Published 26th January 2022, 20:26

    IT was a winter traverse in name only, a January route linking the Trossachs Corbetts of Ben Ledi and Benvane with conditions bearing an uncanny resemblance to spring.

    The snows that had cloaked the hills a week earlier had melted away along with the false promise of a sustained winter season, just a few pathetic patches of old snow left behind in the rush to evacuate.

    Perhaps it had something to do with Brexit; gaps in the supply chain, some of the component parts that make for a good winter becoming unavailable, the order book unfulfilled.

    It seems churlish to appear to be complaining about a mountain day of brilliant sunshine and crisp, clear air providing forever views, but apart from the chill wind trying to tear off parts of the face on the high summits, it just felt out of kilter.

    It was certainly in complete contrast to my last attempt at this route. Six years ago almost to the day, we had to drop off the ridge after crossing the summit of Ben Ledi. Deep powder snow had made progress virtually impossible, and the old fence posts which run along the twisting ridge, our best line of reference for passage through this enormous white room, had vanished. We stumbled down into the frozen confines of Gleann Casaig pushing aside waist-deep drifts.

    We knew the going would be kinder this time, but we were geared for full winter conditions anyway, crampons and axes and heavier packs. At this time of year, you just never know. The Wolf Moon kept us company on the journey over, and it was there to shepherd us back home, one of the fringe benefits of trips during shorter daylight hours.

    We rose through the trees with the early light, clouds tinged pink above the clear ridge lines. The rocky face directly in front us was glowing as it soared above the shadowy lower ground. The stepped path neatly outflanks this obstacle as it heads for the horizon on the left but this all felt like unfamiliar terrain, the previous memory having been buried in white. 

    The landscape suddenly opened out when we hit the horizon, and it was good to see distant Ben Lomond had retained some of its snow cap. But it also meant stepping into the wind and a substantial drop in temperature. The glow which had followed us out of the shadows to wash over the upward slopes was a bit of an imposter with warmth suggested only in its colouring, and there were a few iced steps which could have come as a nasty surprise. 

    The wind whipping across the summit area was fierce and carried a bite that reminded us that it was, indeed, January, despite the blinding sunshine all around and the relatively bare peaks in every direction.

    Benvane looks a long way off from here, but that's only half the story. To describe the continuation of the ridge as undulating is to do it a disservice – there are a lot of twists and turns and ups and downs hidden in the folds, unseen from this vantage point. The terrain is also rough.

    It's always good to see a route in its entirety, especially for the first time. This viewing confirmed that we had made the right choice to bale out in 2016 – we would never have made that distance in the conditions even if we had decent visibility. We had taken less than one and a half hours to reach the summit of Ben Ledi this time, an hour less than the snow-plough ascent of six years ago. 

    The first part of the onward route was in the enveloping shadow of Ben Ledi so we didn't hang about. By the time we reached little Lochan nan Corp we were back in the sunshine and the way onward was simply a case of keeping the best line to avoid the wettest ground and unnecessary rises.

    The summit of Benvane was quieter and it was good to have it confirmed that this was the same cairn I visited many years ago in clinging mist and grey ice on an uninspiring early morning ascent from Balquhidder. 

    We dropped down its long southern ridge, a series of inconsequential bumps, to reach the track by the Glen Finglas reservoir. Again, the colour palette with the sun creating a blinding sparkle on the water was the polar opposite to the last monochrome experience at this spot.

    A winter traverse in which real winter was posted missing – here's hoping it makes an appearance before too much longer.