The Arrochar Alps veiled in their winter glory [# 71 & 72]

Beinn Narnain (926m); Beinn Ime (1011m)

  • Pronunciation:              Bine Narneen; Bine Immer
  • Translation:                   Mountain of Notches (possibly); Butter Mountain
  • Total distance:              17.4km
  • Total time:                     7hrs 02mins
  • Total ascent:                 1325m
  • Weather:                        Superb winter conditions. Sunny, cloudless and blue skies. Extensive temperature inversion in place until around 14:30. Thick snow. Very little wind so noticeable warmth in the sunshine.
  • Start / end location:   Large car-park by Succoth on the A83. Just 1km NW of Arrochar village [OS Map Sheet 56 – Grid Ref: NN 295 050]
  • Map:                                A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

    Looking southward down Loch Long from near the base of The Cobbler

Cameron ascending the glen between The Cobbler and Beinn Narnain with Ben Lomond in the background

We arrived at the car-park just after 08:00 in thick mist having only had to drive 2.5km from the Ardgartan Campsite where we’ve been staying for the last few nights. The weather forecast for the Arrochar region was very promising, suggesting dry but misty conditions, which would burn away to reveal a bright and sunny day – so this bode well for an excellent day’s climbing.

Our walk began with us crossing the A83 from the car-park and picking up the path to The Cobbler immediately opposite.

The Cobbler's south east profile

[The Cobbler, or Ben Arthur, is probably one of Scotland’s most famous mountains, albeit not quite of Munro height at 881m. What The Cobbler lacks in height it makes up for in its character, distinctive profile and historical significance, the latter due to its influence as a training ground for many of the pioneers of Scottish climbing. It is truly a fantastic mountain and one that Elaine and I have climbed many times over the years – including an outing a couple of years ago with Neil and Laura.]

A perfect temperature inversion

Admiring the view on the ascent of Beinn Ime

Once on the path we almost immediately began to zigzag our way up through the conifer forest before coming to an intersection with a more substantial forestry track traversing around the hillside at an almost constant elevation. We turned left (SW) at this intersection and followed this track until we reached a mobile telecoms mast. At the mast (not marked on older OS maps) a path branched right, perpendicular to the track, which led northwestwards before veering round to the SW again to join a path that follows the Allt a’ Bhalachain burn between The Cobbler and Beinn Narnain. Along this section of path we were “escorted” by a pair of bullfinches that flitted along the edge of the path from conifer to conifer. We also noticed our first clump of frogspawn this season – surely a sign that spring isn’t far off. Although one would be forgiven for thinking otherwise given the thick blanket of snow that is still covering much of the Highlands.

Having a break on the ascent of Beinn Ime

Once we reached the path by the Allt a’ Bhalachain burn we slowly began to climb above the mist, which via a temperature inversion, was filling all of the surrounding glens. Above this inversion there was a noticeable uplift in the temperature and we were soon pleased to have to take off our jackets. By this point the views towards The Cobbler were stunning: with thick snow lying deep alongside steep crags and cliffs of dark grey all set against a brilliant azure blue sky. We stood quietly and simply stared at the beauty of the scene: recognizing why The Cobbler is justifiably such an iconic Scottish mountain.

Elaine approaching the summit of Beinn Ime

We continued to follow the path up the glen and passed a small weir or dam across the burn. At about this point the lying snow was becoming quite thick and we were grateful that some other kind sole had already broken a trail through the snow on the path.  The lying snow was over a foot deep by the time we passed the Narnain Boulders (huge erratic blocks that the path weaves around) on our route towards the col (Bealach a’ Mhaim) between Beinns Ime and Narnain.

Cameron on the summit of Beinn Ime

Long before we reached the Bealach a’ Mhaim we were presented with the challenge that lay before us: the ascent of two steep hillsides, either side of the bealach, coated in uniformly white deep icing sugar snow that was devoid of any tracks to follow. My heart sank! The first indication of just how hard the remainder of the day was going to be came in just getting from the end of the footprints on the track between The Cobbler and Beinn Narnain to the bealach itself. It was a physically tiring trudge through unconsolidated deep snow until we reached a small fence that traversed SW to NE across the bealach.

Elaine on the summit of Beinn Ime

We crossed the fence at a stile and began the long ascent of Beinn Ime. It was a hard slog but well worth it as the views got better and better as we progressed higher. Eventually we reached a small false summit with the true summit only a few hundred metres further beyond. The true summit, at 1011m or 3,317’ was adorned with a ring of rocks to act as a rough shelter around a plinth that once held a Trig Point.

A slight wind on the top reminded us that we were still very much in the grasp of winter here in the Highlands and we quickly pulled on our jackets and hats. We did, however, linger quite a while at the top to admire the incredible views. Ben Nevis, over 50 miles to the north was clearer visible alongside its neighbour Carn Mor Dearg and to the SSW the hills of Arran poked above a misty horizon. Closer by, Ben Lomond and many of the immediate hills magically floated above the cotton-wool texture of the misty temperature inversion. The views in every direction were quite something to behold and we would never have tired of staring at them.

Ben Lomond (left) with Beinn Narnain in the foreground

Soon enough the realization that we had another Munro still to climb pulled our gaze once more back towards the Bealach a’ Mhaim and up the other side to Beinn Narnain. Although slightly smaller than Beinn Ime it actually looked steeper and if anything covered in even deeper snow. We knew that we’d find out if our assertions were correct all too soon and the hard way.

We made swift progress back down Beinn Ime to reach the stile across the fence where we met an elderly gent (he told us he was 67 years old). He said that he was ever so grateful that we’d laid down a track for him to follow to the summit and mentioned that on occasions he’d delay the start of his walks to try to ensure that someone else had done the hard work of breaking the trail. He laughed with us when he told us that at his age he’d done his fair share of snowy trail breaking. I was certainly pleased that he could make good use of the track that we established.

Elaine on the summit of Beinn Narnain

The next part of our climb from the stile to the summit of Beinn Narnain can only be described as sheer hell. I’ve been in some deep snow this winter but nothing quite as tortuous as the conditions here. It must have been something to do with the topology, aspect and steepness of the slope, plus the prevailing wind direction when the snow was dumped over the last few days that resulted in deposits of thigh-deep, soft, unconsolidated snow. It was this way from the bealach at 640m right to the top at 926m.

If we’d chosen to climb Narnain first instead of Ime I’m pretty sure we’d have bowed out after just this one. I’d have been too anxious that the much longer slope up to Beinn Ime would have been in the same condition as Beinn Narnain … and simply couldn’t have faced that in the same day. [As it turned out the snow on Ime was a challenge, but not on the same magnitude as Narnain.]

After a lot of huffing and puffing we eventually topped out on the summit of Beinn Narnain at 926m or 3,038’. The views here were equally spectacular, although we were less of a positive frame of mind to enjoy them as much. So, after a few snacks we retraced our steps back down towards the bealach, only veering slightly to the SW to join the path between The Cobbler and Beinn Narnain that took us all the way back to the car-park. When we got back to the car-park we noticed the beginnings of a suntan on our faces, which unfortunately stopped abruptly around the bottom of our necks.

Back at the campsite we sat outside our ‘van to reflect on the day’s climb and agreed that despite the physical exertion required it had shown the Arrochar Alps veiled in all their winter glory. We sat and caught the last of the sun’s rays before it slipped slowly from sight behind the hills to the SW.

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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