A brief visit to Ambleside to allow Steve Horner to buy the brightest shoes he could find, followed by a chat in a pub, ended up with a sharp, northwards diversion into Scotland to the southern most Munro, Ben Lomond.
Reacquainting myself with the familiar place-names of Drymen, Balmaha and Rowardennan was welcome but strange, reminding me of the West Highland Way I'd walked back in the summer. It felt like years ago, though in fact was only 3 months previous. It was strange to see these places with little effort other than Steve's driving; I hadn't had to walk there this time and that lent a distinctly different feel to the place. It was exciting in a sense but looked so different to the warmer days I had spent walking to and around the Loch. The Clansman bar at Rowardennan was revisited too, of course, before setting off around 1pm up the Ptarmigan route, dehydrated from the night before and tired before walking. BUT! It was fantastic to slowly, steadily gain height and to catch sight of what we'd driven up to Scotland to see; SNOW!
The views out over Loch Lomond were stunning, with a sweep of cloud streaming from the east, allowing shafts of sunlight to pierce through to the many islands. The hillside was shining ochers and umbers and the cloud colours reflecting back in the water. Further north the hills were teasing with sugar icing caps and the promise of more in the distance...
I haven't done any real winter walking for many years and I was concerned at the kit I'd got. Because we had been overly optimistic about the snow (i.e. there wasn't really that much of the stuff) I again opted out of wearing my now usually discarded Brashers in favour of my almost tread bare inov8 Terroc 330s. This despite my incredible falling over ability. It was a reasonable decision as it happens, though I managed a record 5 times I think! I also was making do with a number of thinner baselayers and my fleece, with either my Montane LiteSpeed windshirt or my Mountain Equipment Seraph jacket. One day I'll buy a primaloft or down jacket, but that time isn't now and I have to make do with what I've got! This was fine for on the move (albeit slowly) but as soon as we stopped for any length of time I would start to get a bit chilly.
This was also the first bigger outing for about 4-5 weeks since I messed my knee up when I last went walking in the Lakes, so was going to be a good test. The walk up the Ptarmigan route is pretty easy but unfortunately I was wiped out before getting to the last approach to Ben Lomond, so at about 3:45 we found somewhere decent enough for two shelters to be pitched on pretty flat ground (yippee, no NeoAir surfing for me this time). It looked to be a reasonably sheltered spot if the wind acted as predicted, plus I very generously gave Steve the benefit of my Trailstar giving his some additional protection (well, I moved to a flatter spot in reality!).
MLD Trailstar. I want more practice using my tarp in less exposed conditions whereas I hoped I'd be camped on the side of a hill at some point over the weekend and at present feel more confident with the protection the Trailstar provides. It was a decent decision although as it turns out the weather wasn't especially harsh, just cold. I could have used a low pitched tarp but it was pretty pleasant to be in the Trailstar, secure in knowing it was pretty solid, especially when my warm breath condensed on the shelter, turning into frost by the next morning!
Using my lovely Caldera Cone (I wonder if I could ever be parted from it!) and using the burner rather than Steve's Prodigy like approach with his exploding Esbit and GramCracker (it seems he nearly set fire to his shelter the next morning) I quickly had water for coffee and dried Chili Con Carne. Steve popped in my shelter to eat the rest of his food while I was still waiting for my food to be ready, being careful not to spike my NeoAir with his new banana shoes (woe betide him if he did that!!). My food was welcome and I could feel myself getting a little warmer as a result. I don't feel any qualms about using the Caldera Cone set up in the middle of the Trailstar, near the centre point next to the pole. For me, I think if you are careful and aware then using this in the shelter is reasonably safe. My exit was clear (apart from Steve) so if I needed to bail I could, but it is such a contained system that I felt perfectly happy brewing up there rather than in the doorway or outside.
A little later and settling down for the night I embedded myself with a silk liner, a Golite Adrenaline 3 Season sleeping bag and the Rab Survival Zone bivy bag I'd used tarping. When I returned home I found this had generated a few tweets in my absence after Steve broadcast I'd been cold. I'd not used the sleeping bag before, and I do sleep pretty cold, even for a woman, so wanted to try out a different approach to see if I could find a way to sleep a bit warmer. (The bag is rated to 20F, or -7 degrees C.) I think I need to try a different approach again (or get some down booties) as, not that long after I got in I started to not feel my feet so well! It was at freezing point at about 4pm, just before dark; I didn't record temperatures after that but am pretty sure it went reasonably below that. Trying to recall how others managed the cold, I restarted the Caldera Cone and heated some water to part fill my trusty Tango bottle and popped that down to my feet. Ah, bliss! I was pleased with my resourcefulness, though I know it's something other people also do. It's things like that that make me feel more self reliant, that, despite Steves mention to wake him up if I was too cold and we'd walk out, I was capable of managing a situation with enough thought.
I repeated this process at least twice more through the night, enjoying the feeling of warmth once again permeating through me...
With almost 15 hours to pass in darkness I had brought my iPod with me and listened to a series of podcasts umpteen times before switching to listening to some music. I prefer to listen to music I know reasonably well because then I know most of the lyrics and my brain isn't guessing what the words are; it can relax and switch off. Which it did a few times during the night (ie through sleep)!
The next morning I'd been awake for a while, hearing Steve stirring. I made a brew, trying not to disinvest myself of my sleeping bag too much to keep the warmth in. Hot chocolate and porridge was warming and energy giving and after a few minutes I felt more spritely. It sounded as if he was packing up so after confirming this by yelling at him(!) I did the same. We both got to the point where we'd packed everything apart from the shelters, which took a bit of a shake to get our created 'snow' off them, being rather crunchy. The frozen white particles span off, the Trailstars revealing negative patterns on the hill.
Although thoroughly enjoying the views, it wasn't long before we headed down again on the path that would take us back to the car park at Rowardennan. I was a bit disappointed to leave the snow behind. It's so interesting! Virgin snow sparkles and glitters, where other snow looked as if mountain bikers had been up, with some pretty fat tyres too. Paw prints were about, some very much dog like, but some more reminiscent of cat prints. It looked as if hares had been around, and on the way up we had also seen a Ptarmigan almost in it's full winter white plumage.
I often feel a bit sad towards the end of a walk. I seem to easily integrate into a mind set of just wanting to keep going and enjoying the scenery around me. But on this occasion a last visit to the Clansman was a reward before heading back down south to England (and trying to ignore a dump of snow south of Glasgow!).
As a last point, all credit for photos on this post should go to Steven Horner...who took many photos of me and my kit without my permission ;o)