Our blog - Arrochar Alps, 25-26 Nov'17

A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !

Arrochar Alps

25-26 November 2017
Weekend of very wintery conditions on the Arrochar Alps. John Walker was leading....

One of the exciting things about winter walking in Scotland is that it is unpredictable. One of the frustrating things about winter walking in Scotland is that it is unpredictable! It's an inescapable fact, but one which makes it all the sweeter when you do achieve your objectives. The trick is to keep your objectives modest and suitable to the conditions - How fit are you, how well equipped, how deep is the snow, how much daylight do I have etc? It is no longer a case of distance + height ascended = time of route. No, it is far more challenging than that. As the season progresses, you build up a knowledge of the snow pack, the ice conditions, the prevailing wind. Early season is always extra testing, as things have to settle down, and sometimes you have to make educated assumptions.

This weekend was once such example - our objectives were the Arrochar Alps, that fine set of hills West of the top end of Loch Lomond, and we met at the car park in Arrochar to check gear and share a car up to the start of the walk. We aim to gain some height by starting in Glen Croe, and last year I managed to pick of the Corbetts of Beinn Luibhean and Ben Arthur, (The Cobbler), as well as the munros of Beinn Ime and Beinn Narnain. Yes, it was a long day, but the frozen ground made for acceptable walking and cramponing. On Saturday we had very deep snow drifts over boggy ground, and it made for very hard going indeed. It took us three times as long to get to the first summit than it should have done, and more wading through drifts down to the bealach was augmented by crashing through a deep drift into a bog that filled some folks' boots. Oh dear. What to do?

Occasionally, you have to accept that due to various factors, it just isn't going to be your day. The group worked together, encouraging each other, but decided that a tactical retreat was the most sensible option. We made a steady arcing descent over rough terrain down to the burn side, and then down to the waiting cars. We knew that not all of the party's strength was sufficient to press on, and it was absolutely the right call, made at the right time, so well done to the team. I think it would be fair to say that some folks had their eyes opened to the vagaries of Scottish winter, and they were gracious in the learning :)

Sunday promised a slightly better day weather-wise, with lighter Northerly winds, (albeit still very cold), so an adjustment to our plan meant an attempt of the munros of Beinn Ime and Narnain, with the Cobbler as a contingency. We benefitted from other feet making a harder trail through the drifts until the Bealach a'Mhaim, where everyone else set off up the Cobbler. We hardy souls plodded on Northwards off-piste, taking it in turns with the strenuous breaking trail. It was very taxing, and at one point Richard even resorted to crawling, thus spreading his weight more evenly and not sinking up to his waist as he had been doing!

As we rested, we noticed through the partial whiteout a couple of folks following us, using our trail. But the crafty devils paused when we did, so as to not overtake and then have to work themselves! We made the summit of Beinn Ime, and though we had no views, the atmosphere was splendid for our summit shots. It was around -25c wind chill, so after taking some video we didn't linger, pausing only to banter with the trail-snafflers as they battled upwards. They did thank us for our efforts, so that placated me :)

After as rapid a descent as we could manage, we were back at the bealach with enough time to do Beinn Narnain and be down before dark, but Richard needed to get a flight, so opted to descend more leisurely. Pascal, Alex and I pressed on, making use of the new path to make decent progress, and were on the summit in 50 minutes. We did get views this time, the brooding Loch Long, Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond looking splendid. But it was the excellent aspect onto the Cobbler that always crowns it, and today was no exception. We ached to get that bagged too, but realised that we had tired legs after our efforts, and to be down in daylight would be preferable, and that we did, just.

Those summit views late on Sunday left us with a feeling of reward. No, we didn't get to summit all the planned hills, but that would have been a real bonus at this time of year in those conditions. What we did have was a real winter adventure, taxing but thoroughly enjoyable. Top effort folks, and here's to a great winter season.

More photos by John Walker are here on Flickr.



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