Sunday 25th November 2007
Weather/Conditions: Sunny with some clouds at the
bottom, but the sun was low in the sky. There was more cloud cover above 1000 feet and wind speeds were about (or above) 50 mph on the summit. Bloody strong anyway! Cleared up a bit on descent with some sun coming through.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 9km / 920m / 4h 35m
Accompanying: Dave "Dink" Macmorris
Ascent to Cruach nam Miseag
We were dropped at the Arrochar Esso station at 8.50am. After buying our food for the day we set off up the path at 9am. It wasn't terribly tiring at any points, if not quite enjoyable, yet I was eager to get up to the dam as the Cobbler had snow on it, and a view would have been welcome. We steadily ascended and reached the dam at 9.40am. That was very good going for time, and the Cobbler was impressive, with its snow. I hadn't seen it that way before, it certainly looked slightly more "alpine"!
We continued alongside the dam and up the path. My plan was to go past the Cobbler and maybe do Ime, although about ten minutes later, we decided to cut up to an unnamed corrie on the south side of Beinn Narnain, and go for that summit instead. By this time, some cloud had fallen on Narnain and for being a route I had never tried before, ascending via the Spearhead made me weary. Nevertheless, we decided to go up to the small bealach and see how conditions were. If I deemed the route too dangerous from that point onwards, I'd go down. If things were looking okay, I'd go up. Simple as that, I'll make the decision there, and so we headed on up.
Initially, walking up the side was a mixture of walking through bogs, over long grass and getting blasted by wind. As we ascended further though, conditions gradually became more pleasant. We had a slower, more relaxed pace by this time, and the walk up to the bealach was rather pleasant. I certainly felt in near-enough top form.
As we increased our altitude, small patches of snow started appearing on the ground, and they gradually became bigger in size as we went up. We were nearing the bealach and we began having to climb over boulders, massive ones actually. We were treading across steep ground.
In the time preceding the arrival to the bealach, I was having my doubts about how easy the ascent up the Spearhead would be. It seemed so steep, but I had read that the path seems to negotiate the crags cleverly, so I continued upwards still with this knowledge in mind. The snow was lying in larger bits as we went up, not far off the bealach there was a frozen-over lochan. Clearly, things were getting colder, and I wasn't sure how the path to the summit would be. Would it be far worse? Life threateningly worse? I'll just have to see.
Ascent to Beinn Narnain’s summit
We emerged on top of the bealach at 10.50am, and we had an excellent view across to A' Chrois. I looked down and could immediately tell this path was in a good condition. There were no sketchy areas where it faded away again, it was a defined path, and with this in mind, we automatically continued ascending Narnain.
Things weren't too bad - it was just a steep path and certainly nothing more than what you'd find on the Cobbler. I was enjoying the snow, and this was my first walk in the mountains with it lying. At home, at sea level, there's one or two days of snow a year and then it's gone so I was enjoying a difference. The downside was that neither Dink or I had an axe...
First of all, there was one steep section of the path which was fine, only a fall wouldn't have been pleasant. At the low points on the path where the water collected and froze, I stepped carefully but there were still no problems, the ground just fell away very steeply to our left. We continued on upwards when Dink tried taking a route directly up the side of the mountain. I stuck to the path as he found his own route up, thinking it would probably be best to stick with it, but the ice unnerved me and I wasn't too comfortable. I managed to get across difficult bits okay and stayed concentrated on negotiating the route ahead of me.
Dink later said he had some difficulties in getting up, and we started shouting to one another to double check the other was still there. I have to say, prior to that I did have some fleeting moments of "where the hell is he? It's awfully silent right now...", but things were fine. I came across another patch of ice which seemed to pose difficulty and I was still on steep ground, but I decided to give it a go. I wasn't getting back across the last icy patch the key now was to just go up. But more ice followed and I put my camera in my pocket. I needed two hands for this. My fingers were a little cold as they were but I took my gloves off in the knowledge that I couldn't lose grip here. Cold fingers or not, I dug my fingers straight into the ice, and pulled myself up. I'd have probably slipped if my hands had slid from their holes in the ice, but it was better than recklessly walking up. What would have been better at this point would have been to have turned back all together, but I was to learn the hard way...
I repeated this process over and over until I heard Dink shout over again. "Kev, are you alright?" he shouted from over some rocks. I bloody well wasn't alright, I'm nearly falling off the hill... Still, I replied with a yes, I'll be up soon. I kept going with the process of jamming my fingers into the ice for not too long until the ice was over. My fingers were cold but it seemed pretty necessary. I had established that I wasn't heading down and I had also realised that this was possibly getting a bit irresponsible.
The path, although free of ice, swerved around to the left. I walked around with a mighty drop to my right, and looked up at what I instantly knew would be the "crux", so to speak. Dink, making his own route up, had already gained twenty or so vertical feet on me, and he stood on top of the small rise, waiting for me to get up. Here, the path disappeared and a boulder had to be negotiated. Snow lay around, and ice was everywhere. I was stuck. There was no going down and I didn't have a damn clue how to get up. I began figuring out a way up while Dink stared down, waiting. I attempted getting over the boulder, 'feeling' the moves to make but with no luck. There were two handholds on top but they weren't nearly sufficiently large to take my weight and not slip. I backed off to have a think, and Dink took out his camera, and began snapping pictures.
I smiled for a picture even though I was in a horrible situation, and a feeling of complete dread onset. I panicked a little but logic took over, and to a surprising extent. What were my options? I could head down and see where I got - find another route. But the other was to go for it, take it head on and see how far I got. It took a little courage, but I couldn't see many other ways to negotiate the boulder. I grabbed onto the handholds, two bits of quartz sticking out the top of the rock and pulled myself over. I got my whole body on top of it in the hope that it would maximise friction, and to pull myself up I stuck my right foot into some snow to my side. I needed a rock to give me the push up I needed and it was there. I slid my body over and onto the top. It was a simple scramble onto the ground where Dink was above.
I'd gone for it, and I was okay now. It was a massive relief to have that behind me and now I wanted to summit. I hoped no other tough section would follow. If there were any more crags above I'd probably lose my mind.
Mist briefly obscured the views upwards and at this point I got out the map, compass and GPS (an improvement on my Ime ascent, read Oct 17th '07 to find out more about my lack of navigation...) just to clarify my position. I felt good and confident about where we were, and there was not a lot to go until we hit the summit. It was just around the corner, but asides a few directions from the GPS, I didn't have a clue where it would actually be.
After a small ascent up a slope, we came across a small lochan and the path disappeared. It seemed to split in two, and although the left path looked slightly more approachable, I wasn't sure. An examination of the footprints (very reliable...) told me to go left. So we did. Since then, upon looking at the route, the path apparently goes right and follows a gully up at the Spearhead. In retrospect, I think the way we took would have been easier - the gully up beside the Spearhead is sure steep!
We were right next to the summit, and now I knew it. It was like the ground had that "nearly there" feel. So I knew that if we got to top, we could get down safely via. Bealach a' Mhaim. There was a ramp that followed the side of a cliff in front of us and it seemed logical to get to the top of that, then we'd reassess the situation and do what was appropriate next. It was some loose scree mixed with ice, which wasn't a great combination, but Dink and I worked our way up it carefully, trying to gain purchase on the scree and bits of cracking ice and soil underneath. Eventually, we came out on top, and it was only a brief moment before I realised we were on the plateau! And holy-shit, did it feel good to be there. I could see the trig point ahead and blasted by the wind, we walked up to it. Familiarity felt good, and we summited at 11.30am. I slumped behind the wind breaker, glad to be on top. Dink and I got summit pictures and only stayed for a while, before beginning to descend to the Bealach a' Mhaim. There were no cliffs this way and I knew the area better, therefore the logical way to get down. I certainly was not going the way we came.
We left and began seeing people coming up and going down as we left the summit. That was a surprise as we hadn't seen a soul - asides tiny figures a thousand feet below at the Cruach nam Miseag bealach. Suddenly we had a lot of company. We avoided the Bealach a' Mhaim by just cutting straight down Narnain’s side and onto the path by the Cobbler. We were back at 2000 feet at 12.30pm, and began making the long walk back to Arrochar. We felt low down now because of the minimal exposure.
The sun was coming out too but we had a fairly long walk ahead of us. Unusually, my feet weren't wet, (ironically the one time I brought spare socks and a towel...) but they were tired. Every so often my legs jarred and it felt horrible, but I bared it and we kept going. We got to Arrochar at 1.35pm. As usual with my trips to Arrochar, we went to the Ben Arthur Bothy for some drinks and some games of pool. I called home from here, so we were there for an hour, which was so damn relaxing. I wasn't overly tired by this point, but having games of pool with a drink by my side was exactly what I needed! Anyway, mum arrived at about 3pm and we were back to mine an hour later.