Saturday, 28 January 2017

Ben Donich. 847 metres. Rest and be Thankful. Arrochar Alps.

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With a fine day forecast last Saturday myself and Alan fancied a day in the Arrochar Alps. This is the B828 (in photo above) which leads you down through steep sided mountains on a single track road with passing places to a dead end strip of tarmac and the isolated but picturesque village of Lochgoilhead. Exactly as it appears in the name this cluster of low level houses, holiday homes and Victorian mansions sits at the head of Loch Goil and feels as isolated and remote now as it was in past centuries.
The remarkable thing about Glasgow's west coast position near the Scottish Highlands is that rugged steep sided mountains and deep fjord like sea lochs are only an hours drive away from the city centre. The compact group of peaks known as the Arrochar Alps have been the Glasgow hill walker's playground for generations and even now are little changed. Yes, this is mid January and not a drop of snow anywhere. Looks like summer, doesn't it?
We stopped briefly at the Rest and be Thankful, above; what used to be on horseback the long pull out of Glen Croe but which now is nothing in a motorcar, and reached Loch Restil (seen here) then carried on down the minor B828 to another smaller car park under Ben Donich. Both the Rest and be Thankful car park and the Ben Donich one, despite being large, were packed solid with vehicles of every description. In good sunny conditions nowadays in the highlands you have to be up early just to get a space but we managed to squeeze in. A path starts from here and leads up the ridge to the summit, handily signposted at junctions to avoid any confusion. Hill walking made easy.
Good weather and a lack of wind meant mist and low cloud in the glens but clear on the summits and we timed it just as the sun was burning some of the rising cotton wool carpets of mist away.
Very atmospheric and even better in an area like this with rugged peaks in every direction.
Alan, his faithful hound, and Ben Lomond.
The mighty Ben Cruachan, 1126 metres, and one of Scotland's notable Munros. A big memorable day out for any hill walker if you do all the summits on the ridge.
The nearby Beinn an Lochain just across the glen from our peak.
The path up Ben Donich is fairly straightforward until you come to a boulder-field and section of deep crevasses and rock fissures.Quite a few dogs have got themselves into trouble here down these holes and either went missing altogether or have had to be rescued. The path weaves through this short section with only one easy scramble down a 10 foot wall. Being a cold day with overnight temperatures around minus 5 degrees and thick mist over the slopes  the grass and rocks had a coating of ice on them which made them tricky in places. Poor old Bobby nearly slipped down a crevasse but was saved by being too fat to slide down the hole. Yeah! Obesity saves the day once again! Keep munching those crisps and biscuits- you know it makes sense.
These fissures are only really dangerous in a whiteout with obscured vision or after heavy snowfall when they can be partially buried................. or if the rocks surrounding them happen to be covered in invisible ice :o)
Although a mere Corbett and not a Munro Ben Donich is a fine hill and a relatively popular one so we encountered a steady stream of other hill-walkers on it. A fine excuse to hand out cards. Incidentally, my comedy novel about the great outdoors Autohighography features a chapter on the Arrochar Alps and takes place on a neighbouring hillside that also boasts deep fissures and several high level mountain caves where the action takes place. Namely, The Brack.
Link for that here.

And here it is in person. The Brack from Ben Donich- another fine jaggy hill with loads of character and interest including a little visited high level cave reached by a narrow traverse line. The mountains around the Arrochar Alps region are apparently the most fractured peaks in the UK caused by the type of rock there and post glacial slippage.
A fascinating and comprehensively researched account in this link below exploring their depth and complexity. Some of the cracks and deeper chasms have rock climbs in them like the ones below Beinn Narnain's summit, which I've climbed into and up decades ago, like most folk, without guessing their original creation. The unique shape of the Cobbler was probably caused by massive post glacial slippage taking away half the summit as well. Like the Whangie on a much bigger scale. An inspirational  theory is found in here behind the growth of small woods next to caves and fissures. Fantastic article and well worth a detailed read through.

The summit of Ben Donich.
A view down from the ice covered summit rocks to Loch Goil.
The high plateau on Ben Donich just before the summit.
A small sea plane flying above us.
The rugged beauty of the Arrochar Alps.

The final icy steps before the summit.
An ice dog.
Arrochar Alps panorama.
The Cobbler and Beinn Narnain.
A great day out. Around 4 to 5 hours total walk depending on pace. We took five due to ice and energy levels.

Sticking with the Frozen theme... I manged to see three new films I hadn't seen before over the Christmas- New Year period that I really enjoyed and would thoroughly recommend to anyone. The first was 'Saving Mr Banks' about Walt Disney's real life 20 year battle/efforts to persuade Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers to let him transform her book into a film.
The second was Frozen. I'm not a big fan of modern musicals or Disney cartoons generally unless they are Pixar ones like Toy Story and Finding Nemo but the excellent story-line, characters and computer generated animation in this one proved exceptional and won me over despite my reservations that it might be just for young children. I do like children's films if they are well done, like Holes, The Spiderwick Chronicles or Moonrise Kingdom and this was.

The third a few days ago was Stonehearst Asylum, a clever twisty little thriller with great turns by Ben Kingsley, Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess and Michael Caine. Unlike the other two films a mixed review by the critics for this one but I enjoyed it. Critics tend to change their mind over time anyway and hundreds of masterpieces they loudly applaud today were scorned when they first came out. Well, it's all in the word isn't it. Not saying it's a masterpiece by any means but I found it good fun and more entertaining and lively than any amount of Shakespeare, Dickens, Samuel Beckett or Alan Bennett plays.


Linda said...

Beautiful photos and another great post. Thank you so much for sharing.

Carol said...

Looks a great day out but I couldn't do a popular hill on a Saturday! That's one of the great things about shifts - I can go in the week when it's quiet.

Wonder why all those hills are so fissured? What happened in just that area to do that? We were horrified by some of those at the back of The Cobbler and thought it would be a nightmare in heavy snow as they might get bridged insecurely.

Rosemary said...

Who would have imagined that you would have such a lovely Scottish January day in which to climb those majestic mountains - I love the way the frost has decorated the grasses like little flag waving banners.

Anabel Marsh said...

Yes, one I have done! Though later in the year with no hint of ice. With my talent for falling, ice is definitely to be avoided. Great pictures.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Linda,
Cheers, thank you.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Tisk! You should be channeling your inner Elsa like me and singing along to 'Let it Go' in the video but I'm glad you asked that question. I've now posted the answer in a PDF file as it saves me writing anything more. Very interesting info.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Rosemary,
Yes, it's been a remarkable calm snow-less winter so far with hardly any rain or major storms. I'm happy with it but I'd imagine the Scottish ski resorts are tearing their hair out in frustration at the unpredictability of it all.

blueskyscotland said...

Well done Anabel as that is quite a tricky downward scramble and fairly steep. I notice as I get older things I used to romp down easily I find harder now. Getting knocked down by a van a couple of years ago and being left with a dodgy knee doesn't help either.

Kay G. said...

How is it I have never heard of this? "Rest and Be Thankful" as a place name?
I just looked it up...

It makes me so happy to learn of Scotland from your blog!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
It's funny what excites different people. As I've known about the Rest and be thankful as a place name since my teens what excites me now in the enclosed PDF file is the theory that deer still remember the wolf 500 years down the line- a race collective memory of danger already shown to exist in other species more recently where the main predator has died out long before the prey. I find that truly exceptional that it has carried on so long as it may explain why Dragons are still a very potent symbol for humans(Game of thrones etc...) legends in most cultures worldwide of dragons, weird sea creatures, great beasts, the oral story of the flood,and certain special strangers who haven't lost their instinctive behaviour entirely and who are often the most easily compelled to turn around or hypnotize if you stare at them intensely. Something I've always noticed and been curious about from an early age as many children have a peculiar natural habit of staring intensely at random adults they think are 'safe' almost by instinct as a secondary supply of comfort. These may well be false of course and are increasingly eroded by a modern age but may well have been an important survival skill for children in past times where adult deaths were once commonplace and many parents failed to survive the time so a secondary back up was desirable.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
I forgot to add I walked up that old military road in the secret Scotland video when I was around 18 years old with my dog. It was a really hot humid summer's day and we were both eaten alive by clegs and midges all the way up so it seemed to take ages. My parents had dropped me off right at the bottom of the pass and were waiting at the top for us to arrive. Even the dog was glad to see the car and get in away from the midges as they were really bad. My introduction to the joys of highland life.

Kay G. said...

I think that midges are the same as gnats. They can be really bad in South Georgia, at times you can't be outside.
Those are interesting thoughts about the collective memories and instinctive behaviors. Fascinating really, thanks for taking the time to share this in your comment!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
I thought so. It's the boldness of the idea and the leap of vision aspect that I like. If you think of the countless thousands of years that humans sat round open fires to keep danger at bay then replaced it a short time ago with electric bars or gas flames its still not the same. You can stare all night into a wood or coal open fire and never feel bored or unsatisfied in a bothy yet if it's a wood burning stove where you can't see the flames, even if it provides more heat in the room, the place often feels cold, dead and empty physiologically in your mind. An open fire seems to provide some sort of deep comfort and calming connection mentally other than heat so maybe deer and other prey animals still feel slightly uneasy around caves and other obvious places where predators may have lurked in the past even if they died out hundreds of years ago. I like that thought :o)

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

Simply stunning. You don't see seaplanes too often these days; Biggles flies again!

Ian Johnston said...

Looks like a cracker of a winter day there Bob. Ben Donich and the Brack are super hills; as with most Corbetts. I had "a moment" crossing the fissure on the Brack in wet/icy conditions some years ago - one of those moments I feel no requirement to repeat!


Carol said...

Thanks for the PDF Bob - might print that off for our next foray to Scotland as there looks to be some great stuff to see, especially in the Luss side glens which I haven't been to before.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Mike,
There are two seaplanes you can hire for a day trip to the likes of Skye or Oban. I think that was one of them. They leave from Glasgow and also Cameron House on Loch Lomondside and have been operating for around 10 years now. I think most tourist passengers fly out then get the train back.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Ian,
Yes, it was a great day. The Brack might well be next on my repeat list as I'm getting all nostalgic to see that special cave one last time. Only drawback is really tough terrain to wade through to reach it as the pine trees are fully grown now below it on the way up.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Carol,
Yeah, there's some great info on that fissure and landslip file.

Anonymous said...

Strangely, despite the fact these have always been the nearest Scottish mountains to my home (being from south of the border), most of the Alps are still on my wish list. I've done the Cobbler on dreadful day (still managed the slippery climb to the top of the central peak though) and Vane and Vorlich but nothing else. All of the various Corbetts and Munros look stunning so I should really make some more effort. Stunning photos especially over the sea lochs. I love to see the sea from a high mountain summit

Neil said...

Ben Donich is an excellent day out- done it a few times. Can't help feeling that if we're not going to get any snow this year then lets have slightly higher temperatures and get rid of the ice. It's the worst surface to encounter, especially when it is a thin film on rocks and you cant see it!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Andy,
The Arrochar Alps are nice but if I lived that distance away from them I think I'd be temped by the European Alps more. Better weather, warmer and loads of great day walks and balcony trails without resorting to technical mountaineering higher up but still with immense views of the great peaks under snow. Having done both the Scottish Hills can't compete with that. Alpine meadows are breathtaking in early summer.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Neil,
Yes, it is and a higher start than the peaks around it which is a plus these days.
Had a look at recent satellite maps of the Arctic regions and there's record warm temperatures and missing snow up there as well. The Frozen video 'Let it Go' was an oblique reference to that as once the snow and ice disappears that area will be ripe for exploitation of its valuable resources which is maybe why a certain world leader is presently stuffing his cabinet with oil men and climate change deniers. Who says I can't do subtle touches now and again :o)