Sunday, 27 October 2013

Conich Hill, Loch Lomond

Okay I know I am way behind on updates - I've just been on several great trips in a row and need to a) upload the photos and then b) blog them but I get caught up in things like homework and classes... and other day trips. and beer pong parties. and Netflix.

The first leg of the Conich Hill climb.
Holly and I finally made an independent day trip to hike up Conich Hill! We had a little group of interested friends, but lives got in each others way and so the two of us went anyway. It was a miserable, grey and foggy day (not unusual) and I almost wanted to forget about the trip and raincheck it. Thank goodness Holly is more fearless than I am, and got me to hop on the train anyway. We finally used our student rail passes to get discounted tickets to Balloch from Glasgow. It was about 40 mins on the train to Balloch, which let us off in another wet and grey area of Scotland on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. We set off in the most logical direction we could surmise and found an information center, where we got directions to the Balloch bus stance to catch our city bus to Balmaha. The total round trip from Glasgow to Balmaha only cost us about £8, and climbing the hill is free! We got dropped off the bus after about 20 mins at the base of Conich Hill, where the visitors center for the Loch Lomond & the Trossacs national park is built. We spoke to a lovely young gentleman who directed us to the path that would take us to the hill. We started up the path with our rain hoods pulled tight and our brand new waterproof hiking boots (Tip for future GCU exchange students: Mountain Warehouse on Sauchiehall street offers discount hiking/camping gear, often on sale and they also give a 10% extra discount with your student card!). The beginning of the hike is through a beautiful soft and green forested area, really showcasing some of the gorgeous flora that grows in Scotland. We got to a wooden fence with a hilarious sign warning us that sheep graze Conich Hill freely throughout the year and to please respect them. We shuffled through the fence (it was a bit complicated - ingeniously engineered so that people could fit themselves through it without the danger of sheep escaping) and sort of emerged into this vast range of mossy hills that disappeared into the thick mist.

The landscape was breathtaking. I love the soft and mossy green of the mountains in Scotland, and Conich Hill offered up the changing seasons showing us red and yellow mosses the the craggy rock as well.
The hiking path was recently groomed and was maintained beautifully. There were some wooden steps, followed by mossy hill (boasting a collection of sheep), followed by some well-kept stone steps up to a dirt path along the side of the hill's summits.


On the guide the Conich Hill climb was said to take two to three hours, so we were pretty prepared for that kind of effort. We had packed lunch, layered and layered and then rain-proof layered, and happily hiked further up into the fog and rain. By the time we could see the very peak of the climb, my hair was literally dripping wet, my face was soaked and my eyelashes were throwing off water droplets every time I blinked. Hiking kept us warm, but definitely not dry! I caved before the top and ate my sandwich, only to discover that the peak was a short climb from where we stopped to take a breather. We scrabbled up the wet grass and gravel and came to the very top of Conich Hill! There were plaques dedicated to deceased lovers of the hill, and Holly got to enjoy her lunch at the peak, where we overlooked the rolling hills and the shore of Loch Lomond. There was another summit not far from were we were standing, so we wandered down the hill a little and got to a bit that was closer to the shore. Amazingly, as we were taking photos of the landscape through the thick cloud, it began to clear! I won't go so far as to say the sun came out, but the clouds did lift just then. We could make out the islands just off the shore in the lake, and could finally see the little farmyard that a cattle-sounding ruckus had been coming from for almost the whole hour we had been hiking.

It was our descent that was probably the best story of the day. Adventurous young things like myself and Holly get bored with the beaten path, apparently. Over the edge of this hilltop was a water runoff, really just gravel and moss and heather. We brilliantly decided to make this our descent path rather than go back the way we had come from. Thank GOD we had our new hiking boots on. The only parts with any grip were the patches of bush that grew between the rocks. We had to keep practically crouched so that our weight was low enough to be stable climbing down. We both got stuck a couple of times as we tried to make like mountain goats and navigate down the cliffside to the grassy hill below! 

Holly scaling the cliffside on our way down from the top.
There was a French family on the path below us who must have thought "those idiots are going to die today." We had way too much fun with this part! After we finally made it to the grass at the bottom of the runoff, we decided to explore this newest hilltop, and got to the other side of it when we saw a little goat path to the main walkway! Brilliantly, we made for it not realizing that to get there we'd have to once again stumble down a gravel cliff. Again, we had way too much fun doing it and made it to safety without so much as a twisted ankle.

After we backtracked to the bottom of Conich Hill, we were sopping wet and cold from sitting motionless on the bus back to Balloch. We had about ten minutes before our train back to Glasgow arrived, so we ducked into an adorable inn by the train station for a pint to warm up. There was a fantastic real-wood fireplace and a great big cow hide rug that we sat right in front of. We made our train just barely and headed back to our Glaswegian lives. I was absolutely soaked through, and even after a hot shower and dry clothes I didn't feel properly warm again until the next day!

I'm about three adventures behind on posts, so I hope to bang them out as soon as I can. In the meantime remember to browse my photo album! The link's right at the top of the sidebar.

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