Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Conic Hill & Gualann

Walk Summary
Campsite and walks end, straight ahead.
But where is the path?
The MWIS forecast for 30 - 40 mph winds on higher summits and cloud base of 500 - 700m was enough for me to abandon the days plan to go up Ben Lomond.
The revised plan was to stay low and bag some lower peaks. Conic Hill (Marilyn) and Gualann (HuMP) would do just fine, especially with the option to make it a circular walk and visit The Vine (sub-Highland 5) if the rain forecast for the afternoon stayed away.
All in all a sensible idea which went as planned until after Gualann when the ground became increasingly difficult, I missed The Vine due to me not marking it on the map and a ridiculously difficult descent route with no discernable path through heather and chest high fern. 

It was a case of disappearing quad bike tracks and embarrassing tracklogs. Without a discernable path you tend to follow what is on the ground (quad bike track, footprints, sheep track?) that is heading in the right direction and follow it as far as you dare. When it heads too far away from required direction you make a step adjustment which generally is at right angles through ground that has maybe never been walked before. That is when the track log becomes embarrassing because you sometimes end up in places you had not planned and certainly do not want to be. As was the case when I could see the end point of walk but could not get to it due to crags, heading in to a river gully, shoulder height fern and fenced off private land.
Now I know why I don't have many volunteers to come walking with me, by the end of the walk I was threatening not to go walking with myself.

Walk Statistics
Walk Date - 30 September 2014
Walkers - Steve Smith
Accommodation - Milarrochy Bay Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Start Point - Milarrochy Bay Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Start Time - 10:07
Finish Point - Milarrochy Bay Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Finish Time - 17:04
Duration - 6hrs 57mins
Average pace - 1.60mph
Distance Walked - 11.12miles
Height Ascended - 935.09metres

Other walks on this trip

30th Conic Hill & Gualann
01st Ptarmigan & Ben Lomond
03rd Meall Corranaich & Meall a' Choire Leith
04th Ben More & Stob Binnein
05th Not quite Meall Buide (Glen Lyon)
07th Cruach Ardrain & Beinn Tulaichean
08th Beinn Dorain & Beinn an Dothaidh hammerhead
10th Ben Challum [Beinn Challuim]
12th Beinn a' Chreachain & Beinn Achaladair
13th The Tyndrum Grandslam

Peaks visited
Munro (282)
Murdo (443)
Corbett (221)
Graham (224)
Marilyn (1218S - 1552E,W&S))
Conic Hill (20S - 91E,W&S)
Hump (2168S - 2976E,W&S)
Conic Hill (25S - 147E,W&S)
Gualann (26S - 148E,W&S)
S: Scotland. 
E,W&S:England,Wales & Scotland


Walk Description
Conic Hill
Conic Hill cairn. Maol Odhar and Gualann beyond
There was some trepidation as I set off from Milarrochy Bay Camping and Caravanning Club Site. This would be my first walk since the Isle of Skye/Cuillin Ridge trip last May. I managed to injure myself in May with a recurrence in August whilst training in the gym to strengthen myself up after recovering from the first injury. Numerous Osteopath bills and plenty of rehab in the gym since has resulted in me feeling strong but not necessarily hill fit. The first part of the walk to Balmaha was straight forward enough along the road. I had intended to detour around Arrochymore Point along the West Highland Way, but thought I would save that experience for when I do the walk with the wife, hopefully next year, apart from that I missed the path walking straight past the car park and info centre. All this was fairly easy but after Balmaha the rate of ascent picked up through Balmaha Plantation making me wonder, whilst leaning on my trek poles gasping for air, if I had lost any aerobic fitness I may have had. The path through the forest was along the West Highland Way but as soon as I had passed through Bealach Ard, I took the first opportunity to leave the path and walk along the ridge and 2 subsidiary peaks before reaching Conic Hill at the 361m spot height. Bit of scrambling involved but not too serious.

Conic Hill and Loch Lomond from Gualann cairn
After photos and viewing the next summit in the distance to the north east I continued over the summit down the east ridge and rejoined the WHW about 500m later. As you would expect this was easy enough to follow before leaving the path just after the footbridge over the pretty Burn of Mar. On the other side of the wall I spotted a small hillock/crag littered with large boulders that were just crying out to be sat on and where I chose to stop for lunch. During lunch I wondered if the fenced off area I was in was public access so after lunch I returned to the other side of the wall with the plan to follow the wall from Breac Leac rather than ascend Corby Crag and Maol Odhar following the ridge all the way to Gualann. Unfortunately there was no obvious path so I tended to stay low down and east of the ridge. Quite difficult to cover wading across heather and through chest high fern, could not help wondering if there was a perfectly made path along the top of the ridge to the left. All the time I kept being pulled to the right and the fence but resisted the urge until the heather and fern was replaced by grass where I found a quad bike track that made the going a lot easier. Inevitably the track disappeared and it was a case of spotting the best line to follow up hill. Again with the uneven ground and steady ascent my lungs felt fit to burst, but after a couple of false summits a pole appeared which was stuck in the small cairn marking the summit of Gualann.

The Vine

Easy navigation following fence to The Vine
but difficult under foot
Apart from the omission of a section of the WHW just before Balmaha and both planned peaks bagged I had a choice to return to the WHW and easy descent to Balmaha then home or a bit of a trudge to visit a minor peak which does not even claim full peak status. It is in fact a sub-Highland Five. 
Well surprise surprise I chose the latter option. After all navigation was made a whole lot easier by a new fence following the Forestry commission boundary rather than the one shown following the tree plantation boundary. It also looked like a direct line to the summit area and summit marked "The Vine" on the map.
As expected going underfoot was a bit boggy but not too bad and as the ascent started to rise again soon dried out. Also as the ascent began the path ahead became a bit craggy but as it was close to the area marked "The Vine" did not hesitate to leave the fence and head towards the summit. The high point appeared obvious as something similar to some of the rocky Dartmoor Tors until I saw a high point without any drop further ahead, so ignoring the map I headed for that. Once again there was more high ground so this time I did look at the map and saw two spot heights, one at 507m and another slightly beyond at 517m where I eventually found a well placed cairn marking the high point and what I thought was the sub-highland five.
After photos in the absence of a clear path, presumably because hardly anyone comes here, I headed down and south east in view of a fence to my right. It couldn't be easier could it? Well first of all I came across a quad bike track heading in my direction which I followed until it started heading at right angles to the direction I needed to be going and disappeared altogether. So a 90 adjustment down and towards Loch Lomond deposited me in thick heather liberally interspersed with tufted grass (babies heads). Hard on the legs and ankles but at least I am heading in the right direction.
After about 500m the ground starts to rise so I skirt round it back towards the fence. Fine I thought until I start heading down a ravine. A quick adjustment to cross before it gets too steep briefly puts me on easy ground until it changes to shoulder high and dense fern on a steep descent. Need I go on it is all getting a bit embarrassing recounting the walk. But go on I did and when I was out of the heather on level ground close to the road I come across a 10' security fence. Left or right? I chose left and eventually the fence turned right and I could head towards the road and for the first time since starting the descent an easy stroll back to the campsite.

Subsequently after transferring the tracklog to the computer it turns out the 507m spot height is the summit, not the 517m spot height. It may be the bealach between 517m and Stob a' Choin Duibh is less than 20m, but I am not sure. I will refer it to those who know.

Believe it or not I did plan this walk the night before, but what I did not have a chance to do because I was away from home was print out the route with peaks marked on A3 sheets double scale. (Needed because easier to read with my old eyes).
Instead I relied solely on maps on my smartphone, though I did have sheet 347 OS 1:25000. I should have referred to this and also marked on it where I wanted to go.

On a positive note this may work in my favour if in fact the 517m spot height turns out to be the new summit. Even so you do need a marked up paper (or laminated map) as I found out later in the trip on Meall Buide (Glen Lyon).

More Photographs
Looking down on West Highland Way from Milngavie as we descend Conic Hill east ridge
More photographs to follow

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