into this post after I'd scraped the ice from 2 motors and was now failing to untangle the heavy duty jump leads with cold fingers that weren't responding...Imagine the complexity of unfankling a pair of earbud style headphones and then make the cables 15feet long, unwieldy and frozen stiff with a giant crocodile clip on each end that seems determined to hook over every edge and door frame within reach. It occurred to me during this cold and miserable scene that the Autumn of the previous weekend had gone and was now definitely being replaced with winter. (Don't get me wrong, we love winter here at Bigbananamountains, although just not when it's in the car park and my gloves are still in my unpacked rucksack back in the flat)

Anyway, enough of that....back to the previous weekend. I'd been desperate to camp on my first excursion up a hill for ages but the forecast of 8omph gusts sounded a little more exciting than I was prepared for. The Sunday although calmer didn't sound like I was going to see much unless it was a cloud so I was pleasantly surprised by the way the sunlight was filtering between the fog banks. As I wasn't camping I decided that the dug might like to join me and we had a quick and uneventful drive to Inveruglas where we parked at the visitor centre.

The snow in everyone's adventures of just a week earlier was all gone from the tops so the axe and crampons stayed in the car leaving me with a slightly lighter pack as we set off with the sun still low and peaking over hills across Loch Lomond. I never even broke stride when I pointed the camera at the water and was rewarded with this shot.

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Isn't it funny how with no effort you can occasionally capture a scene worth looking back at years down the line and then sometimes even with all the planning and preparation in the world a photo can still be mediocre at best...that or maybe I just need to learn to use a camera properly.

We quickly left the A82 behind and wandered briskly along the tarmac towards the substation with the bulk of Ben Vorlich's southern flank looming above us. It wasn't intimidating, just inviting as this was our chosen route. I've been up Vorlich a few times in the past and I've done all the usual routes via the little hills and the steep ascent of Lag Dubh so we felt like just following our noses and the map. It also removes the temptation for me to compare myself to the timings given in the guidebooks. I know that I'm slower than I used to be but it'll take a few trips I reckon till I can look at a map and guesstimate how long I'll be over a given route.

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Still following the road we swung to the right at the substation and portacabins and followed it uphill through the swirling patches of mist. Then just before the fork in front of us we turned from the road and headed straight up the grassy slope.

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I'd like to say that we threaded our way uphill between the crags but it would be a lie on two counts. Firstly I struggled to keep my momentum going as soon as the contour lines got closer together and Nellie dug doesn't like to go between the rocky bits. It seems she prefers a scramble where possible! I dealt with the first issue by slowing down, zig zagging instead of heading straight up and stopping for loads of breather's photo's. The second issue I just ignored...she seemed to be enjoying herself. I could see what she was up to and she came back when called if I thought it a bit steep for her.

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After a while the contour lines got further apart again and we found ourselves among the tops as we arrived on Vorlich's broad and lumpy ridge. My belly was rumbling and I fancied a hot drink so we found a flattish bit to play with the stove and and camera. I could feel the cold start to creep in when we stopped. Not enough to warrant feathers though so I pulled on my old vapour-rise top instead, put the dug's lunch out in her bowl and tended to the stove. The next set of photo's sees me learn an important lesson about having a hungry Collie in the hills. One that I'll bear in mind when we finally go wild camping together.

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Dug eating from her bowl while the stove goes on. Note the two roast beef and pickle sandwiches on top of the yellow and orange bag.

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The stove continues to heat up whilst I wander around enjoying the view and start eating the first roast beef and pickle sandwich. The dug finishes her lunch and then comes and annoys me for a bit of mine. The answer is no.

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The stove come to the boil and I make some hot chocolate. Note the second roast beef and pickle sandwich still on the yellow bag.

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I pour the hot chocolate and wander around some more washing down the last of the first roast beef and pickle sandwich. Note the missing second roast beef and pickle sandwich and the Border Collie that's suspiciously still in the shot.

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I go for the second roast beef and pickle sandwich only to find that it's mysteriously vanished! I ask the dug and she ignores me. Words were exchanged and we're not talking by this point. Thankfully I still have a flapjack to eat.

Fuelled and warmed up I pack up and we head off along the ridge towards the summit. There's still plenty of up and down terrain and the with the mist still swirling around the not so Little Hills ridge comes in and out of view. Although we're now just barely being civil to one another, the dug disappears out of view once too often for my liking when the mist does close in so I stick her Hi Vis Mountain Dug jacket on. I think she appreciates it and we're pals again by the time we look over the edge down to Loch Sloy and the mist in closes completely as we arrive at the summit.

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After a few photo's at the Trig pillar we nip over to the real summit only a few metres higher then head down following the track for the normal guidebook route up Lag Dubh. I'm glad we didn't ascend this way as it's a soggy and slippery mess of mud further down.

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The mist followed us all the way down to the road where we hot footed it back to the Landy where we both got towelled off and I got changed while waiting on the stove to boil again. After a quick cuppa and a phone call to check in we hit the road home.  I was starting to stiffen up already as memories of the days walk tumbled around my mind interspersed with thoughts about whether it would be Chinese or Indian that was ordered when we got in.

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