Ben Vane (916m)

Saturday 7th April 2018

Distance: 13kms - Duration: 8hrs - Group Size: 7

Walk Leader - Ian

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Ben Vane sits at the bottom of the Munro table, the lowest of all 282 Munros, just scraping Munro status at 916m; however, today this "wee" mountain presented a challenge that belies its placing in the table.

Approaching the hill along the Loch Sloy track, we could see a scattering of snow on the lower crags, but the low mist and cloud prevented any visual appraisal of what was lying in wait at the higher levels. On leaving the track above Coiregrogain, we avoided the notoriously boggy section running below the first of the crags by climbing directly to the top of the crag and onto the 300m grassy plateau, which, although wet, was much easier to negotiate than the wetter area below the crags.

Ahead, the prominent slab of rock which marks the 500m level, and the point at which the ascent steepens considerably, beckoned us onwards, and provided us with the ideal spot for a short pause and catch-up before heading into the cloud base, hovering just a few metres above. Initially, we were able to follow the well worn rocky path without too much difficulty, but, it was not long before we encountered a number of deep banks of snow with the path rapidly disappearing, and more problematic, blocking our way ahead completely. And so began a series of detours "off-piste", either up gullies or contouring crags and knolls in an effort to by-pass various snow obstacles.

Eventually we arrived at the prominent "false summit", a knoll at just above the 850m height, interestingly we approached this top from its southern slope, whereas the path, when used, approaches this top form its northern slope. From, this top, our greatest challenge lay directly ahead, a steep crag, usually climbed via a scramble up a gully to the south, which today was completely inaccessible due to a large bank of snow forming a cornice over the southern edge which drops steeply away at this point. A scout ahead by Ian, identified a narrow chute to the north, steep and snow filled, but which we were able to scramble up and onto the flatter ground above the crags. It should have been plain sailing from this point, but our trials were not over yet, as the final slope to the summit was heavy with snow, and required considerable care and effort as we kicked steps in the snow and made full use of our ice axes to gain the main summit plateau; where, there was barely a covering of snow, the whole area having been swept clear by the wind.

Under normal conditions on this mountain, we would expect to summit in under 3 hours, today it had taken us exactly 4 hours, an indication of the difficult condition underfoot; all that remained now was to get back down! And we were in no hurry, it was with a great deal of care that we retraced our steps on the tricky slopes, and made a safe descent down the chute , although, I am not too sure that the comment I heard from Ian below as I made the descent "Don't worry its easier than the ascent, its gravity assisted" really helped!

It was with a sense of achievement that we made a leisurely return along the hydro track, having noted that, apart from one man, who passed us just before we reached the summit, the others, about 6 or 8 in total, whom we encountered during the day, all abandoned the hill at various stages without reaching the summit. There's life in those "oldies - Sandra excluded" yet!

Thanks Ian - A truly brilliant and exciting day in the mountains.

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