The WX for most of Southern England was dire for last weekend but the forecast for parts of Scotland wasn’t too bad. Only two possibles causes for worry snow and high winds. I had the day off on Monday so I was hoping to get something bigger than normal. Monitoring the WX over the weekend showed conditions looking better and better for Monday. My only real concern was that snow may make travelling North hard. In the end there was snow on the hills but most of the road problems were to the East and in The Borders. I was up Black Hill GM/SS-167 on Sunday and it was dreik. On the way up I could see that the hills to the North across the Forth Estuary were white topped.
I was hoping for an early start on Monday but was slow to get up. Even though all I had to do was get dressed and fill a flask with coffee it was still 7:50 and hence 35mins behind schedule, by the time I left. My route was to be M8/M9/A9/A822/B827 to Comrie and then up the Invergeldie road towards Loch Lednock. Hoho, first delight was almost stationary traffic on the M8 due to a crash on the Edinburgh bypass 10 miles away. Argh! OK so another 20 minutes behind by the time I got to the M9. Blue touch paper lit I whizzed up the M9 till I hit a tailback behind a slow moving wide load. Double argh! Then finally A9 and A822. Now I’d seen glimpses of just how white the bigger hills where and I thought twice about the B827 to Comrie. Well it cuts a big round chunk off the route. At the turn off it’s a nice wide B road. So it looked OK. Wrong! A couple of miles in it narrows considerably and climbs. It wasn’t long before there were significant patches of snow and ice. Worse, the locals drove along it like it was a stage on the Monte Carlo Rally. And, to make matters worse, it runs along side an artillery range. So if you do slip off the road you’ll hit some unexploded ordnance!
OK so I made to Comrie and then up the single track road to Invergeldie. This road runs up Glen Lednock towards Loch Lednock and the huge dam. Another of the Breadalbane Hydro Scheme systems. (http://www.corestore.org/StFillans.htm) I didn’t really appreciate the views as I was trying to see if this road would get icy for my return. The car park is at Coishavachan at NN742273. There’s space for at least 10 cars here. But as Ben Chonzie is really an easy Munro expect that to fill up early in the Summer. The 1:50000 map doesn’t show the buildings at Coishavachan accurately and what should have been the Land Rover track wasn’t! In the end I saw someone and asked. She pointed at the gate by the side of the buildings I’d studiously ignored.
I’d made up sometime on the road by adopting a laissez faire approach to the 70mph limit but trying to find the start and deciding to cram an extra fleece in the bag as well as some socks in case the snow necessitated a change it was 10.00am. Already 30mins behind. My route was to follow the track to its end and then continue in that direction till I picked up a line of fence posts that runs to the summit. I’d worked out a set of bearings ready and written on the map in case it was misty. I knew there’d be no need. The sun was a brilliant orb of yellow in a fantastic blue sky. The car said it was 1C at the car park and so for 6.5C drop / 1000m climbed it would be 4.6C lower at the top or -3.6C and that doesn’t include windchill. The wind was bloody cold in the car park!
The first mile up the track is not very steep and so I pushed on hard to get some ground covered. I noticed another walker was now following me. Oh well, someone to call for help if I had problems in the snow. This was my first proper “nice day” Winter climb to such a height. That’s why I’d make extra fuss about socks/layers, ensuring people knew where I was going and when I’d be back etc. After a while I reached the hydro scheme water intake at NN746287. This is after the 3rd gate. As I continued the track split and only one was shown on the map. The other walker was going at a fair pace and I waited less than 5 minutes for him to arrive. His map was a beaten up OS map without any protection but he told me he only had about 60 Munros to do so he must have some clue! We decided to take the track that climbed fastest and that was correct. So at NN746286 take the left fork.
Not far past here we started to meet snow on the ground. Well most of it had refrozen and was very solid. We walked together for someway until the ground started steepening. He was able to go faster than me so he pressed on leaving me to keep climbing. I took a few photos including one of an interesting lump which turns out to be Creag Tharsuinn GM/SS-097. Another day for that one. The path got steeper and steeper and more and more icy and then it just stops. However, the snow was now between 2 and 4in deep so you don’t notice. The only give away is the slope becomes trivial. That’s most of the climbing done. It’s only a mile and half to the top and about 150m to climb, that really is trivial. Apart from the snow! I walked in the footprints of others. Much easier that way. Considering most of the snow fell Saturday night there were at least 6 groups of tracks and many people had walked in them. I could see the fence posts but I had to increase the layers as I was out of the Glen now and the wind was fierce. Another layer and the big hat came out. Up to the fence posts and follow the fence. A mile and half on that slope is about 20 minutes but the snow did slow me.
As I turned on the final ridge I met a hill runner coming back. In just Lycra leggings and a vest. He appeared to have frozen sweat in his longish hair. And was in his 60s. Madness. When he dies they’ll have to beat his heart to death with a stick! Another few minutes and I met the guy I’d walked with coming back. He thought the runner was less mad than me as he knew I was going to stop on the summit in the wind. And then I was there. The wind on the top was significant. I had to lean sideways to stand up. At a guess 25-30mph.
2 hours 25 minutes elapsed time to the summit. Anquet said 2hr48. Nearly 25mins faster including yakking to people. Legs of steel! OK perhaps not if you look at what proper hillwalkers can do but I was impressed. I sat in the shelter out of the wind and had a coffee. There was no way to get pegs into the ground. The fence posts were a stretch from the shelter so in the end I had to rig the dipole with the legs at 90degs not 180 and stetch the feed back. The rig sat on my rucsack. 60m was good with a new ODX for the band being G0PEB on the IOW. I was able to work the wolf pack, log and drink coffee in the tranquility of the shelter. Again the camera battery went into the nether regions to warm up.
Mike GW0DSP asked for a QSY to 80m. No problem if there were a few people waiting I said and Mike said Mick and Barry where QRV. Even though it was so cold in the wind my face was numb I was so high on endorphins I whizzed out the extensions. Now the antenna was only inches AGL due to the wind and the SWR not good. A call on 80m produce a hell of a pile up. 2E0HJD, M3PWX, EI7CC, GM4CFS, G1INK, G4FUJ/M, ON4ON, G8ADD and G3RMD! So my first non-UK SOTA contacts. Bona!
I managed to stick myself to the shelter rocks twice. The sweat on my fleece freezing almost on contact. Also my water bottle had frozen. I had to break the ice on the surface with my logging pencil! Still the cheapo ASDA flask worked well and the coffee was piping hot. I took photos whenever the camera would play but it didn’t like the cold. I packed up and then spent a few minutes in the shelter getting ready to go down. I was cold now and decided to get prepared out of the wind. No point getting any colder. Until you experience windchill like this and all that sweat goes cold you wont understand how hard it is to do something silly like close your bag or tuck a shirt into pants. Or take a compass out of a pocket. I’m sure other activators will agree how simple things take forever.
The return was the same route in reverse. If it had been Summer then you could bag Creag Tharsuinn GM/SS-097 on the way back. Or park at Glen Turret and do the circular walk taking in Auchnafree Hill GM/SS-039 and Ben Chonzie. Or with two cars you could do Coishavachan to Ben Chonzie and then out to Shee of Ardtalnaig GM/SS-047 picking up the other car at Ardtalnaig. So many possibilities in this area of Perthshire. It was a simple walk back and after about 25mins of walking I had some sensation in my toes! I followed footprints again but this time came back through deeper snow. I thought I was taking the same path as before but it’s so easy to make a slip up like this. Still they led to the track. Then down hill avoiding the snow which had melted in the sun and was now refreezing and rather slippy. Part way down I had to strip off a fleece and go down a level of hat and gloves.
All too soon I was back at the car. I finished off the coffee, changed to a dry T shirt and drove back avoiding the B827 this time!
I took a scarf for the first time. Something told me it would be useful, it was a godsend in the wind. I always take a selection of hats and gloves and again it was brilliant to be able to change them as I needed more or less warmth. One pair has a waterproof/windblock layer. I needed them on the way down when I was cold. I cannot recommend enough the cheap £2.50 Thinsulate fleece gloves from ASDA, cheap enough to not worry about. But warm and breathable. They stop your hands getting too sweaty unlike those with the windblock.
Distance walked: 8.8miles, total ascent:723m/2372ft, distance driven:137miles
The driving was made pleasant by a selection of Hard Bop classics from Messrs. Horace Silver (Song For My Father) and Hank Mobley (A Caddy For Daddy) and thanks to the 4th QSO of the day with Alastair GW0VMZ I hit 250 activator points. What a fantastic day.
Pictures added to SOTA group and at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mm0fmf