Broken Down Hag on Ben Vorlich & Little Hills

14 12 2014

Wed 5 Nov 2014

Just as I set off on this trip my Polo’s ‘engine management’ light came on (bloody modern cars and their sensors). Luckily, before I continued my journey, I had an hour-long appointment just across from my regular car repair garage so I dropped it off, fluttered my eyelashes and asked if they could check it out now please. Luckily, they were quite happy to do so – it did cost me £60 for them to run the check though so that’s possibly why rather than my eyelash-fluttering skills!

(click on photos for full size/resolution)
When I picked up the car I found it had just been a faulty sensor and only an intermittent reading anyway so all was well and I set off. It was torrential rain up through Cumbria to around Glasgow where, thankfully from then on, it was clear. I hurried the last section along Loch Lomondside as I could see I was due to arrive after 2030 and wanted my tea. I drove straight round to The Village Inn at Arrochar and rushed in to the bar – it was 2031 – just one minute after they ‘stopped serving’. I thought really that one minute wouldn’t matter but the guy turned me away – I was pretty miffed and decided I wasn’t going to eat there again! I mean, one minute?! 😦

They’d suggested the fish & chip shop but that was shut as well… luckily, the local shop wasn’t. A nice lady in there sold me a delicious egg salad sandwich and some Tunnocks snowballs and I continued to my night’s accommodation, the Arrochar Hotel. Now, this is one of the large ‘coach-party’ hotels and we’d always avoided it in the past but my usual Guest House (Fascadail) was full up as I’d only been booking my trip the night before when I’d seen the weather forecast. I’d seen online that the Arrochar Hotel price was £70 for a single room for 2 nights B&B though – you can’t argue with a price like £35 per night for hotel accommodation!

The hotel were far more helpful than The Village Inn had been. When I asked the nice young receptionist guy if it was too late to get any food (I fancied something warm), he said it was but he’d call the chef and ask what they could do for me. The chef came out pretty soon and said they could do me some cream of mushroom soup and some Boeuf Bourgignon – as I don’t eat meat and had the sandwich anyway, I said I’d be happy with the soup – I have to say, it was delicious! 🙂

I scoffed the rest of the goodies in my room, read for a while and then settled down just after midnight for a great night’s sleep. When I arrived in the breakfast room in the morning I was met by a superb view. The breakfast/dining room has windows running all the way along the side of the hotel overlooking Loch Long and, this particular morning, it was mirror-calm and backed by superbly sunny golden mountains. I couldn’t wait to get out there and up them!

I crammed my breakfast down hurriedly (I was only having fruit and porridge anyway) and dashed out to drive around to the Loch Lomondside carpark for my walk up Glen Sloy. It was a very cold morning and I’d had to scrape ice off my car windows before setting off. At the carpark, I grabbed my bags, put my boots on and hurried off back along the road to the locked gate at the glen entrance – about 1/2 mile along the road.

L Lomond,fiery island
Loch Lomond Island near Carpark

As soon as I set off up the glen, I realised I was in trouble. My chest had had a slight flare-up in the night and I’d woken up coughing and wheezing a bit. I’d soon sorted it and gone back to sleep and thought no more of it. Immediately I set off uphill (and not even steeply uphill), I realised I only had around half my chest’s capacity or perhaps even less. Strangely, I wasn’t wheezing or in distress – I just had half my lungs available for no apparent reason. I tried my reliever inhaler (rarely used nowadays) and found even the maximum dose made not a jot of difference 😦

Ben Vane, Glen Sloy
Heading up Glen Sloy

Beinn Ime Peeping Over
Keep right here (actually, the signpost is just hiding an electricity pylon 😉 )

I was determined to get my hill though after driving all the way up to Scotland so continued on. I knew I could get up the steep hill, even though it looked much steeper and higher than I remembered from last time, if I plodded slowly enough. It was too good a day to waste anyway – last time we did the hill we saw precisely nothing, which is why I didn’t see the Munro ‘Top’ I was now having to collect.

The worst thing for me was that a guy behind passed me and I couldn’t catch anyone up who was in front of me. As I am very competitive (and also used to beating most folks on the hill), I was feeling old and knackered. All the way up the hill I was pondering the fact that, if I was a horse, I’d be shot – the usual fate for broken-down nags 😦

Loch Sloy Dam from Vorlich Ascent(higher)
Steep climbing…

Each time I stopped for a view or a photo I ended up doubled up trying to get my panting back to normal but, as deep breaths were out of the question, I couldn’t really do anything else. It is an extremely steep and hard ascent to the high corrie – around 1500 feet in a very short distance. Luckily the path then eases off and rakes across towards the ridge and becomes very interesting indeed.

Loch Sloy Dam from Vorlich Corrie
Loch Sloy Dam from lip of corrie

It was fascinating for me to see the path in clear conditions – it’s very complicated and was like a mystery tour in the clag we ascended the hill in last time (me and Richard).

Ben Vorlich-leaving ascent corrie

Ben Vorlich-looking back at ascent corrie
Looking back down to corrie

Reaching the ridge was superb as clear views burst into view in all directions. To the north, I could see Ben More and Stobinian were covered in snow to at least half-way down (I couldn’t see below that for the Glen Falloch Munros). Strangely, Ben Lui – around 10 miles west of Ben More – had no snow whatsoever.

Ben Vorlich Little Hills
Little Hills to snowy Stobinian

There were also great views west to Ben Cruachan and Beinn Buidhe. Looking south to the rest of the Arrochar Alps just showed dark but dramatic outlines as they were straight into the sun.

Ben Vorlich Ascent to Ben Lomond
Looking to Ben Lomond

Loch Sloy Dam from Above
Loch Sloy Dam Far Below Now

I was irked to already meet people coming back from the summit who’d been setting off just in front of me – a very poor performance from me but I couldn’t go any faster whether I wanted to or not. At least I was getting there and had the great views though. Some pretty old guys were leaving the summit just as I was ascending the final slope – they were doing much better than me.

Ben Vorlich-looking back from ascent
Looking back along ridge again

Ben Vorlich Ridge to Loch Lomond end
Partially-frozen lochan

I saw where Richard and I had gone wrong on our previous visit – there was a faint path junction below the summit cone where the major path goes straight on to a dead end. We didn’t see the right turn off it last time which goes up to the summit – it wouldn’t be obvious in thick mist. We managed to find the summit by rather unorthodox methods that time!

I reached the summits – there are two – a trig point and cairn and then, a few yards further along atop a small crag, another cairn which is apparently the true summit – I personally think the trig point one is higher. It was absolutely freezing on the summit ridge as there was a cold breeze up there and the ground was frozen solid so I didn’t stay. My top was not far away and looking pleasantly easy so I headed off.

Ben Vorlich to Ben Lui
From Trig Point Summit to Main Summit with North Top Beyond (Ben Lui in the distance)

In a couple more minutes I was on the ‘top’ summit which was even colder than the main summit had been so I didn’t stay there longer than it took to briefly admire the view. I headed back to the col between the two peaks and found I was out of the wind and in the sun there so stopped for a quick coffee.

Ben Vorlich main summits from Top
Main Summits from my coffee area col

Ben Vorlich Little Hills from N Top
Little Hills

Now, I really hate descending the same way I came up as I think it’s a really boring thing to do so was planning a bit of a trip across Little Hills. They were a couple of very steep and craggy-looking beasts though so a bit of a brave choice with the state my chest was in – I knew I could do them though if I took my time. I then planned to descend from them into Coire Baintighearna and out of the corrie mouth to the hydro road below.

Descent to Little Hills
Descending to Little Hills

Going down the side of Ben Vorlich to the first col had superb views. There was a beautiful calm blue lochan in front of my Munro Top which was looking sunny, golden and rocky.

Ben Vorlich Top & Lochan(blue)

Little Hills looked really attractive but pretty gnarly – I determined to go around the side of the first hill as the top section was steep and craggy and the map said the steepness continued right round the hill.

Little Hills approach

Before I reached the col, I found myself atop a crag band and had to go in both directions to find a way down off it – the best way was a steep grass gully to the right. I stopped in the shade of the gully to change a film out of the sun and continued on down – it was very steep and rough but I could see the deer used that route.

There was another lovely little lochan near the col with the two peaks behind – another scenic section.

Little Hills Lochan

I’d been fine chest-wise on my descent but, as soon as I set off up the steep slope, I found I couldn’t really breathe again. I soon took to contouring around the frosty back of the hill where I then descended to another, lower col before the second ‘Little Hill’. It was again a very steep ascent but this time much longer and I felt very old and knackered again.

Approaching 2nd Little Hill
Check out the huge perched boulder near the summit!

I plodded on up to the rocky top and then continued down the far side to follow the east ridge down. Partway down, I upset some sheep and noted they didn’t continue down the ridge, despite their friends being down at the foot of it – hmmmm. I knew I was about to find out why and soon did!

I again found myself above a vertical section. This time, it wasn’t crag all the way round it, some of it was merely vertical grass with a section of wet slab in the middle. I went from side to side again but couldn’t get off either end – it was either puff my way back up and look for another route or it was the vertical grass/wet slab.

I decided it had to be the latter and, flattening myself against the slope and clinging to huge tufts of grass and earth above me, cautiously worked my way down to the top of the slab. Luckily, I managed to edge across the top of the slab on some more tufts – hoping they would hold – and then I managed to descend the final vertical grass to the col – phew! I hadn’t been expecting any excitement on Ben Vorlich…

Little Hills Grass Cliff
Looking back to the ‘grass cliff’ (the shadowed L/h side of the notch)

From here, I abandoned the rest of the ridge as it didn’t look to get any easier – I could see a grassy route down into the corrie and took it. I knew the rest of my route would be rough, pathless and difficult – it was…

Crossing the corrie somewhere after crossing the exit burn, I was tramping through very long grass and looked down to see that I wasn’t actually walking on ground at all – the grass was growing in water which was almost reaching the top of my boots. It has rained an awful lot in Scotland this autumn so I wasn’t really surprised. I hurried upwards to more solid ground.

I found a section of path which headed slightly uphill towards a ridge at the far side of the corrie and I followed this for a while. I’d decided not to descend the main burn as I could see there was a tight burn exit through crags and then waterfalls. I was planning to follow a second burn down further south where the contour spacing was much wider…

As I neared the ridge I saw what looked like easy grass slopes descending towards the hydro road (which was invisible from that point). I abandoned the path and set off downhill. There was some extremely rough ground on the descent – some was so tufty you couldn’t stay on your feet as you cockled over one way and then the other. Eventually, I met a fenceline – conveniently just as there was a stile over it – and crossed to easier, shorter grass and the burn I was looking for.

Further down this section, I could see a gated grassy path passing below me – that must be the hydro ‘road’ – I’d originally thought it would be tarmacked throughout its length. I was pleased to reach it and have another stop for a sit and a coffee – unfortunately, I was out of the sun down here.

I then passed through the gate and headed south on the track – unfortunately uphill. After a short rise, the path went back down a bit and then it had a long uphill which I could have done without at this stage in the day. My legs were tired from such a rough descent and my lack of lung was making itself felt again – great views of Loch Lomond though…

Loch Lomond to Ben Lomond from Vorlich

Eventually the track reached a comms mast where the map said it went back downhill. I could see that the zig-zag continued on upwards though. I was puzzled and rechecked the map a few times – nope, I definitely didn’t go up there. Unfortunately, when I checked my 1:25000 map later (I had the 1:50000 on the hill), I was sorry I hadn’t gone up the zig-zag continuation for a look – that was where the hydro tunnels set off into the mountain – I’d have found that absolutely fascinating. Oh well, I’ll have to have a return some time.

Luckily, all was downhill from there, the track was now tarmacked (not sure whether my legs were thankful about that or not) and I still had the views down Loch Lomond as compensation.

Loch Lomond from Sloy Upper Power Station

Ben Lomond across the loch

I was soon at the hydro track junction where I re-joined the road I’d taken up the glen in the morning. Although I tried hurrying back to the car so that my time would only be 6 hours for the walk, neither my legs nor my chest would play.

Weirdly, when I got up the next morning, my chest was perfect and hadn’t woken me at all in the night! The weather had turned horrendous though – torrential rain – that put me off my planned re-visit to the famed Arrochar Caves in Glen Loin and I went straight home. Driving was more like water-skiing!

Stats: 10 miles, 3977 feet of ascent, 6 hours 15

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14 responses

21 12 2014
Tessa Park

Glad you are feeling better, there seem to be a lot of ‘lurgies’ going round.

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22 12 2014
mountaincoward

They’ve just started with another at work – I’m glad it’s my rota’d week off!

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16 12 2014
razzah

I hope your chest troubles don’t return and hope it was just the cold.
I get so annoyed by shoddy service like that (8.31pm – no food!) I think a lot of these places are ‘lifestyle’ businesses but the owners have no clue about customer service!

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16 12 2014
mountaincoward

I wouldn’t have minded about the food if I was somewhere where you could get something else but I deliberately rushed to try to get there for 2030 and couldn’t have set off earlier due to that appointment and all the other stuff. I think the Village Inn’s attitude was that they’re doing well enough thankyou so don’t need to please everyone…

My chest seems to have been pretty good since so I’m keeping my fingers crossed it was just a one-of…
Carol.

Liked by 1 person

15 12 2014
underswansea

Very interesting post and great photographs. I’ve often thought if I were a horse I’d have long ago been put down. Thanks for taking me along. I really enjoy your adventures. All the best, Bob.

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16 12 2014
mountaincoward

Thanks Bob – my chest has been fine since anyway so perhaps I shouldn’t be shot just yet 😉

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15 12 2014
McEff

Great pictures, Carol. It’s so rewarding to have fine views after you’ve driven all the way to Scotland, because it so often happens that you make the trek and all you get is foul weather.
I might try that eye-lash fluttering trick when I take my van for its MoT.
Cheers, Alen

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16 12 2014
mountaincoward

Yeah – they might do your MOT extra quick just to get you out of their garage if you do that! 😉

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15 12 2014
chrissiedixie

Great photos and scenery, but what a shame about your chest. Hope it’s sorted itself out now and not giving you any more trouble 🙂

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15 12 2014
mountaincoward

It’s been absolutely fine ever since. I mentioned it to the doctor and they suggested it might have been the cold but I’ve just blasted my way up Black Combe with Richard, overtaking folk all the way, on a very cold morning and my chest was fine – weird!

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15 12 2014
fedup

Nice pictures 🙂 – looking forward to these! I read in the newspaper the other day that a new ABS sensor for a Golf is £1000!

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15 12 2014
mountaincoward

Ouch! That’s why I disagree with all these ‘refinements’ and extras on newer cars – I much prefer the simlicity of my old ones!

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15 12 2014
bob

Great photographs of a hill I know well. You are certainly dedicated Carol and I noticed you were competitive on Ben Lui that day as you started off walking like a rocket:o) Have you now taken up winter mountaineering in Scotland as our snow has arrived here big time this week? One of my friends got his car stuck in a drift last weekend in the borders.

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15 12 2014
mountaincoward

Nope – I’ve stopped my Scottish stuff until the snow clears now – I’m a wimp, I know! I’ll hopefully be doing a bit of winter stuff in the Lakes if we get any this winter…

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