Four Arrochar Munros in a day
A tough day out walking the four Arrochar Munros, Ben Vorlich, Ben Vane, Beinn Ime and Beinn Narnain. 25kms and around 2450m of total ascent. It took us eight hours (we ran as much as we could).
Our friend Jamie Aarons came up with the idea for the four Munros days. Jamie is a veteran of the Munros and bagged all 282 in just one year with her partner, Andy. I wrote about their compleation. She was also first lady to finish the West Highland Way Race last year. This year, she has the epic Tor des Geants (Giants of the Alps) in her sights. So she is fit, although she says she will need to be much, much fitter for the TdG.
She invited me to join her for the Munros outing and after assuring me that she wouldn’t mind if I was slow (I bet she didn’t realise how slow I’d be compared to her) I jumped at the chance for a big Munros day out. I have walked each of these Munros before (some several times) but not as a four-in-one-day hike. When the G-Force heard about the idea he decided to tag along as well.
In fact, it was a good thing that the G-Force came with us because we spent a lot of the day in low cloud and although Jamie and I are competent navigators we were grateful for G’s lead/reassurance a few times.
I also downloaded a GPX file of Steve Fallon’s suggested route on to my OS maps app. This was super useful and worked via GPS signals even when my phone was off-line.
We started at the short-stay car park at Inveruglas on the A82 (on the shores of Loch Lomond) and headed along a short section of road before walking/running up the main hydro road. Because it was so early in the outing I was keen to keep to a sensible pace although Jamie and the G-Force wanted to push on a bit faster. We compromised and ran the flats and fast walked the ups.
Jamie’s beautiful dogs, Pirate and Hope, came too and we enjoyed seeing them run ahead and back again and ahead again.
We took the traditional route up Ben Vorlich. We had started late because Jamie had been busy all morning and this meant that as we climbed up the fairly consistently steep path, other people were descending after bagging their one Munro of the day.
The three of us fell into a fairly even upwards pace. I made use of my new Leki Micro Trail Pro (carbon) trail running poles (they are fab!) while the G-Force borrowed another lightweight pair of Leki Magic poles. Jamie decided she needed to work her legs to their max so she did not have poles.
I confess that on this first ascent, which rises from sea level, to 945m, without much of a let up, I felt a bit concerned about how well I’d cope with the full day. The ascent seemed to go on forever, with numerous mini summits and false promises, until we finally reached the summit proper. We were also walking in low clouds and this meant there were few visual aids to guide us to the top.
After a quick stop and a small bite to eat we began the downhill. The route suggested an off-path descent for most of the return to the hydro road/dam. I expect Steve Fallon is a brilliant rugged terrain descender but I am not. I worry all the time about going over on my ankles or falling flat on my face so the descent was slow and arduous.
By the time we reached the dam to cross over the reservoir to the lower slopes of Ben Vane my legs felt fairly trashed. I decided to myself that if I felt any worse after doing Ben Vane I’d take a chicken run route back to the car and leave the other two to carry on.
(I’d had forgotten all about the difference between the trig point and the actual summit until we reached the top. I hiked Ben Vorlich many years ago and before I met the G-Force.)
The traditional route up Ben Vane is from the east. There’s a well-trodden path and I recall it being a superb outing on a clear autumnal day. (Hiking Ben Vane in October.) Yesterday, we walked it on rough grass from a more northerly direction, taking an approach almost directly up and above the dam and reservoir.
We had not expected it to be anywhere near as steep or as long to reach the 930m summit. The terrain also made our leg muscles squeal out due to excessive use. Again we walked for most of the climb in low cloud and while Steve Fallon’s route details had promised lovely views we could see only about 20 to 30 metres ahead of us.
As we climbed higher our chat grew quieter and we each plodded onwards and upwards. The dogs provided some amusement but I think we all simply wanted to reach the half way point of the four Munros.
While I was still worried about whether I could complete the four Munros in one piece my spirits rose when we finally made it to the top. We had another short break, quickly forgot about the uphill slog and began another descent.
Both Jamie and the G-Force are far quicker on the downhills than I am. I admit I felt frustrated that they could go so much faster and a few times I had to shout for them to stop so I could catch up in the mist. I was worried about taking a wrong turn although it was my route download that we referred to most often so they were keen to wait for me sometimes!
After Ben Lomond, Beinn Ime is the Munro I have walked the most times. (See snow shoe adventure on Beinn Ime) However, I have never approached it from the north, rather I have always accessed it from Arrochar itself along the long valley to the south-east.
Again we were stunned by the amount of climbing on rough terrain that was required to reach the summit at 1011m. Because of the relatively short descent from Ben Vane summit to the bealach, we had imagined there would be similar to climb again (around just 350m).
But Ben Vane is a small Munro at 916m and Beinn Ime is a taller Munro at 1011m and so we had this extra 100m to climb. It felt like a lot more because there wasn’t a clear path and our legs were exhausted. It felt like we were climbing another full Munro.
The ascent went on and on and our expletives grew stronger. On the last 200m of climbing we hiked in almost silence and I felt like it would never end. Again there were no views of a summit to guide us and we had to be content with looking into the mist, watching the person in front of us or catching sight of the dogs still enjoying themselves.
The G-Force told me later that if he’d been allowed to he would have fallen asleep on the summit of Beinn Ime. I am pleased Jamie was with us to egg us on and stop us from having a long break.
I managed to eat a little more (I found that eating little and often on this Munro trip worked well. I mixed savoury and sweet stuff.). And then came yet another painful descent. We ran as much as we could although I was still slow! Finally, when the familiar fence and gate came into sight near the bealach of the Munros, Ime and Narnain, I knew we were not far from climbing up again.
Thankfully, the easiest Munro came last. Our legs were tired and it still felt like a bit of a slog but having walked this Munro a few times before I knew it wasn’t a long-winded one. (I walked Ben Narnain a few summers ago and took in Beinn Ime and the Cobbler, too.)
The clouds were now lower and there was a drizzle so it was hard to make out the summit in the blurred conditions but I was convinced it would not be too hard. In the end, it wasn’t that tough despite our knackered legs.
Jamie was feeling a bit disheartened however. Although she was still hiking and running strongly, she had started thinking about the TdG. She would need to hike/run 10 times the ascent of our day’s outing and over 300km. I couldn’t even comprehend why you would want to put your body through such a challenge but it made Jamie even more determined to train harder and do further big Munro outings. I wish her a lot of luck!
Another quick stop (by now it was getting colder and wetter) on the summit of Beinn Narnain (926m) and we were off at running pace again. I know that if it had not been for Jamie pushing us to run I would have slowly – and painfully – walked back downhill.
My thighs and knees were very sore and each step hurt. For some of the descent the terrain was annoyingly bumpy with thick grass and the incline was steep. Finally, however, we made it to a forest track and a gentler decline.
The final push home
At first I couldn’t imagine how I was going to keep my legs turning over for the final three to four miles back to the car. I felt dizzy and my legs ached. I shared a gel with the G-Force and then decided I’d just keep trying to turn my legs over and see how far I could get.
After another 10 minutes or so I found myself in a “get to the end come what may” zone and I discovered I had the energy to stride out a bit more. I even managed to run up the small hills and as I came closer and closer to the hydro road again I felt a rush of strength.
I pushed on downhill at quite a speed (well, it felt quite speedy!). I wasn’t in the mood for talking or being with anyone (no offence Jamie and the G-Force but I just wanted to get back to the car) and as the loch got closer my strides got bigger.
I was delighted that I’d managed to do the hike/run and that I could still run. My legs were sore and when I stopped they felt wobbly but it had been an incredible challenge and one that I feel proud to have completed.
Today my legs are sore and very achy. I think it will be a few days before they are back to normal but I know I will feel stronger when I am out on the Munros again.
The weather had deteriorated to proper rain (the first we have had in at least a fortnight) and I started to shiver when we got in the car. I still felt very lucky to have this amazing Scottish playground on my doorstep – and it was nothing that a pub meal, two glasses of wine and a few days of recovery couldn’t fix!
I am sure that Jamie would have completed the four Munros much quicker without us but she was grateful for the company. She asked if we would be up for more Munros today but I don’t think I could walk an incline of any more than 20m! As I said, she is very fit and very focused.