This is old, the dust has settled and more than likely the snow has melted so what better time to look back at a cracking weekend in the Arrochar Alps? It's taken me awhile to sort out my notes and photographs with family life and work taking priority as always, however it's done. I'm now setting it free from languishing in draft edit hell. I'm sure Dante would have a invented a new circle specifically for trip reports, probably after Limbo. Hopefully I can add something to the excellent posts that have already hit the interwebs. I'm probably the last to post about this and remember this is how I remembered it.
Petesy put a shout out for those that were interested in a meet up. I checked if I could get a pass. It was granted. I replied and was accepted. Then what followed can only be described was a hailstorm flurry of emails. Questions, requests, sizes, dates, all sorts flying around. Out of all the emails another thread appeared, that it might be a good idea to have a pre meet meet in Glasgow for those that could manage it. Any excuse to skip out of work for a bit is always good.
Friday trotted along and I nipped out to Tiso on Couper Street not too far from my work. I arrived at the appointed time and had a quick shifty round the gear. Well you can't go and not have a look. Gear freaks can't, there are plenty office types that stop off for something to eat in the excellent cafe. After that I headed up the stairs to the cafe. Reaching the top. I sent a message to Steve and Phil to let them know I was there. Looking up I saw Phil, not that Phil but another Phil, wave at me. I headed over to the table and the rest of the guys that had turned up. At the table was Michael, Phil, Petesy and John. After that other folks started to turn up and I'm not sure of the order but my friend Steve was definitely next, after that Del, Tom, Davy and Phil, that Phil not the other Phil, he was already there. Remember? Lots of names and lots new faces. I'm sure there were more but I'm not sure. So much to talk about and so many conversations going on. It was a really good hour and I was sad to have to leave. I hadn't seen Steve since the Cairngorms and it was the same with Phil, so much had passed and too little time to catch up.
The day arrived. I was up and out early-ish. Left the family sleeping. Not that the little one would be sleeping long, she's not one for the long lies yet. First stop was the petrol station. I always enjoy the drive up to Loch Lomond and beyond. It is always a drive full of anticipation and some fear, especially taking the road to Arrochar. It's not for the faint hearted. The drive was great and pleasant. I arrived in plenty of time thinking that I would be the first there. How wrong was I. Turning into that car park I instantly recognised Sandy's infamous/famous big green Land Rover Defender. Parked waiting. I drove up and introduced myself. John was also there, he rolled up first. After the handshakes I drove off to find a parking space.
Once I had parked Michael drove in and parked next to me. As he got out I was checking through my stuff and realised I didn't have a shell! Never assume it makes an ass out of you and me but mostly me. I had only been boasting in the Tiso car park at how I would be fine. Everything was in the car. No packing for me. Yeah except my waterproof shell that I had used to go from the car to the house the previous couple of days. Not good with the weather that was forecast. Too late now to worry. Hopefully someone would have a spare jacket. Michael reckoned so and if not there maybe one to test. Fingers crossed. The car park was starting to fill up. Mostly with people who were here for the meet , it would seem. Michael and I made our way back to John and Sandy.
As we ambled over John had started to ask sizes and had opened up his Aladdin's cave, also known as the boot of his car. It was now a proper gear fest. Everyone was having a good feel and look at what he had brought for us all to test. Loads of gear. Montura, Leki, Hillsound, X-Bionic to name a few. Then Ollie and Katja arrived with more. They brought along Big Agnes and Granite Gear. Folks must have been wondering what was going on. Filling your boots out the back of two cars. I went away with 2 Montura jackets, a shell and an insulating one, a onesie base layer from X-bionic as well as a share in a tent a sleeping bag and insulating mat all from Big Agnes. She's a wee darling.
By now everyone had turned up, we had a fools compliment; Kelvin, Richard, Del, Davy, Michael, John, Tom, Arthur, Heather, Ollie, Katja, Phil, Petesy and of course myself. Petesy turned up last. Apparently this is not unusual. Everyone was now packing, packing and repacking. I went through two rucksacks trying to find one that I liked and fitted well enough. Finally settling on a test version of the Karrimor X-Lite from Petesy. A 45l + 10 in nice bright turquoise blue. Just what I need to go with my bright green test jacket. I'm generally happy with more subtle colours but what the hell. It was all turning out to be too much fun. I also managed to get a loner of an ice axe from Heather, she had spare. I don't own one. Come on, I'm an Ayrshire boy, if I'm seen with an axe I'm liable to be lifted by the polis! Plus our hills are not high enough for snow. Supposedly.
I was packed and ready, eventually. It was time to head out, 15 of us in total, 15 on day release from the Ailsa or the weirdest looking D of E group. We were getting funny looks. Honestly it was that bad, it may have been all the bright clothing. Kelvin was particularly guilty. John was giving tips on walking with poles. Me I didn't take a set. For some reason my brain can't coordinate two pole walking. Just doesn't happen. I look like I'm trying to ski. I'm better off with just one but even then I walk like a fermer with a shepherd's crook. All in all only a slightly better look. We set off across the road and up the path through the woods. The hills were calling. It was my kind of walking. That was to say it was stop start and lots of talking. Everyone asking questions, getting to know each other. The banter was brilliant. All good fun.
The weather was being typically Scottish, that's to say it was throwing everything at us. Kitchen sink and set of wardrobes to boot. At times the wind was like taking a booting. Sun, rain, hail, snow, bright skies, clouds but almost constantly the wind. Howling, blowing, buffeting and battering. It couldn't do nothing though to dampen the atmosphere. I think it could have done its worst and we would all have still been happy. We all continued on higher out past the trees and onto the hills above.
The decision came down that it was plan B for the camp spot. Shelter in amongst the Narnain boulders as best we can out of the biting wind. We had already paired for those that were sharing tents and Davy was going to be my oppo. Ollie was making his way round everyone helping with the pitching of the tents. He being the expert with Big Agnes. He’d been out with her lots. Dirty stop out. The tent had some very interesting short poles and stuff and by all intents and purposes was made as a lightweight two man trail tent for the American market. I do believe at the time Davy and I were a little skeptical about this and the current Scottish weather. It was not California but more on that later.
Things did not get off to a good start. Looking in you have though that none of us had pitched a tent before, a honless trio in the blustering gales. To top it off Ollie managed to catch the base of the tent on Davy's ice axe. To be fair the wind caught it but still. Rrrrrriiiiipppp. You know that noise. That dreaded noise, like bending over in a too tight pair of dress trousers. Luckily all the tents came with a field repair kit so once we had the tent up and lashed down tight we applied a big patch over the hole.
Our problems at that time were far from over though. The wind was picking up something terrible and the tent bowing heavily in it. Then when it sprang back against the gust it was popping the stake. This was not boding well till Davy had a spark of genius. We staked that corner with the ice axe. Like to see it pop that. We did have visions if the wind kept up that tent would blow back down to Arrochar and all that was left was the axe and some torn fabric flapping in the wind. Please, no, but it seemed to shore everything up and gave us a bit more confidence. Hopefully it would last the night.
It was almost, I say almost like an Everest basecamp. Tents dotted all over the place; all different shapes and sizes, all taking a severe buffering from the wind. Really severe. Concave instead of convex. It was cool view. Others were still trying to get their tents pitched so Davy and I made our way round the others to help out. Another set of hands is also good especially at that time. That's when I found Heather trying to boil water for her dinner while holding on to a corner of her tent that was doing the same as what Davy and I had. I applied our tried and tested fix from earlier. The ice axe stake. Not really sure that it would pass muster on a HSE risk assessment but it was doing the job again. My good deed for that day done and Heather now being able to cook with both hands I left her in peace to eat.
Walking back through the snow, I starting to think that dinner was a good shout. Get something warm inside and start to heat my core back up. Davy was obviously of the same mind as he was preparing his cooking gear. He said we was going to use his stove in the porch of the tent. Leaving Davy to set fire to the tent. I traipsed off looking for a sheltered place out the wind to fire up my stove and get the water boiling. The cold was really starting to bite now and I had stupidly taken an age to put my gloves on. I have hons like a fermer, rough as a badgers erse at the best of times. However they had started to go waxy and split at the creases not good. Nippy wee bastarding splits. I had not noticed them going cold and had let it go a bit too far. I eventually found a spot down next to Kelvin and Richard. I got the stove fired up and the water on for the dehydrated meal. Using this time to get some heat back in my hands and have a good chat with Kelvin and Richard. Everyone it seemed was packing on the calories. Double meals and we were no different hunkered down behind one of the big boulders.
As the light began to fade we finished up and made our way back into the wind to join the others. Happy to see no black fireballs in the distance. I trudged back through the snow to the tent. Somewhere along that 30 or so metre walk I managed to drop my spork. Raging. I didn't notice it till I was back at the tent putting my cooking gear away. I tried to retrace my steps but to no avail, some lucky person was going to find a nice titanium spork when the snows melted. Bastard. If you find it, it's mine.
After all the four seasons of earlier the night sky was really clear and the stars were out in force. There was still the big massive orange light spill in the distance from Glasgow but luckily we were so far away it wasn't interfering with our view above our heads. It's something that I wish I was better at; in fact it's something I was I could do, take long exposures at night. It's not like my dSLR is not capable. It's just that I haven't got it down yet. It was a great time, everyone was mingling and chatting,standing around marvelling at the skies. We were like some cult waiting on aliens landing faces turned skyward looking for the flying saucers. Not quite invaders from Mars.
During the star gazing we noticed a couple of torches coming up the burn on the opposite side of the path. Beams flashing left and right as if they were looking for something. The never really got close enough or came across to see us. Not likely to miss us in the dark. Fifteen or so head torches can be pretty bright. We all got to wondering, someone lost their keys, MRT out on exercise, MRT checking us out? Who knows?
The wind was still strong and with what sun there was gone the temperature really started to drop quickly. People were starting to feel the cold and started to drift off to their tents and sleeping bags. I wasn't the first but I heard Davy shout on me and he said he was heading off to bed. Not wanting to clambering over him later as I had the inside spot I decided it was as good a time as any to turn in. I got myself settled and into my little bit of camp life luxury. I stuck on my hand knitted woollen MountainGoat gear beanie hat. Lovely, soft and warm. Ideal for sleeping. It might not like getting wet but it is sure ideal for the inside of the tent.
I was in square cut down bag and mat from Big Agnes which took a bit of time to get warmed up. Eventually I had to stuff insulated jacket and gilet down the bottom which cut the air space down. I'm not the biggest wee guy on the planet and I've found that trick works every time. With less air to heat up it was long before I was toasty and out for the count. Never been one to have a hard time sleeping even with the wind doing its best impression of a gale. There was a fair old bit of movement in the trail tent but what the hey, I'd worry about that if I had to. Sleep came quickly.
At some point in the night the wind had stopped when I'm not sure. I stirred around first light to all peace and quiet in this part of the world. Not sure if Davy had been awake long or most of the night but he was up. He had had a cold night and bit restless but when he had slept he was fine. It was cold out. Really cold. That way you didn't want to get out the sleeping bag. I'm pretty sure there were a few brass monkeys running around looking for their baws. However we were greeted with a clear beautiful sky. Sun just rising. Rosy fingered dawn was about show her hand. They’re special mornings, I think lying in your sleeping bag watching the sun pop above the peaks. I was a great view.
However, it ends all too soon and you have to make a move. Nature calls or some sort of personal admin has to be looked after. Luckily having stuck my insulating layers in the sleeping bag I wasn't having to put on cold clothes. Saving my body the jolt of camp cold. I have no idea of how cold it was in degrees but I do know the water from inside the tent was freezing to a couple of inches as soon as it hit the pan for heating up. I'm sure someone would know how cold it would have to be for that to happen. Obviously below zero. The camp was starting to come alive. Some were already up and eating breakfast, others just stirring. Everyone was looking forward to the day ahead.
I remember while eating breakfast watching Del go for morning run up the hill. He was keen I thought. Chasing deer. Michael was also up and out early. He was up high talking photographs. Davy and I were amazed that such a light tent had made it through the night. The Copper Spur UL2 was a surprising beast, don’t judge a book by its cover. Talked turned from how the gear had performed last night to where to go today. Personally I was happy to go with the majority. I had been many years since I had been on the Cobbler. I remember it being a good climb with great views. The general consensus was for the Cobbler with I think only Sandy looking to climb up Ben Narnain but in true peer pressure, group bullying style he soon had his arm twisted and under threat of a nipple twister relented and decided to join the rest of us.
Again we headed out en masse. The loonies had left the asylum for awhile at any rate. We headed further up the path towards The Cobbler. It amazes me in the summer how many people attempt hills in unsuitable gear in winter it just looks plain crazy. We were looking less like the loonies after passing some nutters. No gear to speak of, seriously. It's a wonder the MRT guys are not busier. Really really crazy people taking some awful risks out there. One a couple of occasions I was slack jawed in surprise. It was crampon and axe work not up the gym in trainers stuff. Ice, inches thick and light non compacted fluffy snow in places. There's no telling the fools.
Other than the crazies it was a great walk up. The views down the Ayrshire coast and the Firth of Clyde. All the down to the Ailsa Craig and if you can see the Ailsa you can see the old grey man, well the Merrick anyway and some of the Southern Uplands. The vista was fantastic. The Ochill Hills, Argyll and Cowal, the Hunterston power station, not so great but you can't miss it. Arran, Cumbrae, the list goes on just like the horizon. Usually I'm down there looking up towards these hills so it was great to see it from this side. It had been a long time since I had been on The Cobbler. I couldn't stop taking photographs. I was tailend charlie as usual, John was keeping me company along with Heather. I don't think they were buying the short legged excuse. I'm not sure anybody does anymore.
Eventually on top between the two peaks it was a different beast. All the way up we had been sheltered by the bulk of the hill. On there with no protection the biting wind was back and it was cold. We all huddled together in a big group. Sometimes being smaller has its advantages I could hide behind the bigger guys and get a break from the wind. The talk was of left peak or right peak. Many moons ago and almost in another life I've done both so I wasn't really bothered. I was enjoying the view. Heather and John had already said they were just going to head back down. Not wanting to break up the group as I had really enjoyed their company on the way up I opted to go with them and left the others to their decisions. After a quick refuelling bite to eat we headed off back down.
If I thought the way up was impressive for idiots on the slopes coming down was just as good. More nutters trying to get up without the correct gear. I subtle hints on conditions went unheeded. Words like slippery, icy, etc went over their heads. I was really glad to have the HillSound crampons. They were very good once I gotten used to wearing them. I was instilled with a bit of confidence especially when on the ice. How the people in just boots were managing not to break ankles and necks I will never know.
I don't think the others tarried long as some of the mountain goats started to catch us up before the bottom. By the time I was back on the path everyone had caught up with me. Once we were off the hill it was time to pack up and head back to the cars. I think everyone was like me and very reluctant to go. It was a slow walk back enjoying everyone's company. It had been a great couple of days. Everyone was on great form. It was brilliant to meet others in person rather than online and for everyone to get on. There was a lot to take away from the experience. One I must remember to take more photographs of the gear next time. Two, to make friends with shared interests and have future plans to look forward to. Oh and three not forgetting the gear, it was good to get access to stuff you would never normally but most of all the people. Happy days.