Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Ben Venue by the Ledard Burn

Ben Venue 729m cairn from summit
Looking east: Ben Ledi, Loch Achray and Loch Venachar
Looking north west over Loch Katrine to Cruach Ardrain and Stob Binnein

Icicles below summit

Beinn Bhreac in shadow and across to Stob Binnein

Looking down Ledard Burn towards Campsies and Dumgoyne
Sunday 22 November 2015

Ascent:     860 metres 
Distance:  12 kilometres
Time:        3 hrs 30 mins
Ben Venue          739 metres

After almost two months out of action, I awoke to a rare but beautiful winter's day: frost on the windows, blue skies, bare trees and not a whiff of wind. I decided to give my back a workout by a walk up Ben Venue starting at the Ledard Burn that runs into Loch Ard. I had made this climb on dozens of occasions but not recently. All the parking spots in the lay-by were taken so I drove to Kinlochard and walked back. I had deliberately left phone, map and anything else that would distract me from the walk at home apart from a camera. My longest walk in the last 6 weeks had been an hour and a half up and down Lime Craig and I felt that this was maybe too long and difficult a walk.

The start of the walk is along the short stretch of road leading to Ledard farm. A gate to the left leads to a wooden footbridge and the path then climbs alongside the burn between confining fences and through  a jumble of bramble shoots. The path is muddy at most times of the year and gaiters are essential as boots regularly sink several inches into the brown stuff. You soon begin to climb through a native wood as the path meanders through the indigenous birch and oak trees. I happened upon a woman crouched down relieving herself as I rounded a bend, we apologised teach other and then realised that it was an untimely coincidence so engaged in friendly banter until we caught up with her companion, another woman carrying a massive 55 litre rucksack. She must have been subjected to the Duke of Edinburgh's gold award with that sort of equipment.

The path through the forest continues for a couple of kilometres and rises steadily, it seldom allows you to relax as it dips and rises and squirms through the dense birch wood. You emerge eventually onto the open hillside and whilst the mud path disappears and gives way to a waterlogged grass slope. After a while this reaches a crossing of the burn over some iron bars. The path then leads to a high wooden stile over a deer fence and follows the fence before taking a steeper turn up rough ground. The path serves as a drainage route for surface water that had gouged out a deep channel making progress a tiresome slog. About halfway to the bealach between Beinn Bhreac and Ben Venue is a small cairn where, feeling the effect of steady climbing after a long lay off, I needed to take a rest and a drink.

A couple that I had passed lower down the path came past as I slouched on the cairn and asked was I alright.  Although I had been thinking that this was as far as I wanted to go it merely increased my resolve to continue. The ground had become frozen at this height and I regretted leaving my walking pole in the car. The recent heavy rains and snow had been frozen into ice patches on the path. I had caught up with the couple by the time I reached the fence at the bealach and I knew that there was no turning back from here. The views to the north over Loch Katrine opened up and I wanted to photograph the snow capped peaks to the north.

The path is level for about half a kilometre as it traverses a slope and then rises over a couple of knolls. Stob Binnein and the Balquidder hills were a frieze of jagged snow covered peaks etched against the azure sky. There is a descent to where the path from Loch Achray joins the ridge. Beyond here the path was covered in pillows of ice and watching other walkers struggle I elected to take a route to the left up steep grass banks. There are a couple more ascents and descents before the final climb to the summit. It was bare of walkers as I arrived so I found a bit of shelter to drink a flask of coffee before spending 10 minutes enjoying the panoramas and taking photos with my SLR that I had lugged up in anticipation of views like this. They are the very reason for hill walking and winter often provides the best views of all seasons.

I began the descent feeling chilled by the cold air, it begins to get colder from about 2pm on days like this. I avoided the frozen path and found a good route down through the more forgiving grass slopes. Another dozen or so walkers were on the ascent including some couples that I had passed on the ascent. There was no time to relax on the descent, when I reached the path that traverses back to the bealach it was necessary to stride gingerly along the sheet ice covered path. After crossing the fence at the bealach it was easier to walk down the rougher ground than to slither and tumble on the icy path. I stopped at one of the sparkling burns to gulp down some water a before crossing the stile and beginning the long slog through the birch wood. It seemed just as long as on the ascent so I was glad to finally reach the car in Kinlochard. It was 3:20pm so I had taken three and a half hours. It reminded me that Ben Venue is a serious hill in winter and that the days of running up it on a summer evening after work are no longer relevant as check times.

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