The Clydesiders Munro [# 69]

Ben Lomond (974m)

  • Pronunciation:              Ben Lomond (Gaelic: Beinn Laomainn)
  • Translation:                   Beacon Hill
  • Total distance:              12.6km
  • Total time:                     5hrs 25mins
  • Total ascent:                 1097m
  • Weather:                        Hail, snow and strong winds. Temperature felt mild below 300m, but above 600m there was considerable wind-chill and buffeting.
  • Start / end location:   Forestry Commission car-park at Rowardennan on the east side of Loch Lomond. [OS Map Sheet 56 – Grid Ref: NS 361 986]
  • 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 north up Loch Lomond from the start of the Ptarmigan Ridge

A band of snow had swept northeastwards across the Highlands over the last two days and had left the hills around the Arrochar Alps and The Trossachs coated in uniform deep powder snow. However, despite knowing that the going would be quite tough we braved the elements in order to tackle Ben Lomond: the most southerly Munro of them all.

We were wild camping about halfway down the west side of Loch Lomond on the A82, almost exactly in line (latitude) with the summit of Ben Lomond, but on the wrong side of the loch. [Ben Lomond lies on the east side of the loch.] So, ironically, we had a long drive to Balloch at the south end of Loch Lomond to be followed by an equally long drive back up the eastern shore to Rowardennan to the start point of our walk.

Ben Lomond, by virtue of its close proximity to Glasgow and the Clydeside conurbation, is generally an extremely popular hill: often with hoards of people tramping their way towards the summit via the “normal” south ridge route. But not today: only one or two cars were parked at the large Forestry Commission car-park. The weather had likely put off all but the foolhardy!

Elaine finding break in the snow whilst ascending Ben Lomond

Instead of climbing the “normal” route, we opted to tackle the Ptarmigan Ridge, which lies to the west of the summit and is altogether a good deal steeper. Our route began with us leaving the car-park via the lochside track that leads to the Rowardennan Lodge and Youth Hostel. Just passed the last house beyond the youth hostel we branched off right to follow a rather indistinct path through the oak trees. The path soon improved as we left the small wooded area behind us and continued in a NNE direction before swinging round to the NNW. We progressed NNW for just over 1km until we reached the point 731m marked on the OS map. We found the terrain up to this point increasingly tough as the path was generally obscured beneath the deepening snow cover.

From the 731m point we slowly began to veer round to the NNE for just under a kilometre, all the time climbing ever higher. At around the 800m contour line our direction changed to the ESE as we climbed very steeply along a distinct ridge to reach the summit cairn and Trig Point at 974m or 3,196’. This last part of the climb felt almost impossible. The wind was howling and drove stinging hail into our faces as mist swirled around us obscuring features in front and behind us. The ridge was very steep and the snow was soft and unconsolidated. It was like trying to climb a hill of minute polystyrene balls. The 170m or so of ascent took us quite a while to overcome and we had to encourage each other to press on. In the end we made it to the summit.

Cameron at the summit of Ben Lomond in blizzard conditions

The wind was blowing very strongly on the summit so we only lingered long enough to get one quick photo: there was no view anyway! As we left the summit in the thick mist we met up with a party of three who had climbed up the “normal“ route. Like us, they had found the going extremely tough. They mentioned that a few folks had started out ahead of them on the route, but had turned back at various stages because they found the conditions too challenging. They were full of admiration that we’d tackled the Ptarmigan Ridge route – given how much of a challenge they had found their own route of ascent.

On our descent back down the “normal” route we were fortunate to have the (ascending) footprints of the party of three to follow, which made route-finding in the mist much easier. We met another couple of chaps who were literally only a few hundred metres (horizontally) away from the summit but had chosen this as the point to turn back as they were physically shattered with the effort they’d expended to get them to where they were.

The route back to the car-park was quite long and remained deep in snow and hence tough right down to about 300m altitude. Once below the snowline were able to make quick progress back down the excellent path.

On the way back to the west side of Loch Lomond we stopped at The Inverbeg Inn for a coffee – only to see Scotland getting beaten in the Six Nations Rugby by the “Auld Enemy” – no comments please!

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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