Our original intention was to 'bag' two Munros - Cruach Ardrain, Beinn Tuilaichean - and a Munro Top - Stob Garbh - with our good friend Maria acting as guide and mentor. Weather forecast was light cloud cover with sunny intervals - yeah, right!
We had a nice sunny start from the convenient Forestry Commission car park situated just off the main road. We crunched our way along the vehicle access roads past monster-machines and an occasional forestry worker.
After a short boggy trek along tree-break paths (forest 'rides'), we exited the plantation over a high stile and emerged onto the ‘bare’ mountainside. We headed up the ridge to the Grey Height (686 m) and took in some beautiful views to the north. However, an ominous bank of cloud created a ceiling above the vista. To the south, our destination was shrouded in a smoky, white mist.
We continued our ascent to our next stop, Meall Dhamh (814 m), passing some precariously balanced ‘erratics’ (boulders deposited by glaciers). Despite the body heat generated by our efforts, there was a noticeable temperature drop as we moved closer to the mist ceiling.
With no invitation, the mist descended. However, we pressed on for a while along the well-trodden path before feeling the need to add an extra layer in order to ward off the chill. Waterproofs were required for our final ascent to the summit, as the wind-driven mist was now depositing a significant layer of moisture upon us.
We passed the ‘false summit’ cairns and, with a degree of satisfaction, reached the cairn on the ‘true’ summit (1046m). Not only were our clothes and hair dampened by the mist but also, slightly, our sense of achievement. There was no view whatsoever. Visibility was 25 - 50m maximum. We were here…but where?!?
A quick lunch and time to move on…but which way? It was decided that, all things considered, Beinn Tulaichean would have to wait for another day. We would take the most direct route to Stob Garbh (the Munro Top). Our first challenge was to negotiate the ‘intimidating’ descent of the north-east face of Cruach Ardrain. In some blogs, the path has been described as a ‘goat track’ and a ‘hard scramble’… in good weather! Nevertheless, after some initial slow (but sure) progress - including some ‘crab’ impressions from Lynne - we reached the bealach between Cruach Ardrain and Stob Garbh.
We knew where we were. We checked the map and also checked Maria’s GPS locator. The problem we were now faced with was the lack of an obvious path and no visible landmarks except the occasional, amorphous, looming shadow in the mist. Thanks to Maria’s navigating skills - using a combination of altitude readings on her watch, GPS data and her trusty Silva compass - we climbed to a point where a path finally presented itself. We won't mention Lynne's imaginary path! Oops! Too late!
The short trek to Stob Garbh was eerie. It was like moving through a science fiction landscape, as weird shapes emerged from the swirling mists and suddenly disappeared. The summit (959 m) was graced with dark pools and a pavement of metamorphic rocks. A quick photo opportunity at the summit cairn and it was time to head off the mountain.
It was a fairly uneventful trek back along the ridge (apart from two sheep which, bizarrely, looked three times bigger through the mist). The path led through occasional boggy patches and rocky rises. Visibility was still limited, until we began our descent of Stob Coire Buidhe (857 m) and passed below the cloud roof. The finish line was not quite in sight but was definitely nearer.
We climbed over the deer fence on the edge of the forestry land, using a partially constructed (?) stile and prepared for the final descent to another forestry track. There was no obvious path and, in spite of checking and re-checking, we could not find the stream that our guidebook suggested we follow as the easiest route. The gradient was steep. The grass was thick and long. The spongy moss hid slippery rocks and deep holes. This was hard going on knees and ankles joints, thighs and back muscles. We reached the edge of the forestry but this was dense and impenetrable. Eventually a stream became apparent and we followed it down to the track with much trepidation..
Thigh muscles quivering, we plodded (yes, plodded) back to the car along the muddy track, which had been churned by the tyres of huge vehicles, until we heard the welcome crunch of compacted gravel. An unforgettable nine and a half hours! For us, an unparalleled achievement.
Learned and Affirmed:
,Huge excitement this weekend - we conquered our first two Munros in Scotland! Ben Vorlich and Stuc à Chroin.
Our good friend, Maria, initially inspired us to take up hill-walking. She introduced us to our first (tiny) hill in Scotland a few years ago - Cockleroy near Linlithgow. So, it was only fitting that our first experience of Munro-Bagging would be with her. Maria and Jenni were great company and expert guides.
Steep(ish) in places and the highest of the two Munros, Ben Vorlich was an easier, although longer climb. Stuc a' Chroin proved to be a challenge...and a real sense of achievement! Maria and Jenni paused to study Stuc a' Chroin as we began our descent from Ben Vorlich. Two available routes - a steep path through the grass to the right or a more difficult scramble straight up craggy face of 'The Prow'. The moment Jenni and Maria said, "We have a decision to make and now is the time to voice any concerns you might have...", we knew that this might be our most difficult ascent to date! Our response indicated that we were willing to have a go. Until you try something, you really do not have an idea of whether you can achieve it..
Halfway up The Prow, an un-mapped path, appeared to the left. Still steep and exposed, but not the scramble over the boulders. All was going well. Confidence levels were good. We stopped to take photos and remove a clothing layer. Off we set. I (Lynne) was now in front of Andrew and leading the way. Possibly a mistake. Definitely a mistake! Head down, focusing on hand-holds and foot-holds, I took the wrong route and strayed from the rough path at about 3000ft whilst heading up The Prow...onto loose rock! Confidence suddenly disappeared. Fear set in. There didn't seem to be any secure rocks. I will admit to panicking slightly. Andrew immediately said he was coming to help. I yelled, "Don't you touch me, don't you dare touch me!". Andrew remained calm, guided me back and then took over the lead at my request.
Such a relief to reach the summit. Such an achievement. Loved it! Can't wait for the next one!!
Learned and/or Affirmed:
We were accompanied (or led) by our good friends, Barbara and David this week. The Cobbler (or now known by us all as 'Cobbler, the Bobble Gobbler due to Lynne beginning with hair bobbles and returning without them) is outlined in the top right-hand corner of the opposite picture.
The Cobbler is just short of 'Munro' status - so its classification is a Corbett. It was still going to be the highest of all our peaks so far and, on first glance, it looked slightly terrifying.
To some, we didn't completely conquer The Cobbler. The black and white photo of the guy standing on top of the protruding rock is not Andrew - although we did wonder about doing a little bit of photo-shopping 😉. However, we did make it across to that rock and both of us climbed into the 'Eye of the Needle'. To reach the highest point on the top you need to climb right through the eye of the needle, onto the narrow ledge outside (with a 100ft sheer drop), navigate around to the back and climb up. Not something we felt capable of doing (yet) without security ropes and crash helmets. There have been many fatal casualties here over the years.
Nevertheless, an absolutely brilliant day. Thank you, Barbara and David! 😀
Learned or Affirmed:
Heavy snow was forecast for certain areas, but no-one was quite expecting these conditions in the Pentland Hills.
It's useful to have a compass, map and the ability to read both when encountering whiteout conditions!
Gaiters will help to keep your feet dry. It is not a shortened word for 'alligators' (which was explained quite quickly to Lynne).
Our first hill-walking steps were inspired by our good friend, Maria. An experienced walker who has conquered the Munro's (twice) and hiked to the Everest Base Camp. We were in expert hands.
Our first hill in Scotland - Cockleroy. A gentle, short walk but it was enough to persuade me (Lynne) that there was a need to purchase 'proper' hill-walking boots!
That was over a year ago now. We have 'dabbled' since - mostly when we are working in Scotland and staying with Maria. We have explored The Ochils - reaching the summit of Ben Cleuch, The Law, Andrew Gannel and Bank Hill. And we have purchased walking trousers, walking boots and rucksacks.
The hill-walking bug really began after our day in the Pentland Hills (see the next blog entry). Driving back home to Wales gave us an opportunity to reflect on the excitement of the 'whiteout' experience and 'a peak a week' was born. Can we manage it? Who knows. But we now aim to walk a peak a week...and to document our learning experiences as we go.
...a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
We are Lynne and Andrew from Single Steps Learning. Our love of learning and exploring has inspired us to take up 'hill-walking'. We hope to progress from novice to expert! This is our journey.