Buoyed up by a promise of Tuesday being a good day, I set off in the trusty Bongo to position myself ready for another assault on Ben More and Stob Binnein. (Spoiler alert: this one has a happy ending.)
As with my previous, unsuccessful, foray, I went via Fort William, Glencoe and Crianlarich. The wind on Loch Ness was ferocious. I’ve never seen waves like that on the loch and the air was full of spray. The Bongo, being a bit higher than your average car, was blown around and there were times, particularly in Glen Coe, when I had to haul on the wheel just to maintain a straight line. I passed a holiday coach in the glen that had apparently been blown right off the road and was now lying some metres from the tarmac. This must have happened fairly recently as the lights were still on. Luckily there were no signs of dazed nonagenarians wandering about, nor – indeed – any nonagenarians at all. Perhaps the bus had been empty, bar the driver. A guy waved me a thumbs-up sign so I didn’t stop.
I parked just outside Crianlarich, beside a sign that warned me strong winds were forecast. The van rocked me to sleep and when I woke up on Tuesday morning the wind had subsided considerably.
A couple of miles along the road, I found a parking spot and started my walk. There had been a light dusting of snow on the tops overnight and it transpired the wind might have dropped at lower levels, but it had clearly regrouped and was hurling all its strength at Ben More and Stob Binnein. I have rarely known wind like it. Ben More was hard enough: a long slog from the road up a wide ridge. There’s a path all the way up, apparently, but I didn’t stumble across it until I’d reached about 800m, by which point it was a very welcome sight. The recent freeze-thaw cycle meant that from about that point onwards the path was sheer ice, often resembling a babbling brook caught mid babble. Out came the new crampons – attentive readers of previous blogs will know I lost one recently – and they proved their worth in no time. Unfortunately, there was no view from the top of Ben More due to high-speed cloud.
A glance at the map will show you that I had to lose about 300m of height to reach the imaginatively-named Bealach Eadar Dha Bheinn (col between the two hills). Getting down wasn’t the problem, but arriving was: as the wind grew even more ferocious. Standing up became something of a challenge and forward movement was at times almost impossible.
If there’s going to be any wind up there, it’s generally worse at the bealach as the air gets channeled though between the hills. That was my thought as I worked hard to persuade myself to do Stob Binnein.
Me: I could just say I did it.
Myself: You couldn’t live with myself – I mean yourself.
Me: I could come back another day.
Myself: You’re 63 and this is the first time you’ve got here! Got a date in mind?
Eventually Me did the noble thing and the two of us, still bickering, struggled up Stob Binnein. I don’t want to go on about it and try to paint myself as some sort of superman (if you’ve any illusions on that score, just ask Sonia – anyone who knows me will do at a pinch), but it did take a fair amount of grit / stupidity to keep going. I didn’t actually get blown off my feet, but the walking poles were a saviour and I frequently had to hunker down and wait for a particularly strong blast to pass. It really was a case of a few steps forward against the wind, then a break to get my breath back and rest my less than willing body.
But it was worth it! After a tussle, I reached the top, magically the wind dropped and there was a view so I grabbed an evidentiary photo. I arrived at the summit more or less bang on 1pm: the MWIS site had said the wind would drop in the early afternoon, but I didn’t expect such accuracy, nor such a sudden change!
Nevertheless, I didn’t hang around long, but headed back for the bealach. On the way down, I had a better view of where the cornices were, so I dared to walk on the frozen snow, rather than pick my way up through the rocks and scree. That’s one of the great pleasures: striding out over hard packed snow, crampons anchoring you firmly to the ground: the fact it was down hill and the wind had dropped only added to the experience.
Back at the bealach and I started to contour round the side of Ben More, eventually making my way down to an excellent track that run well up the glen.
As I descended, the signs of spring became more apparent: grass starting to green up, snow-melt tumbling down the hillside or running like a sheet over the ground. When I reached the track I stopped for a breather and looked back at the hills which seemed so benign in what had turned into a lovely afternoon.
There’s not much more to tell: a walk back to the road and a long drive back home via Killin, Kenmore, Aberfeldy and the A9 almost completed a challenging but very worthwhile day. The definitive completion came with the couple of bottles of ale when I got home.