An amazing day in the Arrochar Alps (& how it nearly ended in disaster)

An amazing day in the Arrochar Alps (& how it nearly ended in disaster)

From getting lost in the fog to a race against the dark, here is how not to bag a Munro!

Visitors to the Arrochar Alps in Scotland usually head for The Cobbler, one of our most famous peaks due to its rocky outcrops and ease of access. We, however, had higher hills in sight and planned to bag both Beinn Ime (the highest Munro in the Arrochar range) and it’s tough little neighbour Beinn Narnain.

It turned out to be our toughest climb yet and one that almost ended in disaster. Here is how not to make the same mistakes!

Be prepared for all types of weather, not just the rain

The forecast on the Mountain Weather Information Service hoped for a clear day, but instead, we started the walk from Arrochar in deep fog, with little-to-no visibility.

We had decided to tackle the harder Ben Narnaim first and headed straight up it’s south face. The path was basically a river, swollen with recent snow melt and was boggy, wet, tough and honestly exhausting; in total, we climbed 950m over just 4km (this is very steep!). It was relentless and not helped by the fact we kept losing the path in the fog! I was exhausted by half way up.

Beinn Narnaim (1)

Know what you are letting yourself in for – and have a head for heights!

No Munro is ‘easy’ but the Arrochar Alps are particularly rocky and steep. The last stage of Beinn Narnain involves some scrambling up a small gully running beside a steep cliff. On a clear day, it would be tough for anyone without a proper head for heights, but I found the drop covered by the cloud inversion beneath me incredibly disconcerting and I was almost overwhelmed by vertigo.

With my head swimming, I found myself having to scramble up on my hands and knees, keeping my eyes firmly fixed on the ground ahead of me. It was utterly petrifying, I am not scared to admit.

Beinn Narnaim

Thankfully, the sight of the mountains rising above the cloud inversion from the top was incredibly beautiful –  a view I am never going to forget.

Ben-Lomond_clouds 2

Ben More and Stob Binnein

Ben Nevis Cloud inversion

The mighty Ben Nevis

DSCF2461

Ben Lomond

Take responsibility for your own self, and don’t listen to anyone else!

On reaching the top, we were both so shaken by the climb that we had decided not to follow our plan to climb Beinn Ime as well. We would take the easy route down for a pint at the pub and a job well done!

However, whilst descending we met a couple of walkers who reassured us Beinn Ime was easy compared to what we had just climbed, so we went for it. Got to reach that Munro bagging target!

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However this a stupid move on our part. It took us a lot longer than we expected to summit the mountain and we still had a very long way to get back down…

Arrochar Alps

Arrochar Alps

Know how to navigate, don’t rely on a GPS (especially your phone!)

It was at this point that my GPS with the map decided to conk out.  The fog was so dense, we couldn’t see 5 meters in front of us, let alone the hills around us.

With no paper map (yes, we didn’t have a map!!) we found ourselves having to walk across boggy mud trying to find the path, having to return to where we started, over and over again. Despite the fact we knew the path was close by, panic quickly set in.

Luckily, I had remembered that we needed to head down a valley between the two mountains, and B managed to get our bearings and after about 30 minutes of stomping around in the mud, we found the well-made path descending down the hillside. It was a complete relief, and we felt very ashamed of ourselves.

Beinn-Narnaim-3

Beinn Narnaim (2)

Work out how long it’s going to take and still take a torch!

Once we were on the path, we realised that the extra 30 minutes of wandering around now meant that the dark was really starting to draw in. We had no torches and with at least 1.5 hours of walking still to go, we found ourselves practically running back towards Arrochar.

By this point, we were 10 miles in and I was shattered – and we still had 4 miles to go. The path seemed to go on forever and ever. I’ve never been so pleased to hear the sound of cars whizzing by on the road below.

Finally, know what ‘be prepared’ really means

I’ve always thought I was a ‘be prepared’ type of girl; we climb Munros with the right boots, the right gear, and only in weather we can handle, and I can navigate using a map – if I actually brought it with me.

So please, please, take this as a precautionary tale. Don’t be me, be safe, take responsibility for yourself, learn some proper navigation skills and always check the weather.  Climbing in the Scottish mountains – even if there is meant to be a path – is nothing to take lightly.

No Munro is ever easy.

Munro Bagging Scotland

However, despite the 30 minutes of panic, we managed 14 miles, two Munros, and got to see some of the best views ever in Scotland – it was certainly a day in the hills I will never ever forget.

Love, from Scotland x

Beinn Ime & Ben Narnain in the Arrochar Alps via Walkhighlands
(rated very hard so be warned!)

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23 Comments

  1. melchaddphotos
    23/01/2017 / 5:49 pm

    Blimey! Even got me scared from the safety of my desk!
    So glad you made it down in one piece though. My other half used to be a Scout (and Scout Leader) and we always have a map and infact don’t have a GPS.
    Thanks for sharing your cautionary tale and well done on bagging two more Munros.

    • Love from, Smidge
      23/01/2017 / 6:03 pm

      Whats terrible is that I used to be a scout too, can perfectly read a map (golly i work with maps for my job) but its useless if you don’t actually bring it with you!

      • melchaddphotos
        23/01/2017 / 6:13 pm

        Indeed. Oh well, lesson learned and thankfully you are both safe x

  2. 23/01/2017 / 6:23 pm

    Omg this sounds so scary! The photos from the top are fantastic though… I hiked Beinn Ime from the back (from Butterbridge) to the front (descent into Arrochar) two years ago and we were lucky to have good sight – had to cross some snow patches on the way though…

    Can you recommend a place to stay in Arrochar?

    • Love from, Smidge
      23/01/2017 / 6:48 pm

      We’ve stayed at the Village Inn across the loch from the Alps. Its a nice little pub and excellent value, we just paid £45 B&B (although it can be as high as £60) staff are great, food is decent (not amazing, but pub food and good steaks).

  3. tony cave
    23/01/2017 / 7:47 pm

    I hike and climb to access remote locations to fly fish for wild brown trout .Many years ago I was fishing Red Corrie Lochan which is a mountain lochan at about 2000 ft altitude in the mountains above Inchnadamph in Sutherland.
    Low cloud descended and visibility dropped to just a few yards.
    When it was time to leave an hour later I tried and failed 5 times to find the route out .I realised that I might have to spend the night there. I then had the idea of following the outlet stream from the loch to descend by a different route.Although this was some way off my route , this stream led to a location that I knew ,and from which i was confident that I could find my car.
    After I had dropped about 300 ft I emerged below the cloud and was able to get my bearings and find the route that I had come in on.
    Very scary but I learned from it and would never go out without map,compass, emergency food and ,extra clothing.

  4. 24/01/2017 / 2:19 pm

    Thank you for your honesty, Kate. I can’t imagine putting myself through this. The fog would have put me off to begin with. If I can’t see where I’m walking I’d sooner not bother. But I do understand that bagging Munroes can become an obsession, and you were brave enough to see it through. Definitely you’ll remember those views. 🙂

  5. 24/01/2017 / 7:16 pm

    I am absolutely IN LOVE with your photos from this trip, Kate! Although pretty terrified at the scary turn of events! I did a winter skills course last year and it was humbling hearing from even the experienced guide how dangerous climbing in Scotland can be (and how he managed to get into difficulty at times). Agree with you – the key is preparation, preparation, preparation! And then prepare for the unexpected 🙂 Very glad you got down safely and here’s to more Munros! x

    • Love from, Smidge
      25/01/2017 / 11:28 am

      Thanks so much! I’ve loved ‘getting to know’ my new camera and lens and I hope my just keep getting better – I am such a beginner but love it.

      Mountains in Scotland are scary (although that is half the adventure I guess) but we need to keep safe. BE PREPARED – i’ve learn’t my lesson 🙂

  6. 24/01/2017 / 9:00 pm

    Very scary hike indeed, but such stunning photos. On top of the world! I’ve been in white out before on Goat Fell, Arran, but I could still see the path. I can’t imagine what it would be like not knowing where to walk and getting dark! So glad you both returned safely. I’ll certainly think more about what could happen when I attempt my next Munro. Well done both of you, what a team

  7. Harry
    24/01/2017 / 9:29 pm

    Fab foties but beware of “it’s easy” comments from strangers…..

    • Love from, Smidge
      25/01/2017 / 11:28 am

      I think that was one of my main points above!

  8. Angus and Vivian
    25/01/2017 / 11:38 am

    I’m assuming this was the hike you were talking about on my page, because that fog looks insane! But the pictures turned out sooo incredible, it’s so unique and cool! Love it 🙂

  9. Susan
    26/01/2017 / 1:36 pm

    Go Outdoors have decent head torches for £5 at the mo! I remember being up Glen Clova at this time of year…we made the 2 munro peaks, but at late afternoon it got pretty icy on the way down. We had boots
    , & packs of gear, but agreed we needed more snowy weather gear! On the way down 2 walkers passed us going up…with just trainers on & no gear! We tried to turn them around, but they just ignored us! Hope they made it! (We left a note in the rangers book at the bottom just in case!)

    Absolutely stunning photographs…what a day!! Sxx

  10. 28/01/2017 / 10:12 am

    Fantastic photos and a good cautionary tale. Having done Ben Narnain the hard way as you did then Ben Ime I feel your pain, it’s tough route and yes the path really is a river or stream for a lot of the way. We did it in July with glorious weather which was great as we had light evening to add on the Cobbler too. But i would have loved to see the cloud inversion, stunning. I always carry a map and study it until I’ve memorised the route as much s possible, but I have been caught out in fog on a hill, so being prepared is one thing, being on that hill in reality can be very different.

  11. 28/01/2017 / 10:57 am

    The photos from the top are breath-taking! But the story is scary.. The nature has no mercy or soft spots for anyone! Last summer I got lost while walking the Trotternish Ridge, miscalculating the ‘up-and-downs” around Storr. The fog was similar to what you had there.
    I haven’t done any Munros while hiking in Scotland – the weather mostly was discouraging, as I want to see far and wide when I get up there! I hope next time I’m back it’s better 🙂

  12. 28/01/2017 / 12:02 pm

    These are some ultra-beautiful pictures! Wow!

  13. 28/01/2017 / 12:47 pm

    Wow, what an adventure! I’m glad everything turned out well. Even though the view is absolutely stunning, I don’t think I would take on this challenge. Probably would have cried all the way through if I were you! 😀 Respect though!

  14. toclassyandbeyond
    28/01/2017 / 4:02 pm

    Is it bad to say I’d never thought of hiking in Scotland? It sounds like you went on an incredible journey to get there. I loved all the breathtaking photos!

  15. Peterdouglas
    28/01/2017 / 6:17 pm

    Looks like you hada bit of a day of it but glad you made it back safely love the pics .i had similar experience on Ben venue last year when I got a bit disoriented in a white out conditions

  16. 30/01/2017 / 9:29 am

    Wow….well the views are breathtaking but yikes what an adventure. Reading it though has made me feel justified for what I carry in my daypack for our Algarvian hill strolls. Friends laugh at me but now I feel very sensible ☺

  17. 03/02/2017 / 1:38 am

    The view looks amazing…I think despite all the difficulty you guys encountered during the hike, all is paid off with the view. Isn’t it?

  18. 09/02/2017 / 8:05 pm

    Wow those above the cloud shots are amazing but it does sound very scary! In NZ there are some sad cases of people going out unprepared – you never know how the weather will be up there. Well done for completing both!

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