A Bad Case of the Bens, Part Two

By the time we reached the bench below Ben Lomond, it was half past decision time for me. I badly wanted to stand on that summit and look down on the Seymour Valley below! Problem was, I could not bring my knee any higher than my waist, and was having major trouble kicking steps. Ben Lomond required both, and I realized, sadly, that I’d need to leave it for another day. Chris, too, was uncertain, and we both resolved to wait things out as Simon, Alan, and Denis took on the climb.

Dejected, I threw off my pack, and chipped off a big chunk of ice and snow to wedge into my shorts alongside my angry hip joint, and reluctantly took a seat. I thought maybe a rest would help, and maybe I could still take a run at Red Mountain, if not Ben Lomond. Chris was no happier than I was, and he had no idea what he was going to do either. What could we do? We decided to make the best of the situation, relax, and take some more photos!

While we looked on intently, Simon led the climb up the steep slope. The first section was going to be the key, as once they attained the ridge it would just be a question of digging in until they reached the summit. I’m not sure what Chris thought at the time, but I was quite unnerved to be a spectator. You see, this was actually the first time I’d ever been with a group of people and been forced to watch as they climbed. Maybe it was because I was concerned that I might have a difficult time helping them should an accident have happened, or perhaps it was just knowing that was beyond my control. It could also have had a lot to do with having idle time on my hands, to which I was unaccustomed.

Chris settles in to wait. Could he still make the climb? We’d find out soon enough!
Simon gets started on the climb, which went quite well. He was as strong as I have seen him on that day!
In between glimpses at Ben Lomond, I daydreamed quietly, gawking at Sky Pilot some more

We watched the ridge intently, searching for signs of the guys on their way down. The time seemed to drag on interminably, as it always does when you’re waiting. We also began to take cover however we could, as the sun was now ablaze and temperatures reached the high twenties in degrees Celsius!

The guys were out of sight on the summit, as we waited patiently for their return

Afterwards, I discussed the climb with Simon in much detail, nearly enough to imagine I’d been there myself! I’ll share his perspective here, as well as some images he captured. As he had expected, the ascent went relatively smoothly, and was much less stressful once they emerged onto the ridge.

Alan and Denis on the ridge, headed for the summit…photo by Simon
Bagpipe Mountain and Loch Lomond, the head of the Seymour River…photo by Simon
Simon, Denis, and Alan on the summit of Ben Lomond!…photo by Simon

They did not linger on the summit, just taking enough time to enjoy the views and get a few snapshots. There was much care taken on the descent, as that is a good time to be mindful of the dangers. A steady rhythm was the goal, taking care to ram the ice axe in securely before executing each step down!

This gives you an idea of the slope angle. No room for mistakes here!…photo by Simon

I needn’t have worried, of course. A distant speck soon appeared, moving easily just below the summit block, then another, and another. Simon, Denis, and Alan retraced their path carefully down the ridge, eventually facing inward again on that last steep section. Each step was deliberate and well kicked in, as they drove their ice axes in firmly while descending. Soon, we were once again exchanging jokes and chatting about what to do next!

Simon again leading the way, followed by Denis and Alan
You can see what a steep slope this is here, but the snow was well consolidated and perfect for kicking steps
Alan completes his descent of Ben Lomond

After a few minutes, we came to something of a decision. I was still in a lot of pain, but because the route to Red Mountain was not quite as steep, albeit longer, I was determined to give it a shot. After all, I could always turn around if it wasn’t in the cards. Chris was still not sure what he was going to do, and not feeling too much better. While the rest of us geared up, he just shrugged and said “I’m alright. Just leave me here, and I’ll figure it out.” I had an inkling of what he had in mind as we left, but nothing I’d have bet the house on!

Lower slopes of Ben Lomond

In order to attain the best line to climb Red Mountain, we knew first we had to descend into a deep basin, and then climb out of it again. We’d need to repeat that task on the way back. That basin was open and exposed, and with the sun hitting it just perfectly, it held the heat like an oven. Chris later dubbed it “The Microwave”, as he could see how uncomfortable it was for us to slog out of it. I have vivid memories of the four of us crossing this bowl, and it was as though we were all crossing the Sahara at noon. My own pace was not too much faster than the surrounding glaciers. You could have timed me with a sundial! I was fortunate Alan was able to lend me one of his trekking poles or I might’ve been in there a lot longer!

The first climb out of The Microwave was slow and steady, but in about half an hour we found ourselves on a connecting ridge heading toward Red Mountain. The approach was lengthy, and we also had an unobstructed view back to where we had left Chris, below Ben Lomond.

Looking back toward Ben Lomond

What happened next got us all really stoked. Chris picked himself up off the snow, and as we strolled our ridge, we could see him making steady progress up Ben Lomond! He was moving pretty quickly and efficiently, too. When I asked him later where he’d found the extra gear, he joked about “fear being a great motivator”. We were all pretty inspired to see him make the climb!

Chris approaches the ridge…photo by Simon
Chris on the summit, 1660m!…photo by Simon
Me, Alan, and Denis make our way along the bench…Photo by Simon
Mt Sheer, Sky Pilot and Mt Habrich…photo by Simon
Getting closer now!…photo by Simon

There was really just one relatively steep section for the rest of us to tackle before the summit, and I was able to manage the pain adequately . We just kept on hiking, and shortly, we reached the summit cairn of Red Mountain!

The summit is up there!
Me, Denis, and Alan digging for the summit. I was not capable of being graceful at this stage!…photo by Simon
Chris was now descending Ben Lomond. We applauded from afar!…photo by Simon
Alan, Denis, and Ben Lomond…photo by Simon
Simon, Alan, me, and Denis on Red Mountain summit. Thanks to Chris for the Roy Orbison fit over shades he was kind enough to lend me!

It had been quite the adventurous day, on the whole. Three summits for Simon, Alan, and  Denis, and two each for Chris and me. I was well aware there was still plenty of work to be done, but definitely took the time to savour the moment. Red Mountain was a beautiful and remote peak, and boasted some stunning views!

Mt Habrich again
A closer look at Bagpipe Mountain
Mt Habrich closer still…photo by Simon

Soon we were on our way back to where we’d parted with Chris. I left a little earlier because I knew I needed the head start. While it looked close from where we stood, it still was not going to be easy, as we still had to contend with The Microwave once again.

Ben Lomond, the connecting ridge, and Ben More…photo by Simon
Back in The Microwave
Struggling out of The Microwave!…photo by Simon
Chris had a good view as we roasted below!…photo by Chris
The Pinecone Lake Peaks: Pinecone, Peak 6500 (Seed) and Gillespie…photo by Simon

Once again, we were together and sharing tall tales. Now we were homeward bound, but the burning question was all about how we were going to finish the day. Absolutely none of us wanted to reascend Ben More, so Simon suggested we descend the gully he’d originally contemplated using as the ascent route. All things considered, that made good sense as we could see it looked to be in excellent condition.

Our way home, with Chanter Ridge in the background
Having skis might have been a plus at this point!

As we lost elevation, the snow thinned somewhat, and Simon knew that if we angled to the edge of the logging slash we would intersect a spur which would eventually connect with the main road. That turned out be spot on. I always appreciate the amount of homework he does before heading into the mountains.

Denis, me, and Chris on the descent
One last shot of Ben Lomond before heading into the bush…photo by Simon
Working our way down to the roads

Further down we veered to the right of the gully and located some flagging which we followed for a while. Then it was a question of bushwhacking until we saw a old road below us, which was a spur coming in from the Seymour Watershed. We climbed upward for five minutes and then angled down another overgrown road in Clipper Creek. We were then able to find the Cyrtina Creek Road which would complete the loop and eventually bring us back to the vehicles. An hour later, there was still the matter of crossing the creek, and I’ll always remember Alan and I exchanging a glance and simply plunging through the shin high water. It had been one helluva trip, and neither one of us gave a damn about getting wet because those boots were coming off soon!

*******Author’s Note*******

I had to wait a little over a year to finally see the top of Ben Lomond myself. In July of 2007, I returned to climb it with Denis via the trail to Wind Lake. It was everything I had hoped it would be! I’ll cover those details in another upcoming story here on this site.

It was, however, the start of a decade long battle I waged with a torn hip flexor. Hips heal slowly, and are prone to reinjuring as they do, though I probably did not help the situation by continuing to hike and climb so often. Today I’m relatively pain free after a lot of rehabilitation and taking up yoga for the last five years. Just a reminder to all, take the time to recover, don’t do what I did!

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