My daughter Alex, who as a younger child was relatively reluctant to drag herself up windy, cold hills with her persistent father, has shown a little more interest in recent months. So first we went up Ben Vane from Inveruglas, allowing me to check out the progress on the new path. Patchy is all I can say, though I suppose I shouldn't criticise a half-finished job. Alex gave her new boots a good work out, and given her relative inexperience, was fit enough to get up and down in a reasonably quick time, and enjoyed the little bit of easy scrambling near the summit
We also had a very pleasant couple of hours around the wonderfully named Whangie, west of Strathblane. It is a striking cleft in the rock, 100m long and up to 10m high, and was apparently caused by glacial 'plucking', whereby the glacier pulled the rock away from the main mass as it receded. You park at the Queen's View car park, and it is a boggy old walk along what would otherwise be a very nice, relatively benign path that skirts Auchineden hill to the North. I had wanted to get around to this walk for years, intrigued by the name, so Alex gave me the excuse.
We followed the path west, but veered upwards, and so summited the hill at 357m before the main event as it were. It was lovely clear day, with superlative views of Loch Lomond and nearby hills, the Trossachs, the carse of Stirling and south to Glasgow. Auchineden hill punches well above its weight for views on a late autumn day like that. To find the Whangie itself, you have to descend the hill, and skirt NW along a drier but more feint path, until wow! The crack appears up to the right, and is most unexpected in the grassy hillside. You make an easy scramble upwards, then enter the chasm. It is most Tolkein-esque. We had it to ourselves in the late afternoon sun, and it was easy to envisage a summer's evening picnic as the sun set on the rock of the outside of the feature. That is in striking contrast to the inner, dank chasm, and it is said many an early rock climber scuffed their boots on its flanks. I didn't fancy it myself, it looking quite gnarly and relatively unprotected, and the comments in UKC seem to back that up. Definitely worth a walk though.
Yesterday I visited one of my regular haunts, Ben Ledi, 879m, just above Callendar. It is a shapely hill, rising as it does pretty much straight out of the flat Carse of Stirling, and is often mistaken for its higher and more esteemed neighbours of Ben Lomond or Ben Vorlich, due to its relatively similar shape, and particularly the fact it appears larger due to its proximity to Stirling. It is a justifiably popular hill, with easy access up the newly enhanced path from the car parks just NW of the Pass of Leny. This path was once horrendously eroded, but is all the better for the work, which though obvious, is immeasurably better than the erosion.
I like to do a circular trip, and to avoid the crowds, the Stank glen offers a nice if occasionally boggy route. I can find no explanations of the name other than the past participle of stink, though I have never noticed anything untoward whilst there! I took the 'trade route' up from the car park, but turned right at the first forestry road to the next junction, then sharp left back on myself, which climbs along the east flank of the hill for approx. 2k. Another alternative is to follow the road through the forest lodges, then make a steeper ascent through the trees to the same point, but I find the former more pleasant, and the recent felling has opened up nice views of Loch Lubnaig and Glen Ample.
As the track turns sharp right, there is a now eroded path that heads up the glen as far as the loop at the head of the burn, whereby it turns back SE. Here you take a more eroded path W, over a battered stile on onto the hillside. The path here is badly eroded, and takes the form of many a rivulet and boggy section. Under the fresh, deep and drifted snow it was torture! I post-holed and toiled slowly upwards, sometimes trying to take to the snow-filled trough of the 'path', but more often trying to use the exposed ends of the bog grass to denote shallower areas. It always amuses me how the appearance of the grass seems to suggest easy, shallow snow, yet experience tells you that it is just relative. You try though. It is hard work!
As I gained height, the drifts got ever deeper, the prevailing wind having been NW, and me on the E aspect. There was no danger of avalanche at all due to the slope angle of course, but there was plenty of evidence of cornice build and drifting, so it was nice to 'get my eye in' for conditions on higher hills as the winter progresses. As I took one of many rests, cursing the effort, I noticed two folks happily making use of my work. It is funny how that rankles....I mean, if they weren't there, I would still have to do the work alone, so why not let them use your trail!?
It is so tempting to just stand and wait, and then suggest that you work together, but they were so fit and moving so well, I didn't need to, they soon caught me. At one point they paused, and I jokingly shouted for them to hurry up, so they could take their turn! It was a very nice couple from Edinburgh, Tessa and Euan, young, fit, and capable of setting a blistering pace even though they were in front. I enjoyed the relative rest at the back.
Actually, within a short time we made the broad ridge, where the snow was much more scoured and frozen, so their efforts were made much easier, (said the old man, jealous of their youth and vigour!). The views were grand, with the usual rimed-up fence posts to photograph. I held on to their coat tails to the top, where we parted company. I wanted a tea and butty stop, and found a sheltered scoop in the sun and out of the wind, and just soaked it all in.
On the descent, I chatted to a couple of folks who wanted to do the Stank descent, but who were worried about the conditions. No, it's no problem I said, wondering why they would think such a thing. Actually, I soon realised why. The Southerly 'normal' ascent route was much icier than my route up, and I suppose it was due to the slightly more exposed easterly aspect too, but I must admit I didn't expect it. We didn't need crampons, but it wouldn't have taken much more ice build to have needed them for more safe passage. It just shows how conditions can vary so in winter.
The rest of the descent was a joy, the contrasting views from the wintery hillside to the verdant carse towards Stirling and onwards to Edinburgh striking. You could also make out both the Firth of Forth and Clyde, shining as they were in the low sun. I say it many times, but I always feel so lucky to have such beauty and opportunity to get amongst it on my doorstep, yet be so relatively urban in Stirling.
A great start to the winter's walking, and I promise to blog a bit more.....honest I do ;)