GM/SS-251 Ben Bowie & GM/SS-239 Conic Hill: 15th September 2016

The forecast for dry day starting misty but improving later but with a band of rain after dark. However, we were greeted with a very misty morning, with no sign of Conic Hill from the cottage, so it looked like another day for little hills. Caroline particularly wanted to do Conic, both because we could see it from the cottage on a better morning, and because Martyn had been the first activator of it in 2005 before Caroline had been licensed and we knew it was a nice little hill. But first we wanted to do Ben Bowie which had escaped earlier in the week.

The parking for Ben Bowie at the start of the track at NS327842 is quite tight, and there was a car already parked in the best spot, but we managed to squeeze in between the road and the cycle track without blocking either cycle track or forestry track. We headed along the forestry track, getting hot in the waterproof trousers, despite having removed our jackets. After a right fork on the track we came to an overgrown firebreak with a burn running up it. We found a rough wet muddy path the other side of the burn and made our way upwards, now being glad of the waterproof trousers as we headed through long wet grass. The firebreak ended at a steep slope, but there were a couple of rough paths through the trees which led up to a muddy firebreak running nearly horizontally round the hill. We headed right round the firebreak, but it was hard going with mud and fallen trees: at times we found it easier to fight our way through the trees, but returned to the firebreak when they got too difficult to get antennas through. It wasn’t far to the open top of the hill, but took a disproportionate time to get there, but then there was more of a path towards the summit.

Ben Bowie

There looked to be two summits of roughly the same height with less than 10m drop between, and we chose the one with a few stones to sit on. Caroline only managed 3 contacts on 2m FM, so had to resort to 7MHz after Martyn had qualified with 9 5MHz contacts. Caroline had a good run of 25 contacts on 7MHz. We were determined to get a second hill in, and it was too early for lunch so didn’t bother with other frequencies. We struggled with the muddy firebreak even more on the return and Caroline went deep in the mud, and Martyn got thoroughly tangled in the trees, so we were glad to get back the forestry track.

Back at the car Caroline changed out of the very muddy waterproof trousers in order to be able to drive to Balmaha, driving straight past the holiday cottage. After our poor experience at Luss we were pleased to find that the large car park was free and had plenty of space. It was now lunch time and the sun was shining so we headed over to the picnic tables. After one bite we were soon surrounded by wasps, and rapidly retreated to the car, managing to take shelter without getting any wasps in the car. With lunch eaten we managed to load up the rucksacks with only a little wasp hassle, and headed off up the West Highland Way and were soon wasp free. The West Highland Way was the busiest route we had been on all week, with people in both directions. It was hot as we climbed as the sun tried to break through, though the views remained misty with cloud on the higher tops.

Conic Hill is a series of summits which lie on the West Highland fault which continues as a series of islands in Loch Lomond and through Ben Bowie on the other side. The highest and SOTA summit is the most easterly, but most people were going up the sub-summit to its west, since that has the best views of the Loch. We carried on the West Highland Way past the popular summit to find a path heading up to the highest point, marked by a small cairn. We had the true summit to ourselves. Caroline set up by the cairn with Martyn a little further north. Martyn qualified with 9 contacts on 5Mhz. Caroline qualified with 7 contacts on 2m FM, followed by19 on 7Mz, which included 2 OK S2Ses for both of us with OK/DL3RBF and OK/G4OBK(Caroline) or OK/M0PYG(Martyn). Caroline finished off with another 4 on 2m FM, while Martyn got just three on 14Mhz, having made 1 2m SSB contact while Caroline was on 7MHz.

Conic Hill with Ben Lomond trying to emerge from the clouds

The weather slowly improved as the day went on, with Ben Lomond finally appearing out of the clouds as we descended. Our return rook us over the popular summit (now quite as time was getting on), and after briefly re-joining the West Highland Way we continued down the grassy path along the ridge with more good views. After a steep descent through shrubby woods we emerged onto the road and crossed it to pick up the section of the West Highland Way which runs along the Loch Lomond shoreline round the Craigie Fort headland: a pleasant walk despite the few spots of rain which fell as we returned to the car. We managed to pack the car up in the dry and returned to the cottage to wash the now filthy waterproof trousers.

Looking down West Highland fault line of islands across Loch Lomond to Ben Bowie on descent from Conic Hill

Looking back at Conic Hill