Date: Sunday 16th November 2014
Start: Layby near Cashel Farm
Weather: Blue skies
Time taken: 5 Hours 52 Minutes
Ascent: 1291 metres
Accompanied by: Emma, Kev, Milo and Inca
Munro: Ben Lomond (974 metres)
Corbett Top (of Munro): Ben Lomond – Ptarmigan (778 metres)
t had seemed an age since we had a Sunday that Emma was not teaching and the weather forecast was good. But today it looked favourable, especially to the west and I wanted to continue building up the training miles for the first of my 2015 ultra marathons, the Hardmoors 55 by getting in another long run this weekend. After a little deliberation, we settled on the Glen Fyne area. I had been here for the 2010 Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon and there was a good mixture of runnable trails and a few big mountains so we could get some decent mileage under our belt but also throw in some climbing for good measure as well.
We were up and out early and made good progress through Glasgow and on towards Loch Lomond. Unfortunately by the time we reached Balloch, the A82 had been cordoned off because of a traffic incident. Not ideal and with a detour not really an option as this would add hours we had to revert to Plan B. The problem was that there was not a Plan B 🙂 I had a quick think. How about Ben Lomond via Ptarmigan Ridge? Last summer whilst training for the West Highland Way Race I ran from Balmaha along the West Highland Way to Rowardennan and then ascended Ben Lomond via Ptarmigan Ridge before returning back to Balmaha. That run was a good 38km with 1400 metres of ascent so probably a little much for today but if we could park somewhere between Balmaha and Rowardennan then we could have best of both worlds. Good running on the West Highland Way then and a decent amount of climbing up to the summit of Ben Lomond.
Cashel Farm to Rowardennan via the West Highland Way
We drove along the minor road towards Rowardennan looking for a place to park. Just before the descent towards Cashel Farm there was a small ‘lay by’ where we could fit the car in. From here we could run down the road and jump onto the West Highland Way. The sky was blue, the sun was rising and there was a little chill in the air. Perfect running conditions. We quickly got our trails shoes on, put the dogs on the harnesses and set off running.
I must have ran this section of the West Highland Way a dozen times over the past twelve months but it never get boring. The path undulates up and down and with it never being too far from the Loch side, there are no issues if the dogs need the drink or a swim to cool down. We tried to keep the pace steady and followed the path initially through Rowardennan Forest then Ross Wood. There were plenty of other people of running as well (such is the popularity of trail running nowadays) and I recognised some people from some of the previous Ultra Marathons I had ran.
Ben Lomond via Ptarmigan Ridge
It was about 8km to Rowardennan so even without the ascent of Ben Lomond, we would be running a minimum of 16km. I seemed to remember that the the ascent and descent was about 12km so all in all this route was going to be about 28km. Phew, whilst we felt fresh now, I suspect that the legs were going to feel it a little when we had come down from Ben Lomond and we were running back to the car. First things first though, it was time to climb to the summit. The main tourist route starts from the car park at Rowardennan and heads up through the forest and then north over Sron Aonaich to the top. The path is wide and it is a straightforward approach. My preference is to climb Ben Lomond via Ptarmigan Ridge and descend via the tourist route. The Ptarmigan Ridge is less crowded and offers amazing views to the north west on the ascent.
We had a quick snack at Rowardennan then continued along the West Highland Way past the YHA and Rangers cottages. Just past a burn there is a small path leads up through the forest. This is the start of the Ben Lomond via Ptarmigan Ridge route and heads up onto the hillside passing a waterfall to the left. From here it passes a number of scattered rock outcrops and onto the grassy Ptarmigan Ridge. We maintained a steady, but slow pace stopping occasionally for a drink or to admire the views.
Ptarmigan is not a major summit. It is a small lump on the end of broad ridge. But the views are outstanding and on cold Autumn day with outstanding visibility, you could see for miles. We stopped to chat to some hikers for a while then pushed on along the ridge as it looped around the head of a small corrie and onto to the summit slopes of Ben Lomond. The ground steepens here and there was a little ‘hand on rock’ in places as we pushed on to the summit.
The descent and back along the West highland Way
It was no surprise that the summit top was busy, is there ever a day when it is not? Having a preference to isolation when on mountain tops we snapped off a couple of photographs then started the descent down the tourist path. Nowadays we leave the dogs on the harnesses all the time. I just do not trust them off lead, one whiff of some livestock and they would be off in a shot. Whilst having Milo (our Giant Schnauzer) attached to you whilst ascending can be extremely beneficial. Having him ‘pull like a mule’ whilst descending can be a terrifying experience. Fortunately, he seemed to be responding to my calls for him to go ‘easy’ and we were able to pelt it down the wide trail without any serious mishap.
Although initially steep the path descends to a more gentle slope as it follows the moorland across the spur of Sron Aonich. From here it steepens again before it enter the forest at Rowardennan. To be fair to Milo, he behaved himself reasonably well and I was able to run at a decent pace most of the way back down. Emma who was encumbered with Inca, our Alaskan Malamute was a little way behind.
We arrived at the car park in Rowardennan and finished off the remaining snacks in our packs. To be honest, I could have quite happily finished the run there and then. The thought of 8km back along the West Highland Way to the car was far from appealing but as it is with these things, once you get moving the miles are soon eaten up. This did seem to be the case and with a strategy of power walking the uphills and running the flats and downhills we made good progress and were back at the car with plenty of time to spare before twilight. Job Done! 🙂