Ben Lomond night time excursion

So there I was, the day had gone horribly wrong. I was meant to be somewhere else, but I was actually on the Southern bank of Loch Lomond trying to fix an unruly oil burner. Ben Lomond sat there with it’s white summit cone against the blue sky mocking me. Mocked I was.

Back to base for lunch, parts ordered. Sod this, I’m off. Kit organised, sack packed, flask filled, door closed behind me. I got to Rowerdennan the back of four and headed up the tourist path. With an eye on the setting sun and my mind on smashing photies of fiery clouds and the like I made good time with those skinny poles well employed. There was a crew of NTS path builders at work lower down, they’re making a good job of it too using stones foraged locally. A wee bit higher up met a few folk, one pair were very concerned at my late departure time and apparent lack of gear. They were reassured and we went our separate ways of up and down.

Bam. No sunset, just darkness as I started along Sron Aonaich. And the temperature dropped like a stone. Shell jacket on. The track here is pleasant and easily graded, the urgency had gone so I bimbled along enjoying the changes in the colours, the crunch of studded soles on ice and the chill air sucked in over the chin guard of my fleece. By the time I got to the snow line it was black, the light was gone. The snow was hard, there was a lot of ice so I swapped poles for crampons, ice axe and headtorch.

The ascent from here was a total joy. I walked in a tiny island of stark white, an apparently precipitous void of blackness on either side, but sure footed all the way. I know Ben Lomond so well, I felt secure, the trig pillar was where and when I expected. The summit was cold, really cold and I was too long in putting on my insulated gloves. The cloud came down the wind got that little bit fiercer. It was time to head down.

I realised that I didn’t know this new hill, I felt tentative, the line of descent had to be picked out. In the dark, in winter, in the cloud by headtorch, 974m suddenly doesn’t seem so lame.

But my hands thawed, I chewed on a thoroughly unnecessary High5 banana sports bar and the spring returned to my step. Morale? If ever something was an underestimated piece of essential kit.

I sat at the edge of the snowline and had a hot cuppa. I switched my headtorch off. I sat there in a navy blue and grey-out, the only visible shapes were the wee patches of snow. Peace. The cloud started to break up and the stars twinkled at me as I sipped.

I sat for a while, warm in my insulated jacket. Ben Lomond, all mine. But as nice as that was, it would have been nice to have been talking about this mini adventure today with someone that had been sitting there with me.

Playing in the back garden

The day was lost from a getting any work done point of view. The weather was looking, well irrelevant lets face it. You look at the weather to see what to wear, not whether to go out or not. So I went up the Kilpatricks for bit a walk/jog/trail run.

It was wet, muddy, visibility was down to 50m, there was ice and snow all over (I got up to 360m or so), it was cold, it was raining, it got dark early. Brilliant fun.

After the grinding ascent from Old Kilpatrick I ran across a bit of flat ground next to Loch Humphrey which is usually boggy, but it was frozen and my footfalls went crack crack crack all the way across, sinking in an inch or so. I laughed out loud as it was like gunshots ringing out in the total silence. Even the water in the loch was completely still with no reflection other than the grey mist which it merged with, the land looking like it was floating in limbo like an old YES album cover or a scene from Silent Hill.

It can be an eerie place as darkness falls. I know it like the back of my hand, but at times I stop and have a wee look around me, just in case you understand…

The track down towards Overtoun House was really water logged and I couldn’t run it. It’s all chewed to hell. It’s a fine downhill run on a mountain bike, but this summer I don’t know. Recovery looks unlikely, it’s never looked so bad from winter erosion.

However, I still enjoyed it as always. You turn a corner and the Firth of Clyde comes into view. The nearest strip of lights there is Dumbarton and the other twinkles are the hamlets of Inverclyde, the dark strip inbetween being the River Clyde. All picturesque at this distance. After Overtoun House it’s a nice country lane which takes you down to a very busy A82. The joy of crossing it’s four lanes at rush hour has to be experienced and not described.

I mostly stayed upright on the icyslimefest due to my Montrail Highlanders. A much maligned and misunderstood shoe. Other notable kit; Rocky Gore-Tex socks, OMM Kamleika Pants, Dale of Norway merino base layers, the now ubiquitous Haglöfs Oz and the stunning Hagölfs Endurance multisport pack (with all that retroreflectiveness you can see in that last dodgy photie). I’ll do a piece on it later after I’ve got more miles on it. If it turns out at all durable, it’s a winner.

I’m so glad these hills are just out the door.

Descent

It’s the knees that get it. We came down in the dark on Sunday after spending way too long on the hill again. Exploring, fannying about, building sandcastles, don’t ask me I’m too busy having fun.

No trouble though, we could see the lights of civilisation twinkling at the southern end of Loch Lomond, headtorches were at the ready. But as we reached the track above the hydro scheme pipes the clouds started to clear and the moon gave us a pale, washed out 10W glow to see us safely down without draining our batteries.

When we reached the traffic through the gate at the end of the track it was like a slap in the face, bubble burst. Thoughts turn to boot drying, dinner, work tomorrow. And your knees.

More chair avoidance, the Haglöfs Oz in winter (Michty me!) and Steel Kahtoolas

You know me, the grin is permanent. In the face of adverse conditions I just add more stuff onto my head. Such was the piercing cold and the ferocious wind encountered during our final couple of hundred meters on Ben Vorlich that we all ended up wearing everything we were carrying. Present but not necessarily seen there on my head are a Buff, a Haglöfs Triton’s hood, an Outdoor Research Prism cap, the Haglöfs Oz hood and a Haglofs Barrier Hood’s er, hood.

Toasty I was. The Stormtrooper gloves were on as well. I was wearing Powerstretch tights too. Frightening I know, but absolutely marvellous as you have warmth , comfort and don’t have to look at yourself.

The route was up from Inveruglas. We traversed into Coire nan Each to look for one of the wide steepish gullies that takes you onto the south ridge, they were all full of snow so we headed to the nicest looking one, but came a cross a cave first. The three of us climbed inside and had an early lunch in the dark, out of the wind. Then we left by two other routes we found out and up and continued to the gully.

Where is this wonder cave? Looking and finding is half the fun, it’s the reward for not following the path, waymarks on your GPS or a red line in a guidebook. Get your map out and use your imagination, that’s the way to true happiness.

The gully was fine, long and steep with a nice taper at the top. The snow was quite consolidated and the steel Kahtoola crampons got a chance to shine. Another less obvious benefit is the fact that you can wear them on the grass or dirt patches that interrupt the snow cover nae bother. You keep a natural walking action all the time. Marvellous. Any doubts left were cast out and thrown to the dogs where they sniffed at them suspiciously and looked disappointed. Unless I’m climbing it’s bendy boots (most likely Icebug Speeds) and Kahtoolas. I like when a decision is made on the evidence presented and stamped Under Review Case Closed.

The CAMP ice axes are great, I’m sticking with the Corsa. The 50cm Nanotech is too short for me and the Corsa is taking the knocks with great humour.

I wore the Haglöfs Oz Pullover all day. It’s a waterproof mountain jacket, the weight (in use, not in your pack!) seems irrelevant as it does the job. The slim cut means it doesn’t catch the wind, the hood does it’s best, only the soft visor suffers in the blow-you-over winds we had today. It wasn’t cold to wear and all tissue thin, it didn’t tear when we bumslid down slopes or fell through the snow into a lochan and got all slushy and upset. I like it a lot.

As ever the star of the day was the hill. Todays route might be my favourite of the half dozen or so variations I’ve tried. It’s a craggy bastard Ben Vorlich, there was enough snow to let us wear crampons most of the time, the weather was mental, the banter was good, the joy quota was high.

And, I didn’t have to drive. Bless us every one.

Duvet Day

I made another attempt at denting the pile of prints waiting to be scanned. This Brocken Spectre shot was from a fine day on Creag Mor. A day so cold that the landrover track into the hills required crampons on the way out after dark. These winter outings are becoming ever more historical interest and ever less relevant in planning a day out in the wet pishy horror of our current winters.

Hence the duvet day today

A wee day oot

It’s time Holly saw some mountains, Joyce is going stir crazy for some pointy scenery, so obviously we went to Glen Coe today.

It was a fine drive, very quiet. The weather had some holes in it and we got to see some of the ususal suspects in dark brooding guise (see below). We headed round to the Ice Factor at Kinlochleven for lunch which was tasty. they have nice baby changing facilities for the use of, which was handy. You never notice these things exist until you need them.

We left via the shop, purchases made. The return journey was punctuated by a quick stop to investigate a set of orange flashing lights arranged in a square some way from the road on Rannoch Moor.

The luckily still upright car which had diverted into the scenery for reasons unknown contained a full complement of driver and passengers. all uninjured and in good spirits. The rescue truck was on it’s way, they thanked me for my concern and bid me farewell. I wonder how many other people stopped.

The rest of the journey was uneventful and now we’re going to watch the Simpsons Movie and eat cake. ‘Cos it’s my birthday (39). Alright!

Buachaille Etive Mor

Sron na Criese

Ben Lomond

A much maligned hill. And yet some of my finest hill days have been spent on it. Like Ben Nevis it has a tourist track and also another way, a rougher, steeper way. Ptarmigan ridge is no CMD Arete, but on a clear midweek winters day, making the first set of footprints up the steep clamber from Ptarmigan to the summit brings joy to match that of any other ascent of a “grander” hill.

 

The summit ridge is a fine view point, the horizon to the south lies far in the distance. Look to the other points of the compass and your eye is pulled in all directions by the tumbling rocky waves of the Highlands.

The northern coire of Ben Lomond is another hidden gem. A dark and lonely place, holding late snow and summer shadows, any approach from this side is a labour of love and a test of resolve.

So decry this fine hill if you will. It suffers only from accessability and good looks, a popularity that makes it simple to dismiss it as a tourist trap. State your misgivings all you want, but rather I think you might look to yourself for the reasons that you can find no place in your heart for this beautiful Ben.

Snowshovel? Pah, Snowclaw!

I had to get something to build myself a wee windbreak for cooking when I’m using the Big Agnes bivy in the snow. I looked at proper snow shovels, but even the lightest ones are too much weight and bulk.

So as suggested (Kev…) I got a Snowclaw, and it’s pretty much ideal. It’s light, it’ll fit behind the MSC pocket on my OMM packs, it’ll work as a seat as well.

Yes, yes, I know everyone got one last year.

Still, in the yellow and black it looks a bit like a LaSportiva boot that’s been crushed by steam roller. So that’s fine then.

 

From my window

I can see snow lying all over the high ground of Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park. It’s a sight of pure joy and utter torment as I sit here (health thankfully improving).

The park is worth a visit on foot or mountain bike, it’s big and empty enough for some good days out. They had the KIMM there a few years back, so that’s an indication of its tough terrain.

We went on a ranger led geology walk a few years back and it was very interesting indeed. There was barytes mining there, the landscape is a glaciated volcanic plateau with many easily seen features, there’s even a bat cave. Most of the group came in Barbour coats and slacks and struggled quite a bit, we ended up disapppearing with the ranger and took in the tops and some of the sights and met the group back at the centre.

Oh, look at that…

Snow on all the tops on the way up the A9 yesterday, proper snow as well, not a dusting. Much joy indeed.

The lightest Gore Tex ProShell jacket in the world was examined, the Haglöfs LIM Ozone, due in stores Spring ’08. Much more of that very soon, and a world of other wonders. Next year is actually looking really good for those interested in getting a hold of quality kit (if anybody but only the brightest of outlets stocks any of it…).

 

Trail Article No3

Lighter… Winter. This the new title format. It’s good as it gives a specific to it, the trouble for me is all the words in my head and not enough time or space.

The content is once again true to what I wrote, I hate it when people don’t let you down. I know it’s all obvious stuff to many, but as always the chance of reaching that poor sod in the Lakes heading around the Fairfield horseshoe equipped for two weeks in Patagonia makes it all worth while.

Nice to see the Kahtoolas getting a mention, I really believe these are the ideal crampon for most UK winter walking in these days of questionable conditions. If you read through the current Scottish Winter Meet thread on the Trail forums there are many people who don’t have or haven’t used winter hardwear like crampons or ice axes. It is a big issue for folk, cost and skill wise. Kahtoolas and the CAMP Corsa axe are ideal for people getting into winter, but instead of outgrowing them they’ll hone their skills, increase their confidence and then expoit the lightness and applications of the hardwear to the max.

I’ve enjoyed doing the column. I hope that folk have read it and not dismissed it as the musing of a fruitloop who sleeps in the mountains on the verge of hypothermia and insanity with only small titanium bowl of burning meths for comfort.  Because that’s definitely not me. I could tell you who it is though…

 

Lightweight

It’s occured to me that I haven’t said that much about it on here yet. Nothing to do with the definition , which includes “without seriousness of purpose; trivial or trifling”.

It’s probably more to do with me always looking for the next thing, rather than covering all the stuff I’ve been saying on the forums already. This winter sees a lot of the new, clothes and equipment. Through the winter I’ll be testing a new sleep system from the US that should offer an increase in temperature and breathability performance and a loss in weight. It hasn’t been used in UK conditions yet, so no pressure or worries there at all.

We’re using the CAMP Corsa and Corsa Nanotech axes as well, you can carry one of each and still be lighter than you would be with an ordinary walking axe. We’re looking at sub 400g eVent and ProShell jackets, the now familiar Kahtoolas, Icebug footwear of course and assorted wee bits and pieces, all of it inapropriate for winter according to current standards (in this country anyway). But not those standards of a few years ago. A good example of why this is the case is the quote “A week in politics is long time”.

So, aye I’ll be back on evangelical form before too long.

Another reason that we should be Scandinavian

Bless them up there and their outdoor kit. At fastandlight‘s secret bunker under plain wrapper, today arrived Icebug from Sweden.

I’m away with a set of Speed Mids and will most likely be in a pair of Pythos shortly. I’ll cover them in depth when I’ve got a few miles on them, but already they’re looking like the fairy on the Christmas tree that is our winter mountains. Kahtoolas fit on them easy.

A vision of lime and black, they have wee retractible metal spikes (not unlike a less hairy Wolverine) to glue you to the winter slippyscape to come.

I love the new, the unknown, the better than before, this will be fun.

I’ve been trying again.

I seem to have a surprising amount of time on my hands for someone who is moving house and has a new baby. This time seems to be up to 0300 but still, better doing something useful than wasting it on sleep.

So, I was scanning my old prints some more last night. I took a bit more time over it but the results are still patchy. I’ve been looking at negative scanners and the like, so I’ll maybe see about one of them. The pro service/send away option might well be the way to go though.

As always, these are all on Flickr if you want a better look.

Looking SW down the ridge of Buachille Etvie Mor. You never get this view, everybody is to busy being stunned by the view the other way :o)

 

Looking towards Ben Cruachan. It was a searingly cold day. That wee cloud on the summit looked like someone pulling a silk sheet over a pile of crystal vases. Nice.

I love this one. Frozen snowmelt on Ben Lomond.

Kahtoola Crampons

As much as we hate the USA they’re shit hot at a great many things. Lightweight and innovative outdoor kit being the most relevant here.

My mate Craig discovered Kahtoolas a couple of years back and brought a few pairs into the country (along with Nemo tents, but we’re not bitter…). We had a play about and decided that they were the truth and the light. The UK distribution was picked up by the fine folks at Beta Climbing last year and they’re now widely available.

Amazingly, they’ve been completely ignored by the UK outdoors press. I can’t believe that Chris Townsend hasn’t been singing the praises of these from the highest tower in the land, I mean they are the only truly lightweight and trail shoe compatable crampons available.

So in the total absence of any reference material, I’ve got a nice new pair of the steel ones here to show you what they’re all about.

They look very strappy don’t they? Adjust them in the house before you go and get used to putting them on, so that when you do put them on in anger with cold fingers there’s no cussing. 

The heel clip is secure and doesn’t exert a noticeable pressure onto your foot, the strap there has a quick-release buckle. The toe cradle has four points of attachment which is very adjustable and is secured by a buckle over the top of your foot. All the straps have securing loops so they don’t flap about and get on your tits.

Underneath we have a more standard looking arrangement with ten points at different angles to prevent slippage and give reliable grip. The spacing and positioning is good, and as you’ll see the points aren’t as long as we’re used to seeing these days. They’re actually more like what we were using 20+ years ago when kit was designed to fit it’s purpose, not for a new season launch date or to make if flashier than the other brands. This makes them fantastic for our mixed snow, ice, slush, rock and turf UK winter mountain terrain where long spikes designed for all-day-neve can cause you problems.

The link bar, which comes in two lengths with every pair, is made of rubber. No it isn’t, that would be stupid, but it is a very flexible bi-metal bar with a wide range of length adjustment via holes in the bar and a spring clip on the heel portion of the crampon. We have worn them With Montrail Highlanders and they really do work. As they will with any boot at all.

The anti-balling plates are simple rubbery affairs, weigh nothing and work fine. Which make you wonder why other manufacturers are consistently coming up with grander and more complicated designs to add weight and packed bulk.

Another little detail is the relief stamping on the front points for strength. You’ll never get up an icefall in them, but you will get around the mountains in winter without issue. They’re light at 662g a pair, the pack size is tiny and they work, and work well.

Abandon all this pish we’ve come to accept as the norm. In many ways these are a step back in time in design, with better materials and less weight. Winter doesn’t have to be a slog. Let’s gambol through the snow this year.

Icon

The karrimor Alpiniste 45+10. It was the finest rucksack of it’s time. In fact, it still kicks the arse of many sacks around now. Counting against it are weight and storage for hydration, bottles or bladders. And that’s it. The harness is still the most comfortable I’ve ever used.

Mike Parsons the man behind it, is now the man of OMM, and still creating many works of wonder. I use OMM packs almost exclusively, the Villain being my lightweight backpacking sack. It’s essentially an update of the old 45+10, but with all the stuff it was missing like bottle pockets and external storage capacity.

It’s a workhorse. I rate it, I trust it, I will use it until it’s dyneema unravels. It hasn’t found a place in my heart like the old purple alpiniste though. It was something I aspired too when it came out, and having one was as good as I’d imagined. I mean, how often does that happen?

 

There it is on Aonach Mor, on it’s last day out.

Or was it? In order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been. Maybe when the snow comes I should have a retro day?