Slackdhu - 496m
Clachertyfarlie Knowes - 547m

Earl's Seat - 578m
Owsen Hill - 504m
Dumbreck - 508m

Saturday 25th April 2009

Weather/Conditions: A warm and sunny day, but with haze limiting visibility to only c. 5km. Heavy rain was forecast for later on although it never arrived and wind was moderately strong.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 13km / 630m / 3h 40m
Accompanying: Alone

A harder route to Slackdhu

Back from a week in Portugal, I'd planned to spend this Saturday around Crianlarich. However the will to attend a gig in Edinburgh as well as the potentially expensive travel costs kept me nearer to home. But I made the decision to go to Strathblane to climb Earl's Seat, a hill I hadn't been up in nearly a year. Dad dropped me in Blanefield and I headed out from the monument as I've done many times before. I followed the private residential road before cutting down to the river the runs up Slackdhu. Emerging onto the moorland above the river, the sun was out but there was little blue sky - the haze had blocked it all out. I noticed that the cliffs above had breaks in them, areas that I could potentially climb up. On Slackdhu there are the main cliff bands where the layering of volcanic action that laid down the rock for these hills is most visible. To the right of these, a grassy ramp curves up alongside and when searching for a route up between the cliffs, it seemed to be the most obvious route to follow.

I crossed Slackdhu's lower slopes in a bid to reach the 'ramp', crossing various boulder fields but also seeing sheep with their lambs. I'd have to be careful today, I could do some learning on this subject, but I remember hearing that you don't want to come in contact with them? I can't claim to know my stuff so for now I keep away from them.

Upon nearing the correct slope, in front of me appeared the landslip that occurred a couple of years ago. It had happened following some very heavy rain and would leave a scar of enormous size on Slackdhu's south facing slopes. New growth was beginning to cover it but I was only to pass by it, not cross. As I climbed, the slopes gradually steepened as I worked my way up to the top of the escarpment. Soon enough I was right in amongst the cliffs and I was careful to constantly reassess my situation. My intended route had a 20-or-so metre climb which would require commitment and as I was alone, it would definitely have some nerve to it.

I climbed upwards, with hands and feet digging into the steep grass. I would have gone a long way downwards had there been a slip, but I didn't feel I'd need to think about that too much. The grass was a little damp but I got into a rhythm, punching my way up through the ground ahead. Stopping and observing would reveal my true position - not a place to stand a contemplate the space beneath your feet - but I felt so in control of myself. I felt positive, striding a fine edge between pure joy and horror (a balance which I've been on the wrong side of before) and only by constantly reassessing would I keep in control. All was well and I'm wondering whether I'm getting to grips with exposure?

I'd used a solid rhythm in placing hands and feet to allow me to climb completely focused and dedicated to the route ahead. Once I appeared over the top of the steepest rise, I realised that I'd done it. A hurdle had been overcome in my mind, and I look forward to repeating this route or searching out others on the face. But I wasn't done yet. Only by climbing the final metres onto Slackdhu's plateau could I totally let myself off guard, and I walked up to the summit with a huge grin on my face. I'm a pathetic scrambler and this was real conquer-your-fears material. Who says 17 year olds feel invincible? I certainly don't.

Earl's Seat

My next plan was to continue around to Earl's Seat, the highest point of the Campsie Fells. Through the haze it looked an awful long way off, but I crossed the ground over to the Clachertyfarlie Knowes (I'm intrigued by this name...) and then across to the Ballagan Tops. Balfron and Killearn were obscured by the fog but blue sky was visible so I had that feeling again of being not connected to land. Here's a small glimpse into my mind.

I get this feeling sometimes, a beautiful feeling, when you appear to be in a place that feels closer to the sky than to the earth. It intrigues me that by climbing I can occasionally see into what feels like another world or another place on earth. I'd always felt this on some mountains in particular conditions and knew the feeling. I then read Ed Viesturs biography and he quotes Jean-Christophe Lafaille who comments on standing on the summit of Annapurna, the worlds 10th highest mountain and arguably most dangerous: "At that moment, I realized how truly isolated we were from the world, still much more prisoners than free men, in a space that had more to do with the cosmos than with the earth". I don't know exactly how he meant "a space that had more to do with the cosmos than with the earth", but it summed up so well what I feel from time to time. That feeling of being far away and far above everything...

On the Ballagan Tops it was easier to see the open sky above than any evidence of human habitation below. I continued to Earl's Seat where this feeling disappeared but I arrived at the summit of Earl's Seat fairly soon and accompanied by a couple from Balfron and their three dogs. I sat by the trig point, contemplating where to go next. As long as I should arrive at the gig on time, I would get the bus back home. In the mood for more walking, I continued south from Earl's Seat to Dumbreck.

Dumbreck, descent, and home

First to climb was Little Earl, a smaller hump overshadowed by it's higher neighbour. I followed the fence posts down to Little Earl, tripping over stray fence wire more than once. The views weren't at all good but the sun was shining and worries of sun burn asides, I enjoyed the heat and the sounds and smells that indicated the approach of summer. I climbed Owsen Hill next before continuing to Dumbreck which was crowned by a trig point. Here I sat back to the wind, eating and studying the map once more. My return to Strathblane necessitated a traverse of Slackdhu and although I've developed a weariness about trying to traverse hills it was the best option.

Dumbreck offer a bit of a leg battering descent and a short climb up the other side of the valley followed. Strathblane came into view after a while and then I appeared at the cliffs of the southern escarpment. I would have been almost tempted to search out other routes on Slackdhu for the scrambling from earlier had got me motivated to try more. Though I was bound for home now and descended into Strathblane, regaining the river and following it back to the monument where I arrived at 1.45pm, 3 hours and 40 minutes after I left.

Getting the bus home was unproblematic, though an excitement since I hadn't been on a bus in years - I tend to use trains. When I arrived home, I'd forgot a key and ended up locked out. I snoozed under the sun for a couple of hours in the back garden, but did get up in time to make the gig.

Written: 2009-04-28