Thursday 24th May 2007
Weather/Conditions: Cloudy and drizzly most of the way up, above the col wind at approx. 80 mph. Fair visibility most of the way, above the bealach visibility was at 20-30 meters.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 10km / 880m / 4h 30m
Accompanying: Alex Williams
Alex and I crossed the A83 and met the footpath. We wound our way up the zigzagging slope past dead trees and new conifer trees growing on the slope. Alex fantasized about certain girls and we talked about many other things. Progress was quick and I took our height from the horizon, comparing our height against the height of the wooded glen opposite Loch Long. Hopefully upon reaching the dam we would be blessed with a stunning view of the Cobblers summit. When we arrived, we couldn't see a thing but no problem. Next, I was finding the bottom of my jeans we being slowly soaked by the drizzle, so I put on waterproof trousers, and met Alex down by the dam. We took pictures as he messed around on the rocks while trying to glimpse the Cobbler through mist. Silent clouds traversed each side of the valley; it was quite atmospheric really.
We left the dam and continued up the path meeting no one. We were doing fine at a steady pace of 1000 feet an hour, and continued to ascend through the cloud. The Cobbler slowly started to reveal itself, as a great black mass beyond us - quite imposing actually. We arrived at the Narnain boulders where I stopped for a while. Alex had a go climbing them but I took some pictures, my rucksack sheltered under the boulders. We left soon after, making good progress and not feeling tired in the slightest. Arrochar had disappeared from view beneath and the mountains on the east bank of Loch Long were now very distant. Soon after I realised I'd left my hat at the boulders so I had to get that. In addition the fleece and jacket went on - it was getting pretty cold.
We reached 1700 feet at about 10:45am where the path deteriorated and gave way to a steam where the only path was the rocks. Alex refilled his water where the stream crossed the path, and the water tasted better than what he had bought out of the shops. I couldn’t believe that on my first time up The Cobbler, this was the point that Darius (who was about my age, 15, at the time) turned back out of tiredness. Alex and I were both feeling full of energy and there was no hint of any of us feeling too tired to go on.
We began climbing up the last section of the Cobbler, and several times I thought we reached the col. The second time I felt good that we were about to reach the col and the summit was near. I climbed onto this area of flat rock, and looked around. The first oddity was that there was no cairn anyway. In fact, I eventually found I had no idea where I was - there was still a lot of mountain above us, and I left slightly unnerved concerning my lack of knowledge of our position. Alex looked over the side where our “platform” of ground fell away, and he shouted back over that it was just a straight drop. So where were we? If only came gradually to me that I had been in this very position before, and I realised that there was still several hundred feet to be climbed before we met any col.
We were inside the cloud and I felt incredibly isolated from any form of civilisation - a somewhat new feeling. There was no one on the mountain to our knowledge, and the place was silent apart from the trickle of a stream which wasn't closer than a few hundred feet below. Occasionally the grass rustled with the wind but that was it. We continued climbing, soon to reach the bealach.
I knew when we were about the arrive at the col. This was the actual col, and not false ones. I recognised it. The north peak was now spikes of rock hanging a few hundred feet above our heads, and massive billows of cloud pummelled over the side of the col. It spilled over past our heads and was quite a sight. I hadn’t realised the implications this had concerning wind speed above us. We almost literally poked our heads over the side of the col and got blasted by wind. We walked up and crouched by a rock debating whether to go for the summit. Wind was racing past from the west maybe 80mph, and as we sat there debating what to do, in an instant Alex’s cap flew from his head and it was gone over the side of the mountain. I grabbed him and shouted for him not to go for it. We thought about what to do, I was slightly panicked, but we decided to go on and see how it went. Visibility dropped to no more than 30 meters, and it rained heavily. We resisted the wind, climbing up the very last section. It took no more than a few minutes to reach the top and we sat crouched behind a rock while being blasted by wind. To go even nearer to the pinnacle would be suicidal, but I thought I should at least get a picture of the pinnacle. I made sure we had all our belongings safe because any bags left lying here would be blown over the cliffs. Hell - we were struggling not to get blown off our feet! In a panic I didn't realise the camera was set to manual and I sat trying to get a decent picture out of it as every picture came out over exposed. I got one over exposed picture but it was enough for me. I wanted to get down and out of this.
11:39am and 40 seconds makes it the time we got to the summit, meaning we spent 3 hours and 10 minutes ascending. We decided get down as soon as possible, walking down in the intervals between gusts of wind. Every time the wind strengthened we got down on our bums, got low and waited the gust out. It only took a few minutes to reach the col, although they were some intense minutes. That experience showed me the way you have to respect mountains or they will kill you, and it was the first time I realised that for myself. I'd heard about this but experiencing such insane conditions was when I first grasped it.
We climbed below the col, and all fell silent again. I think we both felt unnerved at this point, but what an adrenaline rush! There was no sign of the cap, and I wasn’t prepared to leave the path to find it. I looked up to the col and the rock Alex was about to lunge over gave way to a 50 foot cliff.
We climbed down feeling good about what we had done and met people for the first time while climbing past 2500 feet. There were several groups of people that passed us on our way down, all the way down to 1000 feet.
At the Narnain boulders the wet weather began taking its toll and I began to feel damp, mainly inside my boots. I was still 1500 feet up and water got inside my boots; Alex was equally damp if not more. We climbed down with wet feet, and when we passed the dam, I tried phoning home when we were about an hour away from Arrochar. It just kept ringing out, so we kept going and tried making descent as quick as possible. We reached the foot of the mountain around 1pm very wet, and I sat by the loch, and took my jacket, waterproofs and boots off. It felt pretty good, but I still wasn’t dry. We walked around the loch to Arrochar and found the Esso station. (Which would become the starting point for many of my walks) We laid all our stuff out on top of a large plastic container and bought some food. What to do next? With soaking wet feet (why did I not bring dry socks?) we walked through Arrochar looking for somewhere to eat until I could get through to Mum to pick us up. We found one place, which was completely stuck up and didn’t seem to like the idea of what were dirty walkers coming in. Ha-ha.
We then found the Ben Arthur Bothy, which Alex first called into to go to the bathrooms for whatever reason. We entered the lounge, which was a quiet and very comfortable place and we ordered a lot of drinks and crisps. We sat for a long time watching TV, eating, drinking and looking out to the mountains. It was only after about 2 hours, at 3pm that mum answered a phone call home and she’d be about an hour. At 4pm she walked in and we loaded our stuff into the car, and (finally) went home.
As Alex’s first climb, I think in hindsight it was a good one to start out with, and it taught me a lot of about the mountains which I didn't know before. Not a bad walk even though spending three damp hours in the Ben Arthur Bothy wasn't always great fun.