The snow is here! Exploring the Munros of Loch Lomond

I thought we might get a little bit of snow for Lancaster University Hiking Club’s first Scotland weekend trip last weekend, but I didn’t envisage we’d be wading through waist-deep stuff most of the weekend. We were staying at Beinglas Farm Campsite, at the very northern-most end of Loch Lomond in Inverarnan. This offered easy access to not just the Arrochar Alps but also the Munros to the north-east of the campsite, on which I spent most of the weekend.

The initial plan on Saturday was to bag all five Munros to the north-east of the campsite, namely: Beinn Chabhair; An Caisteail; Beinn a’ Chroin; Cruach Ardain and; Beinn Tulaichean. However, logistics dictated that only four (missing out Beinn Chabhair) were realistically going to be achievable and so we headed up to park just south-west of Crianlarich to start the walk up Coire Earb. The weather was pretty miserable at first, with plenty of sleety snow as we hacked our way up onto An Caisteal’s northern ridge. Things cleared up, fortunately, and we even got a bit of a view from the summit.¬†As it was the first fall of snow, no freeze-thaw cycles had occurred and hence it was all very powdery and pristine, which made for hard going as we waded our way onto Beinn a’ Chroin, via a steep, exposed and somewhat direct route up it’s north-western face. The clouds cleared on our way up and we got some stunning views over the surrounding Munros and down to Loch Lomond.

Pristine powdery snow! Just off the summit of An Caisteal.

Pristine powdery snow! Just off the summit of An Caisteal.

The wind was biting and I don’t think I really warmed up all day long, even on the ascent. When we reached the col between Beinn a’ Chroin and Cruach Ardain, some of the group decided to head down, whilst Calum, Jim, Laura, Daniel, Ben and myself decided to head on. By the time we reached the summit of Cruach Ardain (which we later discovered wasn’t actually the summit; how frustrating!), it was already dark and as we didn’t fancy adding an extra couple of hours navigating in the pitch black out to Beinn Tulaichean and back, we decided to head down instead.

Great views when the clouds cleared!

Great views when the clouds cleared!

That evening, the campsite owners were hosting a bonfire and firework display. We received a phonecall just after leaving our final summit to say our van would need to be moved as it was too close to where the fire was going to be (Daniel had the keys), but when we returned we found they’d decided to crack on without us and instead had left a good layer of ash on the van. More annoyingly, they showed clear disregard for any tents nearby (i.e., ours) and gave them a good coating of ash as well.

The forecast was much better for the Sunday, and as I decided it was about time that I run up my first Munro. I’d weighed up the snow the day before and decided it wasn’t icy enough to warrant crampons, and that fell running shoes would be fine. Of course, I had in mind that I might need to turn back before the summit of my target – the most western of the five behind the campsite: Beinn Chabhair.

The weather was perfect, and the bog to Lochan Beinn Chabhair fortunately frozen – for the ascent at least! It took me 52 minutes to run the 3km and 500m ascent to the lochan, with a few stops to de-layer and take on some food. A lot of time was spent skirting around unfrozen sections of the bog. From there, where there were another few guys starting their ascents, I started the wade up onto Meall nan Tarmachain on Beinn Chabhair’s north-western ridge. The “ridge” was very undulating, with chest-high snow drifts in places, and by the time I reached the summit I was feeling physically drained. I finished off my first PowerBar, started on my second (my “emergency” one) and ate a handful of snow, before slipping and sliding my way back along the ridge and down to the lochan. The descent was, fortunately, effortless, and I did literally slide most of the way down. I really enjoy descending in deep snow!

View from the ascent of Beinn Chabhair. I didn't take my camera, so had to rely on my phone.

View from the ascent of Beinn Chabhair. I didn’t take my camera, so had to rely on my phone.

By the time I was back at the lochan, my feet had recovered from the near-frostbitten state they were in on the way up (note to self: must invest in some waterproof socks) and the PowerBars had started to work their magic. The run back to the campsite was very enjoyable – despite an excessive amount of bog-wading – and I took the time to take in the surroundings in the euphoric I’ve-just-ran-up-my-first-Munro, my-toes-don’t-have-frostbite state I was in.

I can’t wait to get some more Munro runs in over the winter!