Snowshoe adventure on Beinn Ime, Arrochar
I can’t recall the number of times I have hiked to the top of the Munro, Beinn Ime, in the Arrochar Alps. Going by snowshoes this weekend added a lot of fun to a walk that had become a little too familiar.
I returned from a couple of days of skiing in the snowy slopes of St Anton, in Austria, last week to find Scotland also covered in snow. The Highlands had enjoyed a big dump during the week and throughout Saturday the central belt was treated to a few inches.
The snow actually arrived a half day earlier than forecast and on Saturday morning I found myself running through a white out on local hills. There was a surprisingly thick layer of snow on the tops of the Campsies as my friend Nick and I made our way, for a while by compass bearing alone, from the village of Fintry to Glengoyne Distillery, north of Strathblane, both in Stirlingshire.
The big lesson learned from that hike-run is that I need gaiters (or possibly ankle warmers) to keep my skinny ankles warm. My ankles and feet ended up so frozen cold that they were painful to walk or run on. I thought I had done some major damage but it is more likely the nerves in my feet and ankles were screaming out at me due to the cold.
If there’s snow, let’s try snowshoes
Sunday’s plan had been to climb a Munro in Glen Etive, Glencoe. On closer inspection of the road leading to the Munro the night before (the G-Force was already in Glencoe after a day of climbing) revealed that the road would not be passable by an ordinary car so we re-planned.
We agreed to meet, instead, in Arrochar. A lovely meal at the Village Inn followed by a night in Fern the Van on the side of Loch Long allowed us a leisurely start in the morning with the goal of reaching the summit of Beinn Ime.
We dressed for winter hiking and carried all the right gear, as well as snow shoes.
I wore winter walking boots, Asolo Ascender GV. Asolo make boots that offer a narrower fit for my long and thin feet. I also wore my Bergans of Norway Storen jacket and pants. The new Bergans of Norway Storen jacket and pants are ideal for ski touring and also for high energy walking and snowshoeing.
Right from the start of the path that leaves the roadside, the conditions were tiring. The steep, zigzagging path had been well walked the day before with ice and compacted snow making the hiking very hard work.
My Asolo boots offer very little flex (this means that are very grippy in most winter conditions but not ideal for compacted snow) and I found myself slipping quite a bit. I thought about adding crampons but after a while I found a bit more of a rhythm and pushed on.
As usual the glen was pretty busy with walkers (even on this wintry day) and at points we had to form an orderly queue on the narrow path. We were still in walking boots at this point.
When we reached the bealach, where it is usually possible to see the three summits of Ime, Narnain (another Munro) and the Cobbler (a Corbett), we swapped to snow shoes. The snow shoes are easy to add to walking boots. Two straps secure the shoes to the outside of the hiking boots.
The snow shoes are simple to walk in and create a wider surface area so you do not sink deeply into soft snow. You meed to buy snowshoes to suit your weight.
At the bealach, visibility was really poor because of low cloud cover and occasional flurries of snow. There is usually a clear footpath ahead and while the route was mostly visible due to snowy footprints we decided to take the more sensible approach of following a compass bearing.
The joys of snowshoes
While I have enjoyed a little snow-showing before I have never walked as far as we did this weekend. Nor have I enjoyed a snowy Munro so much as yesterday’s outing.
The shoes were an amazing asset as we traversed the deep blanket of snow. We were able to push on far faster than the people walking the trail. As we passed them by the side of the trail, several people struck up a conversation to find out more about the snowshoes.
However, snow shoeing is not as easy as it looks. It is quicker because you do not sink into deep snow as much as when walking but there is still a lot of effort required to plod up a slope.
The G-Force and I needed to stop frequently to catch our breath and peel off layers of clothing. On very steep slopes, although the shoes dig into the snow and offer pretty good grip, we still found our thighs burning with the effort of ascent.
Towards the top of the Munro the visibility dropped to less than a few metres. We snowshoed the last 300 metres of ascent on a compass bearing and this meant that we needed to be very careful to avoid a number of steep drops and crags.
The snow creates a very different terrain to the usual one found in the Arrochar Alps and we followed more of an A to B route than the well-trodden path.
The light at the top
Then, as we walked the last 50 metres of ascent, or so, we suddenly found ourselves above the cloud. I love it when this happens and I did my usual “oohing and ahhing and wowing” as we caught glimpses of the stunning landscape below through holes in the clouds.
In some cases I prefer seeing the scenery through gaps in the clouds because it makes it all the more captivating simply because you don’t expect it.
After a quick cup of tea and much-needed chocolate for energy on the summit, the G-Force and I set off for the return walk. We met Mark, a climbing pal of the G-Force and a member of Lochaber MRT, making an ascent on skis. The snow looked ideal for skiing back down although poor visibility would have hampered my ability, for sure! I like clear skies for skiing in Scotland!
Our snow shoes made very, very easy work of the descent. I felt like Man Mountain as I strode out covering the snowy ground quickly and easily. It seemed like no time before we were back at he bealach, although, yet again, we were hiking through thick cloud.
Temperatures had also dropped markedly and the wind picked up as we retraced out steps through the glen. I added crampons to my boots to stop me from slipping and sliding on the path.
Walking and snow-shoeing in winter conditions is hard work and by the time the G-Force and I made it back to the roadside at Arrochar we were both truly exhausted. The drive home is only about 40 minutes but it seemed like forever. The day was rounded off with a big curry and then an early night.
Snow in Scotland added a lot of fun to what would have been quite ordinary adventures for me this weekend.