We done gone and bagged ourselves a Munro!
For those of you who need some translation (much like I did when I first heard the term and uttered the most eloquent response of “huh?”), a Munro is a mountain in Scotland that is over 3000 feet high. They get their name from the chap who first listed them all (Sir Hugh Munro) and there are quite a few of them (282 to be precise). Summiting them is referred to as bagging.
We’re quite used to walking up mountains of 3000 feet and above. After all, when we lived in Cape Town, we had Table Mountain in our back yard so to speak, and that comes in at 3558 feet. But, apart from that one freakish year when snow fell on the top of Table Mountain and it made the national news and we talked about it non-stop for months, the top of Table Mountain is like a beach resort compared to what you can experience on the summit of a Munro, where the weather is a tad more extreme and unpredictable.
We headed to Ben Lomond on Saturday to attempt to bag ourselves our first Munro. We weren’t quite sure what to expect weather-wise as we headed up, so we were well-prepared for most eventualities, but also prepared to turn back if things got too hairy up there.
We followed the Walkhighlands route to the summit, although a couple of guys we chatted to in the parking lot at Rowardennan prior to starting out recommended doing the route in the opposite direction, going up Ptarmigan Ridge and back down the “tourist” path. Since we didn’t know the route as well as they did, however, and the weather was quite changeable, we decided to stick to the easier path up and then evaluate conditions at the summit in order to decide on which route to use for the descent.
While it was cloudy on the way up, and there was a fair bit of mist that came and went, we didn’t actually get rained on, and the day was more on the mild side, with gloves and beanies soon being removed. Grateful thanks go to the rangers who maintain the path to the summit – I’m always in awe of the work that it must take to build paths in the first place and to keep them in excellent condition, and it’s much appreciated!
As we climbed further upwards, we started noticing some ice on the sides of the path, which then gave way to thicker snow (though the path itself remained clear), and then finally snow everywhere with the path completely hidden underneath (we followed the trail of footprints to keep on course).
Although the snow was thicker than we expected, we felt confident to continue, especially since there were quite a few others also ascending the summit, and chatting to people returning from the top indicated that it was fine to carry on.
Given the mist on the way up, the summit itself came upon us fairly suddenly. Reaching the beacon, I felt like I’d climbed Everest! In contrast to the path just below, the summit itself was quiet and still, with none of the icy wind that we experienced on the last stretch. A gentleman we met on the top said that the summit conditions were the nicest he’d experienced in his 30 years of climbing up Ben Lomond.
We hung around for a bit, hoping that the clouds would clear and give us a glimpse of the views, but it was unfortunately not to be. Oh well, I guess there’ll have to be a next time then!
While we waited, a veritable party developed on top as more and more people arrived. It felt quite festive! The general consensus was that Ptarmigan wasn’t doable as a return route without crampons (which we and most others didn’t have), and so we duly headed back the way we came. Towards the bottom, the mist lifted from the summit and we could see where we’d been. It was probably a good thing we couldn’t see it on the way up, or we may have felt a lot more trepidation at what was to come!
Now that we’ve got a taste for Munro bagging, we’re plotting which one to do next. I think this will keep us busy for a good few years!