Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Ben Lomond

Lomond view
Ben Lomond is the most southerly Munro, less than an hour away from Glasgow. It is visible from the house and has been my most visited Munro. When living and working in Glasgow, it was a mountain to climb on a fine summer evening after work or on midsummer's day when I harangued my team to come along with a carry out for watching the sunset at the summit. Since living in its shadow I have made only ten visits in thirty years as I have focused on climbing the rest of the Munros. I seldom repeat hills during a Munro round. The past two days have brought clear skies and a cold easterly wind. I was returning home from a meeting in the early afternoon when Ben Lomond appeared at its most beguiling, a snow white cone set against an azure sky. I grabbed my rucksack and a sandwich and set out for my first climb of the year. It was long overdue.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Ascent:            1071 metres
Distance:         12 kilometres
Time:                4 hours 16 minutes

Ben Lomond    974m   2hrs 11mins

I was parked at Rowardennan by 1:50pm, the day was warmed by the early afternoon sun as I climbed the steep path from the lochside. The early starters were on their descents and warned me against the icy conditions at the summit. I figured that the sun may have changed that by the time I reached the higher levels, although it might freeze again during my descent. 

At about 400 metres where the path had steepened again, I spotted two Jack Russell dogs scampering down the rock steps and heard the familiar tone of Angela Mudge talking to a friend. She had persuaded me to get involved in a running club six years ago and last week was interviewed on Radio 4 talking about her career as the most successful women's hill runner in the UK. She said that her aim was still to be running at 70. I had heard this as I was setting out on my 70th birthday run and found it both reassuring and a testament to my persistence in getting out for a run, particularly on the days when I really couldn't be bothered. We blethered for a while before I began to "dig in" for the climb ahead, as they used to shout during hill races. 

The snow was down to 450 metres so I found a steady pace tramping through the snow that had softened at the lower levels and set my sights on the summit. The views were opening up, the snow had been shaped into a myriad of horizontal fingers by the wind, there were patches of ice and the footprints of previous climbers began to scatter over the snowfield ahead as the path was no longer visible. There were pairs and the occasional solo walkers descending almost all the way to the summit, my final reckoning was 34 including 11 women. By 700 metres it was time to put on gloves and take out a walking pole as the slopes ramped up and sections of hard ice had to be crossed. At the end of the path along the ridge below the summit, five walkers had congregated to extol the perfect winter conditions, I joined them to identify the horizon of mountains from Arran to the Ochils.

As I set out again I was joined by a hill runner who was clad in knee-length shorts and running shoes. We chatted at the summit, he was from Birmingham and his occupation was a Legionnaire's inspector. He had finished his inspection of premises in Glasgow in the early afternoon and decided it was too good a day to return home so had decided to run up Ben Lomond. We took photos and lingered in the alpine beauty of the summit with views of Glencoe, Ben Lui and across to Jura. We explored the possibility of descending the steep north-west face and descending via Ptarmigan Hill but it was too steep and icy for his trainers and I didn't really want to put on my crampons. He jogged off down and I followed, there was just one more climber coming up with his dog. 

It seemed a longer descent than I remembered, there were icy sections below the summit that required care before a couple of slopes where I could skate down the steeper snow. The path down the south ridge seemed interminable before emerging from the snow-filled path just above the highest gate. Apart from taking some photos, I kept going with the intent of catching two pairs of walkers ahead before reaching the car park. Why I still engage in these challenges at my age is the habit of years of hillwalking, maybe its because it is difficult to do the same when out running nowadays. I was down just after 6pm, legs tired but with a sense of achievement after the first mountain walk of the year.

The final section of ascent

Looking north over Loch Lomond towards Ben Lui
Eastwards from summit
Looking east over Coire Fuar
Loch Lomond from near the summit
Loch Lomond from the summit
Looking south-east towards the Campsies
Towards Loch Ard and Lake of Menteith
Checking out the descent to the Ptarmigan ridge, too steep and icy
Snow freezing as the light fadesduring the descent

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