Date: Sunday 2nd January 2011
Start: Car Park at head of Loch Long
Weather: Overcast but clouds above summit tops
Distance: 15.2 km
Time taken: 8 Hours
Ascent: 1720 metres
Accompanied by: On my own
The Cobbler had been on my hit last for a good while now but due to the popularity of this peak I decided against an ascent in the summer with the hordes and instead opt for a winter ascent when hopefully it would be a little quieter. With a reasonable weather forecast for the Sunday I decided to head up and climb it alongside Beinn Ime and Beinn Narnain, the two remaining Munro’s from the Arrochar Alps, I had yet to ascend.
At 6am I was heading towards Glasgow and unfortunately the weather did not look as good as MWIS had promised. I could not see any stars – the sky was definitely overcast. But as I drove up the side of Loch Lomond I could clearly the dark silhouette of Ben Lomond across the Loch so at least the summit tops would be clear.
It was still dark when I parked up in the car park at the head of Loch Long. There was a couple of cars there already but I made swift progress getting kitted up and within ten minutes, I was heading up the Cobbler Path which zigzagged up through Ardgartan Forest into the glen and then to the dam of the Allt a’ Bhalachain. Although a little laborious, the path climbed steadily upwards and soon the distinctive shape of The Cobbler came into view.
My plan was to climb The Cobbler, Beinn Ime and Beinn Narnain in that order. If I ran out of time then I would drop one of the later peaks. After passing the Naranin Boulders I carried on up the path for a few hundred metres and then headed left on a faint path up towards The Cobbler. The path meandered up towards the summit and with a couple of hundred metres remaining, I decided that it would be quicker to leave my heavy rucksack and then make a quick dash to the summit and collect it on the way back down. In hindsight, this was not a good idea. As I climbed higher the patches of snow that were infrequent, lower down the fell were now frozen solid and although there was decent footholds, I would have used crampons if they were not in my rucksack lower down.
I contemplated returning down to collect my pack but I was quite close to the col between the two tops and although the path had been slippy in places, there were lots of options to avoid walking over the ice, so I pushed on. I headed up to the north summit first and took a few snaps before descending back to the col and heading up towards the true summit. There was a chap ascending in front of me and we met up near the top and chatted for a while. To gain the true summit you must ‘thread the eye of the needle’. This meant clambering through a hole in the rock, then along a ledge and finally scrambling up a boulder on to the top of the rock. I stuck my head through the ‘eye’ and looked at the ledge. I had read it was narrow and had some decent exposure. Apparently it was only for people with nerves of steel. Well I reckon it was a good one and a half metres wide, so I just walked across it and climbed up onto the top. Not exactly hard-core.
I had my camera in my pocket but the guy (Dave from Irvine) I had met on the top offered to take some snaps of me and email them on. I posed with the obligatory arms wide and then descended back down. I gave Dave my email address and then headed back down to collect my rucksack. It did not take long to realise that the descent would be even more perilous than the ascent but I managed to arrive back at my rucksack with no harm done and after a quick hot drink, I re-joined the main path and headed towards the col between The Cobbler, Beinn Ime and Beinn Narnain.
I decided to tackle Beinn Ime first then take a time check. If there was time I would nail Beinn Narnain, if not then I would just follow the Cobbler path back down to the loch. The ground was frozen solid and with huge patches of ice everywhere so I decided to put my crampons on straight away. Another guy was also ascended Beinn Ime but he did not have any crampons and I watched as he chose a route, avoiding the huge patches of ice. I just took my time and headed in a direct line to the top. I met up with ‘no crampon guy’ at the top and chatted for a while before we were joined by another person.
I calculated that was still enough time to bag Beinn Narnain but I would have to push on so I said my goodbyes and headed back down to the col. Although the sky was overcast, the air clarity was great and the views amazing. I arrived at the col at 1.30pm and pushed on straight up the other side. Although Beinn Narnain is not as high as Beinn Ime, the ascent was steeper but within 45 minutes I was on the top. There was great views all round but I did not stay long and with the ‘Spearhead’ to still tackle, I decided to descend.
I had been warned that the Spearhead was iced over and I would not have liked to tackle this without ice axe and crampons but although it was steep, I managed to negotiate it successfully. I looked back up and two other guys were contemplating the descent but they had drifted away from the Spearhead and with a steep crag below them, then decided to retreat and head back over the top and then down to the col and head down the Cobbler path. I pushed on and soon I was heading over the top, Cruach nam Miseag. Progress was slow, I was beginning to feel tired and although crampons were necessary to negotiate the slippery ice, in other places they got stuck in the turf.
With patches of ice and snow, I probably drifted off the path but navigation was not difficult and eventually I was at the block of concrete supports that were erected to support a cable railway during the construction of a watercourse. I knew that when this was the case I would be one kilometre from the loch but the ground was still frozen solid so I was still wearing my crampons when I reached the bottom. It was now 4 o’clock and I had just made it back before it went dark.
The guys who had decided not to descend the Spearhead were already at the bottom so even though they had retraced their steps back over the summit top and descended the Cobbler Path, it was quicker than my route. None the less, I was still glad I took the route down the Spearhead. Great day, shame there was no blue skies but I still had brilliant views and nailed two Munro’s and a Corbett which was a great result!