After weeks of excitement, sold out signs, rumours of celebrity guests and tickets changing hands for many times their original value, Sunday April 21st finally arrived and several hardy JCI ‘Scotland’ souls set about conquering one of Scotland’s most popular mountains. In classic hillwalking tradition the bright sunshine of the previous two days was replaced with dark clouds, light rain and there was even talk of blizzards and storms. A combination of too much sleeping, illness and celebration events saw our numbers reduced from 15 to just 5 but, as we left Glasgow at 8:30am, spirits were high and we were determined to make the best of things. On the approach to Rowardennan our hopes were raised further by the sight of a half full car park which included two vans from the Loch Lomond Mountain Rescue team on a training exercise. The rain had stopped but Ben Lomond itself was somewhere above hidden in the clouds and it was nice to know a rescue squad was nearby should anything unfortunate happen.
The air was still & damp and had this been the end of May we would probably have been eaten alive by midges but the bloodsuckers are still to hatch so after a quick change of footwear and last minute equipment checks we made our way through the entrance gates, passed the ‘missing dog’ poster and onto the track. We were not the first on the mountain that day and even though it was just before 10am we were already giving way to people on their way back to their cars. Despite the cold air by the time we were 1/5th of the way up we had already stopped a few times to remove jackets & hats and take on water. Below us the cloud had lifted giving a fantastic view of Luss, the forest and the some of the 25 islands within Loch Lomond.
As we climbed the cloud and temperature began to drop and wind increased so the gloves and hats were quickly broken out again. A light hail and sleet shower certainly woke us up and just after the 2/3rd point we encountered snow for the first time. One large patch lead to the inevitable threat of a snowball fight but with restricted ammunition we thought better of it. Visibility was down to 50m and hands and faces were starting to get numb but the path was clear and free from ice and we knew we were getting closer. We stopped at the lower ridge to admire the snow and what we could see of the precipice on the north face before the final push for the summit. At 12:10pm all five of us made it to the lonely triangle marker floating 974m above sea level on a bed of rock and cloud. On a clear day you can apparently see as far as the outskirts of Glasgow but all we could see was a greyish white curtain. We were briefly joined by another small group with their old Golden retriever who whilst docile in the car park suddenly seemed to take a dislike to us. Perhaps it was the thin air or the anger that we had beaten them but it was soon subdued and group photos were taken. Our fellow hikers decided to take the Ptarmigan ridge back down and on a better day we may have joined them but we couldn’t even see the start of the other path so decided to return the way we came and seek out a place for lunch.
The descent as you would expect was much quicker and it was not long before we reached the first large patch of snow and found a sheltered spot for some lunch. The cloud was starting to lift and every so often we would catch a glimpse of the Loch and the steady stream of hikers who were now making their way up the track.
We were making great time on the way back down and perhaps even regretting out early start on the day. With the start of the forest in sight the sun suddenly managed to burst through the clouds an,d as we looked back, more and more of the mountain was being revealed. By the time we reached the forest the summit was clearly visible and as at least one of our party applied sunscreen we could only think of the views we might have had if the weather patterns had been in reverse. On the final straight back to the car park we happened upon a couple of young ladies – one who looked prepared and the other in a pair of white slip-on ‘ugg-like boots’. Whilst trying to pass us she made the mistake of stepping in a deceptively deep mud patch and the blinding white was extinguished forever. We hope they both made it to the top without further fashion disasters!
At approximately 2:15pm we reached based camp with no injuries or missing hikers. The Challenge was over and the first of what we hope of many mountains was conquered. A quick charity donation to the mountain rescue team in exchange for coffee and cake and it was off to ‘The Clansman’ for a couple of drinks and some food. No sign of Jack & Victor but a pleasant atmosphere and good conversation more than made up for it. All that was left was the long journey home and a game of ‘guess the 1970s/80s kids TV show. IPods can be dangerous things and some of our group were clearly older or geekier than the others.
We would like to give a big thanks to the brave souls from both JCI Glasgow and JCI Edinburgh (some of which had never hill-walked before) for braving the elements and making the day as special as it was. Hopefully you will have ‘caught the bug’ and we will see you on another mountain soon.
Our next walk will be a Saturday in June when hopefully the weather will be slightly more predictable and a few suntans and landscape photos can be claimed. Keep an eye on the Facebook, Twitter and website for announcements and dates. If you would like to find out more or register interest in upcoming walks then please email either Tom (email@example.com) or Iain (firstname.lastname@example.org).