For a week or ten days the Met Office forecast a mixture of snowy and sleety weather, with the sleet/snow balance shifting as the days passed, but there was one constant – the promise of a fine Saturday. This looked to be perfect timing as my son Finlay was keen to get a taste of Scottish snow before heading off to another four and a half months of African heat in Malawi.
When Friday’s weather arrived it brought much heavier snow than had been originally predicted, even prompting Renfrewshire and Glasgow to issue an ‘abandon ship before the roads are blocked’ email to all teaching staff. Saturday’s promise was still there though and despite the freshness and heaviness of the snow, with all its attendant difficulties and dangers, we’d take it up. We opted for the ridgy and local Ben Vorlich, hoping both that the snow would be safer and that we’d be able to get to the car park without too many problems on the road.
Gordon, Fin and I set off from Inveruglas at 9:30, hopeful now that we might get up something. This confidence took a first dip as, crossing the A82, we passed the first of the defeated parties. We passed the second about 10 minutes later as we came underneath the railway and began the climb up the dam road. They had been beaten by waist deep snow at the bottom of Ben Vane. Maybe Vorlich wouldn’t be so bad? So we carried on, encouraged by the tracks ahead of us, until we realised that there were as many footprints coming back as going on. But, we’d go on and see, we were the SCC after all (and a guy called Davie from Paisley who tagged along with us).
We followed a trail up to about 300m where its makers had had enough – Ben Vorlich was bad. But now it was our turn, so we ploughed on through deep snow, picking out a meandering route between anything which suggested shallower snow: a few grass tussocks, a boulder, a little ridge, and avoided dodgy looking slopes by sticking below the safety offered by crags. It was hard going. After 3 hours we still hadn’t got onto the ridge. Several chest-deep breast-stroke sessions later and I was becoming doubtful that we ever would. But the going gradually improved, we got up onto the ridge and the world opened up, with the views down to the dam and out to the West. Here we met another couple who had had enough and were heading back down to the dam. They said they’d been passed by yet another beaten group. We wondered. But now at least we would be able to take advantage of someone else’s hard work for a bit – so we did.
We followed the trail for a couple of hundred metres to where it marked the limit of another group’s frustrations. Again we were back to breaking new ground, but it was a beautiful day – hardly a breath of wind and 360 degrees of clear skies – a perfect blue window in weeks of grey. After only a short distance we were out of the snow, into the crampons and onto the neve, for the luxury of some actual walking to the top.
After 5 hours of trudging we claimed the summit in the name of the SCC, narrowly ahead of a group coming up from Ardlui. It was a great day out – a rare treat to be on a pathless and largely trackless hill – a chance to play at pioneers.