Monday, 15 July 2013

A Labour in Vane

When Matt staggered back home wearily after the Arrochar Alps race a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned that he'd hobbled through an idyllic little camping spot on Ben Vane: a sheltered plateau about half way up that would serve as an excellent base camp from which to hustle the kids up their first Munro.

Feeling uncharacteristically indulgent towards the urchins, we relieved them of their usual sleeping-bag-carrying duties and bought an additional giant rucksack for us grown-up mules. We parked at Inveruglas Visitor Centre, and headed sherpa-like into Glen Sloy.

The broad tarmacked road (which serves Sloy Hydro Dam) ascends gently round the base of Ben Vorlich for a couple of miles, and makes for easy walking. Nevertheless we managed to hit the 60ish minute mile pace, as the kids dawdled and admired the abundant cow pats.

Endless fun.

Somehow, walking at snail's pace is much more tiring on the burdened shoulders and back than a brisk hike, so we took a bit of time out for some chocolate fudge, body temperature Coke, and boulder appreciation. At this point I could see Ben Vorlich, Ben Vane, Beinn Ime and Beinn Narnain, and I marvelled at the Arrochar Alps race route. Matt's six-hour race time suddenly made sense. The slopes are steep, rugged, apparently pathless, and make the Pentlands seem like diddy wee hillocks. Sloy Dam loomed in a vaguely sinister fortress-like manner. It took a very long time to reach.

60 minute mile pace...huzzah!
Once up past the dam, the path fizzled out onto a nice flat grassy area overlooking the loch. We debated the possibility of setting up camp here, but Matt felt that a final push towards the sheltered hollow further up was worth it. We hummed and hawed for a few minutes, and Matt decided to make a solo venture upwards and take photos for me to assess. As he headed off, scrambling in places and diminishing in size against the vastness of the hillside I felt a growing sense of aloneness: a slight quiver of fear at being in the hills with three small (and very slow) children. What if he didn't come back down? How long would I wait before trying to herd the children back down the road towards a phone signal? I was relieved to see him reappear fifteen or so minutes later. A brisk wind had picked up over the loch, and that plus the photos settled the decision for us to head up the hill to the more sheltered hollow. Matt went up again by himself with one of the rucksacks, and came back to get the second rucksack (lovely man!) and shepherd us all up to our base for the night.


Our sleepy hollow.

Family-friendly campsite with recreational facilities.

Base camp.
The little plateau on first appearances lived up to the hype: definitely less wind, and the lay of the land afforded us a slightly extended sunset. Small white butterflies flitted among the bog-cotton and the kids immediately entertained themselves with a bit of bouldering. However, as we brushed through the long grass and slightly squishy wet turf, we realised that we were disturbing swarms of midges....literally thousands of them. It was time to road-test the new bottle of Smidge. I've never had much luck with insect repellants, but this one seemed to work miracles AND smelled quite nice! It seemed to provide a fragrant force-field around my bare legs and face. Any un-Smidged skin continued to be nipped, which meant we had to try to rub it into our hair. I envied Matt's baldy heid.

We set up the tents and settled down for our now traditional camping supper of frankfurters in wraps with baked beans, followed by a bar of Marvellous Creations jelly bean/smartie/space-dust chocolate <dribble> and washed down with medicinal levels of wine.
"Pyramid Rock": the most coveted boulder, and scene of urchin skirmishes.
As soon as the sun disappeared behind the summit of Ben Vane, we headed for our sleeping bags and tried to ignore the fact that some creature (I sheep, I suppose, but I was too scared to look) was racketing around our tents. This, in conjunction with a deflated sleeping mat, resulted in a night of restless and disturbing dreams, the lowlights being: The Crazed Gun-Man of Arrochar Alps, an obese spider cramming a chinchilla into its mouth, and being taken prisoner by British communist revolutionaries while wearing only a pair of pants made out of a giant leaf. I was very glad to eventually wake up to this lovely view:

A serendipitously accurate rendering of my blurry morning vision.

The morning briefing: "We're going thataway!"
Over our early breakfast, we watched clouds gathering around the top of Ben Vorlich and decided not to hang about with our attempt on Ben Vane. We eyeballed a reasonable looking route as far as we could see and headed on up. The kids might be road dawdlers, but they dig a bit of clambering. I was left to bring up the rear, often with my heart in my mouth as we negotiated our way round some steepish areas. In less than half an hour we reached a very wet and slippery gully leading to the crest of the false summit, and we rerouted around a rocky outcrop.
Rosie balancing a large rock on her head.

Propping up part of the mountain.

Ben Vorlich looking imposing.

At this point Ben Vorlich behind us was looking quite menacing. The cloud had thickened considerably around the top, and it seemed likely that the summit of Ben Vane would be similarly claggy. I decided to nip ahead and assess the conditions and how much further we had to go. Within a minute or so, I was in the base of the clouds. We clearly had a significant distance to go, with a fair amount of scrambling, and so being a craven yellowbellied coward cautious, I took the decision to leave the summit for another day. We headed back to base camp and PUFO'd.

Possibly the true summit in the distance.

As we made our way down, we ruminated over our thwarted Munro-bagging attempt, and pledged to come back and have another go soon. "Maybe next time we could go up the path instead," pondered Matt. "Path?!" says I, through gritted teeth. "You didn't tell me there was a path option." <frosty glare>. As we skirted the base of Ben Vorlich we got a text from Mike Lynch with the amazing news that in the time it had taken us to not manage one Munro, Graham Nash had conquered 24 of them in his Ramsay Round. Quite mind-boggling, and I can't wait to hear a blow by blow account of his journey soon.

Beast of burden.

After a swift descent to Inveruglas Visitor Centre (we must have been getting on for 30 minute miles!) we'd worked up quite an appetite, and the cafe a welcome sight. "We'll have one, please!"

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