I went up Ben Vorlich, on the south bank of Loch Earn with the Dundee Mountain Club (DMC) and a few others yesterday. There are two Ben Vorlichs, the other one is further west.

Planning Ben Vorlich

This is the first one that I didn’t plan personally. Instead I joined in a club walk. That said I did look at the map, confirmed the start point and plotted the route on OS Maps so that I knew where we were going and roughly how long it would take.

The route is pretty straightforward, there’s a series of laybys on the road on the South of Loch Earn next to a stone bridge. From there is a path heading North that goes all the way to the top of Ben Vorlich. There are no side paths or junctions. On the top is a trig point, and just East of that is a cairn (which the map says is lower than the trig point).

Weather Forecast

Bearing in mind it was February I was expecting it to be colder than it turned out to be.

The forecast was mostly dry and sunny with a low probability of rain (about 40%). It was supposed to be about 3°C on the summit but with significant wind chill to feel like -3°C. Wind speeds were about 25kmh gusting to 40kmh.

With that in mind I packed crampons, ice axe, helmet, goggles and also a burner and gas with a metal cup. I also had an extra couple of layers in addition to all my other usual kit.

The Walk Up Ben Vorlich

The day started fairly early. I’d agreed to give a couple of other people a lift. So after a McDonald’s breakfast I drove down to Carnoustie and picked them up. We had a pretty good chat in the car on the way there.

There were nine of us assembled for the walk. Jim had also invited some other groups, so it was a mixture of Dundee Mountain Club, Tayside Young Ramblers and Glasgow Young Ramblers. Everyone was really friendly and there was a constant set of rambling conversations all the way up and back down the hill.

I really wasn’t dressed for the weather, nor was I fit enough for the hill. The pace was a bit faster than I could manage with all the stuff that I was carrying and I spent most of the time at the back. It got a bit better when I took my jacket off, and even better still when Jim suggested we cache my bag about two thirds of the way up.

For the first time ever I used a walking pole. I also had my ice axe out as a second (albeit shorter) pole. It took some getting used to, but I definitely think it helped. About the 900 metre point, just where the mountain levels off briefly before the final ascent the cloud started to come down and the rain was whipping in from the west. I seriously considered sitting down and waiting for everyone else to come back down. I was really conscious that I was slowing their pace.

However one of the guys kept offering me doughnuts and haribos. I declined, on the grounds that my pockets were full of sweets. While this was true I should have taken the offered sugar. It’s something I do with scouts to keep them going and I know that it works. His encouragement kept me moving though, and I plodded up to the summit. As I did the visibility dropped, and it went from being a busy place to just being me.

After taking a couple of selfies at the trig point as my personal proof I’d made it to the top I had a look about and couldn’t see anyone. I was pretty sure that even in the limited visibility I’d have noticed if people had gone back down. So I decided to carry on to the cairn just to the East of the trig point.

Sure enough everyone was at the cairn, in the lee of it. So I sat with them, drank the warm coffee I’d brought up and ate a mars bar. Only when it works it’s magic do you remember the power of a hot brew and a sugary snack. I felt a lot better, and raced off down the hill when we went to recover my rucksack.

What became apparent to me on the way down was how low I’d let myself go. I’d missed a couple of cairns on the way up. So wasn’t quite sure where the one was that marked where the bag had been cached. Although the counting was okay, the ground looked wrong. When Jim got closer he confirmed that it was further down.

Once I’d got the bag back I made sure to stay with the group. Gradually as we got below the cloud and into the shelter of the nearby hills we were able to shed gloves and layers. That meant I was able to get access to my snacks, and I made sure to keep eating so that my energy stayed high all the way down.

Overall the walk took less time than I would have planned for. I suspect if I’d been a bit fitter and had brought less kit we’d have done it even faster.

Reflections on Ben Vorlich

I didn’t know the DMC, with this being my first walk with them. I’d met some of the people in the pub, particularly Jim the walk leader, and I knew he was very experienced. I probably should have found him when we were parked to see what kit I needed to carry. If I had then I could have ditched about three quarters of what I was carrying. As it turned out almost everything I actually needed was in my pockets, apart from some water and the walking poles.

I should also have paid a bit more attention to the weather forecasts, especially for the days leading up to the walk. Then I’d have realised that the rain would have washed away most of the snow. That combined with +3°C on the summit would have meant I’d have realised that the snow trousers were overkill. Both times I’ve worn them I’ve overheated, so they’re probably only suitable below 0°C (maybe even lower). I’d also have left crampons, helmet etc behind too. I did ditch the puffer jacket at the car, but kept the crampons etc because I didn’t know how much snow there was. I could see some snow from the Lochside. However it turned out that there was no need to walk over the snow.

There’s also a major difference between me leading a group of scouts and being responsible for them and walking with a load of adults. I definitely enjoyed some of the benefits of that, but also missed a lot of it. Almost all of the adults have more hill time than I’ve had. I’m disappointed at myself for not engaging better.

Hopefully I’ll get to do more walks with DMC, but I’ll have to buy a few beers down The Bank on Thursday first!