It seems almost like a dream now, but at 5am this morning, the four of us were 2900ft up on the top of a mountain waiting for sunrise!
We got the crazy idea of ascending the Cobbler in the dead of night after our pre-dawn visit to Dunure earlier in the week. After carefully checking all the weather forecasts we took the caravan up to Arrochar yesterday and did a short reconnaissance walk up the first part of the route to check for signs of snow – the presence of which would have scuppered our plans. We didn’t see any, which was good, but we did come across a cache of human poo. Beanie found it first naturally, and when I spotted the neatly folded sheets of Andrex sitting atop the poo I yanked her away, but I was too slow. She grabbed and ate a piece of it. I could tell from the way she relished her catch that this was special. This was the good stuff, the “other other” brown turd. For the rest of our adventure Beanie received no kisses from either of us, but I don’t think that bothered her in the slightest.
Poo not withstanding, everything was now set for our early morning ascent of the Cobbler. But how early? After some research, we figured we’d need to be starting our walk at around 2:30 in the morning to have a decent chance of being on the top in time for dawn. I set the alarm accordingly and we retired early to get as much sleep as possible. On a regular day I’m just going to bed at 1:30am, so sleep didn’t come easily, and Biggles didn’t help at all. Neither he nor Beanie had any interest in having a bed on the floor of the caravan – they wanted to snuggle in with us. I was OK with that, but unfortunately Biggles’ plans for the evening also included a raid on the discarded cups of Horlicks in the sink. When that didn’t work out quite as expected, he went into fidget mode before finally settling at the foot of the bed, leaving me no room for my feet. I figure I got maybe 2hrs’ sleep before the alarm went off and it was time to throw on our clothes and head out.
As we emerged from the caravan the sky was amazing; totally clear of clouds and full of bright stars, but we didn’t have to time to appreciate it because a couple of bunnies went scampering through the bushes, threatening to send our Beagles into a baying frenzy. We hurried to the car and by 2:40am we were walking up The Cobbler in the dark. Susan and I both had headtorches to light the way, while Beanie and Biggles had little LED flashers fixed to their collars. We must have put on quite a light show as we left the carpark and started uphill, and in the dead of night the sound of sniffing Beagle noses was almost deafening.
We made good progress for the most part, but inevitably we got a little bit lost at one point. The GPS on my phone got us back on course, but not until we’d lost 10 minutes. We arrived at the base of the rocky steps for the toughest phase of the climb at around 4:20. We knew sunrise was due sometime between 4:45 and 5:45, and I could see a pink glow from the mountains to our left, so the race was on. I pushed on up the steps as fast as possible, alternately aided and hindered by the pups. Biggles seemed to be as eager to reach the top as I was and actually helped speed me on my way, but Beanie was more interested in sniffs and the possibility of finding another cache of human poo, and so spent most of her time pulling sideways. Nevertheless, we were still ahead of the sun as we reached the ridge that links the north and central peaks of the Cobbler. We took the path to the central peak, and on the way up we passed through a couple of shallow but icy sections of snow. My little boy’s boundless enthusiasm for the climb wasn’t so welcome here! Susan was a little way behind us at this point, monitoring our progress via our light show, and she clearly heard one of my frustrated “Oh, Biggles!” exclamations when his idea of the correct path differed from mine.
That final climb seemed to fly by, and we hit the top around 4:45. Thankfully sunrise was still some way off, apparently delayed by the other, higher peaks around us. I stood silent for a moment, taking stock of our achievement; we alone had been crazy enough to climb up in the dark, and we had the whole mountain to ourselves. Beanie and Biggles sat motionless too, just staring out into the distance, as though they also appreciated this special moment.
I now set up the camera to get a few pre-dawn photos. Beagles and tripods aren’t usually a good mix, and though Biggles did make one attempt to do a Maypole dance around it, I somehow managed to get off a few shots before Susan arrived and took on the vital role of doggy management.
The distinctive “eye” of the Cobbler in the pre-dawn light
The lights of Arrochar clearly visible below
Now it was just a question of keeping warm while we waited for the sun to rise. The forecasts had predicted -1 C on the summit, with windchill making it feel more like -4. It certainly felt a lot colder than that to me! I’d sweated heavily during the climb, and my soaking wet thermal base layer was now doing it’s best to chill me. Fortunately we’d come prepared – we had an insulated mat to sit on, coats for the pups, and fresh dry thermals for me. I’ve never changed tops so quickly I can tell you!
Our little “camp” on the the summit
The sun was really taking its time though, and the cold was starting to win. Inside our Thermos flask, our “hot chocolate” had become “lukewarm chocolate”. Susan broke out the thermal blanket and stayed on the move to generate a bit more heat.
The pups didn’t seem to mind the freezing temperatures though. Beanie set about digging through the little patch of snow on the rocky summit and uncovered a plastic fork with traces of food on it, while Biggles noisily cleaned the dregs of hot chocolate from our cups.
Just as I was losing all feeling in my fingers, the sun appeared.
From here on the sun rose surprisingly quickly, clearing the far mountains in a little over a minute. I’m not sure whether it was just wishful thinking, but it seemed instantly warmer in that golden light.
Treats to celebrate the sunrise!
And suddenly it was daylight!
We ventured out towards the eye for a few more shots..
The “eye” up close. It’s possible to squeeze through the eye and from there climb to the very top of the structure. Not for me though!
Looking across to the north peak
By we’d now been on the summit for a couple of hours, and as clouds covered the sun we decided to pack up and head back down. The sweaty thermal top I’d discarded was now frozen to the rock it was laying on, and even my camera bag had a dusting of frost on it. Surely it had been colder than -4C?
The journey down was surprisingly easy; even though the upper part of the Cobbler was still covered in frost it was not the least bit slippy. We made it down to the Narnain boulders where we stopped to rest and warm ourselves in the sun. A couple of minutes later Biggles launched into a very pointed woofing session, and we soon spotted the cause: another walker – the only other human we’d seen since the very start of our adventure – heading up the path towards us. I studied the man to see if there was anything about him that would warrant such a vocal outburst, but I saw nothing unusual. Then I realized that this was the special territorial woofing that Biggles reserves for defending places he feels he owns, and having been the first doggy onto the top of the Cobbler that morning, he felt he owned the whole mountain. I could see his point. This was, indeed, a righteous woofing, and though Beanie didn’t join in, she didn’t give the passing fellow her usual waggy greeting either. I figure she’d assessed his food potential, and seeing that he didn’t have any treats and wasn’t about to drop his pants to squeeze out one of those “special” logs, he held no interest for her.
Beanie and Biggles looking back toward the Cobbler, and the first of the daytime walkers
By the time we reached the steep zig-zagging trail that marks the start and end of the route I’d totally forgotten about the human poo incident, Beanie hadn’t. She made a desperate lunge for another bite of the forbidden brown fruit but thankfully Susan was quick enough to stop her. We reached the car, and somehow I stayed awake long enough to drive us back the caravan. Just as the other campers were getting ready for their day’s activities, we retired for an essential recovery nap..