Arrochar Cave Trip Plus Some Soggy Munroing

27 07 2011

5 October 2010

The Arrochar Cave meet was the end of a frenetic two weeks for me – and what a fantastic end it was – it really saved my fortnight! I’d been wanting to spend a night in the historic caves since I’d read about them in various Scottish Mountaineering/Bothying books. They really are a part of Scotland’s early mountaineering history as the famous ‘Creag Dhu’ climbing club used to regularly sleep in them back in the 1940s (probably up to the present time) when spending climbing weekends away from Glasgow.

After a soggy week attempting to Munro bag around Crianlarich area with Richard where we spent two days train riding instead (to Oban & Fort William) and then went home early, I had to nip home to England for a rock concert and 2 Scottish Country Dances. I was then back up on the Tuesday to Killin where I wanted to finish my Glen Lochay Munros with Creag Mhor – a beautiful peak (luckily I’d seen it before!). I booked into Killin’s Braveheart bunkhouse (which unfortunately is no more 😦 ) and then went out to phone Richard for a weather forecast. “It will be sunny and lovely with maybe a couple of showers” he assured me…

The next morning it was indeed sunny and lovely as I set out and I was parked up at the end of Glen Lochay by 1030. I walked the 4 or 5 miles along the Water/Hydro Board’s track which contours round the hillside. I was a little miffed when one of the employees sped up the road past me to the start of the track in a van and neglected to offer me a wee lift to the top but it would have only saved me 10 minutes anyway.


Taken on a previous trip obviously… Creag Mor fm Meall Glas shoulder


Starting Out in Sunshine

An hour and a quarter later I was trying to puzzle out where the route up the end of Creag Mhor’s ridge would go as it looked very craggy. I found a path but it was heading off into the corrie to the east of the mountain. As I knew that side was less craggy I followed it and found a great grassy route up onto the ridge… where the clag began to descend and it started to rain in earnest. By the time I reached the ridge it was throwing it down and very windy as well (and blowing towards the ‘bad’ side). I sighed and once more donned all my clothing and plodded up into the mist. Just managed to get one photo before the mountain’s elegant nose completely disappeared.


Creag Mhor Clouding Over

The ridge up was very easy and had a great path and I was soon on the summit where I then set about compassing my way round to its top, Stob nan Clach. This was soon reached and I then backtracked and decided to descend though the thick mist into the corrie and walk out that way. After a few craggy bits which, with care, I managed to get down between okay (although they looked alarming when you looked back up them) I was down to the corrie floor. I saw a herd of deer and hoped the stag, if he was about, wasn’t feeling especially grumpy as it was rutting time – I gave them quite a wide berth just in case. The corrie wasn’t too boggy but the rain had been running down my waterproofs into my boots (I never remember to don gaiters) then the long and very wet grass completed the job. By now I was paddling inside my boots – I was very glad to regain the vehicle track, wring my socks out and quickly march out. I’d borrowed Richard’s new digital camera (for the cave – unlike me, my camera doesn’t ‘flash’) but took very few photos as it was just too dreish to bother really.


Very Wet Return from Creag Mhor


Creag nam Bodach


Pass to Glen Lyon


Very Wet Ben Cheetah & co

By the time I reached the car, most of my kit was pretty well soaked… and I had a night in a cave to face still using most of it. I knew my boots would never dry in the next 3 or so hours (or even days) but hoped I could potentially dry some of my clothes and so called back at the bunkhouse where the lady very kindly said I could put my stuff in the tumble dryer. Of course, I didn’t dare put my waterproof coat in so that just had to try to dry naturally in the warm room. I checked my soggy phone and Alan had left me a voicemail about meeting up in the pub at Arrochar. I took the opportunity to ring him back and see if he could possibly bring me some dry stuff please (as he stays not too far away) – he said he’d see what he could do.

After about an hour and a half I had to abandon further drying of my kit and set off. I either had spares, or the originals had dried except my boots and gloves. My jacket was damp but getting better – I hoped the warm pub air would sort that out – especially with all the hot-air we’d be spouting! I put my gloves on for the drive down to Arrochar in an attempt to dry them but all that served to do was make my hands cold and damp – not great for meeting people and shaking hands!

I arrived at the pub and met Alan, Janet, Billy and David and we settled down to a couple of drinks and a great meal. Alan, who unfortunately now couldn’t join us at the cave due to recent health problems, turned into our impromptu support for the cave meet. He’d brought me dry gloves, a superb pair of waterproof and very warm and well-soled brand new boots and he also lent me his bivvy bag to put my sleeping bag and mat in! What a hero – certainly saved me from some potential discomfort through the night. When we’d finished eating, drinking and chatting, he also drove us to the old forestry cottage at the end of the driveable path to the caves.

We put our packs and headtorches on and I led the way to the caves… well I tried but we immediately ended up at the shooting club which we were supposed to bypass! I felt slightly stupid, especially when I still couldn’t find the path after scouting round – I’d been to recheck it on the Tuesday afternoon in daylight before continuing up to Killin to avoid such occurrences! Janet and Billy found the start of the proper path for me and we continued… The path, which had been wet on Tuesday was now pretty much a lake and we sloshed up it – me being very thankful for the waterproof boots!

There are considerable areas of slabby path to climb before the path levels out again through the forest. Most of the path was a pretty sketchy and narrow affair through the grass – good job I’d revised it the day before – it was totally different in the dark and with a huge pack! Janet, who was carrying a big bag of peats in her hand had quite a bit of trouble with the slippery path and fell a few times. Billy went back to help her while I checked my bearings and landmarks to ensure we were on route. Eventually we reached the huge area of spreading tree roots which signalled the start of the steep ascent to the caves. Looking high above us, my headtorch picked out the huge rockfall which forms them. Of course, finding the right cave in that chaos of fallen and slippery rocks is a bit daunting, especially in the dark – I was really worried in case we couldn’t find it.

Luckily we found it (unoccupied) straightaway and the others followed me into our cosy home for the night. Favourable exclamations were being uttered behind me as Janet and Billy took in our surroundings. After the heavy rainfall we’d had and the soggy walk in I was pleased to see the floor area was pretty much dry everywhere.

By the time I’d dropped my pack Billy was scattering green light sticks everywhere and the cave started to look really magical. Janet lit and placed loads of tealights and then she and I stood looking round admiring our surroundings some more. Moments later when we looked back, Billy had the fire built, lit and going pretty well! There was a perfect fire place (obviously much used) between some rocks in the middle of the cave so you could seat yourselves round it nicely and the fire couldn’t get out of hand and consume sleeping bags and the like. The cave also had a great natural chimney consisting of a natural sloping gap in the roof so we didn’t get smoked out. There was also a dry rock area at the far end of the cave which we used for our outer clothing (and me for a while most of my other clothing as I was sweltered by the time we reached the place!)

We discussed who wanted to sleep where – Janet getting a cosy corner with a bit of dead bracken bedding in a nice recess, me getting a nice, smooth bit near the fire and Billy the other side of the cave. It was a really roomy abode, even with the 3 of us installed and all our kit unpacked.

We spent the next few hours taking photos, telling tales – including a hilarious one from Billy about being repeatedly attacked by a billy (goat), eating buttered tea-loaf and chocolate and drinking the cider Billy had carried in and the white coffee flask Janet had blagged in the pub before we left. We celebrated Janet’s birthday around midnight, chatted some more, stared mesmerised at the fire (as you do) and eventually turned in for the night – I glanced at my watch and saw it was 3am! Time really does fly in such a magical place!

The Arrochar Cave (some photos are Janet’s)

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t felt cold once (but then we had fed around 15 peat blocks to the hungry fire) and even getting into bed – traditionally a very cold time for me – felt warm and cosy, even my feet were warm – without my electric blanket that never happens! I don’t usually sleep much until around 5am so lay awake looking at the flickering firelight on the ceiling and the green glows in the corners and listening to the continual roaring of several stags (they literally roared all night – goodness knows how they find the energy to mate after all that!) There was also the roar of a nearby waterfall which was increasing in strength as the night, and the rain, went on – it sounded horribly wet outside.

To be honest, it wasn’t just that I wasn’t tired, it was also that I didn’t want to sleep – it seemed a waste of such a superb experience and I felt it was for such a short time. Also I felt smug that we were cosy in there with such an awful night outside.

Eventually I slept a bit and we all woke around 8am and got up to pack – the fire was still glowing warmly. I was pretty sad to be leaving and went out with Janet to take a few more photos.


The Arrochar Cave – Main Entrance


The higher cave up the arete


The start of the route down

Then we had to leave and we set off very carefully down the soggy and slippery paths and slabs back to the shooting range. When we got there, a guy in a yellow and black jacket and black crash helmet was waiting for us. OMG! I thought it was the police and that the owner of the forestry cottage where we’d been dropped off the night before had complained. While I was turning over in my mind what we should say and thinking that we hadn’t committed any offence Janet said “Oh, there’s Alan”. Phew! so it was – he’d come on his motorbike instead of by car. He offered to go off and get my car and meet us – as it was getting pretty late for Janet and Billy’s bus I gave him the keys.

We were soon at the petrol station snack bar where Alan and I ordered breakfast rolls and coffee while the others had to dash off for the bus. I was feeling smelly and dirty so popped into the garage toilets to get a good wash before my breakfast. By now it had turned from steady rain to heavy rain so we were hoping the bus had arrived for the other two as there was no bus shelter! Then it was all over and I sadly filled up the car and headed for home. By the time I got to the south end of Loch Lomond, the weather was beautiful and remained so all the way back. Everyone back home said it had been beautiful all the time I’d been away and had I enjoyed getting good weather at last?!

A very big thanks to Alan for the great backup and dry clothes and to David for meeting up for the meal and chat in the pub, and to my two fellow troglodytes for a superb evening in the caves 🙂

Janet and I are planning to do another cave trip this autumn if anyone fancies joining us – no dates available as yet…

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9 responses

21 01 2014
Beinn Ime (again), Ben Dorain & An Dothaidh | The Adventures of a Mountain Coward

[…]see this report for my initial investigative trip to the caves[…]

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29 04 2013
Terry Cooling

Carol Looks like a very exciting night out/in if you get my drift??.. I would love to spend a night in a cave might yet? It is all in the planning..But having 2 old dogs “& that isn’t me & the missus”..that 2 K9s..we need to do short comfortable walks lol.. Cheers Terry.

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29 04 2013
mountaincoward

The other guy who did the cave night managed to get a night off from his missus and kids to attend – don’t know if he had a dog back home though 🙂

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5 09 2011
David Seòras

interesting night out… think Id be a bit like yourself in thinking its a bit of a waste to sleep. I’ve been trying to get a couple of my mates to join me for a night at the shelter stone for some time now, but to no avail.

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10 09 2011
mountaincoward

I want a night under the Shelter Stone – but only in summer mind… if you fancy next summer sometime, give me a shout and we can see if we can come up with some dates. I think Janet/Walkaboot will probably come too if she can. And possibly Alan/Mountainstar.
Carol.

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28 07 2011
bob

Been Down Some of the Caves there including the one with a flooded sump at the bottom reached through several descending chambers.There are so many holes in the boulders Its pretty hard to find the right one used by the old timers so well done.Took me three attempts on different outings to find them all.Surprised you didnt mention sheep ticks as I always get loads scrambling about in that neck of the woods.Maybe thats just me.

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28 07 2011
mountaincoward

Hi, I’m not sure we found exactly the cave mentioned in Borthwick (for example) but I think I might know which other it is. But the one we used looks to be the most used nowadays and is the comfiest I think. I’d love to be able to get up that scramble to the cave above (which is where the sump/underground loch is?) but the wet scramble puts me off a bit!

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27 07 2011
Alex

There`s a good cave on the Brack high up under the crag….think it`s called Sunset Arch.A but draughtier than the one above but Ben Lomond is perfectly framed in the opening.Which one are you planning on ?

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28 07 2011
mountaincoward

I’m planning on staying in exactly the same cave in Glen Loin about 1 or 2 miles north of Arrochar/Succoth. It’s one of the ones mentioned in Alastair Borthwick’s “Always a Little Further” book and also in the “Mountain Days & Bothy Nights” book (although you sound like you know which cave we were in).

If you’re interested in joining us, I can let you know dates when I decide on them – the meeting up place is in the Village Inn pub in Arrochar on the evening.

I can see it becoming a bit of an annual event 🙂 We always make it during the week though in case the Creag Dhu need it at the weekends – wouldn’t want to trespass on their patch!
Carol.

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