A Perfect day for spiders

Above Loch Long

Above Loch Long

Firstly, my apologies for the late arrival of this blog ….last weeks blog in fact.   Suffice to say it’s been another busy week and a visit to Blairmore Gallery on Thursday, a visit from Susie of The Gallery on the Corner, on Friday and working late most evenings meant that doing the blog went clean out of my mind! Oh well better late than never.

I don’t know what it was like else where but here in Irvine it was a pretty miserable week weather wise.  We had a lot of gloomy wet days and so we put off thoughts of another visit into the hills.  However, the forecast for the weekend was much better and so we decided to get out on Sunday.

The Cobbler

The Cobbler

For the last eighteen months, when we’d got out walking we’d been heading for some of the smaller hills and I realised that I hadn’t actually climbed a Munro for quite a long time.  I had a sudden hankering for reaching that magic 914 metres but with the clocks having just changed and it now being November it means short days ….not good when you can’t see too much and are very slow.  We decided therefore to head for Ben Ime, in the Arrochar Alps.  For me, it has the advantage of being reached by good well made paths (so quite fast even with a fuzzy eye) and the final ascent is nearly all on easy grass slopes with just one short steep more rocky section near the top.  Ideally though we’d need to make an early start in order to give me the maximum amount of daylight to do the walk and so we planned to set out from Irvine by 06.30 …this meaning we’d be walking by just before eight o’clock.  As it turned out though, we started an hour later.   Saturday had been very wet but by the evening everything was starting to freeze and we thought that the roads first thing the next morning might be a bit icy …hence leaving the hour later to give things a chance to warm up a little.

View from the lower slopes of Ben Ime

View from the lower slopes of Ben Ime

We reached the car park on shores of Loch Long and were walking by 08.50 and everything looked great.  We had almost clear skies, there was frost on the grass and there was mist drifting over the loch.   The route climbs quite steeply up through a young conifer plantation but still giving plenty of views out over the loch and the village of Arrochar  to Ben Lomond beyond ….and as we climbed we quickly gained enough height to get into the sun …it was lovely.   At last you are high enough to see into the glen leading to The Cobbler …and it’s quite a sight with its very distinctive and dramatic outline.  On your right the hillside climbs steeply to Beinn Narnain and higher up the slopes were quite white, although we weren’t sure if this was thick frost or a thin coating of snow ….or a bit of both as it turned out!  We followed the path up to the col between the north peak of The Cobbler and Beinn Narnain and from this point you get to see Ben Ime, at just over 1000 m, the dominant hill in this area.  The forecast had said that a weather front would come in from the west bringing increasingly strong winds and snow on the hills by the evening and even now the blue skies of the early morning had gone and cloud was moving in …it was very cold too with the ground increasingly frozen.

Near the summit of Ben Ime, a break in the cloud

Near the summit of Ben Ime, a break in the cloud

The good path ends here and the walk across to Ben Ime is normally on boggy muddy ground …but it wasn’t too bad being frozen and we were soon puffing up the what seemed endless grass slopes …and into the cloud …the weather really was deteriorating quite fast and it even started to snow  lightly for a few minutes.  We reached the top and everything was misty and white and with the wind blowing it wasn’t a place to sit and eat a sandwich but it was time to sit and put on the spiders!  For anyone who hasn’t come across these wonderful little instep crampons …(for some reason known as spiders) well, they are a pair of small plastic plates in which are mounted eight pointed metal studs.  The whole thing fits under the instep of your boot and is held there firmly by a strap.  Now, they’re not meant to do the job of real crampons but in conditions like this, frozen ground with patches of water ice and a very thin layer of frost and snow ….they’re perfect.  They give so much extra grip and allow you to walk with more confidence and safety.  This really was a perfect day for spiders and we descended relatively quickly.  As it happened, we had some great if rather brief views near the summit …the cloud suddenly broke and it made all the effort of getting up there worthwhile …Wow.

My frosted guide!

My frosted guide!

With the weather now definitely on the decline and a thick overcast layer of cloud above, the light was getting gloomy very early and so I had to move as fast as possible to get off the hill before all the light faded.  This is where the hours of practice over the last ten years have paid off.  When I need to move fast Nita walks just in front of me telling me all the obstacles, steps and gaps ….in this way even in the descending gloom we moved safely and quite fast.  It started snowing lightly when we reached the top of the long final descent to the road and we were back down to the car by just after a quarter past four and with just a little bit of light to spare.  What a day. Time to eat the sandwiches and drink the coffee we’d carried all the way up and down but had not had time to enjoy on the hill.  We like to use the day to it’s full!

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