It was late by the time I left…
How many of my tales have started with that comment, Jeez. Planning is one thing, but unless you send a memo round to the rest of the world there’s always a chance that some unwitting soul will call upon your presence, and then with the liberal application of Sod’s Law be in a position that you would become a heartless bastard if you refused to respond.
I’d hoped for an easy day after the long hours of Thursday, but I was up out of bed not long after 0600 and away on a callout midmorning. And, I hadn’t packed anything for a night in the hills that bobinson and I had pencilled in for what looked like the last good night of the weather window.
I got back after lunch and at 1500 I finished packing, that was easy enough, regular kit and a couple of unobtrusive bits of test kit. Ten minutes later, Bobinson was at the door and we were away. Neither of us had managed lunch, so it was stop #1 at the local M&S Simply Food for now food and later snacks. Stop #2 was the Post Office in Dumbarton to get a parcel away Special Delivery, now we could get to the hills.
But time had raced on, and any plans of heading North meant ascending and pitching in the dark. As we reached the road junction at Tarbet we’d already made up our minds that we were going to the Arrocher Alps and not turning right, but not which Alp we were heading onto. It wasn’t until we were at the “temporary” (if they’re there any longer OS will put them on the next map) traffic lights near the top of The Rest that we decided on Beinn Ime, the highest of the Alps at 1011m. Maybe not the wisest choice given that the sun was already slipping out of view behind lower peaks and it gave us the most ascent, but it’s central and a great viewpoint. Maybe we just fancied our chances at beating the sun, and maybe the thought of standing with a cuppa the next morning surrounded by the other peaks while watching the sunrise over an inversion is enough to make you take a wee gamble.
As the above shot courtesy of bobinsons camera shows, it was bright enough as we started up from Butterbridge. Bright and hot in fact, the two of us were soon dripping sweat from the ends of our noses and my eyes were stinging. In the coire it was like high summer, and there was a lot of stopping to look at the view.
Tiredness must have had a part in it, both of us had had a long week. There were no brave faces, just a mutual appeciation of our unexpected shortcomings.
As we crept higher it cooled and an equilibrium of sorts was reached, on the move was fine as we were labouring, but the sun was weakening and it was getting cold on my hands and stopping for a rest was chilling.
Rather than follow the usual line to the Glas Bhealach, we climbed the wide Western face, taking the mostly grassy line to the left of the summit. It’s very steep and rocky, and much drier underfoot than the usual route, an absolute joy and well worth it to pick a route through seldom visited crags. It did save us some time at the cost of plenty extra effort, but seeing the sun slip over the edge of the day was worth the wheezing I was experiencing while I watched it.
The warm light faded to grey and blue, mist filled the glens and drew a flat line right around the horizon, pierced by the shapes of familiar peaks, Cruachan, Lui, Lomond, and lonely Beinn Buidhe (below in the distance) at the head of Loch Fyne looking a little like a Nessie cartoon, or a very lazy Jaws.
The temperature plummeted and a wind whipped up from nowhere. I layered up when we hit the ridge high up and we made it to the summit as the stars started to pop out one at a time, the brightest showing off their superior wattage on the still luminescent pale blue sky.
We paced the summit, now in darkness, trying to find a pitch where we could communicate from the tent doors, not trip on guy lines, see the sunrise and avoid the wind. Never the easiest when you’re packing a side and an end entry tent combo, but we stuck ourselves just north of the summit cairn on the edge of the crags on quite flat ground. The tents went up straight and easy, all the new pegs and guys were a joy and the battered old ‘Comp felt like new.
We paced the summit, catching what we could as the blackness above and grey below swallowed everything up. In Glen KInglas silent cars made cones of light in the mist as they followed each other along the invisible road. To the South, the orange glow of the streetlights was absorbed by the low mist and went no further, leaving a clear sky now flooded by stars.
The mist rippled around Ben Lomond like a slow wave curling around a lone rock on the beach, and not too far beyong the central belt was actually a million miles away.
The tents looked like an oasis in the cold. With my light hanging inside the ‘comp, its unnatural colour and shape should look out of place, incongruous, maybe even offensive to some. But to me it looks just right sitting there. Aye, I’m a soft modern man with my mild adventuring, and it’s a sign that I’m carrying something of my daily comforts with me, but I’m sure just being there anyway is halfway to something, and that has to be better than going nowhere to nothing.
We caught the path of one satellite as it arced overus, and then another running parallel. The sky has its A82 as well it seems, but the occasional shooting star reminds me that the sky most definitely isn’t ours.
A hot dinner of chicken tikka, a Farley’s Rusk and a cappuccino while I lay in my bag felt like the end of the day, and indeed a calm fell upon us and we both slipped away into worlds of thoughts, ipods, occasional biscuits and hopes of a warm sunrise after a good nights sleep.
The wind was unexpected and unwelcome in its velocity and persistence, the tent rattled away with fresh enthusiasm due to its newly found confidence after its revamp, while I lay and listened to Tom Baker reading an old Doctor Who novel. It had seemed like a good idea, Tom Baker’s wonderful voice should have been like a pint of 1970’s cough mixture; I should have been sleeping in minutes. But the producer had apparently told him “Yes, put funny voices on for the different characters, that’ll be great”. No, no it’s not, it’s really annoying.
I’m sure that kept me awake, although I did nod off several times and wonder where the hell the plot was when I came back before I switched to metal and found myself much more relaxed.
It was cold as well, very cold. I nipped out for a pee as it got lighter and the grass was coated in ice, the damp patches in the grass had frozen over and the sky was filling with streaks of mist and layers of fine cloud. Ben Lomond now had a fluffy blanket over it, but the blanket was following its contours, giving it appearance of a mountain pie freshly dusted with thick flour.
Bobinson stirred and popped his head out. He’d had a cold night in his summer sleeping bag and the worsening weather wasn’t the thrilling start to the day that we were expecting. The sun was a distant pink dot that rose from the layer of mist, winked at the world briefly and disappeared upwards into the thickening cloud. This half hearted appearance was a sign, and the gap between the mist and clouds finally closed.
A meager breakfast, a five minute involuntary snooze from me and we were packing. Plans for further exploration were canned and the tourist route down was selected as the prefered target.
The ground had taken on a lethally slippy coating in the night, it was like another hill altogether we’d found ourselves on. There were slips, arse plants and many colourful exclamations as we made our way through the crags. As we lost height, quite rapidly as is normal for any Arrochar Alp, we found a wee cave which of course was explored and noted for future emergency bivying.
Stray from the tracks or the recommended Munro’s guide route and it’s amazing what you can find.
It started spitting, a light cold rain, the little bright gaps having left for parts unknown. It could have been a little sombre, but the hillside was bursting with colour, fresh greens and warm browns and we were stepping purposefully down to the truck.
As we reached the road we could see a broken line of folk leaving the carpark and heading upwards. Looking back up at where we’d been I don’t know if I’d have had the resolve to do that, it seemed like a day for observing rather than participating. But fortune favours the brave, or maybe the optomistic too.
As we sat in Arrochar eating hot rolls and enjoying fresh cuppas the sky did start cracking up and blue was seen, a patch of sunlight drifted over the flank of Beinn Narnain. Maybe folks did find that view up there that can make the day worthwhile.
As we enjoyed the tasy fried fare, my phone rang. It was Joycee “Where are you?”
“We’re back down, at the roll shop next to the garage in Arrochar”
“Ooh, me and the girl are in the Cobbler carpark, we went out for a galavant, we’ll come round”
So the girls came to say hello and have a cuppa and a muffin. Unexpected, unplanned, unlikely, that seemed to fit in with the general theme.
But, there was a price, too many hours of activity and concentration without enough sleep to keep the steam at a usable pressure.
The fire went out and I went down. Worth it, as ever.