SOME days it’s not about reaching the top or ticking off another peak. Some days it’s just about soaking in the beauty of our wonderful country.
Having been confined to barracks by a heavy cold for the last ten days or so, I was itching to get back out into the fresh air and blow away the cobwebs.
The night before had been wild but there was now a weather window of calm for around seven hours before the next front was due to sweep in. With that time limit in mind, I decided to head to Rob Roy country and all the rugged joys the Trossachs have to offer.
There had been an ice warning for the roads but the surprise on reaching Lochearnhead was the amount of snow at a low level. That just made the beauty of the drive along the single-track road from Balquhidder even more transfixing, the scenery on the south side of Loch Voil and then Loch Doine mirrored flawlessly in the still waters.
By the time I reached the car park at the end of the road, there was an icy belt of mist around the waistline of some of the hills. There was a party of walkers heading off on the path up Stob Binnein’s long south ridge and a couple of others taking the track through the farm at Inverlochlarig en route to Beinn Tulaichean or some of the Corbetts or Grahams up the glen.
My target, Stob Breac, was clear but the cold air had drained it of all colour to leave a stark black and white image of a hill that promised to take no prisoners. Despite being only around 2,200-ft high, Stob Breac is no pushover. Like so many of the smaller hills in this area it’s more than a match for the big boys.
Protected on three sides by regimented ranks of impenetrable forestry and bands of threatening crags, it was easy to see why there is such a variety of suggestions for an ascent. No trade route here, it’s every man for himself.
A frontal assault was possible but with the depth of snow and the consequent unpredictability of the terrain, I decided to use forest tracks to skirt round to the east and then climb a firebreak by a stream to try to reach the open hillside.
But as I got nearer the top of the clearing, the trees closed in and the terrain became rockier until I reached a bottleneck in a deep little gorge. The tops of both walls were sloping away with deep, soft snow and the forestry had closed ranks tightly against the edges leaving little room for manoeuvre.
I didn’t feel happy about my chances of getting around on either side. The prospect of a possible 30-ft fall didn’t appeal - I long ago learned I am allergic to serious injury.
There was only one thing to do - retreat. But you know what? It didn’t bother me one little bit. Knowing when to turn back is a mountain skill in itself. I had been out in good winter weather in some of the finest scenery on the planet and I felt good.
Stob Binnein and Tulaichean were in full view from the track, their snow-capped tops providing a beautiful backdrop to the walk back to the car. The result may have been Stob Breac 1 Me 0, but I am already looking forward to the rematch.
(First published Daily Record, January 23, 2014)