Ben Reoch (661m)

Saturday 20th January 2018

Distance: 5kms - Duration: 4hrs 30mins - Group Size: 5

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Two weeks ago we had a glorious winters day on The Cobbler, a week ago it was a stormy day when we abandoned our planned walk on Ben Vane and instead, skirted around it's lower slopes for the more sheltered glen leading to the bealach Lag Uaine which lies between Ben Vane and Beinn Ime for a low level walk that just may have given us an idea for a fine walk come summer; and today, well it was back to glorious winter walking, although once again, not quite as planned. Originally, our intention was to climb Ben Donich, but snow and ice conditions on the A83 Rest and Be Thankful scuppered those plans, and so we parked up at Tarbet, for what we though would be a relatively easy walk up Ben Reoch. Ah! How wrong could we be, easy it was not.

We had the glorious blue skies, the pristine virgin white snow its was just beautiful. However, it was hard work on the hillside. Almost immediately we were having to plough through snow with a fine crust which broke the instant our boots touch it, sinking our boots into the soft snow underneath. Initially, it was boot deep, but as we gained height, the snow was soon calf and knee deep, and occasionally we had to negotiate our way through drifts of a metre or more in depth.

Maybe I was too distracted by the views, or maybe I just lost concentration for a moment, but as I took a step forward, out of deep snow and placed my right foot down, it went through the snow, just as usual, but this time there was no immediate bottom, and my right leg was suddenly immersed in thigh deep water. I could feel it swirling around my leg, and worse still, could feel it flooding down inside my right boot. I was sprawled on the snow with no leverage to get myself upright, and as I tried to extract my boot, I had that awful feeling that the water, mud, and snow were all trying to rip the boot from my foot. It took a few moments to get my leg extracted, and by that time the inside of my boot was well awash with icy cold water. Fortunately, one item I always have in my emergency pack is a spare pair of socks, which were soon retrieved from the depths of my rucksack and one very wet sock was replaced with a nice dry one. Thankfully, the Goretex lined boots and mesh lined trousers all worked their magic and dried out extremely quickly bringing warmth back to my leg, foot and toes. (Note: a check of GPS tracking afterwards showed that it was a stream, prominently marked on the map, but well covered and hidden by the snow that I had stumbled into.)

Hidden streams were not the only obstacle we were to encounter today; as prolonged stretches of deep snow drifts lay across our path in almost every direction; we were constantly stopping, surveying the way ahead, looking for the tell-tale grass tops pocking through the snow to determine the areas where the snow was not quite so deep. We could see the areas, but getting to them often meant we were ploughing thigh deep in snow, sometimes having to backtrack as it became impossible to move forward. It soon became obvious to us that our progress was that slow, that we were not going to reach the summit and return in daylight. And so we set ourselves a turn-back time and decided to see just how far we could get and what effort it would take to get there.

It was fun, albeit hard work, as we continued, on this beautiful winters day, and we did eventually get to a height of 530m, some 130m and 1 kilometre short of the summit, but it was a cracking effort as we indulged in some refreshments on a windswept grassy top, one of the many "false summits" en route to Ben Reoch summit.

Leaving the 530 metre top, we made a slight detour to descend below a set of crags just off the top and then we literally "retraced our steps" for the return to Tarbet; stepping footstep for footstep into the footprints so hard fought for on the ascent, making for a slightly easier, and more relaxed descent.

A brilliant day in the hills, as the photos opposite show, and great company. Thanks everyone.

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