A Hike to Ben Lomond, Scotland

On Friday night our group piled into the car for a weekend near Loch Lomond in the West of Scotland. There was Rina and myself, Marie (a friend I met in South America) and her housemates Neil and Jon. We arrived to our hostel around 10pm and quickly settled in to our very well appointed dorm room.

Loch Lomond, Scotland

Hiking Ben Lomond, ScotlandOn the Saturday morning after a hearty breakfast, we made our way out for our hike of the Ben Lomond circuit, directly behind the hostel, taking the Ptarmigan track up. The weather was nice but overcast as we started. The trail head is located just at the rear of a nearby cottage and we missed it on the first pass and had to double back. On the way back we encountered a group of tourists walking the loch northward to the next village who informed us of the trail head which is unmarked save for heavily trod mud.

The trail begins in light woodland filled with bluebells, birdsong and the gorgeous rhythm of flowing water. The variety of green in these woods always surprises me as the South Australian landscape I am used to doesn’t seem to have this range of green. We pass a small creek that flows over a rock ledge to create a small waterfall. The entire area is entrancing.

We emerge from the woodland and see the hill rising and stretching into the distance while behind us the loch stretches south bordered by hills, their crowns shrouded by low cloud, that seem to roll together. The trail, rarely wider than one person and a mixture of dirt track and stone stairs, zig zags up the hill easing our ascent, which averages a grade of 25% over the first kilometre. It doesn’t seem nearly as severe an ascent as others of the same grade, but maybe that is because of the view.

Hiking Ben Lomond, ScotlandHiking Ben Lomond, Scotland

The following kilometre eases out the climb a little with longer stretches of low incline and following the natural contour (for the most part) but still has some short steep sections, but there is always the view and it’s not so bad that we can’t speak. This is also the first section where we think we can see the peak, not too far in the distance, lightly shrouded by cloud. As we make our way along it became harder to tell if we gaining altitude rapidly or the cloud was lowering – It turns out it was the latter – and soon we are completely engulfed in it and visibility lowers to around 50 metres.

Hiking Ben Lomond, ScotlandWe leave the hillside and make our way along the rocky merging of two hills (one of which was what we thought was the peak) and see the outline of the peak through the clouds, much further on than we thought. It is here that the acid begins to build in our knees and the hiking burn sets in. We put on our rain coats not so much because it is raining but more because we are walking in the condensate swaying in the breeze. Onwards and upwards we trek, alternating between rock, dirt and grassy tracks until we are on the rear on Ben Lomond, two thirds of the way to the peak, with visibility fluctuating between 20 and 40 metres.

We pass a mountain pool that would look amazing if we could see the other side. The final kilometre ascent to the peak is hard, an average incline of 30%, up through dark wet rock, the top always out of view either by a rocky outcrop or the whiteout of the clouds. Visibility here has dropped to 10 to 20 metres, varied by the shifting mass of clouds, and just as well because what we can see shows a few steep plunges that could bring on vertigo. We pause briefly for a snack around 50 metres from the peak then push on. As we turned the corner to the peak the wind picked up and we knew we were no longer protected by the mountain. The peak marked the end of the first leg, 5 kilometres over almost 2 hours.

Beginning our 7 kilometre decent the wind began to whip past us, hurling water droplets horizontally, and bringing a stiff chill. If we weren’t already drenched before the peak, it was only minutes into the downhill that the job was complete. It wasn’t far until we encountered our first group of hikers on their way up, so we told them they weren’t too far off and informed them of the small shelter we had found on the other side. They, in turn, told us there was an ice pack along the eastern edge of the trail which I was not expecting so late in the season.

Hiking Ben Lomond, ScotlandHiking Ben Lomond, Scotland

Hiking Ben Lomond, ScotlandThe downhill went very smoothly taking only 1 ½ hours, on a trail wide enough for 2 or 3 abreast, half of which was in the cloud. Surprisingly, on our way up we encountered 3 others on the trail heading down, but on the back leg we came across around 30 people on their way up and another 20 we overtook on the way down, it was hard to believe that the trail was so busy especially given the weather. After 30 minutes descending, we emerged from the cloud into a richly coloured world overlooking the loch. The rain fell lightly and the temperature rose sharply, and after another 30 minutes we were back in the woodland.

Ben Lomond was a great hike, and I can only imagine how much better it could have been if the cloud were higher. I would heartily recommend this trail to anyone keen on hiking. The area is also part of the famous West Highland Way for those wanting a greater challenge. I also recommend staying at the Rowardennan hostel. It has excellent facilities and is one of the best hostels I’ve stayed at. The staff are also great and go the extra distance to ensure you have a great stay.

Ben Lomond Hike

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