To get the New Year off to a good start, Jen and I decided to revisit some unfinished business in Munro form. Last year we visited Ben Vorlich on Loch Earn in decidedly winter conditions. We made it to 677m through knee deep snow before calling it a day and returning home. Conditions this year were very different following a week or so of relatively warm weather, and with a forecast for blue skies and fairly light winds we decided to have another go.
We didn’t get off to the best start having first overslept and then only travelled 15 minutes from the house when a warning light came on in my car indicating that one of my tyres was flat. We returned home, transferred our rucksacks and cups of tea to Jen’s car and set off again, eventually parking up at Ardvorlich at about 11am.
I’ve not done much exercise of late and it was felt like a hard slog from the start with a continual climb from the parking area. It’s not far before you start to see the bulk of Ben Vorlich in the distance and although we could see hints of sun to the south, the top was in cloud when we set off. As the mountain is directly to the south, the valley was in shadow for the whole of the walk, something I hadn’t thought about in advance but will definitely consider when planning other winter hikes where the sun is low in the sky.
There’s a little bridge by a waterfall which I remember slipping and sliding over last year and we had a quick stop for a drink of water and a piece of chocolate before continuing on to a large rock which we could shelter behind for a slightly longer break for cheese and oatcakes. Having crossed over the water the wind picked up and we began to feel rather cold.
Duly refuelled we headed off again for the climb on to the Sgiath nam Tarmachan (wings of the ptarmigan) ridge, which was the point that we stopped at last year. Everything looked very different this time around without the snow to plough through. With unfit legs it was a hard slog, snow or no snow. We finally reached the top of the ridge and the main summit was in sight before us. There was a sprinkling of snow flakes on the ground and promises of fantastic light up on the summit.
The path zig zagged up over rocks for the final climb and it looked a little steep and daunting. Still, the trig point was in sight. We began to make our way up and then about halfway there, vertigo struck. We stopped. Made the mistake of looking back. Knees wobbled. Tried to encourage each other on, but instead just infected each other further with the vertigo. After a bit of pondering and sighing we turned around and started to head back down. I ended up scooting along on my bottom for the first 10ft before I got the confidence to regain my feet.
It was quite windy by that stage and we were feeling both cold and demoralised. Having not put my gloves on before clambering over the rocks my hands were freezing cold and hunger was beginning to settle in again as well. We made pretty good time going downhill and found ourselves a little shelter for a break. We didn’t stop for long though as we needed to keep moving to stay warm. Finally we approached the bridge again and just a couple feet before it I caught my foot, tripped and flew forwards before landing with a crash on my hands and knees. A bit of swearing ensued and some restorative leaning on Jen’s shoulder before we continued on again. Fortunately no real injuries thanks to the thick gloves and the three layers of leggings and waterproof pants, although 4 days on, I still can’t kneel down without yelping.
By the time we reached the car it was beginning to get dark and we were glad to get inside and warm up. Armed with our reusable bamboo cups we stopped at a pub and acquired a couple cups of tea to keep us going on the way home, along with the hedgehog shortbread I’d made the day before.
At the time I was inclined to think that I’d be happy never to go back to Ben Vorlich, but I’ve already been researching alternate routes up as it definitely feels like unfinished business now!