We were lulled into a false sense of autumnal loveliness, weren’t we? Just two weeks ago the G-Force and I hiked to the summit of Ben Vane in glorious conditions. The sun shone and there was a blue sky. The wind was minimal even at the 3001ft summit and we wore thin baselayer tops and chatted about the wonders of a warm autumn in Scotland.
Ben Vane is a great Munro to hike. There is a well-trodden path, although boggy in places lower down, and while occasionally steep, it’s a mostly steady climb to the top. I pushed on for a fast climb with a lighter weight rucksack while the G-Force carried a heavier “filled with climbing gear” rucksack and made a slower ascent.
His aim is to build up his strength for winter climbing, while my aim is to become faster and fitter on the Munros carrying less kit.
This weekend, as we set out to climb another two Munros, we were faced with conditions that were in stark contrast to Ben Vane.
Hiking Stob Binnein
Having been forced to change my plans the Sunday before because of rain and high winds, this Saturday I was determined to give Ben More and Stob Binnein another try.
When we awoke at 6,30am, the G-Force and I tried to convince ourselves that the rain and wind battering our home was nothing to be concerned about. It was “only” wind and rain. But by the time we’d reached Crianlarich for the start of the walk we had already revised our plan.
We decided we would miss out Ben More (both of us have summited this Munro before anyway) and try instead to hike only Stob Binnein. But as we walked the wide and quickly ascending trail to reach the bealach between More and Binnein I found myself losing hope.
Although sections of the trail were sheltered, when the wind blasted us it was strong and unpleasant. The rain never stopped and was, on occasion, it was very heavy. I couldn’t imagine how we would make it to the top.
But then we saw the bealach up ahead and while the climb up a rough trail was steep it felt sheltered from the wind. We made steady progress and just below the bealach we could see both the summits of Ben More and Stob Binnein to each side.
Neither summit looked to be far away and so we pushed on. However, as we came up to the bealach proper, the wind suddenly began to blast us. It was strong and gusty and walking upwards was extremely slow and tiring.
An ascent of around 300m would not normally take us too long but it felt as though we were walking forever.
The only way to stay upright for sections of this walk was to hold the G-Force’s hand or arm. If anyone had seen us on the Munro (if they were bonkers enough to be out on such a day) they might have thought we looked kind of sweet. Holding hands is a lovely thing to do, but our handholding was a necessity.
And, in reality, walking hand in hand, or arm in arm, is not easy when the slope is steep and the wind is strong. We were pushed together and bounced around, and found ourselves continually stopping and starting.
In similar conditions previously we have been forced to turn back but while it was windy, the rain wasn’t horizontal and there were times when a patch of blue sky appeared above us. It gave us hope. I think, also, that I have become more experienced in what I can cope with on the Munros. High winds scare me but I now know what I can physically cope with. If there had been horizontal rain, snow or thick clouds I imagine we would have retreated.
Thankfully the ascent was also on a wide area of mountain and didn’t feel too risky. If we had been on a narrow mountain section we would have definitely turned back.
Finally, sometimes progressing on my hands and knees, we made it to the flatter section of the summit and were stunned to find that there was hardly any wind at all. In fact, we sat for a while on the Munro peak eating our lunch and wondering at the relative calmness.
The descent, however, felt even windier. On occasions we were forced to stand stock still while the wind gusts buffeted us and made it impossible to take even the smallest step. We crouch to the ground several times to cope with the wind at its fullest strength.
The rain was also becoming heavier and we could feel it dripping into our gloves and down the side of our necks. Whatever you wear on windy and rainy days there will be some water penetration at some point.
Even more impressed with my mitts
My new Berghaus Ulvetanna Hydrodown Mitts did a superb job. They did get wet inside because the rain ran off the sleeves of my jacket and into the gloves but they still kept my hands warm.
Even when I wrung out the water from the gloves the down loft bounced back into good form and kept my hands warm. I am very impressed by these gloves.
The calm after the storm
Finally we descended past the bealach again and found ourselves once again in calmer conditions. The sun was even trying to break through the clouds although it rarely did for more than a minute or so.
The hike itself didn’t take more than 3.5 hours. It would have been far quicker in good weather. We had been fully blasted by the bonkers winter conditions. But we felt like we had conquered something amazing.
So long as you feel safe to do so and you have the experience, walking in wintry conditions can be as rewarding as in summer.