Slackdhu - 496m
Wednesday 5th March 2009

Weather/Conditions: Sunny and fairly warm to begin with. The previous night had been cold and brought snow to these hills, which is a rarity in itself. Once we were up high, a snow-bearing shower moved in from the south. It turned out to be a 'sheep in wolves clothing' though, to use a well known term, as it culminated into moderate snow showers and nothing worse. Descent brought a fantastic sunset and a return to blue, clear skies as we walked back in the twilight.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 7km / 450m / 4h 55m
Accompanying: Tom

This was my first time out on the hills with good friend Tom, with who I play in metal band Solstheim with. My one free day a week is a Saturday and Tom, without fail it seems, works on this day. On Sundays I'm almost always free but on Wednesdays I leave school at midday. So we planned our first walk together for this Wednesday and chose to start from Strathblane and climb some of the Campsies. These hills are the closest to me and so travelling wouldn't take too long. Not when we started late and darkness was coming at 6pm.

Once back from school, I packed my things which watching the weather and overall conditions. Snow had fallen overnight and the mountains were blanketed. This was good news for the Campsies rarely have snow, and rarer still is that I'm free to walk them when they have. I picked Tom up from the train station at 1.50pm and we headed out to Strathblane from there. I'd brought along a lot of gear, more than I would have had there been no snow, of course, but I piled things in the car beforehand and decided in Strathblane what we'd bring and what we'd leave.

Ascent to Slackdhu

We left (1.20pm) followed the private road from the monument as I've done many times before and cut down to the river that would eventually lead up to the slopes of Slackdhu. The going was rough here but I know of no other easier ways onto Slackdhu. We first climbed down the river bank, negotiated thick undergrowth and this led us out onto moorland. We were just starting out but didn't get through without a fight. Slackdhu, laden with snow lay above us and the line of cliffs along the escarpment presented no easy ways up. The only realistic route up could be found by negotiating the first break in the cliffs which lay 1.5km south-east of the summit. The ground steepened as we climbed and we aimed for a notch in the hill where the cliffs ceased to bar the way. Up here, it was steep and the combination of snow and wet grass made it rather hazardous. I didn't make too much of the exposure, just kicked firm steps into the grasses on the way up and blanked out the drop. It's interesting to see how the exposure on Aonach Beag at the weekend before had got to me a little but here I was not bothered in the slightest. More step kicking brought me over the top of the escarpment and the walking would certainly be easier beyond this point.

The day so far had been a mixture of blue skies, sun and cumulus clouds. There had been a few brief showers in he morning but from our current vantage point on Slackdhu, I could see that a huge snow shower sat at the south end of Glasgow. Although there was little more than a breeze, I checked wind direction and judged that it must be heading straight for us. As we climbed, it progressively swallowed up Glasgow and when it arrived visibility dropped and snow began to fall. Once 'inside', the conditions weren't too bad and the approaching wall of grey that had been coming turned out to compromise of some snow falling and with no wind to carry them. had there been substantial wind, I'd imagine that they'd turn into bullets...

Now we were in cloud and several inches of snow lay underfoot, direction was hard to determine and I programmed the summit waypoints into the GPS. Finding the top had been difficult enough when I was here in sunny weather back in 2007 so stumbling about in near-whiteout would have been no fun.

Somewhere near the top, I put my leg straight through a frozen lochan (Could you get "lochans" in this part of Scotland?) and some water seeped in through my boots. So I took the opportunity to put on gaiters and at the same time tried out my new crampons: Grivel G10s. They turned out to be far easier to use and work with than I'd anticipated which I was glad to know. Additionally, the straps were immensely easy to use with cold fingers and there was almost no fiddling about. A fantastic design. From here we continued up the final paces to the top where we were met with the small summit stone. (4.30pm) I'm not knowledgeable enough about the uses this plateau is put to, although I'd be interested to know what use these engraved 'markers', almost, are put to.

Descent and sunset

We didn't stay long at the top. We took a fair amount of pictures but the camera had to go away for it was getting wet. From the summit we headed in a north westerly direction intending to drop steeply to "Stonen Glen" before taking the river to the track and the track back to Strathblane. I was having a brilliant time and now that we were heading down it wouldn't matter what time it got dark, the only way to go was down. Additionally, I knew the terrain well now and we should definitely get back to the track before nightfall at least. I'd agreed to meet mum at the memorial (I'm still getting lifts from parents. Still not driving, but hopefully I'll change that soon...) and so it put a restriction on the time we could take.

We headed over the edge of the plateau and onto steeper terrain. With crampons, I had an excellent grip with the ground and took perhaps too steep a route down. This resulted in some problems for Tom who on several occasions slipped on some rather steep snow slopes. Below lay crags and so an unstoppable slide would not have been terribly good news. There was no ice lying to warrant the use of crampons but the snow was certainly of the slippery, clinging type and Tom ended up using a trekking pole to stop a slide. I gave him my axe for I had crampons on and we headed onwards, getting past the crags and onto an area where we'd just have steep slopes to contend with. Then, as we worked our way down, clouds began to break to the west. And then the sun began coming out.

That "muted" light effect that I've always been affectionate about showed and moments later the clouds totally cleared. The sun was setting and to be presented with this scene out of nothing blew me away. But it was nearing 5pm and we were to be down for 6pm. This plagued my mind a little, I'd sit here until the sun went down and then get down by torch if needs be, but if you've made a schedule stick to it. The snow on the surrounding hills glowed the colours of the sunset but elsewhere, the shaded slopes and clouds were toned cold blue. I just wanted to sit and watch but as I walked I found I could enjoy the the sun go down anyway.

We began to follow the burn that leaves Stonen Glen, following only until the ground became too steep. From here we left its banks and found the path coming off Dumgoyne. The sun had nearly set by this point, the hills were toned blue in the twilight and we followed the track along back to Strathblane.

The clock approached 6pm, and then passed. Mum couldn't wait too long - she had other things on and it wasn't for me to keep her waiting but we weren't too long over our 6pm return time. We arrived back at 6.15pm just as darkness fell proper and our timing couldn't have been better. To Tom I'd steamed ahead a little at points for while I'm a little regretful about but in retrospect, our timing couldn't have been at all better. It was a bit of an epic walk, nevermind Toms first hill in a while but we got down before dark and were well timed to be where we were as the clouds cleared and the sun set. A damn good walk.

Panoramas - Sunset from Slackdhu's slopes

Written: 2009-03-06