Wet and Wild on the Glen Striddle Horseshoe

Emma hadn’t been out on the hill for a while so we chose the relatively easy Glen Striddle horseshoe above Luss for our route – an 11.5km walk up the SE ridge of the Graham, Beinn Dubh, around the head of Glen Striddle with a descent of the SE ridge of Mid Hill before walking out along the tarmac road down Glen Luss. The forecast wasn’t great, with heavy rain and strong winds forecast most of the day, but with a brief window in the morning we hoped we could complete our route before the worst of it came in. We couldn’t.

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SE ridge of Beinn Dubh, it’s up there somewhere
We set off from the car park in Luss at 0900 under an ominous grey sky and with the tops of the surrounding hills hidden under a blanket of low cloud. After crossing the footbridge over the thundering A82 we followed the fairly decent, if somewhat boggy, path up the ridge in dry and breezy conditions until the clag closed in around us at around 500m. With it suddenly came the predicted gale force winds and driving rain that seemed to painfully sandblast my exposed face. Emma had opted for her Softshell jacket, which is lovely in its pink splendor, though unfortunately not designed for the near horizontal torrent now battering us from the West. Her top half rapidly became saturated and I cursed myself for encouraging her to take it instead of her Goretex, being comparatively warm and dry in my own.

Once on the more exposed plateau above the ridge visibility fell to around 30m and mobility was at times tortuous in the gale force gusts. Our hoods cinched around our heads, leaving only an eye slit, protected us from the worst of the stinging rain. Heads bowed and leaning into the formidable wind we trudged on, gradually turning westward around the top of the horseshoe as we snaked our way through the heavy, boggy ground.

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All smiles, now that we’re out the clag, wind and rain
Emma, now pretty much soaked through, was fine while we were moving but the combination of wet clothes and strong winds meant she rapidly cooled during any stops. Despite the poor visibility navigation was fairly simple given that we were following a ridgeline so, thankfully, stops to check the map and compass bearing were brief. Deciding that a lunch stop in the conditions would be unwise we slogged on through the bogs and the clag until we broke out of it halfway down the SE ridge of Mid Hill. Now in the shelter of Glen Luss the wind had eased and the rain was falling in its more natural vertical orientation. Emma even managed her first smile for some time.

An uneventful descent saw us meet the tarmac road out of Glen Luss, crossing a bridge over the Glen Striddle Burn in full, booming spate. We followed the road out for the final 3km, eating our deferred ham and egg sandwiches and largely talking about the marvels of Goretex. Lesson learned.

A Fine Little Corbett

13/10/15: Beinn an Lochain, Arrochar

I am almost awoken at seven am by the screaming of my alarm clock. I say almost because I don’t actually wake, the sound instead seems to embed itself in some forgotten dream. It is Emma, who rather impolitely informs me that my alarm is ringing and that it might be in my best interests to turn it off, who wakes me.

Following one (or maybe two?) appreciations of the snooze function I finally rise, bleary eyed, to face the prospect of today’s walk – a mere 6km jaunt up the steep, boggy NE ridge of Beinn an Lochain near Arrochar. Following a quick bacon sandwich and a hastily prepared lunch I blunder out to the car with my backpack and walking boots for the hour and a half drive north. Blinded by the rising sun in the rear view mirror an uneventful drive finds me in a layby on the Rest and be Thankful pass, with the diminutive but rocky Beinn an Lochain looming over me to the West.

A fine, clear autumn morning allows a full view of my intended route to the summit, the angle foreshortening the ridgeline and making it look like a remarkably benign undertaking. Suddenly I find myself embracing the challenge, my earlier lethargy folding into my newfound anticipation of an exciting climb to the final rocky steps of this fine little Corbett.

Shaking off the cobwebs and the drive I set off NW across boggy ground, crossing the Easan Dubh, to gain the NE ridge of Beinn an Lochain just above the tree line after only ten minutes. With the Cobbler, Narnain and Ime to my east the morning chill is still hanging in their shadow, as am I, as the climb rears skywards. Within a few minutes I appreciate the shaded cold air as I warm up, slowly ascending the rocky ridge. After a period of unrelenting steep ground the gradient eases and I emerge into the sun on an open shoulder on the mountain. The view down Glen Crow opens up ahead with the shadows of the nearby Munros ensuring that Glen Kinglas behind remains consumed by the morning cold.

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Summit view along the ridge

Striking ever upwards, scaling the occasional scrambly step and wading through the boggy ground that has developed on this man made waterway, I climb steadily towards my goal. Breaking onto a plateau at around 760m I see, for the first time since I left the warmth of the car, my destination – the rocky pinnacle of Beinn an Lochain. Invigorated now, walking in the warming glow of the mid-morning sun, I set off onto the final part of the climb. Head down, plodding on, I zigzag up the summit slopes until I find myself on the summit plateau. The size of a king-size bed with the all-too-common cairn at the top, I remove my backpack and sit, ready to enjoy a well earned lunch and a flask of hot, sweet coffee.

The air clarity today is sensational. I appreciate the fantastic views east over the Arrochar Alps to the Cobbler, Narnain and Ime, the bulk of Ben Lomond visible between their tops. Looking north I can just see it on the horizon, the unmistakable hump of The Ben. Sitting on the summit I think of the adventures waiting there on it’s North Face. I can feel the cold on the air; the snow and the ice will be here soon. And I smile.