I was desperate to catch one of these sunny days that seemed to be happening all around me and that I was watching through the grilles in boilerhouse doors.
The forecast looked okay, at least worth a gamble for somewhere “away from the coast and in the Loch Lomond NP” according to MWIS. Thing is, that really just say Ben Lomond to me. That’s fine though, it’s just up the road and as I was leaving early enough to catch the sunrise from somewhere high up it felt very easy and convenient.
I went to bed, I shut my eyes and slowly sighed out the troubles of the day. Then the alarm went off immediately and I staggered back into the living room to slip into the gear I’d carefully left arranged from a sleepy me to find and put on in the right order.
I was away happy and grinning into the pitch dark with everything but food as the fridge did not give me what I was wanting the night before, this meant a detour back into Dumbarton because the Lomondgate Esso had no sandwiches. Not one and its Greggs concession wasn’t open til 6am.
It was still stupid early so I wasn’t worried about the lost time, the cloud cover concerned me more. The full moon shone brightly through the cracks, but it was a blanket up there. But I was out, I now had pieces on chicken and stuffing, I’d see what the rest of the morning would bring anyway.
The road to Rowardennan and was empty and I drove carefree on the resurfaced sections and caustiously in the middle of the road on the pitted gravel tracks in-between. This was good idea it turned out later as on the way back I spotted a pothole that I would have left my wheel in.
Out slow slide to third world status may be accelerating.
Not a single soul from Dumbarton to the car park at Rowardennan and the empty car park meant I could claim the rarest or prizes, one of the free spaces by the loch side.
Should I feel bad depriving the National Trust of a few quid? No, I did a job for them a few years back and only got paid when I had the debt collectors on the way. Suck it up buttercup.
It was early when I’d left but I’d wasted a bit of time looking for pieces so the tourist route onto Sron Aonach was the best choice. I actually like this way as much as the fun scrabble up Ptarmigam, the low path is a bit nondescript but once at height the views ahead to the summit ridge are lovely and it’s a vista so deeply affected by the seasons too. In winter it seems like it’s miles away and ten times as high, in summer it’s a stroll with the promise of a breeze at the top.
Ben Lomond needs revisiting, you can’t know it in a day. It’s accessibility is its saving and its undoing. It’s reputation as a beginners hill, as a poly bag carriers day out is because of where it is, not because of who it is. Stick Ben Lomond in the Lakes there would be poetry and paintings, stick it far from a road here and there would be pilgrimages to it.
It’s also the hill that’s turned me back from the summit more than any other. Today though is benign, a light breeze, cold air and I think the sky is clearing?
An orange glow spread across the southern horizon, the morning was catching up with me although the moon hung bright ahead of me, holding the night to the north.
I turned and walked on, the path icy, my headtorch now in my pocket, the whole hill all to myself.
Ben Lomond hides everything until you get half way up. The Luss Hills are easily seen on the way but don’t throw their best shapes you way, anything to the south that has height is too far away to feel epic but when the Arrochar Alps finally break cover you know what side of the Highland Fault Line you are.
The pink sky showed off the row of familiar dark shapes so well. The cloud was breaking although is was still thick to the south. It was very cold too, big gloves and hat were on. I was standing right here a few months ago in a kilt in the snow. Looking forward to doing that again.
There was an inversion in the Blane Valley, I’d hoped for that here today but it was never looking likely. From a distance was all I was going to get. I did see a few patches and ribbons of rogue low cloud below me and that was pretty enough. You can’t have it all at, but over time you might me get enough to keep you going back again to fill in the gaps.
*Spoiler Alert: You never fill in the gaps, isn’t that lucky.
I’m assuming this sign is stood up on a daily basis by a Trust Vendor who validates your parking and checks you have the proper footwear on. According to the head ranger here, trainers are eroding the path faster than ever. Aye, google it.
The zig zag path up to the summit ridge is where it’s hard to keep the pace steady because the views north open up at the first sharp left. And what a view on this morning.
The thick bands of cloud to the south were slicing up the suns’ dawn light into golden beams that picked out the contours of the hills beyond me while missing Ben Lomond which stayed dark all the time I was on the top.
It’s some of the most beautiful light I’ve even seen in the hills and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I stood so long I had to get my hand warmers out and dance around until my blood flowed again.
I was mesmerised by it. This is why I come back again and again, the surprises, the joy.
The scenery changed constantly, the light and shadow flowed across the landscape as the sun and cloud pulled across each other on their different paths. Distant peaks were stark and dark then pastel and warm. The taller tops caught a few wisps of cloud on their snow dusted slopes and I stared until my eyes watered with the cold.
Of course there were ravens, two of them. They saw me early on and watched me, grudgingly bouncing along the frozen crags and eventually winging away if I got too close. The circled me, close above me head and sailed the breeze close enough that I could see the feathers on their noses ruffle as the dark eyes took me from head to toe to what opinion or conclusion I’ll never know.
They swooped to the summit and I followed as the morning yawned awake around me and my belly reminded me that breakfast was still to be discovered. Too cold up here though, I’d head to the sanctuary just off the summit.
The summit has an oddly pleasing symmetricality about it, the path mirrors the edge of the turf which clings to the eroded bare rock on the last pull to the bare top. The frozen grass brought out the texture and I don’t know why I’d never noticed it before.
The last breakers of the inversion lapped against Dumgoyne and Dumgoyach some miles down the road. Half my family is from the countryside under that cloud, the other half from tenements of Glasgow in the haze beyond. Both have changed so much since my folks were born and as much again since I was young. How much have we lost and what have we gained in all that time I wonder.
There was a rose on the trig pillar, frozen and bright. No card, no memorial, just an frozen and unknown thought or memory.
Please keep off the grass? Yes, please keep off the grass. It’s a miracle all the thin layer of turf hasn’t peeled off the summit with the traffic grinding away its edges and letting the weather in.
I remember when there was at least some dirt and gravel up here, now it literally bare, clean rock. It’s lovely to stand here though, always. The views are epic, I look north and just want to open my arms and fly to it.
Cold and very hungry now though, it was time to eat. I dropped off the top onto the twisting path to the rocky hollow that’s built for wind for eating.
It’s a brilliant wee route the easy scramble/clamber down to Ptarmigan and a proper joy in winter where it’s steepness and gives it a wee flush of excitement that the summer summit queues should come back and discover.
Once down on the flat curved ridge the Loch Sloy dam was well seen from Ptarmigam being just across the loch and the sky was now a beautiful clear blue. The summit was in sunshine and I could see figures making their way along the crest, I wasn’t alone any more.
The lochans were frozen hard, enough to take my weight, and it was while testing this theory I met my first person of the descent, an earnest traveler concerned about the equipment seen on others lower down. He eyed my lack of ice axe and odd buttoned shirt with a raised eyebrow but nodded approvingly at my brown Meindls. Oh I wish I’d had on some of the trail shoes I’m doing for next year. He’s the wee figure below, I hope he had a nice day.
Then I met a young fella on his way up who had time for a wee bit of chat, which was nice, and then I decided to get off the track for a cuppa and take in the views as I would be home by lunchtime at this pace.
Stretching this out was no hardship, it was warming up, it was bright and I felt good upstairs and down. That’s head and heart, not like a bowel related thing. I guess an analogy isn’t great if you have to explain it, taking the narrative off the story and into the stage directions if you will. I should work on that, but with Christmas coming etc do I have the time or energy? No, no I don’t.
Then I met Johnny who was a grinning chatty man and we stopped for ages and swapped stories and plans and the whole encounter just upped the joy level for me. It’s really not all lockdown refugees looking for a recreational venue who are in the hills now, the passion and joy still runs deep in the young folk.
I stopped to take some layers off and put my sunglasses on and one of the ravens swung by for a croak and a sarcastic turn of its head. Aye, okay wee man.
Luckily I came across some red flags lower on the ridge or I’d have got lost and would likely still be up there now.
The views linger on this route until you’re very low. The golden colours all around me contrast with the dark slopes across the loch, it’s winter but its just so pleasant. 100 metres of descent and it’s a different world.
It’s nice here, the little copse with its walls of forgotten purpose. I found a carved step in the stone that I don’t think I’d noticed before. What kind soul did that I wonder.
Rowardennan was colourful and calm, the van was yellow and parked where I left it and I was very happy indeed with my lot.
The early start was totally worth it, I didn’t have time for an overnight and this wasn’t a second best. A glorious day on and underrated hill where I ate chicken and stuffing in the sun.
Yes, that’s how I’m ending this, the pieces were magic. Aye, so were the views.
Happy International Mountain Day 2023. Love them and protect them, they can’t do it by themselves.