Tuesday, 17 March 2015

No sunset I'm afaid...

Easing myself back in was the plan and it was a good one. It's been a while since I was regularly out and up anything pointy in winter conditions and even longer since I did it while carrying an overnight pack (My muscles are still protesting as I write this 2 days later!). It's not just my fitness where this apparent as deciding what to take and packing it took me around 2 days. Long gone are the days where I could rush home after work and sling some kit into the boot and pack when I got there. One tool I did find useful here was my patent pending "Bigbananamountains Kit Weight Calculator". It's not a new idea or anything groundbreaking but it has been a labour of love (I wish I was better at driving excel) creating it and I'm finding it quite useful in driving my pack weight down and making sure I don't forget anything in a slightly geeky way. If anybody wants a copy, leave me a comment and I'll happily share it.

Anyway...I was easing myself back into this, so when I spotted the weather window I decided it would have to be somewhere familiar and that I'd go sans dug. (I'm sure she's still annoyed after seeing the photies!) I rose to an early(ish) alarm and stuffed myself with a decent breakfast before stuffing my rucksack with the pile of kit lying on the floor, and set off. The drive to Arrochar was fairly uneventful and I was slightly smug as I stole the one remaining space in the car park by driving the Landy directly over the top of the massive pile of debris blown up from Loch Long by the recent stormy weather. Enormous ground clearance has its advantages at times. I changed my shoes and had an unhurried cuppa as I watched score of folks setting off and noted that not one of them had an ice axe strapped to the outside of their pack. I swithered with the idea of ditching almost a kilo of hardware from my back but in the end decided against it. I've been caught out before doing this and if nothing else the extra weight would be good practise.

I crossed the road, set off up the path and ignored the long switchbacks instead opting to take the steeper, more direct route towards Beinn Narnain. Aware I didn't want to burn myself out too quickly I kept my pace steady, and it wasn't long before my legs were eating up the metres of ascent and my eyes were drinking in the ever expanding views. It's just a pity that it was somewhat more overcast than I was expecting.

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I eventually reached the snow line and skirted around the patches before reaching the more rocky and craggy terrain where the trekking poles were stowed and hands were employed for some simple but thoroughly enjoyable scrambling. Before long though the patches grew too large to avoid and became a continuous feature. It was well consolidated and it's crust like iron. Out came the axe and shortly after, on went the crampons as my bendy boots just weren't up to the job of sawing their own steps. Although it had been a while, I found the axe moving fluidly from hand to hand to remain on my uphill side with out any mental intervention whatsoever. Like riding a bike as they say. I met a chap (He's somewhere in the second photo after this paragraph) coming down who warned me of the icy terrain above. He'd wisely given up on the summit as he'd left his hardware in the car park below. I thought how close I'd came to it and was glad I didn't.

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As I made my way up and over Cruach nam Miseag I was presented with a very alpine looking Cobbler to my left and an imposing summit looming above me with its misty cap only adding to the atmosphere. As I approached I could see the cornice overhanging the connecting ridge to A Chrois and I spotted that someone with a bigger pair of balls than me had front pointed their way directly up the snow beneath the Spearhead Buttress. It looked like a much faster way to gain the height but if you took a tumble there was no run out except onto a mass of jaggy looking boulders below. I cringed at the thought of it as I carefully picked my way up the craggy left hand side. The scramble was fun and was exhilaration enough for me.

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The summit wasn't quite so breathtaking. The view was obliterated into a grey/white nothingness all around. I took a photo, made a quick call to my pal to let him know I wasn't available for the Steak and Beer proposition he'd text me earlier and then left. I'd proven to myself that I could still manage in the winter mountains but I was beginning to flag a bit. The last hundred or so metres had been fought hard for. I was needing to stop and refuel. Thoughts turned to potential campsites of which there were plenty I had taken note of, but all were being slowly enveloped by the mist. I didn't want the dampness adding to what was always going to be a cold wild camp so I descended back down to Cruach nam Miseag.

I set up the tent along with my shiny new Ookwork's big nest which took a while due to my fumbling fingers, and ever encroaching fatigue. I was burst and worn out. It had been a big day and all I wanted now was to watch the sun go down and get some hot food in me before crawling into a cocoon of downy softness. The food was hot, the sleeping bag was soft and I suppose the sun went down in a blaze of glory somewhere else. All I got was a brief band of colour where the cloud base didn't quite meet the horizon. I suppose 2 out of 3 isn't bad.

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I checked in with Louise, facebooked for about ten minutes then crashed out. I woke a few times to put earplugs in and wrestle with my Exped pillow which eventually got launched to other side of the tent after it refused to stay put before drifting off again. A few hours later my bladder woke me again and forced me to make a trip outside. I couldn't resist taking the camera with me...

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I woke around ten minutes before my alarm (Set for the sunrise) just like at home and groggily dragged myself out of the sleeping bag. I'd slept fairly well compared to previous winter camps so was pleased. Outside it was cold, bitterly cold and I was glad I had my heaviest down jacket with me. The sky was misty but I could see the subtlest hints of colour creeping above the horizon and it looked like the air was clearing too. I had an excited child like anticipation of watching the sun slowly rise above the distant tops. A simple but magical pleasure and one we should all indulge in a little more often.

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I wandered around my camp site whilst I waited and climbed the little rise behind to get a better view of Ben Lomond. I found some Mountain Hare tracks that weren't there the previous evening. The thought of an unnoticed furry visitor amused me as I wondered how long he was out there for. Quite a while judging by the amount of tracks. Then slowly the show began. The colours deepened and then there was a slight flash as the sun just poked its head above the parapet. I was mesmerised and enthralled as I watched the sky and then the landscape around me change. It went from a blue frozen slumber to vibrant colourful mountain scape.

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It was a while before the desire for caffeine and food had me return to the tent below, where I had the pleasure of another sunrise over the rocks just above my camp site. This time it was a personal and exclusive event as I felt the sun slowly warm my shelter as it crept ever higher.

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I lingered in camp for a while, savouring the peace it afforded me and just simply enjoying the experience of being out again. Eventually though I ran out of cofee bags and it was time to get moving again so I packed up and slowly made my way back down the mountain.

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I'm still a little sore and achy today, but that's just a reminder to not leave it so long between trips.


  1. Quality stuff, Sandy! Excellent photos.

    Probably best without the dog - I always worry a wee bit that if folk need ice axes and crampons that even regular hillgoing dugs might struggle a bit. Needless extra pressure.

  2. Cheers Scott, I've just been admiring yours :-)

    I'm aye feart incase I stand on her while wearing the crampons. She does have a habit of getting under your feet when she's excited!


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