This rarely activated summit is another of those glorious 1 point hills that gets overlooked all the time because of the high scoring neighbours it has. Located in the Menteith Hills with neighbouring 1 point Marilyn, Beinn Dearg, Craig of Monievreckie stands at the start of the Highlands at the side of the Forth valley. Just a stone’s throw away are Ben Ledi, Ben Venue and Ben Lomond and these hills, along with all the 2point hills nearby, do attract more interest. But…
It was New Year’s Day and the WX forecast was quite good. We’d had a quiet New Year’s Eve and having not drunk enough to require kindey or liver transplants the night before I decided I’d quite like a walk. Mrs. FMF was otherwise engaged so this meant I could pick whatever I fancied. Although by the time I had decided I was going out and the car was packed it was 11.15 and with sunset around 15.40 that didn’t leave much time. Craig of Monievreckie has been on the “when you just want a quick walk and unique” list for a while and so volunteered itself for today. The only downside was I couldn’t find the map I had printed ready. My printer is a big A3 colour laser run for me by my employers but it’s kept in the office which was all locked up so I couldn’t run another copy off! I downloaded the route to the GPS and went without a paper map. Anyway, how hard can a 1 point hill be?
A previous internet search showed a good looking route (search for Fatdog + Craig of Monievreckie) and I’d marked a waypoint to where to leave the main tracks. The start is in a Forestry Commission car park at Braeval on the A81 with space for at least 30 cars. The roads were deserted which was great and it was 3C as I set off. There’s lots of compacted snow and ice at the sides of the roads here but only a fraction remains of a few weeks ago. However, as I drove out of Thornhill on the A81 the amount of ice/snow at the side of the road and on the fields grew. It looked like it had stayed much colder here than over to the East. The final section of A81 showed melt water starting to freeze as it ran across the road. Not good. Finally at the car park the ice was just plain daft. The entire surface was about 3in thick of almost transparent ice with a thin layer of water on the surface. Wonderful.
I pulled onto the flat start of the car park road and stopped. Eventually! I wound the window down and spoke to a bloke standing there. He’d got up but didn’t know if he’d get down. I tried and my car auto-enaged its 4wd and I could get up the slope but I decided coming down would be exceptionally dangerous so I decided another parking space was needed. Discussing the options with the man standing it seemed the car park at the Rob Roy hotel, about 1/2mile away was the best option and with this helpful man checking there was no traffic on the main road, I reversed, pirouetted through 270degs, slithered with a bump onto the A81 and continue up to the Rob Roy. The car park there was covered in black ice but was level so I parked up. Before changing I nipped inside and checked with the staff it was OK to park there and they were happy for me to use their car park and delighted someone had the manners to ask first! I always say that asking nicely, even if it says no parking can work wonders. Just smile and be cheerful and most people will yes or at least suggest somewhere suitable.
Boots on and I hightailed it up the road to the car park. I couldn’t walk on the ice on the road at all but the grass at the side was easy to walk on. I met a couple putting on crampons. Ha! I’d left mine at home (idiot) and realised so when I was halfway to the hill. Well I knew I’d have to be careful. Indeed crossing the road to get the path start was a nightmare. Hrmph indeed!
There are lots of walks of various grades throughout the forest here. The route to Craig of Monievreckie follows red marker posts for part of the way. These lead out of the car park up a quite steep path through the trees. I followed the markers but they appear to be rare where needed. Without a map I was relying on the map on the GPS. Like many OS maps, the tracks in forests are not always where the OS says they are and I was confused in one place where there are several roads at a junction. Belief in the GPS got me going the right way eventually and I continued to climb. The route starts on a narrow man made track, follows a normal forest road for a bit and then goes back onto a track. Just as the track swings round hard to the left there is a nondescript path off on the right. If I hadn’t read the Fatdog blog and seen the pictures I’d have not known the path was there. But the start is at NN538013 and is obvious if you know what to look for.
From there the path is on grass and climbs quickly into the pine trees. It wanders on under low branches and after not much time you pop out of the forest with a gate in front of you. Beyond lies the hillside proper. There is an obvious, oh so obvious path through the longer grass. Given there’s not much else it’s a good bet this will go to the top. It does. It meanders about climbing quickly and soon I was at the top of the unamed 393m peak. There was quite a lot of well consolidated snow in the gullies. Warmed by the sun, the surface was soft for the 1st inch or so and then it was hard. It was easy to kick steps in this where needed or to walk around the harder bits. As I climbed out of the lee of the unamed hill I realised how perishingly cold the wind was. Also whilst I knew there was a dip between me an the summit I didn’t think it was going to be so much. Well it’s about 60m or so. But I could see the trig point about 500m away and a late Christmas present, a fence by the trig. Not only had I forgotten my crampons but also the ice axe. With the ground very solidly frozen I was wondering how I’d get the tent pegs in but a fence is one life’s SOTA bonuses!
It was a case of setup ASAP at the summit and get going. With the late start and the faffing about at the car park I was well behind and I knew that it would be unlikely I’d have time for a multi-band activation. I decided I was stopping at 1445z no matter what. That would give me enough time for a leisurely packup and I could be on my way down for 1500z. With sunset around 1545z that would give me plenty of time to get back to the tracks which would be easy to navigate in the dusk.
The view from the top was excellent. Like many wee hills, this one is surrounded by some fairly shapely big boys. Most were 50% snow covered though against a grey cloud background they didn’t make good photos. The sky above me was mainly blue though. Ben More, Stob Binnein and Ben Lui were very obvious with Ben Ledi, Ben Vane and a host of other hills extending from West to East. It looked like Loch Katrine and Glen Finglas Resevoir where both frozen over. Behind me The Lake of Menteith was frozen too.
The wind really was painfully cold but wearing a black jacket in the late sun made it more bearable. Of course that wind had a trick up it’s sleeve. The fence posts were in good condition but the wire was just a shambles of rusty sections. The top looks like it may be a real boggy nightmare but as everything was frozen as hard concrete it wasn’t an issue today. 60m seemed to be in fair condition and the usual suspects were worked along with a new call, Peter, GM4WCE from just up the road in Edinburgh. There was a little QSB which caused a few problems and sadly Sue G1OHH didn’t complete. I heard her call me but she never heard me in answer. 21 contacts later nobody was left and it was 1443z. So time to quite.
Packing up immediately hit a snag with the pole. It was wet with the mist from the Minch Moor when I set up and like a fool I didn’t try and dry the joints. The icy wind had frozen the bottom joint “well hard”. A few attempts at warming it with hands had no effect. “Oh dear!” Actually I shouted something stronger. I decided to lay the pole over and put away everything else and then come back the joints. I hoped I could shock it free when the aerial was away. If I couldn’t I’d have hidden it out of sight. I’ve had my money’s worth as it has done 190+ summits. It wouldn’t have really added to the detritus on the top as there is so much rusty fence wire abandoned on there.
Anyway 4 or 5 good wangs at the ice and it cracked, the pole collapsed. The string I have attached to pull out the top section without turning the whole pole upside down, was wet and cold but not frozen. The mass of water on the joints must have been much less so the windchill was enough to freeze it. With everything packed, I took a few photos and set off. I was on the 393m top for 1501z which was right on time.
From here I got a view I’d missed on the way up. A corking view to Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps. The top of The Cobbler was so obvious. The camera decided it was too cold to play. No photo but the image is locked in my mind. I made good time going down till I reached the snow in the gullies. In the hour since I’d walked on it, the sun had disappeared and in the cold the soft surface had frozen. I couldn’t kick a step into it. Amazing how quick it changed and playing about at the edge of a large patch, somewhere I couldn’t fall from, taught me how dangerous frozen snow can be after many freeze thaw cycles. It looked OK to walk on but there was no grip at all. Walking on it in the dusk without crampons and I’d have been bottom over apex in a flash.
I followed my nose down and it wasn’t long before I was back on the main tracks. Crossing the iced up car park was even more fun than before. There were now 5x 4wd cars in the car park with a Nissan X-trail leaving. I saw him brake, all 4 wheels locked and slither, slide, skid, pirouette and stop. At least he knew when sliding sideways to let off the brakes so he had a chance at steering. I was glad I’d parked elsewhere. The walk down to the Rob Roy was easy but it was obvious the temperature was dropping. From 2C when I started it was -1C when I got back. The entire walk out took 1hr8 and I managed to get changed without slipping on the black ice.
An excellent walk even though I did feel stupid forgetting the ironware. I need a checklist I think. No doubt there is an iPhone app for that! (And if someone writes one I want 25% royalties for the idea). These 1 pointers are often wonderful little jewels. I can understand that even though “SOTA is not inherently competitive”, people will often go for the higher scoring hill. In my case this was a unique so the fact it was 1point and no bonus didn’t bother me. After doing it and enjoying the walk and views so much the score is even less important. Now I’d bitch like mad if I’d not qualified it but I’m happy with another unique, 1 more point and hearing so many chasers thank me for giving them a new one.
Distance walked: 8.2km, total ascent: 532m, total driven: 112miles
By heck, I can think of some 8 point hills that don’t involve as much walking and climbing as that!