The Arrochar Alps are my first choice when I’m going to the hills for lots of reasons. The hills are just plain awesome being number one, but their closeness is a big winner too as I can usually still get to a summit in winter daylight hours if I’m at home having lunch when I decide to make a run for it.
This relative convenience has built a familiarity over the decades which has only added to their magnetism, I see untrodden possible routes I’d like to try next time, out of the way crags that look interesting and should be visited and oh so many wonderful places to just sit with a cuppa.
So when the weather looked okay the next day it was my favourite hill that was the instant and unquestioned goal. Beinn Narnain in all it’s barely a Munro, steep and rocky wonder. The hill I know best, the hill I love the most, a busy hill that I can always lose myself on. I packed for a long day with a little snow in it.
The car park was dark with a smattering of vehicles, it was cold too. A touch of frost under a clear sky and a wisp of mist on Loch Long. It was a pleasant way to cross the road and start on the the stony track up through the trees.
I had an insulated cup in my hand and it was sipping that that kept me at a reasonable pace despite the nagging feeling I should really be horsing on to catch the inversion that was brewing behind me. The wispy layer on the loch came to nothing through and I avoided throwing coffee all around myself as I just ambled along so I felt quite happy and fresh when I broke out of the trees and onto the path by the Allt a Bhalachain.
The sun was still just below the horizon where I stood but its first rays were hitting the tops ahead of me and they glowed a deep orange above the olive drab murk that still cloaked the glen.
The air was cool now, not cold with alight breeze. Perfect.
A few folk drifted past me, I’d stopped and chatted to a couple on the way up but out here in the clear no one had the time, the summits were calling. Well, the Cobbler was calling them anyway. No one climbs Beinn Narnain this way. I used to despair at this as it’s the best route, but nowadays I’m glad of it, it’s pathless and joyful in the coire above the Narnain Boulders and long may it remain so.
It’s often very hard going in the coire and in particular there are many places to lose a foot down into and get yourself into trouble. I always take my time which isn’t exactly a difficulty on a physical or mental level, if you’re going out to play whey would you rush through it? I should have asked the folk striding past above me on the regular route, but they were long gone by the time I got there. Places to Instagram, people to by liked by no doubt. Says the needy blogger…
It’s a tonic for the eyes in here, the tumbling rocks are delight to see and navigate but when you turn around after gaining height it reveals views out to sea, the Cobbler shows its teeth and Ben Lomond rises above Cruach nam Miseag before you hit the bealach.
I sat in the warm morning sun and took it all in with my breakfast, unseen by the silent, steadily moving dots above and below me on the fast tracks to the summits.
Time passed and I didn’t try to stop it.
I knew I was fighting for the good guys when the first of the ravens found me. I also found some voices above and ahead now that I was in the big crags below the summit. There was a tetchy male who seemed like he wasn’t having his desired amount of control over the group and they weren’t giving in to him “Well, I think we should…”, the others were walking away from the rest of the sentence as I arrived grinning over an easy scrambling move. I’m sure they made up later over lunch, even though he was likely standing looking at his watch eager to complete his mission as one of the group poured another cuppa.
A couple of chatty lassies said hi and headed into the small snowfield beyond and another group of young folks with an accent that suggested a long flight had been taken, stood around and grinned at the view before also to heading to the snow.
It was getting a wee bit busy, time for a detour. There’s a spur to the south of the summit with a rocky bowl separating the two, it had been years since I’d walked along it and today’s relaxed approach meant there was plenty of time to waste.
Waste? What the hell am I saying, there was no better use of my time than walking those extra few hundred metres for the view, for the peace, for the feeling of my boots on that rarely trodden ground.
Amusingly as I got close to the summit on my return I could hear every word of the bloke on the top taking a work call. I’m glad he was shouting into his phone, both me and the poor bastard on the end of the line might have missed a syllable or two of the enthralling discourse otherwise.
I met a friendly wee dug and it’s owner who stopped for banter with a grin that matched my own, what a day, what a place. I could only agree.
I sat on a rock and the flask came out again and another visitor stopped by, it was a wee day off work, he’d been ill for a long time and it was great to be back doing all his stuff again. What a happy fella, his eyes were bright and his face will be aching from yet another grin to add to the list. Brilliant.
A German dad who had just flown in for a few days and his daughter who was at Glasgow Uni were next, that’s the level of detail we soon got to on our conversation. You could see how happy they were to have this time together. I could easily see Holly and me in those two, once she flies free, what days will we get? I hope as good as these lovely folks.
It had turned into a day divided between people and the hill. I’m glad I had so much positivity from both halves of that sandwich, the hills are usually a safe bet, but people?
I met some youngsters at the far end of the plateau. Laughing and joking amongst themselves with a clearly heard “See I told you” comment and easily seen gesture in my direction as the approached. That I was lying flat on my back in the sun on a big raised rock might have triggered some questions: “Has someone lost a tent?”, “Is that a body?”, “Is that old guy asleep?”. We have a winner with the last one. “See I told you”.
The view to Beinn Ime from here is a belter, it’s such an underrated hill and looks so spectacular when the light hits it just right as it did today. That eastern coire is just wild.
I went back to wandering the summit, flat and familiar, I’ve spent a few nights up here too. I thought about where to go next, it was early afternoon and I had supplies and energy for anything else I wanted to do really.
It’s a very long time since I went down the back end, but that’s exactly where everyone else was going. Is it bad to just want to go your favourite way again? Of course not, I walked back towards the cairn past the stone built trig pillar with Ben Lomond tall and proud beyond.
I took a sharp left at the cairn, temporarily dipped out of the light and onto a long snow slope to the north, time for a wee bit of exploring.