I've been waiting a while to do this one again.
I last climbed Ben Donich back in 2008 and there wasn't much to see except mist, cloud and rain that day. I've been going stir crazy waiting for a weather window to coincide with one of my day's off. I don't mind walking in poor weather but I like to be rewarded with a view for my efforts and there's no way I can be arsed camping if I know the conditions are just going to keep me tent bound. I'm not really sure if that's because I'm older and wiser now or if I've just gotten lazier?
Actually if I'm honest me and the Dug made an attempt to get up there on Thursday to try and catch the sunset but although the weather was crystal clear, the wind speed was just ridiculous. The poor mutt was being blown about like an empty crisp poke when it was gusting and I was having to use my trekking poles for support rather than to propel me along. After not much ascent we soon beat a hasty retreat back to the caravan for peace, quiet, beer and a book. Caravan? Yep that's right, we were in the area on holiday all of last week. A great week spent in glorious spring weather with plenty of walking but unfortunately no summits (It was a family holiday not a Sandy holiday!). I'll put the holiday snaps up later when I've sorted through them.
I still had the Easter/Bank holiday weekend to enjoy before going back to work so we fast forward to Sunday where the day was started with a long lie in, poached eggs on toast for breakfast and the quietest bank holiday drive I've had in many a year. I found the car park jammed full, forcing me to park a little "off road" so the logging trucks still have access...not really a problem for me though.
It's not a massive hill day as you get a nice high altitude start from around 280metres which suited me fine as I'm a little out of practise at the old wild camping lark. I changed my shoes and socks, strapped on my pack and set off through the logs and trees to gain access to the the track that leads you up onto the broad ridge.
It took me a little while to settle into a decent rhythm of walking that was sustainable. My legs are fine, it's just my lungs that won't keep up. I did find my pace though, and although I might be slower than "Mr Average" I was making good time. The views all around were opening up with almost every step. Clear blue skies, a warm sun and a stiff breeze to keep you cool. Perfect walking weather.
I was enjoying myself massively and must've looked right state wheezing through a rictus grin. If you saw me, believe me it was definitely a grin and not a grimace! I counted the groups coming down as they passed. There were enough bodies to fill all the motors down below which was nice. I don't mean to sound like an anti social git but I was starting to imagine the summit plateau looking like the camp site for T in the park... I passed all sorts. Couples, families, groups, lone walkers a Dalmation and a Boxer, all heading down and telling me of the fantastic views up top. One guy I spoke to reckoned he could even see Ben Nevis.
Onwards and upwards I strode, stopping frequently to aim the camera and to marvel at the sheer beauty of the place. Why can't Scotland always be like this...or at least always be like this when it's my day off? Soon the terrain became rockier with boulders and craggy bits peaking out of the short grass. I found myself pausing to peer into the large cracks and crevasse like fissures this wee hill is famous for. I wouldn't like to step into one in winter! After scrambling down the wee interesting bit (hands on rock for about two steps) I took off my pack and had a wee poke about. I even clocked an almost completely hidden wee ledge come cave that would make a fantastic bivy spot, as long as you didn't roll over once too many times in the middle of the night! I'm not showing you it though as I might be back.
After a few more steep sections the terrain flattened out somewhat into the sprawling plateau with grassy knolls and rises leading to the summit. I remember the last time I was here I had had to consult the map and follow compass bearings. The only time I looked at the map for this trip was when I checked it was the right one I was packing. It really was like climbing a different hill.
Arriving at the summit I was stunned when I saw the view down Loch Goil despite the fact I had just spent the previous week admiring it from much closer! Why had I ignored this hill for so many years? I think it was at this point Ben Donich was just upgraded to the top of my list of favourite hills. It's got everything you could want. It's not that big a hill day, the views are stunning in every direction, you're surrounded by all the bigger, more popular Arrochar Alps (Even if the Cobbler is the wrong way round) but without feeling hemmed in. There's plenty of potential camp spots and there's even a tiny wee Lochan or two to supply you with water. I'll not be leaving it another 5 years before my next visit, that's for sure!
Still awestruck with the magnificence of this wee gem I'd rediscovered, I quickly found a camp spot that looked comfortable, reasonably sheltered from the brisk breeze and that would afford me the prime viewing position for descent of the sun later on. I emptied the contents of my pack out and flung up the tarp before cracking open a beer to sip as I relaxed, wandered and lounged about the top.
As the sun got lower, the shadows longer and the light more golden my thoughts turned to food. I was low on water and I don't think you can re-constitute freeze dried meals with beer no matter how fine a drop it is. I took a wee trip to the wee lochan on the other side of the summit plateau, and of course I took the camera with me so that I can remember and you can enjoy too.
Dinner was an enjoyable affair of pasta cabonara with a slightly peppery kick to it. One of the Bla Band range which I highly recommend as an alternative to the usual mountain house stuff. It was washed down with a second (and unfortunately my last) Duchess Anne from Strathaven Ales.
After dinner I sorted out my kit, it was still in the pile I dumped earlier. Satisfied and with the chores done I could relax and enjoy the colours starting to creep across the sky as the firey orb above me sunk lower and lower. The breeze was picking up some more and swirling around a bit so I returned to the tarp and dropped the open side down with an extra guy line. I also pulled on my down pullover as the temp was dropping along with the sun. I must say I was as happy as a pig in the proverbial up there. The fireworks in the sky were sublime and I had the best seat in the house.
When the colours had almost completely faded and the temperature had gotten even lower I climbed into my bag and settled back with my book. I thought I heard a voice? "Naw, must've been the wind" I said to myself and went back to reading. About 30 seconds later I near sh*t myself as a woman stuck her head round the tarp and said hello! She asked if I'd enjoyed the sunset and if that was my big green Landy in the car park, I nodded dumbly as I tried to pull myself together. The wind was really biting now and then she bid me farewell and was gone before I could mumble another word.
As I hunkered down in my bivy/sleeping bag under the tarp my mind started to run riot. Who was the strange woman? Why did she ask me about the Landy? Were her and her unseen accomplice now going down to break into it and steal the radio or worse? Did car thieves climb Corbetts and Munro's first to scope out potential victims that are wild camping and blissfully unaware as they get done over? Could I identify the robber? I doubt I'd be able to put together a photo fit and all I could remember was that she was wearing Paramo. Do car thieves wear Paramo? Get a grip Sandy, she was just another walker who timed her summit with the sunset.
I dozed fitfully, snatching a half hour here and there as the tarp flapped and caught the wind with more and more vigour as the hands on my watch went round slowly. I love my wee tarp, it pretty much lives in my pack for day hikes now but damn that thing is noisy in a blow. It's a spinnaker one so very, very light but it rustles as it thrashes and flaps. I doubt I'd have slept any better in the Laser comp unless I had ear plugs in, but as this was the strongest wind I'd been under the tarp in I didn't feel comfortable just putting them in and shutting the noise out. At least until I was sure I could trust the shelter not to fly away. Next time maybe.
At around 02:30ish I woke to the tarp hitting me in the face a lot harder than previous. A pole had moved slightly causing one of the guys to go slack. It may have been me who rolled into the pole or it could've been the wind but regardless it had to be adjusted. I nipped out and made the repair before diving back underneath where it was warm but noisy.
I must've dozed off again as the next thing I knew was that the sky was beginning to brighten with pale pre dawn light. I was tired but there was to be no more sleep for me. I dressed and headed back over to the other side of the summit plateau to watch the sun come up. The moon was still bright and I could see the clouds scudding by over head as the dark blues became softer pastels. Any exposed skin was frozen as I faced directly into the wind to take my photographs. I took to hiding behind a rocky outcrop and only standing up every few minutes to see how the colours had changed. This wasn't as much fun as the sunset had been. Some of the clouds took a pink tinge to their edges but the whole show was a little too muted to justify standing still in the bitter wind. I was cold and tired so it wasn't long before I decided to return and break camp
I decided it was too breezy to be bothered faffing with a stove so I would just pack up, head off the hill and have some breakfast at the Landy assuming the mysterious Paramo clad lady hadn't pinched it of course. I checked around my pitch to make sure there was nothing left and then set off. As I dropped from the summit I found I was less exposed to the scouring wind. The exercise got the blood flowing and the feeling returning to my fingers and then the sunrise proper happened.
I walked off the mountain with the sky on fire!
The Landy was still there, unmolested and I enjoyed my cuppa as I changed out of merino and walking kit back into cotton like no other.
I'll be back on this wee mountain again. I guarantee it!