I didn’t really care what anybody else’s plans were, I was heading for Ben Lomond. Others in the club mooted the idea of a direct ascent of Ben More from Crianlarich but it was obvious that the route would be relentless. The promise of more varied terrain on the Ptarmigan ridge proved more alluring.
Although Rowardennan was an hour and a half’s drive from the hut, that didn’t seem that long compared to yesterday’s six hour journey from home. Five of us headed for the ridge after starting on the West Highland Way and followed a good pitched path to the snowline, avoiding the iced up steps although microspikes made progress somewhat easier for one of us. As we ascended, the view over to the Arrochar Alps opened out and we made our way up to the Ptarmigan ridge. Our meanderings along the ridge took us in and out of the wind and we found a suitable spot for lunch, cold but sheltered.
|Beinns Arthur, Narnain & Ime|
We had been able to see Ben Lomond’s summit ridge and saw walkers in the distance, some descending the north-west ridge. It looked as if some turned back as we didn’t see them progress to the base of the ridge but we did come across one crampon-shod couple who said that the ridge was not too bad. A young couple caught us up and overtook, not surprising as they were inadequately equipped – summer boots and a water bottle for the young woman who looked like she was on the way to the gym; jeans and Timberlands for the young man. No sign of axes or crampons in the single small rucksack being carried ! The minus 5oC temperatures and 30mph plus winds demanded more suitable clothing !
|Ben Lomond summit from the Ptarmigan ridge|
At the base of the summit ridge we put on our crampons and made our way up. The spikes made a difference and I was happy to acknowledge that we had made the right decision at the right time. A couple of us used ice axes but I felt comfortable using my poles – at only one point would I have preferred an axe but the position wasn’t desperate. And my goggles proved invaluable in the wind.
As we moved up, a group of eight young Poles followed us. They were as ill-equipped as the previous couple – no winter boots, crampons or ice axes and although they had reasonable jackets their legwear couldn’t have given them much protection from the wind. After five hours of walking we took our summit photos at the trig point and the Polish group waited for us to start making our way off in the mist; I’m pretty sure that their main method of navigation was to follow footsteps !
We followed the voie normale down to below the cloudbase and after a while dispensed with the crampons. It’s a pretty uninspiring path and it made me glad that I’d chosen the Ptarmigan ridge as the way up. Towards the bottom it was muddy and its condition betrayed the huge number of feet that must use it, both up and down. It’s probably one of the most used ways up any Munro.
And as daylight waned at the end of the walk, the hills took on the fiery tones cast by the sunset with the alpenglow giving the upper reaches of Ben Lomond a spectacular colour.
|The Ptarmigan ridge and Ben Lomond|