The forecast for the West Highlands was for near freezing temperatures, rain and a 40% chance of snow showers, with the likelihood of snow decreasing towards Loch Lomond. I had planned to bag Beinn Narnain and Beinn Ime, so I packed for rain and snow and also took a second waterproof jacket and two sets of waterproof gloves – which I only ever do if I’m expecting really bad weather.
The closer we drove to Arrochar, the clouds’ temperament improved, and when we finally got out of the car, the clouds were dispersing with only a few bruisers loitering with intent. We had a fighting chance of a nice day!
True to character, I refused to believe we might actually get some decent views from higher up, and I sided with the weather forecast in claiming we’d get a dusting of snow soon enough.
The lack of any breeze at all meant that we were stripping off our gear on the steep initial pull out of Arrochar, and it felt good to be hiking in shorts and T-shirts for a change.
At 500 metres up, the sky threw back the curtains and went “Ta-da!” If there was a better view in the country, then I’d have eaten my hat. With the view we had from half way up the south face of Beinn Narnain, you could sell Scotland as the best place in the world. If you’ve never seen this country from up high, then you are missing out.
Some people get a sense of National pride by following a sport where one country puts a ball into the goal mouth of another. That does nothing for me. What does it for me is a view like this. It’s ours and it is out-fucking-standing! I’m afraid my camera work doesn’t do it justice thoough!
And the views just kept getting better and better. As we got to 700 metres up, we set upon on a grassy meadow. To the left just peaking out on the’s horizon was the craggy drama of The Cobbler (you can see it in the picture below), and on my right was a deep basin held in place by the long steep ridges Craig Tharsuinn (see second pic below), with Ben Vane behind it, and behind that, Ben Vorlich. No matter where I looked, it was 360 degrees of awesome.
Grinning, we pushed on and our spirits weren’t dampened by the clouds closing in and the appearance of large pockets of snow. In the next 20 minutes of climbing we thought we were upon the final pull to the summit, and we started chatting about lunch and the prospect of a cup of tea.
It was a false summit though, and as we pushed over it the sky became leaden. Swirling in and out of view was the last spikey 200 metres of Beinn Nairnan, or Mordor, as I think I’ll call it from now on. It had a technical look about it, and it silenced us. I caught this photo of it when for a brief moment it was cloud free…
I had read the walk report and knew Narnain had a couple of rocky scrambles. I also thought that I had completed them earlier in the hike! I was to be proved wrong.
In low visibility the faint path took us up and left and wound it’s way in and out of some pretty “airy” features. On the path there were two scrambles to complete, and on exiting them, I looked back to the saddle of the mountain and felt a wave of relief, I now had the tough bits behind me.
But then we found ourselves (I think) at the Narnain Spearhead. There seemed to be a couple of gullies but both were infilled with quite a lot of snow drift, and we couldn’t define any path. With poor visibility, we didn’t know which one would lead us the right way.
I looked up a very thin gully rising steeply – it was just a wedge out of two bigger features really. It was a jagged snow-filled chute, but looked like it had some good hand holds on the left side of it at least. There was also a footprint or two in the snow. So that settled it – this must be the right way.
Half way up I couldn’t get a toe hold on my left foot. My right foot was holding me in place, and there was no handhold ahead. And the single set of footprints I had followed were gone!
I was stuck. I battered my foot into the ice, but it didn’t feel secure. Terror began to grip. My hands were getting cold, and I wanted to put my gloves on, but I wouldn’t be able to detect any life-preserving finger holds in the gully wall if I had my thick gloves on.
Eventually I had no choice but to make a move. I used my right hand hold, which was just below shoulder height and pushed it behind me. I reached out with my left hand and punched my fingers into the snow. I had a fistful of icy snow but still no handhold, so I threw myself flat and on scraped knees (still had just my shorts on) I shuffled another couple of feet to reach the nearest solid handhold.
Knees wobbling and fingers in pain from the cold, I scrambled the second half of the gulley like a fox trying to escape the hunt. My hiking buddy, came through the gully much slower, but equally shaken.
Maybe without the snow there would have been a safer path to pick out, and maybe more options for purchase on the scramble. For us, it topped our small list titled “Real chance something bad and irreparable could have happened”.
After another 5 minutes we found the trig point and a couple of cairns. We shook cold hands, found a set of footprints on the snow, and began to follow them, after taking a compass reading to confirm the way off the hill was correct.
The north side of Narnain started with a steep boulder field under many inches of snow. Worried about ankle injuries, it made for slow work, and as the ground got steeper still, I cursed not having brought my walking poles. It was at this point that I said I wasn’t going to do Beinn Ime. I just wanted to go home.
As we pushed further downhill, the snow gave way to an eroded path and once at the Bealach, we saw a couple of hikers heading up Beinn Ime. I reconsidered, and decided to give it a go, as long as my hiking partner felt the same way. He did, so we did.
10 minutes into the second munro of the day , we passed a fellow hiker and his dog on their descent from Beinn Ime – he told us the snow wasn’t much of a concern, and the dog told us she was having a brilliant day out. And they were right, the snow wasn’t much of a concern, providing you didn’t fall through the snow into an icy river (yep, wet feet for the rest of the day!). And yes, it was a brilliant day out afterall.
Beinn Ime was a pussycat compared to Narnain, and once we claimed the summit, the descent through crisp virgin snow was actually quite pleasant. And the view we now had looking south to Beinn Narnain, and Ben Arthur was cracking.
Seven hours from start, we arrived back at Arrochar, having met a few other hikers, and one or two eager dogs along the way. We had been suitable chastened by our icy scramble at the Spearhead, but we were in one piece, had bagged two munros, and guess what, the sun had come out again. Happy days!
- Cool runnings in Arrochar (rennyrambles.wordpress.com)
- Renny’s Sunday supplement (rennyrambles.wordpress.com)