SUNDAY in the Arrochar Alps, the weather was in limbo and this tightly-knit pack of rugged peaks was wearing a cloak of lassitude.
Banks of wispy cloud were woven through the water-laden pines, hanging around the autumnal hillsides like ghostly wreaths. There was a stillness you could cut with a knife.
Days of persistent rain had left the ground saturated, and every step was to the beat of running water but it hardly disturbed the peace, more akin to a minor form of tinnitus. Every so often, the roar of a distant rutting stag would reverberate around the glen, amplified by the quietude.
There were other walkers around, but they were few and far between, so different from previous weekend visits to these popular hills. Being so close to a major population centre like Glasgow, they tend to attract large numbers.
There has been a lot of path maintenance and improvement, and from our approach up the hydro road from Inveruglas, a line of white bags shone through the gloom to highlight the line of the route up Ben Vane.
These contained fine gravel and boulders, the ingredients for a lined and stepped path to create a more forgiving ascent and to combat the effects of erosion. It's a noble mission – higher up the path is more like a trench in places, all loose boulders and collapsing earth walls.
Ben Vane is the smallest of the Arrochar Munros – in fact at 915 metres it is the smallest Munro of all, coming in at No. 282 of 282 – but like its neighbours it gives little away from the start. It is unrelenting, a constant vertical push.
Once or twice we heard voices coming out of the grey above us, the figures took shape, then disappeared again with the minimum of noise. The small summit plateau had two cairns, mirrored either side of a languid pool, but otherwise zero visibility.
In a bid to avoid possible crowds, we had mapped out a less frequented route from here, dropping west to reach the Lag Uaine, a boggy and usually empty col which separated our hill from the higher Beinn Ime and its satellite Beinn Corranaich.
This involved weaving through crags on pathless terrain, down a succession of grassy gullies which provided some late surprises, a case of peering down as far as we were able before deciding if we could proceed safely. On one occasion, we came over a grassy hump to find a sheer drop, the options on either side not particularly palatable either.
This descent could prove tricky in clear weather, but in a pea-soup mist it took longer than we had allowed. We reached the col before we could see it, and even then the loftier Beinn Ime remained invisible. Our navigation had been spot on so far, but we took the sensible decision to give the 1,600-ft re-ascent a miss and enjoy a more leisurely end to the day. Time and the weather were against us.
Instead, we contoured round the complex ground at the base of Ben Vane to reach the incoming track, then followed a succession of twists and turns for some six kilometres to emerge at Succoth. On the way we met several other walkers, all heading to parking spots well away from the two main car parks.
This is the inevitable result of the over-the-top pricing structure that was brought in by Argyll and Bute Council at these sites. The council believe that parking here should be structured the same as in towns and cities. Everyone knows that council finances are stretched, and paying for parking is a reasonable request, but common sense needs to be applied.
It can sometimes be hard to gauge how long a walk will take, and if you want to be certain of avoiding a hefty penalty, it means shelling out £9. The dangers in trying to rush down a mountain are obvious. Call me a cynic, but I'm sure the council know that to be the case and were rubbing their hands thinking of cashing in on all these 'rich' walkers.
You'd think two car parks sitting with just a handful of cars every weekend would get the message across, but there's no sign of them reigning in, judging by the new shrink-wrapped machines just installed, waiting to take card payments. This approach is not conducive to current thinking on a creating a healthier population. It doesn't do much for local business either.
Arrochar used to be one of my favourite beats, but now I only visit these hills once every three years when the club coach heads there. I suspect there are many more who do likewise.