Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond on May 7th with some snow still on the south slope. There was a good deal of snow on the north side which is a bit unusual, but Scotland, like New England, had a cold April and spring was somewhat delayed. I landed in Glasgow early enough on the 7th to travel north towards Glen Coe and Fort Williams at a leisurely pace. Relearning the knack of driving on the left kept me busy for most of the morning. It's amazing how fast you adapt when a mistake might be deadly. I had a few moments of panic caused mainly by narrow roads and fast moving, on-coming traffic.
The first time I passed through Glen Coe was on a moody, gray October day 50 years ago when I was a student in Edinburgh and on holiday hitch hiking through west Scotland. I chose to walk across Rannoch Moor the better to enjoy the scenery and revisit David Balfour's heroic and perilous flight across it described by Robert Louis Stevenson in Kidnapped, his popular novel about the Jacobite uprising in Scotland in 1689.
That was in late October 1963 and, true to form, as I got to the top of Glen Coe it began to pour with great sheets of rain blowing horizontally across the glen, the mist churning around me. Occasionally the clouds lifted and I was able to see the base of Buchaille Etive Mor (in the center of this photo), and Buchaille Etive Beag. The rain was traveling horizontally in sheets and I was numb with cold when I got to the Glen Coe youth hostel. Some would say it was terrible weather. I, on the other hand, was happy to experience it as I had imagined it would be. The Glen, too, was as I had imagined it: bleak, barren and beautiful (as the alpine areas of the Presidential Range can be). On this, my most recent visit, when I finally had the comfortable enclosure of a car to protect me from inclement weather, it was a hot, dry, clear day of bright sunlight reminiscent of Montana or Wyoming back in the US on a hot July day. It was dazzlingly bright and lovely. In the above photo Glen Etive is on the left, and, in the center, is Stob Dearg, the highest point of the Buchaille Etive Mor ridge.
Buchaille Etive Mor from the west. In the mid-1960s Glen Coe and Ben Nevis became the center of a new wave of Scottish climbers like Hamish McInnes and Dougal Haston who succeeded in raising rock climbing standards and mountaineering to new limits. Buchaille Etive Mor's has numerous Very Severe standard climbs on its northeast face. Dougal's colorful descriptions of Glen Coe in the 1960s take up the imtroduction and first chapter of his autobiography In High Places.
Two of the three Sisters of Glen Coe, Gearr Aonach on the left and Aonach Dubh on the right. The famous Hidden Valley is reached by the track that runs between them. Hidden Valley played an important role in tensions between the McDonalds and other Highland clans, most notably the Cambells, that ended with the "Massacre of Glen Coe" on February 12, 1692 when close to 80 McDonalds died either from wounds or from exposure to the weather. The dead included women and children. The massacre was thought of as a just punishment to the McDonalds for their refusal to accept the new king and queen. Part of my family, my father's side, was from the north of Scotland. My paternal grandmother was from the Isle of Lewis, a weaver, and could only speak Gaelic. On previous trips I'd visited with relatives but they are no longer living. The purpose of the recent trip was simply to enjoy a proper vacation, something I'd put off for years, and a yearning to see Scotland again.
Looking up again at the route to the Hidden Valley. In the back is the hight summit of Bidean Nam Biam and the ridge to Stob Coire nan Lochan which is another high summit on the ridge to the right but can not be seen. Winter conditions prevailed on most of the higher summits. I will be making comparisons of the mountains of Scotland with the White Mountains of New Hampshire mainly through similarities in geology but also regarding current use and conservations issues. For the moment, though, the ridge reminded me a bit of Boott Spur above Tuckerman Ravine on Mt. Washington.
Looking east toward Rannoch Moor. Glen Coe, like the White Mountains but at a different period, was subjected to glaciation. The Beinn Nam Biam is a fine example of both carving by the large ice sheets as well as small alpine glaciers.
Around the corner from Glen Coe is Fort Williams at the head of Loch Linnhie and just east of Fort Williams is Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland (or Great Britain) at 4,409 feet asl (above sea level. The sea is right at the base of the mountain so 4,409 feet represents the full height. I'd come to Scotland expecting to climb Ben Nevis but conditions on the upper portion of the hike required crampons and an ice axe which unfortunately I didn't have with me. On Monday night I talked to two Polish hikers who'd just returned to the base after a 9.5 hour hike by the regular path. It had taken them much longer than they expected due to the conditions near the summit which they called "treacherous" because of ice and snow. I've climbed Ben Nevis a number of times and in all kinds of conditions but I've never been on the summit in clear weather.