It’s been a busy couple of weeks since I last set foot on a hill; lots of indoor climbing, bike maintenance, DofE expedition training and a fair whack of paperwork has kept me out of mischief as well as the mountains. Fortunately, the recent cold snap has coincided with a free day in my diary, so it was off to Ben Lomond on Friday to stretch my legs and see what snow conditions were like higher up on the hill. I also had a few new bits and pieces of kit that I wanted to try out before conditions get really challenging.
I opted for the route up the Ptarmigan Ridge, and there was a pleasant surprise early on in the form of the path improvements which the NTS have been working on – they’ve filled in the deep trench which had formed up the ridge, and left a neat ribbon with the occasional step up. It’s much easier going now and a lot less muddy on the lower stretches. The snow was beginning to lie from about 650m, but the effect was largely cosmetic until the base of the summit cone at about 800m, when it began to be deep enough to require some thought about safe travel. Ice had formed in one or two places where the snow had melted and refrozen, and I covered the ground with axe in hand – someone travelling slightly ahead of me had opted for crampons as well, particularly on the sections where the path curves towards the steep crags on the north side of the mountain.
The summit was a fairly inhospitable place, with a stiff breeze whipping the loose snow across the barren rock, and I stopped just long enough to get a couple of summit shots before heading back down the main track back towards Rowardennan. Dropping out of the murk that shrouded the summit, I was treated to a dramatic view north west towards Arrochar, with the Cobbler in particular looking suitably dramatic as the snow picked out the details of its cliffs and craggy skyline.
Coming off the hill at twilight is often a very atmospheric experience, and dropping off Ben Lomond through the evening hush, against the backdrop of Glasgow’s twinkling lights and the faint sounds of traffic on the far side of the loch, there was a tangible sense of having paused, of having time out from the busy rhythms of the city. It was a gentle reminder of how fortunate we are to have this wild place right on the doorstep of Scotland’s largest populated area, and the importance of minimising our impact when we journey here. Since my first visit to Ben Lomond back in the 90s, the National Trust for Scotland have done a lot of work to reverse the erosion that scarred the hill, narrowing and containing the ‘tourist’ path which was gradually spreading out across the plateau. Earlier generations of Glasgwegians valued the opportunity to escape the city and roam in these places and, whatever you think of the Lomond & Trossachs National Park’s current camping restrictions, it’s worth keeping in mind that increased self-restraint on the part of some current visitors would make the issue disappear.
For my own part, it’s an appropriate that this springs to mind now – after I reach the car and bring this moment to an end, I’ll be driving home to grab some food and prepare for the next day’s activities; returning here with a group of young people to climb Conic Hill and explore the surrounding countryside. At nearby Balmaha, I want to connect them to their more recent past; visiting the memorial to Tom Weir, hoping to inspire them, not only with his stravaiging spirit, but also with his love and concern for the land that he travelled through, doing my wee bit to ensure this beautiful place will always have friends and protectors.
Maybe I need to get them some bobble hats…