It feels like I’ve spent most of this winter hunched inside the hood of a jacket this winter, mildly hypothermic and wondering if I can actually find a way of fitting more layers on without losing the ability to move. It’s been the kind of winter where you find yourself looking at the weather forecast and thinking “only 45mph winds tomorrow – better take advantage of the better conditions!”.Alongside that, between my Winter ML training and various other events, it feels like I’ve spent the majority of my time ‘on the hill’ standing still listening to someone else speaking, and wondering whether I’m going to make it to the end of the day with my fingers and toes intact.
Given all that, the forecast appearance of high pressure over Scotland at long last, with the promise of sun, clear blue skies and negligible wind meant I was determined to make the most of the opportunity to get out the door on Wednesday with no agenda other than “have fun in the hills”. Several options were considered, before I decided to a trip over to Arrochar. Most of my time has been spent up around the Cairngorms this winter, so I was keen to head west for a change, and it’s been over a year since I was last in that area.
Heading off from the car in softshell felt strange to be honest; almost underdressed, although some of the folk I met later in the day helped recalibrate the notion of ‘under equipped’ fairly effectively. I had a notion to head up Beinn Narnain, as my previous ascent had been in the days before the new zig-zag path up through the forest, and the experience of ploughing straight up through the trees along the old railway put me off going back to Arrochar for about 15 years! With the recent thaw, the lower slopes were pretty soggy and the snow was pretty soft and sugary where the sun was hitting it. Higher up Beinn Narnain, the east facing slopes below the Spearhead were littered with debris from snow falling off the cliffs and cornices; nothing on the scale of the collapses up on Ben Nevis at the moment, but still enough of a warning for some careful route choice up onto the flat summit plateau. In contrast, the snow on the shaded NW aspect was firm and perfect for a rapid descent down into the Bealach a Mhaim before heading up the easy slopes towards Ben Ime. Despite being the highest hill in Arrochar, Ben Ime terrain is a much more straighforward hill than many of it’s lower neighbours, with broad, easy angled slopes leading up to the subsidiary top, from where a broad flat ridge crosses to the summit. I deliberately took the time to brew up some coffee and spend about 20 mins wandering about enjoying the views, taking some photographs and munching my butties in the sunlight. Other than slightly cold toes caused by my boots leaking a bit, it felt great to be warm and comfy in light layers, and not having my face shot blasted with spindrift.
I made the journey back down to Bealach a Mhaim for a second time, and weighed up my options; I could head down to the car now with 2 Munros under my belt, or take a trip up the Cobbler to finish the day in style. I don’t feel particularly ‘hill fit’ at the moment, so decided I could probably do with the exercise and headed off up the north ridge. Having been in the shade all day, the snow on this side of the hill was pretty firm, and still covering most of the hill from about 650m, and After feeling my feet slip slightly a couple of times, I opted to pause to put my crampons on and swap a pole for my ice axe. Just as I was getting ready to move again, I was slightly surprised to be passed by two young lads, the one nearest me being dressed in rather natty Converse high tops and a pair of shorts! I was intrigued to know if they’d thought about the consequences of a slip at this point; ragdolling back down through the boulders poking up through the hard snow, then lying in the wet snow waiting for Arrochar MRT to arrive with pain relief sounds like a bad way to finish a day in my mind, but clearly wasn’t an issue for them. The snow softened up considerably as we crossed the shoulder onto the sunny side of the hill which made things marginally more secure for them, although I couldn’t help looking down and right to the long north slope that awaited them if they did go off their feet.
The final slopes up the Central summit were hard neve, making for easy progress for the crampon equipped, and I was chuffed to find I’d made the top in 30 mins or so. The summer ascent route up the eastern side of the Cobbler was streaked with the debris of various small slides, so I opted to drop into the bowl on the south side of Arthur’s Seat and traversed through the boulders back towards the main path. From there, a brisk walk got me back to the car with the surrounding hills framed in the setting sun and the moon hanging high in the evening sky above Ben Lomond – an uplifting end to what had been an excellent day in the hills.