Beinn Ime - 1011m
Wednesday 31st December 2008
Weather/Conditions: Cloud between 700 and 900m. Beneath, the day was dull, grey and overcast. Above the weather was incredibly beautiful. I keep having good winter days but I believe this may have been the winter day of 08-09. I keep on saying that for each day but I struck lucky again with the weather.
Distance/Ascent/Time:6km / 950m / 4h
Accompanying: Alone / Mark and two others (can't remember names) who I tagged along with. :)
A good way to end 2008...
When it comes to weather, I've been very lucky this winter. It started with Beinn Dorain at the start of November, and then I figured I wouldn't see another winter's day like it for a long time. At the end of November, I had another amazing day in the Luss Hills. But today, the good weather had come again and I had a new camera - a Canon EOS 400D. I've still been getting to grips with the camera as I try to get beyond simply pointing and shooting but several images turned out very well in the end. All the images put up, bar one or two, I've spent a lot of time working on.
Glued to the internet, and looking at weather reports the night before, the Mountain Weather Information Service were predicting a cloud inversion above 800m. This, combined with my lack of hillwalking in December left me eager to go. There was no question about it. If I could arrange travel to the bottom of Beinn Ime (highest mountain in the area, highest chance of an inversion) then I'd be sorted. Dad took the opportunity to do some photography by the lochs, so things were looking up.
Early on the 31st, we were driving up the A82 into Arrochar and around to Glen Croe. There was a lot of cloud clinging to the higher reaches of the hills, although the Cobbler had been clear. It's snow-clad eastern corrie radiated pink morning light and it was quite a sight. At the time, it seemed to me that I wouldn't see an inversion. I'd come to take my chances, knowing well that trying would pay off one of these days. A peppering of snow or frost coated the slopes before the faces soared into cloud. The cliffs of The Brack were mysterious, almost frightening and for a moment in time, the prospect of going alone was daunting.
At Butterbridge I looked up to the hills, thought about the navigation, the hours of walking alone on those hills in the cloud and the snow... Something was putting me off going up there. It didn't feel right. I'd guessed the cloud inversion wasn't a possibility anymore but I thought I should go for it. If I went for it, then perhaps I'd be rewarded. I was doubtful, but I'd give it a shot.
Ascent to Beinn Chorranach
I set off at 9.20am, following the forestry tracks before crossing the stream and cutting straight up the side of Beinn Chorranach. There were walkers above and I decided to catch them up. With mountains hidden under duller grey, I shot off up the hillside. At 600m, I met with these people and asked them if they knew if it was safe to climb the side of Chorranach safely. It seemed like the steep way to go. One of the guys, who perhaps thought I may be lost said they'd tag along behind me. I felt okay so far, but having them about suited me well. I kept them within 30 metres or so as we headed into the cloud. The slopes steepened and snow cover was as expected. I felt good by now, realising the slopes were tamer than I'd thought them to be. As a means of navigating, I kept the sound of traffic to my back and it took me up the hillside on a straight course to the top. Very clever way to navigate...
Then the verglas came and the angle of the slopes became tremendous. If these guys hadn't been around I wouldn't have ever come up this way. The Ime-Chorranach saddle would have been my route of choice. On steeper sections I let them lead and then at 850m, the slope angled off. I then began to notice a change in the air, and I could sense shadows appearing. Cloud around us glowed, and it went through my mind that perhaps I was about to walk out of the cloud.
In a moment, we walked straight out the mist and into brilliant sunshine. All these views appearing at once - it was so spectacular... blue skies embellished by high cirrus cloud were spread out above and it was bright all around. I looked out to the west where Ben Cruachan and neighbouring peaks were spread out, while beside me, the rocks were covered with wind sculpted ice. Feeling well, the four of us walked up onto the summit of Beinn Chorranach together. I introduced myself to them properly and we got talking. They were nice folk and had been a great help, keeping me confident on the way up the face. Beneath us, clouds spilled over the Chorranach-Ime saddle and the sun shone low in the sky. Only the highest mountains - almost all Munros - showed through the top of the cloud. It was simply beautiful. I was happy to be there, happy to have the unexpected company of some very nice people and I felt superb.
The group of three asked me if I wanted to tag along with them to Beinn Ime and I accepted that offer. We headed down into the cloud, across the saddle and climbed back up the other side and out of the cloud. I picked up a path and followed it upwards. Behind me, Beinn Ime cast it's shadow on the clouds beneath and I regularly stopped to take in these views while I had them. The route up Beinn Ime turned out to be a lot easier than I had anticipated it to be, and although steep, I kept myself paced. As we reached the top, a Brocken Spectre appeared on the mists below. We were too high to see our own shadows in it, but to witness a pyramidal shadow cast below, topped off by a spectre was a sight in itself. We arrived at the top of Beinn Ime at 11.30am and as we treaded the final slopes to the top, we'd left its' shadow and the sun shone once more. Feeling elated and completely grateful to be here, I stopped for a food break and a rest.
I phoned dad - he was below the cloud and was taking atmospheric photographs of Loch Awe in the mist. I could barely believe that I was in the same area as him and it occurred to me that what I so often feel on the summit of Beinn Ime is detachment from the world - it's such a high and airy summit, especially in the wind and cloud, that here I barely feel attached to the ground at all. The Kevin that stood staring up at mist shrouded hills in Butterbridge a few hours earlier seemed so long ago, because to me this alternative, almost exclusive (for those who got out of bed early enough :) ) world above the clouds was all that existed at that point in time. It was damn good to sit and take it all in knowing that I made the effort. It all paid off...
After twenty or so minutes on the top, the three asked me if I wanted to return with them. My original plan had been to go over to Beinn Luibhean but it wasn't even out of the cloud, thus that plan was abandoned. I'd got what I came for - Beinn Chorranach, Beinn Ime and the incredible views. I was feeling totally content with what I'd achieved thus far and to climb Beinn Ime last also kept in line with a new tradition, to climb it at the end of every year. I'd climbed it in December 2007 - last summit of that year - and although we didn't get out of the cloud, the conditions were indeed similar.
We descended down the hillside and back into the cloud. I was sad to leave, but I had to get back myself. I would sit up there for hours, but I wouldn't keep dad waiting... I took some final photographs, looked around at this world once more before walking down into the murk. We arrived back at the bealach and the frozen bogs made the terrain easy to walk on. We headed down the corrie, following the Allt Beinn Ime and eventually back to Butterbridge. One section had me picking my way down a verglas coated gully where the ground had steepened into crags, but otherwise the terrain consisted of grassy slopes. We walked back under the cloud into the grey world. It was the world that I knew, one with roads, the sound of traffic and buildings. I knew it better than the almost ethereal one I'd seen at the summits. It was strange to know what was lying up there - anyone down here without knowing the conditions would assume the weather was worse at the top. Dammit, were they missing out or what??
From the corrie, it was a speedy descent. I talked to Mark (I'm sure that was his name) a lot on the way down and we headed over the river and back down to Butterbridge, following the path. Back at the car park, dad pulled in at 1.20pm, exactly four hours after he left. I said goodbyes to Mark and the others, thanked them for the company and headed off home. I didn't get any email addresses off them though - if I did, I'd send them over a couple of pictures or something.
As far as 2008 hillwalks go, this may have been my absolute best. Every hillwalk is top notch - bar one or two where my mind isn't with it, I suppose - but this one did have a vibe to it which hasn't been so pronounced on other walks. One thing I experienced here was a small degree of adrenaline. Climbing the steep slopes of Chorranach was something I wouldn't have done alone and I felt exhilarated by it. Beinn Ime's north slopes felt steep - perhaps steeper than it really is in the conditions and I felt a quiet underlying fear when we came across the gully on the descent. All was fine though and, in retrospect, an edge had been added to the walk. It was another top notch trip in the mountains and there was no better way to finish off the year. Here's hoping that 2009 will top the last twelve months!