Friday, 18 April 2014

Mountain snobbery and humble pie.

I've lived in Scotland for over 30 years and have been hillwalking on and off for all of that time. I've always dismissed the hills around Luss as small and insignificant and not really worthy of my attention however recently I've read some accounts of walking the Luss hills and this has sparked my curiosity about them, could it be I've been wrong to be so dismissive? I'd been looking for a trip to continue my drive to get back into hillwalking and so last week I made a plan with my occasional walking partner Pat to do a walk and overnight camp starting and finishing in Glen Luss. As our chosen day approached I anxiously watched the forecasts, keen to do the trip even if it meant a little hardship but not if it looked too marginal or dangerous. Ironically the two days we were committed to going were predicted to be quite poor straddled on either side by spells of settled dry sunny weather with light winds, oh well!
I picked up Pat and his friend Dougie and we made the twenty minute journey to Glen Luss. We managed to find a parking spot fairly high up the glen so avoiding a long road walk and the extortionate parking charges that starting in Luss village would have entailed. Boots were donned and rucksacks shouldered and we set off up the first hill (Beinn Eich) just after lunchtime.
We quickly left the road and farm track behind and took to the open hillside which was unrelentingly steep.
The view that began to open up behind us was some compensation and gave us an unfamiliar perspective of the familiar vista of the Luss islands on Loch Lomond. 
Ahead the ridge of Beinn Eich revealed some interesting geological features. 
These provided us with a welcome place for a rest while sheltering from the wind which was becoming stronger the higher we got.
Behind the view continued to open up but we knew these would be our final glimpses of the loch as we could see the clouds growing increasingly closer as we climbed higher up the ridge.

The upper section of Beinn Eich became a nice, well defined ridge and the angle started to ease a little leading to really enjoyable walking. 

As we reached the small summit cairn we finally became immersed in cloud and any views of the surrounding hills became brief. We didn't bother stopping at the top, preferring to push on down the other side to the broad peat hag covered bealach between Beinn Eich and Beinn Lochain. 
Once we'd descended we dropped briefly out of the cloud again and caught glimpses north to Glen Douglas
and back up Beinn Eich.
As we climbed up over Beinn Lochain we were once more enveloped in cloud and the visibility dropped to around 20 metres. Eventually we reached the summit of Doune Hill, our most northerly summit and after a few quick summit pictures sought shelter to have a quick bite to eat.

Time was getting on, it was already after 5pm and with the thick cloud the light wasn't great. Pat was feeling pretty tired as this was his first walk for over a year so we reluctantly decided to abandon our plan to climb a final summit of Cruach an t-Sidhean and instead skirted around it's flank before dropping down to a lower bealach to search for a campsite for the night.

We knew that the wind was due to rise later and rain was due as well and I tried in vain to get a phone signal to check the latest forecast. With no further information we picked a spot based on what we knew at the time and found a small terrace that was reasonably flat, well drained but with a small burn adjacent for drinking water and set too pitching our tents.

I cooked dinner on my homemade "Shewbox Evo" stove while Pat and Dougie did likewise using more conventional means.
The inevitable downpour started as we were eating so we all beat a hasty retreat to our individual tents for the evening despite the fact that it was still light. I always love being warm and dry in my little haven as the rain beats on the flysheet, my MP3 player provided entertainment for the evening and despite the lack of a phone signal I was able to get decent FM radio reception. 
Every so often a stronger gust would blow through but they were relatively few and far between but as evening turned into night they became more frequent and much stronger until in the early hours we were being battered with almost continuous 45 mph gusts. I learned the next morning that Dougie had to get up and peg out extra guy lines to strengthen his tent but my little Hex coped quite well despite flexing alarmingly at times. It was difficult to sleep with the constant flapping of the tent, I had ear plugs but was reluctant to put them in as I hoped I'd be able to get a little audible warning if tent collapse was imminent! I recorded this video clip during one of the squalls. 

 As dawn broke I wondered whether to get up and start packing up and making breakfast but decided to sit tight in my sleeping bag until I heard the others moving (reasoning that I'd get cold waiting around if they slept late). Soon enough I heard Dougie making breakfast so got up and made a start on the morning routine. The wind was showing no sign of moderating and it was obvious that our plan to continue a high level traverse of a ridge (incorporating more summits) back to Glen Luss wouldn't be safe in the conditions. Over breakfast we amended the plan to walk out down Gleann na Caorainn. It was still a decent walk and after a fairly sleepless night and with tired legs we were happy to do this. After breakfast and striking camp we geared up and said cheerio to our little terrace.

Our route out lay down the glen behind me in this photo with the ridge of Beinn Eich on the left and the ridge we originally planned to take on day two on the right. 
As we lost height the clouds lifted and we got a great view back up to Cruach an t-Sidhean which towered over our campsite.
Lower down the glen we picked up a track which made for easier walking than the tufty clumps of grass and boggy ground we'd negotiated previously and would lead us back towards our starting point of the previous day.

We passed Edentaggart farm and rejoined the farm track. Beinn Eich, Beinn Lochainn and Doune Hill   revealed themselves teasingly in contrast to being cloaked in cloud the previous day. 
After crossing the old bridge we were soon back at the car as the sun came out!
This had been a trip of surprises for me, surprise at the steepness and presence of the hills of Luss and surprise at the deterioration in the weather that forced us to change our plans but in no way was it a disappointment. Anyone used to bypassing Luss and heading for the better known mountains to the north as I have done in the past would do well to stop and have a look I think. 
Here's our GPS track superimposed on a Google Earth image.

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