Stuc a' Chroin - 975m
Sunday 13th November 2011
Weather/Conditions: Cool cloud blowing through and tiny spots of rain. The cloud was base about 500m and top 950m! Stuc a' Chroin was covered in cloud but Ben Vorlich just poked out the top and it was one of the only mountains to do so. The air was warm, but the moist cloud was cooling.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 14.5km / 1400m / 4h 15m
November daylight is short at best, so I was aware from the outset that darkness would come in the afternoon. Sun in Strathblane gave way to dark skies beyond Aberfoyle, and I drove onward knowing the weather was supposed to get better. The roads out by Aberfoyle make great driving - round a corner and see the road plumb-line straight, dead ahead. Tool and Genesis do fine for music, but Rush wouldn't go amiss either... I enjoy driving a lot now.
At Loch Earn, I managed to find the parking, no issue. The only problem that the verge was full of cars already. It's a beautiful road by the time you arrive at the parking; it hugs the loch shore and you can see the water. I remembered that joke "You can't see the view for the mountains" because normally you can't see the loch for the trees.
But back to the hill. I was clearly last off the starting blocks, and that oncoming darkness remained in the back of my mind. I reckoned I'd have to go fast. Helpful signs directed me through the tracks surrounding Ardvorlich House - the crucial thing, though, was to know to start at the little bridge. Mist lay low - I'd brought scrappy print-outs for maps, but this was a popular hill - there must be a decent path that could guide me through the mist.
But to my relief, it turned out that the hardest navigation all day was getting out the glen. This used to be a very boggy mountain, reputedly, but I found the path in great condition. There were even a few people coming down by now and their comments were encouraging: "There were no views, but the summit was out the top of the cloud, and it's sunny". A bit of hope for the top always helps a misty ascent, but with water clinging to my clothes, I found myself in an odd mid-ground feeling numb and sweating at the same time.
And then 50 metres short of the summit, things began to change. The atmosphere started glowing and light patches began to open up. The cloud ripped open and the everything glowed in the light of the sun. Tendrils shredded across the hillside and then I spotted the trig point above, glowing in the direct sunlight. Awesome! When I came to meet it, everything opened out to waves of cloud spread at my feet. Ben Vorlich was the only patch of ground in my entire view - this 150m of ridge sat in the middle of nothing, surrounded by the great sky and the cloud, which rolled and shifted to the wind.
Stuc a' Chroin
But what next? Ben Vorlich wasn't a warm place. I could go back the way I'd climbed, or continue to Stuc a' Chroin which was covered by cloud although just ten metres lower than my current summit. I didn't want to leave these heights yet, so if I did the Stuc, I could always return over Vorlich for a bit more. So I walked on and back into the cloud.
The buttress of Stuc a' Chroin is often feared and today it wasn't in climbing condition - slippery to the touch and ultimately insecure. After a little hard route-finding to get to the base of the buttress, I followed the path as far as I could which weaved and wandered; left first into a group of boulders where it faded out. I climbed the boulders above to a grassy ramp which trended rightward and followed a couple of rock steps which didn't seem too exposed. The path climbed a couple of short gullies and led to a stony path curving rightward around the buttress and to the top.
It had been scrambling in the loosest sense - often stony walking on steep ground with occasional use of hands. It was a lot of fun. I did not realise at the time that the ascent to Stuc a' Chroin was 250m - the interest in route finding and scrambling made the physical work a lot easier. A cairn crowned to the top of the buttress and a level walk took me to Stuc a' Chroin's summit.
The Stuc was my 160th Munro. I gave a brief thought to Michael who eternally reached 160 Munros on Lochnagar, February 2010. That night he left us. I never thought I'd catch him up, and the thought made me smile with the dark humour of it all.
Back to Vorlich and Descent
Climbing back down Stuc a' Chroin was unproblematic, but it took a moment to get established back on the path to Vorlich - which although a long plod, did not feel it's 250 vertical metres! I hung around for a while with a couple of guys who happened to be up at the same time. The sun was lower, but the cloud had risen so that distant views were cut off. Feeling cold, I retreated to the warmer descent slopes, back to dull mist and darkening skies. The lower slopes arrived soon enough - I was keen now just to get back. Steve had promised a night climb of Dumgoyne although it didn't materialise in the end.
It felt great to get back to the car. The hills amounted to a reasonable 14km, and they'd felt like hard work. Stuc a' Chroin has a hard reputation, but it just lies on the wrong side of Ben Vorlich. I found the scrambling interest more enjoyable than ceaseless path-plodding. I'd also done it all quickly - just over four hours for the lot.
I jumped in the car, got the food and drink out, and drove home with the warmth and the music, the dull ache of tired muscles and the settled well-being - yet another great, had-the-time-of-my-life day. They just keep on coming.
(0.00) 12.15pm Loch Earn
(1.20) 1.35pm Ben Vorlich
(2.15) 2.30pm Stuc a' Chroin
(3.10) 3.25pm Ben Vorlich (again)
(4.15) 4.30pm Loch Earn