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Saturday, 13 October 2012

Maintaining Mountain Fitness (6)

On Saturday evening I took the van round to Arrochar and booked two nights on the camp site there, then went in search of a meal. The hotel was a disappointment. If you are ever in need of a meal in Arrochar, try Ben Arthur's Bothy instead. Then on Sunday morning, I set about the other three Munros of the Arrochar Alps, departing the camp site at about 10 a.m. It was another bright, clear day. I had not chosen this weekend ... it had chosen me, really. But everything was working out well.

At the planning stage I had realised that I might be a bit tight for daylight (I would ideally have liked to set out a bit sooner than 10 ... but I've had some pretty hectic weeks just recently, and I also needed to catch up on some sleep. So I didn't set the alarm, and just woke up when I woke up!). My route, therefore, was to take the Glen Loin path to Coiregrogain and start with Ben Vane, then descend by way of Lag Uaine, cross the stream, ascend to the Glas Bhealach, and ascend Beinn Ime. I would then descend to the Bealach a'Mhaim and take a view on whether it was practical to take in Beinn Narnain as well. If it were then all fine and dandy; but if not, then I would descend by the Cobbler path, which promised to be a reasonably safe way out of the mountains even in seriously failing light.

The South East ridge of Ben Vane is a lovely ascent, although it does have a couple of tricksy little scramble bits to do in the upper reaches. The views back towards Ben Lomond are pretty much the same as those I had enjoyed on the way up Ben Vorlich. I had picked up a couple of walking companions, and they thought the views pretty stunning.

We reached the summit at about 1.30 and had lunch, and one of my walking companions took this picture of me at the cairn with Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond in the background. My companions then agonised about whether or not to join me for the other two Munros, reluctantly concluding that they really could not afford to do so as they had to be back in Glasgow that evening. So after lunch they turned back, while I pressed on.

The descent to the valley floor required careful reading of the ground, and as I descended I studied the slopes leading back up to the Glas-Bhealach in order to choose the safest looking ascent. Once at the bealach I quickly found a path linking Beinn Chorranach to Beinn Ime, and this soon saw me safe at the summit of the highest of the Arrochar Alps. And the views were ... well, quite something! I could see clear to the Paps of Jura. I could see the Sleeping Warrior on Arran. I could see the Mull of Kintyre and Paddy's Milestone. Or I could look down along Glen Kinglass and across Loch Fyne to Inveraray. Or I could look down on the Firth of Clyde, and see the wake of the Rothesay Ferry as it butted its way through.

But I could also see that a vast blanket of nimbo stratus cloud was closing in, and its base was falling, so I needed to press on. Down at the Bealach a'Mhaim I considered my options. I didn't, to be frank, think there were enough hours of daylight remaining to attempt Beinn Narnain. I didn't think the weather was in favour of the attempt, either, with a serious risk of being enveloped in cloud on steep ground in failing light ... not a good option! And, in any event, I had had two hard days on the hills and wasn't really sure that my stamina would hold up. Better to cut and run, I thought. Leave Narnain for another time. And so I returned to Arrochar and enjoyed a very nice meal at Ben Arthur's Bothy, to round off a delightful wweekend in Scotland.

I doubt I shall get back to Scotland in 2012. But all in all it has been a good year for me. Despite having to cut out all of my mountains from my 2012 Challenge, I have "bagged" 15 Munros this year (and made a re-ascent of Schiehallion, too) - thereby doubling my tally to 30. And I am feeling in much better shape, in terms of mountain fitness, heading into winter than I ever have before. The odd winter walk or two would certainly be in order; but if I can maybe get back to Scotland in April to pick up Ben Lomond and Beinn Narnain, I should be in pretty good shape for the start of the 2013 Challenge (always assuming, of course, that I am successful in the draw for places ... )

Maintaining Mountain Fitness (5)

On Friday 5 October 2012, union business required my presence in Newcastle. So I decided to go in the camper van, and grab an extra weekend walking in Scotland for the expenditure of just one day's annual leave (whereas normally, a weekend in Scotland requires me to take both the Friday and the Monday off as annual leave).

I decided that this weekend, I would try to "bag" the Munros of the Arrochar Alps. Ben Vorlich on Saturday, and the other three on Sunday. On Friday night I parked up somewhere just outside Edinburgh, and by Saturday lunchtime I was at Inveruglas, ready to attempt Ben Vorlich.

Now according to the SMC Munro's book, there is no one standard route up Ben Vorlich; and according to the OS map there is no path. So I followed the hydro road as far as the transformer station, then took the higher road (they're marked on the map as tracks ... but they are both, in fact, metalled roads) to somewhere like NN 313095, and then I just turned left and headed up the slope until I gained the ridge. Then I headed along the ridge until I reached the summit (pictured).

It was a bright, clear day - just perfect for mountain walking - and as I made the ascent I had some pretty spectacular views of Ben Lomond, Loch Lomond, Loch Arklet and Loch Katrine. As I approached the summit, however, I discovered that the map had lied and there WAS a path. I decided to follow this back down, and it took a course just West of the ridge line before turning down the little corrie in grid square 2910 and meeting the metalled road at about NN 294105. I was glad to have this path for the descent ... but I was also glad not to have known about it when making the ascent, because I think the views from the East side of the ridge were FAR superior to those from the West side.

Returning to my van, I met an American couple at Inveruglas. They had been walking on the West Highland way, and had covered the ground from Rowardennan to Inversnaid that morning before taking the ferry across to Inveruglas. After spending some time at Inveruglas, they had decided that there wouldn't be enough daylight to return to Inversnaid and walk on to Inverarnan and so they were waiting for a bus to get them to their overnight spot. We got talking about this and that, and do ya know what? I think we may just see them on the 2014 Challenge (as overseas first timers, they'll be accepted just so long as they get their entry to John in time ...)

Maintaining Mountain Fitness (4)

On 5 August I got another chance to slip the leash and head off into the mountains on my own. We were now at Loch Morlich, so I decided it was time to go up Bynack More ... the Munro which I could so easily have diverted to on the 2004 Challenge, but decided not to for fear of running out of daylight.

My route this time was to go past An Lochan Uaine (beautiful as ever ...), up Strath Nethy (I now understand why the route vetters always advise against this particular route ...), over A'Choinneach (one of Munro's Munros, but deleted in Brown & Robertson's 1980 revision of the list), and up by way of the Bynack Barns (one of which is pictured). I then descended the North ridge to the site of the Bynack Stables (now, alas, no more) and came back in by way of An Locahin Uaine and Glenmore Lodge again.

The top 200 metres or so of the North ridge of Bynack More are stunning! I think this is probably the most breathtaking descent I have ever made. The dictionary simply does not have enough superlatives to describe it. If you only ever make one Munro ascent, make it this one on a fair day ... and then marvel at the views which open up before you as you come back down that ridge!

Maintaining Mountain Fitness (3)

Here's a much more attractive picture for you all to look at!

Two days after my long walk from Blair, the delectable Mrs B decided that there wasn't enough going on at the beach on Loch Laidon to justify spending a whole day sunning ourselves there, and suggested we go up Schiehallion instead. So we did.

This picture shows Mrs B sitting at the summit of her fourth Munro.

Maintaining Mountain Fitness (2)

So June drifted into July, and we took the camper up to Scotland for a two week holiday. I had already picked off three of the Munros I'd missed out on the Challenge, but I wanted to round up a few more of them if possible. So I planned a nice, easy fortnight drifting round the edges of the Cairngorms National Park. We stayed on the sites at Blair Atholl, Loch Morlich and Alford (couldn't get into Ballater), as well as having a couple of nights with Eddie and Heather at the Bridge of Gaur guest house.

I managed to negotiate a couple of days walking by myself, and so on 31 July I found myself heading out on a monumental circular walk from Blair, enabling me to collect Beinn Dearg and Carn a' Chlamain before returning back down Glen Tilt. It was lovely weather and I saw next to nobody (although there was an impressing herd of deer grazing the slopes of Elrig ic an Toisich).

At the summit of Beinn Dearg, however, I met another walker who took this photo for me.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Maintaining Mountain Fitness (1)

Well, it's becoming clear that as I get older I can no longer hope to go from one Challenge to the next without doing any serious mountaineering and hope just to keep going on the basis of inherent fitness. I need to work on that mountain fitness, and THAT means getting out into the mountains from time to time.

So on the weekend of 23 / 24 June I took the camper van North, and set about some serious mountaineering. On Saturday I went to the Ben Lawyers "visitor centre" car park and took myself up Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers. The weather was really truly atrocious. Low cloud, steady rain, and a vicious, bitter wind blowing at the top of Lawers. If you're hoping for some pics ... forget it! There was no way I was getting a camera out in that.

I loved every minute of it!!!

Then on Sunday I went to Spittal of Glenmuick and set out to do Lochnagar. Again the cloud was down low; but as I climbed I met a couple of other walkers and after a brief discussion we decided to do the full Lochnagar round. All five of them. Lochnagar, Carn a Choire Bhoidheach, Carn an t-sagairt Mor, Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn. And we did! Once we got up above about 700 metres, visibility was seldom more than 50 metres. But we had a wonderful time. And it kind of made up for missing out so many mountains on my Challenge this year!