Ben Lomond - 974m
Ptarmigan - 778m

Wednesday 24th June 2009

Weather/Conditions: Warm at Rowardennan, even as it approached 1am. It was colder at the summit as the wind blew from the south east. There was some high cloud that dissipated later on, but plenty of cloud beneath us. Then the sun rose over a bed of cloud...
Distance/Ascent/Time: 12km / 1030m / 6h 45m
Accompanying: Steve

A night time ascent of Ben Lomond has been on my to-do list for years. I mean years. Dad did it decades ago, and the images he brought back were inspiring. Since seeing those images, I'd always wanted to do it and even though I'd made attempts in 2008, circumstance stopped me.

In the months leading up to late June 2009, I'd developed an interest in camping. Steve was happy to join me in camping and we started out by spending the night on Dumgoyne several nights before. Once we'd got into the swing of things, I took the opportunity to suggest that we climb Ben Lomond together by night. We were only a few nights beyond the summer solstice and the weather appeared to be just right. No night could be more perfect, I felt that this could be the one chance until next year. I could picture it in my head, although it was pure luck as to whether it would actually happen: we climb in the dark beneath clear skies, above the clouds which are beneath us and we sit in the twilight before the sun breaks over the horizon, spilling light across the cloudscapes. That was the dream. And I'm glad to say that it happened.

Stopping at Tescos on the way for food, Steve and I took the car out to Rowardennan. The first thing I noticed upon stepping out of the car was that it was a warm night. The sky was dusky because the sun wasn't far away, but the stars were out too. I could smell the singing in the air, a left over from the heat of the preceding day. Steve and I got ready by the car when we also realised that the place was swarming with midges, and they were in the car too. To make matters worse, we then locked the car and when we realised that the light was on inside, we couldn't find the keys to open the car and turn the light off. We found them eventually, but not without being bitten to shreds by midges.

On our way...

It was all fine in the end - once we found the keys, we set off on our way (12.30am). Even during the early stages through the forests, I had no need for a torch where enough light penetrated the trees. We headed up through the forest, Steve casually cursing me for taking him along. I found the going a little tedious at times myself, but told myself that the effort would pay off.

Then at around 400m, I caught sight of some low cloud to the east. It was beneath us and merely occupying one of the valleys somewhere near Ben Venue. My hopes were up now, and we climbed steadily up onto Sron Aonaich, the broad arm that leads to the summit. The summit region of Ben Lomond lay ahead of us and some cloud was creeping up and briefly engulfing us. To the north east, the valleys were submerged in cold blue clouds, pouring over saddles and accumulating in the basins. On the horizon was a band of gold - a sign of things to come. Unless conditions changed dramatically, we were in for a very special morning.

During the final section to the summit, we entered some cloud again, but it was little more than a cloud cap. It was eerie enough to be walking through in the half-light of dawn, but the route was so well marked that I needn't think of anything else than the surroundings. We arrived at the summit soon after, greeted by the most spectacular of views.

But the sun still wasn't up. Steve and I made ourselves comfortable out of the wind and after some time, Steve went to sleep inside my bivvy bag - probably a sensible thing to do, being the driver. I couldn't pull my eyes away from the north east, and would wake Steve up when the sun rose.

It was a little cold at the top, but I eagerly anticipated the sunrise. Plenty of time went by to suck in the surroundings, when on the horizon, the edge of the clouds turned to intense oranges. The sun was around the corner, so I awoke Steve. The sun didn't arrive for another ten minutes but when it did, it looked simply beautiful... I was so happy to be on top of Ben Lomond and knew myself that it could be a long time before I'd see views like these again. They exceeded 31st December 2008, and that day was very tough to beat.

The sun continued to rise into the sky and I continued to watch. Steve fell asleep again, but I barely took my eyes off the views. Take them while I've got them, I guess... As time got on though, it was clear we couldn't stay forever. The transition from night to day was nearly complete and I'd seen and done just about everything I'd come for.

Descending via. Ptarmigan

When I suggested descending to Steve, he was happy to do so and we descended to Ptarmigan. Views were still present as we left but we'd have to get back to reality soon. I nipped up to the top of Ptarmigan and got a few pictures on the way before we headed downwards again. Coire Odhar (the southern corrie on Ben Lomond) was extremely impressive with cloud streaming around it's bowl. With the last of the views, we descended once more and into the cloud.

The descent was a little tedious as we walked through the cloud, but I didn't find it too bad either. We arrived back at Loch Lomond and took the West Highland Way back to Rowardennan. Back at the car, we threw the gear in the back and sped off with windows wide open - the car was still swarming with midges, they couldn't get out. A good blast with the windows filtered them out and we continued on the way home. We picked up a guy on the way back as well, who was hitching on the road to Drymen. He'd walked for five days from Loch Earn to Loch Lomond, seeing few people and carrying all his food with him. Interested in long distance walking myself, I got some of his advice on the logistics because I may as well get it from someone who knows their stuff. Then it turned out that he was at least 65 years old - I hope I'm that fit when I'm 65. We dropped him off in Glasgow and then headed home.

We had got back by early morning and when I got home I slept until early afternoon. I didn't feel as shattered as I thought I would because I just needed a few hours sleep late morning. Walking by night is certainly something to try again, but right now there's no telling when I'll do it again. With a long summer ahead of me, the possibilities are endless and who knows what I'll get up to? I'd like to think that Ben Lomond sets the tone for things to come.

360° Panorama

Ben Lomond

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 12.35am Rowardennan
(3.00) 3.35am Ben Lomond
(4.55) 5.30am Ben Lomond (left)
(5.25) 6.00am Ptarmigan
(6.40) 7.15am Rowardennan
Written: 2009-06-29