The combination of festive overindulgence and the murky weather we often get at Christmas don’t tend to offer much in the way of motivation to get out onto the hills, but thankfully, this year, I had the benefit of Laura, Catriona and Jeanne wanting to take advantage of a decent forecast for the 1st of January to stretch the legs and clear the head after a week of festive overindulgence.
None of us were that keen on a long drive, so we opted to head for Ben Lomond and a trip up the Ptarmigan Ridge. It’s my favourite route up the hill, particularly when there’s a bit of snow, as the upper slopes take on a much more rugged appearance, and with a decent build up, there’s quite a bit of fun to be had on the final summit cone. Sadly, on this occasion, we arrived on the wrong side of the freeze/thaw cycle, with all the snow that had been present a few days previously now washed off the hill and back down to Loch Lomond. On the upside however, the sun was shining and, aside from a fairly bracing wind at the summit, it was a perfect day for being out and about.
We opted for the Ptarmigan ridge route up; nearly always my preference, as it’s usually far quieter than the main path and there’s a bit more of a rugged feel to it. Turns out it wasn’t quite so quiet this time round; a large group of around 20 people had set off just ahead of us, making for some interesting overtaking manoeuvres on the narrow steep path!
I’d been up here about the same time last year with the same group of folks and the difference in conditions was dramatic; last year the final section of the ridge had been covered in hard snow, giving it a lovely ‘alpine’ feel, whereas this year, it was a straightforward plod up the bare stone path.
Despite the lack of winter conditions, the view from Ben Lomond’s summit on a clear day like this is always rewarding; looking north, your eye is caught by the dramatic shape of the Cobbler, then on towards the wide sweep of hills around Crianlarich, from Ben Lui over towards Ben More and Stob Binnean, and beyond them, distant peaks in the haze stirring memories and awakening half-formed plans for days to come.
Heading back down the main path brings another set of visual treats, particularly at sunset on a clear day like this, with just enough cloud on the western horizon to catch the fading light and contrast it with the deepening shadows on the still waters of Loch Lomond below. Soaking in the view to the south over the ground which the John Muir trail now traverses, it was easy to see what keeps drawing generations of Glaswegians out here to escape the city and take his advice to “break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” Arriving back at the car with distant lights twinkling in the darkness, I’m pretty sure we felt more ‘spruced up’ than most in the aftermath of Hogmanay.