Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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West Highland Way
Day 4 : Ben Lomond
Pt i : The Ascent – Mountain Drama in Photo & Video
"The music was continually mounting to a climax as the drummers beat their feet and sweated and the women rattled and swayed, but nothing ever happened. It seemed only one more meaningless climax when the devil at last appeared."
- Graham Greene, Journey Without Maps

At 3295 feet, glowering over the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, Ben Lomond is Scotland's southern-most Munro. (*) Today was the day we would pause our northerly march to climb it. After a rubbish breakfast of cereal, bad rolls, and bad fruit (that blighted YHA!), and a careful scanning by Tim of today's Mountain Weather Forecast, we set out.

We'd be taking, rather than the drab and plodding main route up, the alternate 'Ptarmigan Route'. This ascends via the subsidiary summit of Ptarmigan (at 2398ft), then follows the steep north-west ridge between the two peaks. Lots of rocky scrambling and dramatic scenery. And with that, I'll shut up and just give you the pictures and video. (In part because it was impossible to take notes for much of the climb.)

Just two last notes: the video above was a blast to make – but, like the Cattle-in-the-Path video, except a lot more so, it wildly over-dramatizes things. It was very windy on the mountain, and we were up above the cloud line, but otherwise it was just a day hike. Tim says I made it look like Kilimanjaro (which, at literally five times the height of Ben Lomond, Tim actually has climbed) while I maintain it looks more like the North Face of Eiger. In any case, I got carried away – dramatizing is fun. Sue me. Finally:

New Image Controls
Since it has been made abundantly clear to me that people pretty much only look at the pictures anyway, I thought I'd make it easier for you. Groups of images now have Flikr-slideshow-style forward and back arrows, so you can just flip on through (rather than endlessly popping them open and closed). Also, they will sometimes have captions. I figure you'll read a caption. ;^)

Death Before Disrobing

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Foothills of the Foothills

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I am bad

Wind/Me Screaming

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Bad-Ass? Or Old Man?

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Tim dons the mighty Buff "The Original Multifunction Headware"! Supposed to be better than a bandana, but I don't know

Them Thar Hills

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Heavy Breathing

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"Try not to look so serious," he said

Watch Footing? Or Screw Around With Camera?

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The Highlands Bounty Hunters Close In

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I am a speck The speck sees you I am bad

"Hi, Mom!"

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"Maybe It's Best We Didn't Bring Mark Along"

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Approaching The Cloud Line - Like With Skeet In The Rif Mountains

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I am still bad; Tim can smile if he must

"Thanks, Joe and Laura!"

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They Weren't Kidding About The 50mph Winds On The Ridges

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What, we have to climb this thing? No glove, no love This is the photo from the top banner - so, presumably, the most iconic shot of the trip This shot is meant to look steep I am bad; plus this is steep Tim pissing! Again! Ha ha ha!


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Now I've Even Got My Sunglass Strap On – This Would Be Harder Blind

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I am caught trying to make myself look bad My goofy pigeon-toed walk, actually captured in a still image I am . . . well, you know the drill by now I'm sorry, Mrs Corrigan, I lost your son in a cloud Tim, in his turn, is bad Really freakin' bad

"One Thing You Didn't Think You'd See Anytime Soon: Flat"

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We're In A Groove Now – Or Is It A Rut?

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Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah

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False Summit; False Snow; False Sense of Security

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Send help; we're lost in a cloud But it's, you know, cool

"I Wonder If I Can Pick Up An 8gb Memory Card . . ."

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Because I'm An Idiot . . .

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The lonely hill walker Sheepseses! The Mysterious Timsquatch "<i>Ehhh, just gotta git thees outta here . . .</i>" Tim is a <i>serious</i> bad-ass – do not trifle with this man (or his Buff) <i>Tim's Revenge</i> Must have . . . more clothing . . . freezing . . . Stairs of Doom <i>Muahahahahaha . . .</i>

Because We're Idiots . . .

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This is a sheer precipice, though you can never tell in these shots

Grass Is For Knees

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This is another ledge, and those are my tootsies hanging off it <i>Just . . . gotta . . .</i> <i>. . . get myself . . . up here . . .</i> <i>. . . .Ahhhh.</i>

Now This Bit Looks Like A Mountain

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I am bad (and in a cloud) I am bad (with the autotimer)

Our Mountain Redoubt

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The pause that refreshes My rock is bigger than yours And behind it is a totally sheer drop

Our Mountain Redoubt Redux

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Yes, it was a bit of real climbing toward the end No I'm not going to drop a rock on his head

The Final Push

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Next: Part ii of Ben Lomond Day: Summitting, Victory, Descending (Amongst a Large Variety of Bozos Climbing the Tourist Route – Right Into a Rain Storm), and the All-Important Sanctuary and Celebration in the Public House!

2008.09.09 : West Highland Way
Day 4 : Ben Lomond
Pt ii : The Descent – Kickin' It With The Mo-rons

Cool Guys Kicking It On The Summit

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Send lens cloth Thanks It's Tim's mountain; we just climb on it "The summit is just <i>fabulous</i>!" (from <b>Ben Lomond!</b>, the musical) Take home: Fuchs will find and shoot sheep <i>anywhere</i>

We descended, as you can see below, via the boring and well-maintained tourist path. On our way down, we passed a couple of interesting things worth commenting upon.

The first interesting thing was a team of two path maintainers (and their dog)! It hadn't occurred to us that someone would be employed to go up and down the mountain working on the path. We chatted with them a bit, to find out what they were doing.

They had spades and shovels and other implements – and, mainly, were digging and throwing rocks around on the edges of the path. This was to keep people from straying from it, essentially creating terrain that encouraged sticking to the straight and narrow. One of the conservation goals is to have one nice path up the mountain, rather than dozens of muddy, ragged, eroded tracks.

Because of my knee situation, I'd been walking down two feet off the official path – on the nice soft grass, rather than the hard, sharp, punishing rocks. Until we got in sight of these guys, of course.

Tim: You're the kind of person these people hate.

I tried to make a bit of a case that it's rather absurd to think the mountain cares whether it has one path up it, or twenty, and that the wildlife had been making their own paths for centuries, and would keep doing so, etc. Also that I did care about the mountain path, but not as much I was obliged to care about my own knees. But it was a bit of a losing case, at least as far as Tim was concerned, I think.

The second interesting thing was gaggles of hill walkers who hadn't gotten out of bed as early as we did and – much more critically for them – hadn't checked the mountain weather forecast. Because Tim had done done just that, he was in a position to know that heavy weather would be rolling in during the afternoon, and so had gotten us started climbing very early. And while we were now walking down out of the incoming storm, the muppets on the tourist path were schlepping straight up into it. Ha ha ha!

In an echo of his earlier master stroke, Tim also spotted the imminent storm behind us, reckoned its speed, and stopped us to Gore-tex up. While we changed, we watched the woefully underprepared file by – including one Canadian guy in a short-sleeved shirt. (Granted, maybe he was from Saskatchewan and a hardy son of a bitch.)

I am smart; you are teh fail

Tim: These guys are going to get dumped on.

By the time we hit the pub – which was much lovelier in the day, and nearly empty, and playing some nice Bruce Springsteen, and especially nice after we had just climbed a mountain – the rain was pissing it down. It really all was a master stroke of planning and timing. (Tim's.)

Tim also made a great call in suggesting we go straight to the pub (rather than the YHA). Of course, that's pretty much how it used to work back in the day: you were traveling, you were hungry and thirsty and tired, you were coming in out of the weather – you went to the public house.

In a final pleasing coda on an altogether great day, we returned to our room to find the Human Lump had checked out. And the horrible smell had nearly completely gone with him. I was less pleased to have been right than I was to be able to breathe.

Next: Day 5, 13.5 miles from Rowardennen to Inverarnan, including – absolutely beautiful weather for wearing shorts; babysitting a nice dog named Tikka; picking up a cute Colombian hitchhiker; exploring Rob Roy's Cave; veggie haggis, neeps, and tatties at Scotland's Inn of the Year (for 1705), and sleeping in a wigwam (seriously).

        The video's better than being there!         (hide)
Oh yeah the 9 million foot high summit!
   [I am teh fail - Ed.]         (hide)
ha ha ha ha - losers         (hide)

  danger     dftre     hiking     humour     mom     mountains     music     photography     tim     video     walking     west highland way  
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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