I had a spare day today but unusually no climbing partner. Bobby was tied up with work so I looked for a walking partner but both Dad and Stuart were also working. A solo trip was required. Normally under these circumstances I would head to a Munro I had yet to “tick” and add it to my growing list, however today I had to be home to pick up my son, Fergus, from school at 1500hrs.
With this in mind I pulled into the car park in Arrochar with no real plan. I set of at 0815hrs deciding that I would nip up the front of Beinn Narnain with the intention of finding a little bit of low-grade sport near the “Spearhead” buttress. Normally the route up the front of Narnain is a real slog. It gains height quickly by following a burn through the forest over the remains of a small railway that used to supply a mine in the area before heading up a seemingly endless series of false summits. Today however I didn’t mind this as I was glad just to be out, keeping up the momentum that I have managed to gather this winter. The terrain quickly became frozen from about 300 metres up the hill with the scrambly rock sections of the path having to be bypassed by traversing grassy ledges due to thick verglass. Ice was readily forming on the small buttresses around 450 metres were I hit the snow line.
As soon as the snow thickened up I had to bear the encumbrance of wearing my crampon’s as going up hill was near impossible without them with the snow being frozen solid. Crampon’s are a pain in the backside to walk in especially climbing ones, but progress would have been torturous without them as kicking steps was impossible. By 1000hrs I had reached the final 150 metres of the hill which was flitting in and out of clag.
The route up the last part of Beinn Narnain from this approached goes to the right of a broken buttress for about 75 metres which leads onto a small level area under an impressive rock formation called the “Spearhead,” a shallow gully to the right of this then leads on to the expansive plateau with the summit some 200 metres east. The path to the left of the broken buttress is steep, exposed and a in places a bit scrambly. It’s nothing difficult but I would bet under winter conditions it’s upset a few of the less experienced! Today the steepest parts were rock hard turf that had been scoured of snow and were covered in ice. To aid a quick ascent I took out my second axe and was soon under the “Spearhead” buttress. A horrible thick bank of cloud enveloped the mountain at this point meaning that to gain the summit I would probably need to get the map and compass out. I couldn’t be bothered if I am honest and anyway on the way up I had noticed a lovely steep snow field of a good quality grade one that looked like good sport. This was to the right of the broken buttress and swept down the hill for about 80 metres. I traversed onto it finding the snow to be dry, compact and solid with no signs of wind slab and I quickly picked my way down, the only obstacle being a traverse on a ledge under a large boulder that required care. I was back in the car for 1230hrs enjoying my lunch with time for a hot soak in the tub before picking up the wee man!
I know some of the climbers who read this will be wanting a wee update on The Cobbler conditions. There is snow right down to the Narnain Boulders with Centre, Great and Chockstone gully’s all complete but not banked out. The buttresses are a little “black” with South Peak being the barest. Some lines are clearly “in” with the turf being rock solid from about 450 metres. Judging by the conditions on Beinn Narnain the snow will be well consolidated and crusty and there will be ice on the cracks. Ice is readily forming at low levels although I wasn’t close enough to see what it was like higher on The Cobbler. It was 3c when I left the car and 5c when I returned with little or no sign of snow melt. If, as forecast, the weather stays cold and settled I expect the crag to be busy on Saturday! (Photograph below, sorry about the poor quality camera died on me)