I was sat with a large rock outcrop to my back, wind-sheltered and (sort of) warm. Watching the outliers from a small herd of red deer, below, watching me. I had just used my ice axe to prise a small bit of quartz from the vein above my head. A souvenir of sorts and a link to the archeological texts I’ve been reading of late. As well as lithic tool, quartz symbolized, as I understand it, moon and water, sight and seed*. I was feeling quite the nature boy. Feeling connected to hill and history. Feeling happy.
This was day two of the Red Rope Walking and Climbing Club (Manchester branch) winter trip and I was not up on high with four of my newly acquainted walking compadres. The five of us had set off as a splinter group that morning, heading for a specific Munro. But I then splintered further. Sgiath Chuil would not be bagged by me. I’d walked in and up with the others to the crampons-required level but realised that the higher I got, the more I was munro-d out from the day before. So I was happy to indulge in some high level meandering and to take in the vistas for the couple or more hours that they would be above me.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself..
Day 1: Ben Dubhcraig and Ben Oss.
My mate Ali had invited me along on the annual Red Rope winter trip that he’s involved with. The thought of a long weekend in the Loch Lomond area really appealed. Loch Lomond was somewhere we sometimes had a jaunt to as kids on holiday, when visiting the family in nearby Erskine. I’d never been up high in the area though, so was looking forward to that.
The Marsden contingent was completed by Jeff, who had been on the trip before. The rest of the guys we rendezvoused with up at the Ochils Mountaineering Hut in Crianlarich were Manchester-based. And a very friendly and decent group of folk they were too.
After some discussion on Thursday evening over a communal meal and red wine or two, a couple of variants of a Ben Dubhcraig (978m) and Ben Oss (1029m) route were chosen. The variants were ‘short’, ‘medium’ and ‘long’ options. ‘Long’ being to take in a third Munro: Ben Lui. (Spoiler: no one went on to Ben Lui as it happened).
Ignore the route indicated (couldn’t find another map) .. we climbed Ben Dubhcraig and Ben Oss .. map via http://www.relevantsearchscotland.co.uk/beinn-dubhchraig-hike.html
As it turned out, four of the group stopped after Ben Dubhcraig, as the ‘short’ jaunt really wasn’t that short.. the weather was perfect and the ice and snow non-claggy but it was still hard work to navigate with crampons on and ice axes in use on the steeper slopes. So tiring work for all. And whilst I remember: big thanks to Paul for lending me one of his poles. He used one with ice axe in other hand (swapping as needed) on the steeper sections. I copied his method and it helped me. I don’t normally use poles but it did come in to its own in some sections.
I was actually going to come off at the bealach after Ben Dubhcraig but decided to carry on to Ben Oss, despite getting The Fear near the top end of the ascent to Ben Dubhcraig’s summit. The Fear is probably a ‘thing’ for lots of people on pretty vertiginous ice slopes and you just deal with it. But in my case it has a memory attached: unhelpful flashbacks to a white ice : blue sky : white ice tumble of a 300 metre fall down a mountain, aged 17. I’ve told the tale in other posts but suffice to say it is still a surprisingly vivid recollection. And despite some ‘shut the f*%k up’ warnings to the mischievous monkey now sitting on my back (having climbed out the from my rucksack), I couldn’t keep some of The Fear from jellyfying my legs.
The break at the top of Ben Dubhcraig spurred me on though – the views were simply stunning. Mother’s-Land, you are beautiful. And I was enjoying the company and wanted to continue, albeit conscious I didn’t want to slow anyone down with my overly-cautious plods up steep sections.
Ben Oss was as equally beautiful and no doubt totally not scary in parts on a summer’s day (that monkey again). But I huffed, swore and whimpered my way up it and on to the summit, to be met by the rest of the party (yep, last there). And with views of a fantastic inversion, with only Ben Lui ( I think) rising above it.
The final descent off from Ben Oss was slow for us all I think, with a particularly steep but navigable section to round off the day. And from there it was a long walk out in the fast diminishing light. But despite been knackered I was in quietly high spirits. The views and the camaraderie of the day outweighing the monkey, who had by now slipped away to inspect some hare tracks back up the valley side. I think the whole day’s walk was around 8 hours.
I had my GoPro with me on day 1 so below is a short film that includes my photos from the day .. the vistas are just beautiful. Excuse the travelogue music.. best I could get with youtube and no sound at all is a bit strange, in my view.
Day 2 : Sgiath Chuil
After another nice and sociable evening meal and the kind of disturbed night’s sleep that comes from the inevitable orcs’ nest that is any male bunk room in a hostel / hut, I was pretty tired. So in the morning I was debating which group to join on which walk. We split into a different groups for the Saturday. Those staying in and around the (very nicely appointed, by the way!) Ochills mountaineering club hut, those who wanted to walk some of the West Highland Way and those (me included) who fancied another Munro (Sgiath Chuil – 921m – was settled on).
I set off with Simon, Aileen, Paul and Perparim and we had a great walk in and up to the moors below the Munro. The snow fields mixed with expansive areas of open heather.
It looked at one point that we’d have to maybe take a long detour around the burn / dam head crossing as the handrails had degraded away. But the burn wasn’t too iced over or in spate so we got across okay.
And then picked our way up the mountain flanks to where the route started to steepen in earnest. At this point a biting wind was becoming more noticeable.
It was then that I decided to not hit the summit – that monkey again – but mostly I was pretty tired and added to that had a real urge for some solo time out in a wild (albeit unobtrusively agricultural) place. I did something similar on Rum, spending some time away from the group and noodling about in nature and that memory came back to me. See the start of this post for what noodling ensued. Views, Deer, Coffee, meander. Views, Deer, Coffee, meander.. etc.
I kept returning to our snow-tracked rendezvous rock (a pleasingly pyramidal monolith, about 3 foot tall) that sat on a hillock and after a couple of hours spotted the guys coming off the mountain. I felt really happy veering towards a bit giddy seeing them coming down all in one piece and no doubt with tales to tell.
The views now across to Ben More, Stob Binnein and neighboring Munros across the A85 from us (goes to map and checks out names..) were becoming more beautiful by the minute.
The earliest suggestions of dusk had turned the sky into a canvass of chrome and silver, lead and gold. Metal transmuted to a deepening pink neon wash.. suffice to say it was one the most vivid sunsets I’ve seen for a long time, playing out across the skies and white peaks above and around us.
We walked downhill through snow filled gullies and onto the track, pausing every couple of minutes to soak in the luminous, numinous colours above. You get the picture.. an amazing sunset topping off a happy 6+ hours on the hills.
Day 3: Walk up between Ben Vane and Ben Vorlich
Some of the guys headed off homewards from the hut on Sunday morning but a group of us drove in a convoy along Loch Lomond to park up at the Inveruglas visitor centre. To then have a walk up through the pine forest track (still covered in snow in places) between Ben Vane and Ben Vorlich. Around about a 3 hour final leg-stretcher. Only Ali and Dominic climbed a Munro that day (Ben Vorlich) and by all accounts it was a tough one, with low cloud and lots of ice.
The walk up between the Munros was a nice yomp out and I had a good chat with Anne about neolithic culture. I’m still pretty clueless about details (despite reading a fair few books now, my fact-retention abilities are abysmal) but I find I’m finding the whole prehistory thing fascinating.
And the time spent waiting for Ali and Dom to return from the mountain was fuelled by copious coffee and views of Loch Lomond, which felt like those family jaunts from days gone by.
I doubt I’ll ever be Munro Bagger but I’d like to get some more of the Ben Lui group walked in summer months (and further afield, time allowing. But not the ones that need a rope. No sir).
This was a great trip away with awesome views, great weather and lovely people.
* This may be incorrect: I assume it was quartz but I’m no geologist. Quartz has been found in various Neolithic situations / deposits / structures including placement in the eye sockets of skulls and deposited as ‘patios’ outside the entrances of barrows. From what I;ve read It appears to have symbolised / represented the moon, water (maybe ice),s ight / eyes and what I euphemistically called seed at the start of this post (e.g semen). But who wants to write that at the start of a blog post.. way to alienate your readers, sir.