Drymen Circular

Scary – it’s almost 2 years since my last hill walk which was a return to Dumgoyne. We wanted to tackle a munro but time and weather meant a more sensible first walk of the year – Drymen to Balmaha via Conic hill and back again. Unlike the previous weekend, the weather had closed in and there was a cool breeze and a bit of drizzle on the way up Conic.

I didn’t bother taking any photo’s from the top of Conic as I’ve been up there a couple of times now and the winter set from 2011 on Flickr contains some far better photo’s. It was also windy with not much of a view. Speaking of views, there’s been quite a bit of deforestation on the route from Drymen which really opened up the route to more impressive views.

We chose to walk along the road back to Drymen rather than following our footsteps but to be honest there isn’t much to see from the road apart that Conic looked far better as the day cleared up for a few hours. Timing is everything. RunKeeper stats for the walk are below.

Hiking_Activity_11_55_mi___RunKeeper

Overall a good walk that got the legs going and hopefully isn’t the last one for another couple of years. Maybe a munro next?

Dumgoyne

With the weather finally taking a turn for the better it was time to get the walking books back on. I’ve not walked since November much like my walking buddies so we decided to start small and picked Dumgoyne as its close by, not too tough and the views are great.

I walked up Dumgoyne at the start of 2009 and I found it pretty tough needing lots of stops. However today felt like a hard stroll and I was surprised how quickly we got to the top. We carried on to what we thought was Earls Seat but we were one summit short of that one.

So a great day especially with the weather. Not so great was me totally fluffing most of my photos on the walk as my settings were for indoors and not the clear blue skies we had today. When will I learn! Full set of the photos that did turn out (auto FTW!) are up on Flickr.

Ben Chonzie

It’s been over three months since my last hill walk, due to a variety of reasons mostly involving the pish weather we’ve been having recently. So I was sitting with Danny on Friday moaning about our lack of walks and mentioned it was to be nice this weekend. We both had some muscle pains though. A quick Google search for the easiest munro turned up Ben Chonzie – 12 hours later and I’d ticked off another munro. Result!

Ian on Ben Chonzie

Ben Chonzie is easy for a few reasons. Firstly, you start from around 200m unlike the many that start form sea level. Secondly for 2/4 of the route you follow a land rover track which isn’t too steep. Once you come of the track and get near the summit there is a fence post that you can follow to take you to the summit. Overall it’s an undemanding walk but we struck it lucky with the weather and it was a great day considering the cold start.

Ben Chonzie

Great views all around but sitting at the top for some lunch was pretty chilly and I was glad of the hat and gloves. If someone is keen to try walking, pretty fit and wants to do a munro then Ben Chonzie is a good choice, but with the warning that this is a lot easier than other munro’s that I’ve done. It’s also a good winter hill as the fence posts at the top and wide track on the way up help with navigation in the snow.

Ben Chonzie - Runkeeper

The full set of pics (not many) is available on Flickr. One final thing. Me and Danny can easily talk all day about a variety of different topics, funnily enough we always agree that we’re experts in these topics πŸ™‚ One that we stumbled on was McEwan’s Lager and this advert. Enjoy.

Beinn Bhuidhe

The final, for me anyway, Arrochar Alp was Beinn Bhuidhe and yesterday seemed to be a fine day to tackle this munro. It was rated more difficult and required a four mile walk before beginning the climb but for me this was probably my hardest walk.

We started early from the head of Loch Fyne on our 4 mile walk. First mistake of the day was heading through the quarry. Think of the Doctor Who episodes from the 70’s and 80’s which were all set in quarries and you’ll get the idea – not exactly picturesque. We cracked on and it was pertty warm/muggy even though it was only 09:00. After 4 or so miles we were starting to wonder where the path was for Beinn Bhuidhe. We kept walking until we got to a sheep dip on the map, thinking that maybe this was the route up? After 10 mins of discussion we cracked on until we had walked 5 miles – we were then convinced we had missed the path but never mind – lets crack on up the hill and we’ll find it soon enough.

Beinn Bhuidhe Route Guidance

In case you’ve stumbled on this website looking for advice look at the map above. The path is halfway between the abandoned house and the stream, directly on your left after you pass through the safety gate. In winter/spring it might be obvious but at this time of year almost impossible to spot. We bumped into a couple of groups later on who had made the same mistake which made us feel a whole load better…one day we will learn.

Anyway, back to cracking on up the hill. We skirted around a small woodland and walked up some steep undergrowth – thick grass and bracken. It was warm and unpleasant and the midges were out in full force. Nice. This was much the same for a lot of the walk. We also got split up and were walking as individuals for much of the first 2/3rds of the walk. Around 600m I had to stop. Was feeling very ropey, sweating buckets and convinced I was going to be sick. Was also thinking Danny had dropped back quite a bit so I may as well wait. 5 minutes later and I was sick. First time on a hill walk that I’ve been that unwell. A few mins later and despite being that far up I was convinced that I should turn back. A couple of mins later I spotted Danny ahead of me – he had taken a slightly different route and was now looking for his lost sunglasses. A quick shout and he buddied up with me for the rest of the walk and I carried on. Big thanks to him – he will now be known as sherpa Dan.

View from Beinn Bhuidhe

The walk up was great after 800m. Some ridge walking and we also found a path! Finally! The views from the top were stunning. Photo’s really don’t do it justice – it was some of the best views from a munro yet. After a quick lunch (half lunch for me as I still felt ropey) we cracked on down following the path this time.

Squirrel

The path from around 500m follows the stream all the way down to the starting point and was steep and pretty awkward in places requiring a wee bit of scrambling and searching for hand holds. In some ways it felt no easier than the route we eventually took although with hindsight it was more straightforward. I’m sure taking the path is also more scenic as there are a few waterfalls to see on the route up. We couldn’t believe how obscure the path was when we reached the start point – no wonder we missed it!

Beinn Bhuidhe Runkeeper

We walked back to the car, this time avoiding the quarry which was a far better option. We also indulged on some ice cream at the car park. I’m sure Bounty ice cream isn’t recommended for an upset stomach but it helped me! As usual, full photo set is on Flickr but not as many as usual – didn’t feel up to it really which is a shame as some of the ridge views were great.

So a tough walk especially on a warm muggy day but the views are stunning. For me, that was the last Arrochar Alp and was actually the most rewarding after The Cobbler despite the heat, sickness, my burnt neck and arms or the extra midge bites I picked up. Well worth doing but start early and if you’ve got the option, take a bike and cycle the first three miles. Your legs will thank you later.

Ben Vane

A couple of months since the last walk but the weather was too good to ignore. This time it was to tackle Ben Vane, another one of the local munro’s. Setting off early on a glorious day we were surprised how quiet it was for a mid summers day.

Ben Vane

We were quickly rewarded with some great views back over Loch Lomond. It then turned quite boggy – wish I’d worn my gators as the boots were caked in mud on the way up and down. The boggy ground only lasted for 15-20 mins though and the rest of the way was on ok but steep paths. There’s plenty of false summits and also some scrambling near the top but it was worth it.

Ben Lomond from Ben Vane

For a summers day when temperatures at ground level were nearly 20C, it was a wee bit chilly at the top with temps nearer 5 or 6C. Still, it was nice to cool off, grab lunch and take in the views which were stunning. Usually in summer you get a lot more haze but not today.

Alistair, Danny, Ian and Allan on Ben Vane

A very helpful fellow walker took the above photo. More telling is that while the camera was in her hands it seemed to perform so much better. I need to spend time revisiting many of the 550D’s features!

Ben Vane Runkeeper

Considering the stops and the 30 mins for lunch we made really good time on Saturday. Even on the way back down I was surprised by the lack of fellow walkers. Also surprising is the impact on my thighs this week – it’s 5 days since the walk and they are still a bit tender. I must look into improving strength/recovery as it seems to impact me more than others. As usual, all photo’s can be found on Flickr and also Facebook and Google+. Trying other ways of getting photo’s out to friends as not everyone likes or uses Flickr.

So that’s five out of the six munro’s that make up the Arrochar Alps ticked off, leaving just Beinn Bhuidhe which will hopefully be this weekend as the weather is looking good if not a tad hotter. Early start required.

Beinn Ime

In August last year I tried to walk up Beinn Ime via Beinn Luibhean but admitted defeat due to the wind. Roll forward 6 months and it was time to finally climb Ime. We set off early on Friday (cheers to Wills and Kate as we had the day off) and started from Succouth this time which meant walking between The Cobbler and Beinn Narnain before finally getting to Beinn Ime.

Beinn Ime

The weather was glorious although quite breezy at ground level and the forecast higher up was winds touching gales in places and to be a lot colder than the 16-18C at the car park. The first 3 miles was a gradual ascent on a well crafted path that took us to the back of the Cobbler. We then veered right and started climbing Ime. The ground at this point was quite boggy and to be honest there was no well defined path, probably because Ime isn’t as popular as the other two peaks in the vicinity.

After 20-30 mins we picked up on a path as the climb became more strenuous. This took us up the majority of Beinn Ime. At this point the wind really picked up and it was pretty cold. Until now it had been shorts and t-shirt weather but a warmer top was required to get us up the final peaks.

View from Beinn Ime

There were great views from the top but the sun started to hide between clouds and it became pretty hazy in places. At this point it was bloody cold – despite the great ground temp’s we were glad of hat s and gloves and some shelter behind a rock so we could grab some lunch. We didn’t hang around at the summit – just too cold but coming down off the main peak there was a great photo opportunity and the sun had popped out again – still really windy though.

Ian on Beinn Ime

In the background to the photo above you can see the seaplane that takes off from Loch Lomond and the Clyde. I’ll need to try that one day when the weather is good – the views from it will be amazing. After taking some shots we made our way back down – we really covered ground pretty quickly on Friday as can be seen from the RunKeeper stats below.

Beinn Ime Runkeeper

Even better – no midges to report which was a surprise. I just need to remember that my legs need sun tan lotion or they burn. Not clever. Next up is probably Ben Vane which leaves the more isolated Beinn Bhuidhe to complete the five munro’s that make up the Arrochar Alp’s. Hopefully we’ll get them both done by the middle of summer.

As usual, full set of Flickr photo’s can be found here.

West Highland Way - Kinlochleven to Bridge of Orchy

A few weeks ago my walking buddy Danny told me about his mate Allan. He wasn’t an experienced walker and was going to tackle the West Highland Way for charity. The charity isn’t a well known one –LMBBS, but is close to home for Allan as his two sons suffer from a very rare and complex condition called Laurence Moon Bardet Biedl Syndrome. Danny was hoping that we could accompany Allan on a stage of the West Highland Way as he was going to be doing the full 96 mile walk on his own over five days. So a plan was hatched and we agreed to join Allan on the Kinlochleven to Bridge of Orchy stage. A mere 22 miles. The longest I’ve walked so far is around 9-10 miles so it would be…interesting to say the least.

Allan, Steve and Danny

The trip to Kinlochleven from Glasgow was long. A 3 and 1/2 hour train journey from Glasgow Queen Street to Fort William followed by a 22 mile taxi ride to Kinlochleven. That train journey was so slow – thats 107 miles covered in 3 and 1/2 hours. Still – we got there and the three of us hit the sack pretty quickly as it had been a long day already and there was a lot of ground to cover tomorrow. One snag – we couldn’t get hold of Allan. No answer when we called or sent a text. The next morning and there was still no reply. We had a not so great breakfast which was pretty cheap although did include local produce – assuming the freezer compartment of the local Iceland counts. Incidentally – no black pudding. It ain’t a full Scottish if there’s no black pudding.

After a 15 min walk we turned up at Allan’s hotel – we all had a bit of the fear – would he be there, had he lost his phone, was he injured? Thankfully he was there but had a nightmare first day which saw him walk 30 miles instead of 14. Ouch. Looking at his photo’s it was also pretty scary. Thankfully he was up for cracking on so just before 09:00 we started on the next stage. The weather was pretty good – a bit cloudy but dry and not too cold. In fact after 20 mins I ditched the jacket. A couple of hours in and the sun was out and it was getting warm. By lunchtime it was t-shirt and shorts weather.

We were doing the West Highland Way in the reverse direction. Most folk do the walk from Milngavie to Fort William which means the wind and rain are usually on your back instead of in your face. So it was a walk up from Kinlochleven to the top of the devils staircase. This gave us some great views but also meant that after the first 5-6 miles the rest was pretty much downhill as the major climbs were out of the way. We soon reached the magnificent Buachaille Etiv Mor and after posing for photo’s cracked on to the Kings House for some welcome lunch.

Ian at Buachaille Etiv Mor

It took just under 4 hours to do the first 10 miles but we still had at least another 12 to do. The afternoon walk was on flatter terrain with most of the paths in petty good condition. It also took us through Rannoch Moor which is pretty featureless to be honest so we upped the pace and stopped less for photo’s. The banter kept us going so the time flew by and before we knew it we had around three miles to do and it was 16:30. At this point my leg’s were starting to hurt in particular my right calf but it’s fine today so no lasting damage done. It was also starting to cool down in the breeze but despite putting on sun cream I had a bit of sunburn. Quite surprised but it was a warm and sunny day in parts.

RunKeeper - West Highland Way

By 17:30 we were at Bridge of Orchy Hotel and ordering a well earned dinner. Food here and at the Kings House was excellent for the price – highly recommended. Top marks to RunKeeper which tracked the whole walk. I thought we kept a really good pace for the day which averaged out at just over 20 minutes a mile which considering we walked the height of a Munro is excellent for us.

A great day all round capped with a slow train journey back to Glasgow although most of it was in daylight and it really is an amazing part of the world. Surprised I’m not more sore today – small blister, a bit burnt and general muscle tiredness. I also must learn to pack lighter as my backpack was stuffed and weighed a lot – really started to dig in at the end of the day.

I’ll end the post with a small request which I never really do. Allan is doing the whole of the West Highland Way for a really good cause. It would be great if you could show him some support so please visit his Just Giving page and give what you can.

Conic Hill

Took advantage of a slight rise in temperatures and the promise of sunshine to climb Conic Hill last Sunday. After a slow and slippy drive to Balmaha it was on with the boots and gaters for the short 400 metre climb. Although the car park had a few cars the hill was pretty deserted and we only saw two other chaps all day who had abandoned their climb up Ben Lomond. At lower levels there was a bit of a thaw on and the snow was quite wet and slippy. After a half hour we had left that behind and were in to the actual climb. Proper snow!

Danny on Conic Hill

It didn’t take long until we got to the top of the first summit – Conic is actual three small summits and as we clambered on the sun came out and gave us some glorious views of Loch Lomond, the Arrochar Alps and Ben Lomond.

Loch Lomond from Conic Hill

Despite the sun and the thaw at lower levels it was f-f-freezing at the top. A pretty brisk wind meant we didn’t hang around for long at the top and we walked down a bit to have some lunch. After a quick soup we decided not to clamber over the hill again but head further down the slope as we’d surely find a path. Wrong. We found a very old wood and a peat bog so not the best decision we’d ever made. Hence the RunKeeper map showing a circular route that doesn’t really exist.

Conic Hill

Speaking of RunKeeper, two little titbits. Runkeeper Pro is currently free for the month of January on both iOS and Android platforms. Highly recommended and is constantly being improved by the development team. Secondly, I forgot I had switched on RunKeeper Live a couple of months. What this means is that at the start of the walk a tweet is sent out and people can watch you walk live online. Updates seem to be every 10 seconds or so and looks to have worked pretty well. Got a few bizarre tweets when I checked twitter after the walk πŸ™‚

Loch Lomond from Conic Hill

The full set of pics from the walk is as usual on Flickr including the panorama above which came out quite well.

Beinn Luibhean

So yesterday should have been a walk up another munro – Beinn Ime, taking in Beinn Luibhean on the way down. It would have been quite a long walk but the views from Beinn Ime would be worth it. However the weather was quite a bit worse than we expected and our route following was crap!

View from Luibhean

Firstly we marched off from the car park down the wrong path, realising only when we’d walked a mile. So we walked back to the road and made probably our second bad choice of the day. We decided to tackle the corbet, Beinn Luibhean, first and then onto Beinn Ime. The ground was pathless, boggy and quite heavy going. After a couple of hundred metres it started to get very windy. In fact we were blasted by 40-50mph winds for the next hour before we finally made it to the top of Beinn Luibhean. We were wet, cold and faces were red raw from the wind. Welcome to summer hill climbing in Scotland.

We found some shelter and decided not to carry on. Ime, like Luibhean, was shrouded in cloud with zero chance of any view. We were also pretty bushed already as the heavy ground and fighting the wind had taken it’s toll. On descending the cloud broke a little and the rain went off so at least I got a few photo’s. Also stumbled across a muddy and broken path which helped but not by much. In fact it was a slog back down which was pretty slippy, especially with lots of small logs lying underfoot which I think caused all of us to slip/fall one way or the other. Thankfully no injuries!

Luibhean Runkeeper Stats

The RunKeeper output from yesterday shows our mistake at the start and also the odd route we took up and the more direct route down. One app I might try for next time is Trailhead from The North Face which allows you to download routes to your iphone prior to the walk so you can track how close you are to the recommended route. Would certainly have helped yesterday. One other note – battery life on the iPhone 4 is much improved on the 3 and 3GS. Used just under 50% of the battery while using RunKeeper which is excellent for a 5 hour walk.

The full set of photo’s are available on Flickr. Used a new camera bag yesterday, the Kata H-10, which proved very useful in the rain and wind. I had it hooked onto the waist strap of my bag which felt quite comfortable and kept the camera fully protected. The rain cover that comes with the bag was invaluable!

So a couple of lessons learned yesterday:

  • Check your bearings before setting off. We had compass and maps but failed to use them properly.
  • Tackle the munro first, then worry about other surrounding climbs.
  • Respect the weather. Mountain Weather Information Service provide accurate forecasts, and winds gusting to 55mph are not to be sniffed at.
  • Weather in July and August can be cold, wet and wild in Scotland. We cancelled a walk at the start of July due to 90mph gusts and yesterday got pretty cold in the wet and biting winds. Be prepared for all weathers no matter the time of year.
  • I need a bigger bag πŸ™‚

Just a shame we didn’t arrange the walk for today – glorious weather by the looks of it. We’ll keep Beinn Ime for one of those days.

Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers

It’s been a funny year for walking. The first few months was difficult due to the severe winter we had. So much so that we couldn’t do much walking at all without crampons and an ice axe – something I’ll be picking up before the winter season kicks in this time. The last walk was The Cobbler, which was excellent but a few feet short of a munro. So 2/3rds of the year gone and no munro’s…until now. Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers are two adjacent munro’s that can be tackled in the same day. Another benefit is that the starting point of the walk is 400 metres so your almost half way just by getting out of the car – excellent!

Jim on Beinn Ghlas

There is also an excellent path leading from the car park and now that I’ve done it, I can say it’s an excellent first munro for anyone looking to get into walking. As for the views, I’m sure on a clear day they are spectacular, but for us what looked like a promising day turned into one lacking any view at all. Low cloud rolled in as we climbed meaning we got zero view from either munro. In fact it got pretty cold at the summits so it wasn’t a day for hanging around. Just a quick mention on weather – we originally planned this walk for the first weekend in July but had to postpone due to 90mph winds. I’m glad we did as we got talking to a couple of other walkers who were trying Bheinn Ghlas for a second time as they had attempted it that weekend but had to literally crawl down the hill as they got near the summit – it was that bad. Despite it being summer, the hills can be still unpredictable so you do need to carry waterproof just in case and it’s also worth checking the mountain forecast rather than the MET office site as they give very different results.

Ian and Ben Lawers Trig Point

Bheinn Ghlas is reached first and if your not careful it’s easy to walk by as it’s a tiny cairn that marks the summit. It’s then about a half hour to 40 minute walk to Ben Lawers summit. This is more substantial, marked with a cairn and trig point but as mentioned, zero views for us. Despite the easy walk you are now just 17 feet short of 4000 feet so quite a height. We decided to take the same route back to the car park although you can descend and go around the base of Bheinn Ghlas, but it did brighten up a bit so we wanted to keep some height…and it also meant that climbing back over Bheinn Ghlas counts as another munro climb, no?

Runkeeper Summary

As ever I used RunKeeper to track the walk and I’m pretty pleased with the pace we kept up throughout. I don’t really bother stopping the clock when I start taking pictures or we take pauses for breath so actual time walked is probably about a half hour less. I almost forgot to mention one thing. Fucking midges. The car park was swarming with them – I covered myself with jungle insect repellant and ended up with around 6-8 bites which is a lot better than on Ben Lomond last year. If you do go out walking around now make sure you take some sort of repellant. Can’t wait until it gets a bit cooler and they will be gone for the year.

So thats munro 5 and 6 done. Hopefully get another 2 or 3 done before the end of the year – weather permitting!