I had in mind to go to the nearest munro to Edinburgh, within a week of being here.
Utility hookups intervened, but we got out 2 days later, after a wee bimble on a Sunday following the Water of Leith to the village of Dean, as Fraser suggested we should, which was altogether lovely. They have some fascinating stuff at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art about the Demarco/Beuys Rannoch Moor action, well worth being in the same room with.
Anyway, Monday saw us heading out at the crack for the craic, up into Perthshire on unfamiliar roads to the south side of Loch Earn, following superb instructions from walk highlands, which will give you all the technical detail you need. Ben Vorlich, to be fair, is a straight forward up and down on a well kept path. What makes this more of a handful is the Stuc. Please note '' Hillwalking when there is snow or ice lying requires ice-axe, crampons and the ability to use them. Some featured routes can become technical ice climbs''. It wasn't quite an ice climb, but we were tested twice, once in a snow gully just before topping out onto the Creag Chassain, and once in the gloaming, when our return was blocked by steep snow banks to the northwest, coming down from the saddle between Ben Vorlich and Ben Our. Scottish miles are long ones, especially in winter. Do yourself a favour if you're trying this in the darker months and check your return properly on the way in....like we didn't. Overall, a brilliant start to our walking here - a nice little swipe, a warning not to take anything for granted. Good practice, but not good practise. Here's the map:
Loch Earn was simply lovely in the early morning. A friendly stalker in camo gear towing a 6 wheel buggie straight out of Space 1999 asked us to stay to the path as there was shooting today on Ardvorlich estate. I've yet to meet an ounce of hostility from any locals bar none. Compared to London - what, are you joking?
Up and out on a cold track, freshly laid with a light sprinkling of icing sugar, the barest hint of the arctic conditions on top. I've become morbidly obsessed with weather watching in the last months and the forecast was fair - predicted cold but clear. Take an average of 3 or 4 forecasts is the way. Early morning light, this is what we came for. Across from our slow and steady ascent in the blistering wind, Bhein Domhnuill reminds me of the fells, its lumpy like that. I'm pinching myself - we were in our own bed this morning... all this, so accessible to us now.
The Stuc is to the right, the lowlands on the left. T is still extremely cold, and we are debating whether to swear off for the day. We make for Ben Our, but then brave a little more and after some indecision about the best route to descend (map say left, we say right) head to the bealach between Vorlich and the Stuc a'Croin. I still have my belay jacket on and T shoves icy cold paws under my armpits until the pain stops. I'm ready to call it, this not being a way to approach a scramble in winter. But we meet another nice gent who suggests we watch him on the ascent and this gives T confidence. So, after lunch and plenty hot tea and some distance learning, off we go up.
This is a very steep and rocky ascent and we needed rope and more appropriate skills really - even in summer this would be a fair scramble. We followed our predecessor's footsteps and assumed since we didn't find his body on the way, everything was going to be fine. Impressive views of Vorlich on the way up, enjoying the cold hollow chink of metal on stone. By about 2pm the weather is beginning to close in.
The last section was most testing, T wanted to lead and so did, but got cornered on a slippery section without any islands of safety. She had a moment or two but dug deep and carried on. This pleased me alot, as she was directly above me, wearing crampons, and would have been an awkward catch.
I took over at the last, forging a way up and topping out did feel a little tooth and nail but only for a second, the snow was not giving way here. Test numero uno.
The cairn on top is not the Stuc, that's a little further on. The valley south east, marred by wind power/money stations in the distance. This is what we're here to witness. If you are still silent on this issue and you write about the great outside, now is the time to speak up. Without the wilds we love, we are slaves without a footing - put your heart in your mouth and climb, dear friends, put your heart in your mouth and climb.
Just a touch windy up here. Pretty cornice, quite something, cloud flies in. We keep to the fringes, where rock meets snow.
Walking back down the edge, the eddies and swirls of cloud hide and reveal a different view. We feel good, liberated from our lowland selves, seconds after the shot below there's a rainbow and the merest hint of a Brocken Spectre which comes and goes faster than I can remove gloves to take a photo. Rare day indeed.
On the walk out we are blessed with fine fireworks to the south,
We miss the steep scree path as its under snow but make our way down on a spurr west of the Creag Chassain. It looks, and was, far steeper in the flesh than in the photo here.
Our hill fitness of the summer is gone, we are feeling it now. By the Fhuadaraich, girl done good.
I realised how much I have missed the sound of running wild water in the last four months - every day and night of last summer it filled my ears, the song of a Pyrenean waking dream. How I relish hearing it now.
The game is not yet up. After a brief stop to remove crampons, water and snack, we cross over the saddle between Ben Vorlich and Ben Our, and our way is barred by steep and heavy drifts of snow. The light is dwindling fast and we make the wrong decision to trust the stalkers path instead of following the line of least resistance back to the lowest part of the saddle and down. With spikes back on, what follows is minutes that seem like hours, inching across hard pack, kicking steps and having to rest dangling from axes, unable to drop down for an age, until we descend via a heather ladder to the path again, far below. Exhausted, sweating, trembling muscles and wavering nerve, quite dangerous and stupid. Mind how you go. If in doubt, (probably) don't.
I think we'll do something a bit less full on next time. Skiing, apparently, that should be amusing. Happy Burns Night.