I am engaged in an endless custody battle for the rights to my soul. The (actually rather nice) company that pays my wages has my soul from Monday to Friday and I get access to it at the weekends. Sometimes we even get to spend holidays together. This current arrangement has been in place for quite some time, my employer and I both know where we stand and we try not to bicker (especially in front of my soul). Pretty much everyone I know considers their very similar arrangements to be normal and, although we all like a little grumble about it from time to time, it is generally accepted that proper, soul satisfying, fun and adventure is confined to the weekend.
Over the years I have been purposefully and unintentionally benighted on top of Scottish mountains, always at the weekend or whilst on holiday. Nothing beats a sunrise viewed from a high and empty place, where you literally wake up to adventure – no traffic, no sorting out kit and definitely no last minute jobs that need to be done before you can set off. Just open your eyes and you are already there.
After an unforgettable night on a snow covered Ben Donich in April, Anna and I decided to head back to the Arrochar Alps for another summit wild camp. However a lack of free weekends meant that a trip was not likely to happen before October. We were both disappointed that no amount of calendar juggling would give us the time we needed for the trip. The Arrochar Alps are a group of mountains near Loch Long and Loch Fyne, just a ninety minute drive from my office in Glasgow, which begged the question – why not just head up after work and then make our way straight back to the office the following morning? It seemed almost too obvious and straight forward, why had we not done this before?
With Glasgow desperately trying to beat its own Wettest Summer record, we left the city in torrential rain at around 5pm on a miserable Monday evening. Having already packed our kit and loaded up the car we were able to get straight on the road and arrived in Succoth at around 7pm (a little later than expected thanks to the traffic). Our original plan had been to climb Ben Donich, however yet another landslide at Rest-and-be-Thankful (the access route to the mountain) forced us to reconsider. We opted instead for the more famous peak of the Arrochar Alps, The Cobbler, despite it being a significantly more challenging proposition for a summit camp than Ben Donich.
Although it was not raining in Succoth as we put on our packs, the weather hanging over the numerous summits of the Arrochar Alps looked like it had rolled in from a miserable day in November. We had optimistically packed bivvy bags (on the basis that lightweight adventurers are fast adventurers and it would also save the time of pitching and striking a tent), however the thought of a long night on the rocky summit in bad weather made me strap my 4.5kg Super Quasar tent to my pack at the last minute.
The route up The Cobbler from Succoth starts at sea level, with the first 1,000ft being along a well maintained (but rather laborious and uninteresting) set of switchbacks through a muggy forest. After reaching the main access path which runs between The Cobbler, Beinn Narnain and Beinn Ime our optimism took a little nose dive as The Cobbler should have come into view. The cloud, and now rain, was obscuring the entire mountain. Tired after the first lung bursting 1,000ft, we now had the challenge of scrambling up The Cobbler in poor visibility, with heavy packs and on wet rock.
The route finding presented no issues, even in such poor weather, however the combination of being laden on wet, mica schist rock was making progress on the scramble to the summit tiring, slow and a little risky.
Eventually topping out at 2,900ft on the centre summit (with its infamous needle) at 10pm, we were relieved at being able to remove the packs and slightly apprehensive about whether we would find a suitable site to pitch the tent in the thick soup of cloud surrounding us. After darting off to the North and South summits to scout for potential sites, I returned unable to find the perfect pitch and we decided to set up camp right where we had dumped the packs, beside the needle at the centre summit. Finding a small patch of grass with sheer drops on all sides, we quickly pitched the tent in the fading daylight, had some hot chilli and settled down for the night. There was no beautiful sunset, no amazing views, no sitting around glowing with a sense of adventure. It was cold and wet, we just wanted to get some sleep!
Sleep, like the good weather, was another thing which evaded me on this trip. I spent most of the time between 11pm and 4.30am trying to decide how to get down if the weather remained poor. The path off the North summit was likely to be the safest, but would add on almost an hour to our total time. Descending the way we had come up would be treacherous in the low light, poor visibility and wet. The route off the South summit was by far the most direct, however it was also the route with which I was least familiar. I was well aware of the fantastic (and bold) climbing at the South summit, however that was not a great indication of safe conditions underfoot for two tired adventurers with heavy packs.
There was no need for my alarm to sound at 4.30am, I had not slept a wink. Anna did manage a reasonable sleep, however as she tentatively edged out of her sleeping bag, I already knew what her first question would be Is the weather still as bad? Unfortunately, it was exactly the same as when I zipped up the tent a few hours before, horrible! Keen to get moving, we struck the tent and as Anna packed the last of our things I ran off to check the initial section of the South summit to find a safe route off the mountain. After quickly down climbing the first couple of hundred feet, I decided it was safe enough and returned to collect my pack and Anna. We began to make a slow and careful descent through the cloud.
Finally clearing the base of the cloud at around 2,000ft, we were presented with our first sighting of, well, anything since the day before. The stunning sunrise over Loch Long, Ben Lomond and beyond gave us the injection of optimism which we were in need of. With a new found spring in our steps we admired the new day breaking around us and looked back with a muted sense of satisfaction at our gloomy camp site atop The Cobbler.
Reaching the car at 7am (much later than we had hoped) we immediately set off towards Glasgow and my office, weary from the descent and lack of sleep. The drive back was in fine weather and it was hard to imagine that we had been perched up on The Cobbler just a few hours before. We reached my office at 8.30am and after a quick shower I was suited and ready for work at around 9am.
It was at this point I was able to answer the question which I had asked myself at the beginning of this adventure…is it possible to mix mountain adventures and the working week? Technically yes, however I certainly did not feel like I had got the balance right, I was absolutely exhausted (mainly from lack of sleep). Would I do it again? Absolutely, although a bit of decent weather and a few sleeping tablets would certainly be welcome!
After failing to attain high enough grades to become an astronaut and unable to grow a beard thick enough to be a world famous mountaineer, Steven chose a career in law, which gives him enough free time (compared to being in space) to indulge in his love for all things mountainous and wild.
Rock climbing, mountain biking, snowboarding, hiking and wild camping on summits, Steven offers an alternative view on the world of adventure, where you don’t have to be soloing El Capitan, bivvying on Everest or snowboarding down The Eiger in order to have fun as an Adventurer.
You can follow what Steven gets up to atThe Amateur Adventures of a Professional.