13:00 – Ben Vorlich (M229), 3094ft, 943m
Time was running out to maintain my record of climbing a Munro a month, which has been running since the start of 2017.
For various reasons, weather windows were not convenient in September and I was not feeling entirely up for it on the days that did make themselves available. Initially, I was aiming today to climb the highest mountain I have not yet climbed – Binnein Mór in The Mamores and its neighbour Na Gruagaichean, because on Friday the weather forecast for Lochaber was reasonable. But on Saturday evening the forecast changed to 40 – 50 mph winds with intermittent snow showers becoming more widespread, and a virtual temperature on the summits of minus 15 celsius, which seemed like a particularly radical transition away from summer.
So plan B was hastily made: to venture for the first time into The Arrochar Alps, or as I like to call them, affectionately of course, The Weegie Hills. I met Chris at Lochearnhead as usual and we proceeded in one vehicle to the car park at Inveruglas by Loch Lomond.
It is easy to see why this part of the country is so popular – for it is staggeringly beautiful, and why perhaps authorities felt it wise to create a National Park, within which those camping be issued licences for the privilege …. but was that not a right? …. and those parking required to pay, er …. how can I put this? …. somewhat above average fees. Apart from the violence it does to language, this Camping Management Zone is controversial for, on the face of it, contradicting the ancient right to roam that was some years ago enshrined in law. I discovered though that the area within which camping licences are required is actually a very slender strip of land along the shores of the loch. Beyond this, in the hills, camping is as wild as it wants to be, and for as far as I could discern, my right to be here was very much intact.
We walked away from the car at about 9:30, firstly along the road in search of the path onto the hill, then through woods and pastures of lazy cattle to a good tarmac track up the glen towards the dam at Loch Sloy, into a day of sunshine and showers, wind, orange grasses, mud and shafts of dazzling light descending from the heavens through layers of squally cloud.
Turning a corner on the approach road about half a mile from the dam, the start of the path to the mountain appears as a staircase, with well constructed slabs and culverts making for straightforward upwards progress. We dawdled and talked, stopping often to attempt to capture with cameras the displays of light and colour the weather was creating all around. From time to time we were battered by squalls of increasingly lumpy rain, but none lasted longer than a few minutes. The wind was nevertheless hard work, but not so severe that we contemplated giving up and returning to the car. After the steepest section, it is an easy stroll to the summit along a lumpy ridge of bright orange grasses, slabs and crags, pocked with crevices, caves and cavities where rocks have collapsed or bits of outcrop fallen away. We found shelter for lunch and reflection in the lee of the summit, after which we returned by the same route.
For most of September, I have been wondering whether or not I would ever get to the summit of another Munro, and if I did, if it would be be my last; for the truth is, I have not been feeling well. The disease is sometimes making its presence felt now in a way that reminds me of how I felt at the start of this journey. Certainly, if I had made an attempt on Binnein Mor today, in this weather, I would have had to admit defeat and turn back, and in more clement conditions, I may well have pushed myself just that little bit too far.
It is a delicate balance to maintain between giving my body enough impetus and motivation to keep it alive and well, and pushing it so far that it breaks down and begins to succumb to solidifying metastasis.
This has been an amazing summer of ridges and high peaks during which I was hoping to have climbed all of the top fifty – the peaks above 1100m. With the completion of the Cairngorms and Nevis Ranges last month, all in glorious weather, I have almost made it, with only Binnein Mór in the Mamores and Sgùr Mòr in the Fannichs now to bag. The year is not over though and there is still a chance of still air and open skies before autumn moves into winter, and even then, who knows ….
I feel better than I did. When we got back to the car, even although I was tired and my body ached a bit, I remembered again the invigoration of coming off the mountain. The joy it brings to my heart and the sheer determination it inspires to rest up and do it all again on another mountain as soon as possible!
Thanks to Chris for sharing another splendid day in the hills.