Green Lowther and Lowther hill in the icy grip of winter

by backpackingbongos

It had been snowing throughout the night and when I opened the blinds, Wanlockhead was lost in a swirling white world.  I knew that the forecast would be bad with poor visibility and I was concerned about bumbling along rounded featureless hills in the snow and mist.  However stupidity won the day and I decided that I would pop up Green Lowther and Lowther hill, the highest hills in the area!  There is a tarmaced road that gives access to the various masts and the golf ball up there.  With that in mind it would be an easy day out, right?

6 miles with 480 metres ascent

As soon as I left the front door I discovered that deep wet snow is not that easy or pleasant to walk though, none of that light fluffy stuff for me today.  I got a strange look off a worker at the start of the radar station road as I plodded past into the wind on the snow covered road.  At this point I decided that it would be fun to try and make the journey to the top circular instead of linear.  The snowy road was left for snow covered tussocks as I failed to find the path I was looking for down to the shores of an unnamed reservoir.

I could just about make out the summit masts through a white and grey world, at least in this weather I had a pretty large object to head for if the mist came down!  If I failed to locate the top I should be hanging up my boots and staying at home.

A locked building by the reservoir failed to give me any shelter from the wind and driving wet snow, so with a shrug and my flask of coffee unopened in my rucksack I continued with the hope of a bit of shelter from a grouse butt higher up the hill.  A path across the dam wall leads to a faint path through the heather contouring round to reach the first of a line of grouse butts up the hill.  Snow covered heather made progress difficult but I had my eye on the highest wooden butt.  I was soon clearing snow off its wooden floor and with relief I sat down out of the cold strong wind and finally opened that flask of coffee.

Once my face had defrosted from its frozen grimace I packed up and continued heading up into the storm.  I could suddenly hear the noise of an engine and turned around to see a quad bike racing up the hill towards me.  The driver was dressed for the arctic, his face covered by a balaclava and googles.  He totally ignored my wave as he sped uphill clearing a path for me through the snow.  I soon forgave his rudeness as I could now walk through his tracks for a while until they suddenly veered off to the right.  Ahead the slopes got steeper and the summit was in sight.  However with each step the wind got stronger and the snow got deeper.  I was on the lee slope and the wind was depositing the snow on this side of the hill in huge drifts.  It’s sad to say that I found it easier crawling on all fours up the final slopes rather than sinking up to my thighs.  It was with relief that I reached the building located next to the massive hoar-frost covered phone mast.  For some reason I could get no mobile reception here!

I found that I could not get much shelter huddled next to the wall of the building, so I lurched off into a swirling white world along the road that runs along the highest point of the ridge.  It was the snow poles that gave away the true location of the tarmac as on the ground there was just swirling spindrift and the odd patch of road showing.  In the gloom another building and mast loomed up in front of me, looking somewhat like something you would see in a film about Antarctic.  I am sure on a clear day all these masts and buildings would be a damn eyesore but today I could fantasise that I was an arctic explorer!  I took advantage of the building as its door had a porch I could shelter in, I grabbed a snack and shot a quick video of the maelstrom around me.

I was soon getting pretty cold and I still had a good kilometre to go before the big golf ball on Lowther hill where the road starts it descent down into Wanlockhead.  The wind took my breath away as I lurched back into it and staggered from side to side along the road.  It seemed to be ages before I reached the huge dome on the summit where I once again took shelter from the wind against the building.  The wind seemed to have picked up here and was being funneled between two buildings.  Time to get a bit more video.

Trying to get back onto the road I started to panic, the wind was too strong to stand up in.  I had visions of either staying here and freezing to death or being blown off the hillside.  I took the plunge using a crash barrier to steady myself on, the wind sucking the breath out of me.  I finally reached the road a few metres away and grabbed hold of a snow pole.  My descent consisted of me lurching from pole to pole as when I tried to stand still on the icy road I would quickly get blown into the drifts at the side.

Exhaustion was quickly taking over so once finally out of the clouds I made a direct beeline off of the hill towards Green Lowther and finally to shelter from the wind.  There was a strange etherial quality to the light and the view down into the valley.

Back at Wanlockhead its altitude could be felt and the village huddled under the early spring snow storm.  It had been snowing continuously for 24 hours and little did I know that there would be another 24 hours of snow and gales to come.  The met office issued an emergency weather warning something I had never heard of.  I was going nowhere the next day.

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4 Comments to “Green Lowther and Lowther hill in the icy grip of winter”

  1. Well that was one to remember, a hard gained summit bag!. One of those walks where the memories are treasured far more than the event, in my experience.
    The almost monochromatic photos that you get in those conditions are very pleasing though, evocative too.

  2. Cor blimey! The white hell of Lowther Hill! You can see how people die on the hills in winter. I’ve had a few hairy moments myself. I’m full of admiration for your dedication in filming what could have been your own icy demise!

  3. for the past 2 years that summit on Lowther hill is the end of a 108 mile bike race that has already taken you up all of the highest hills in the area. It is the highest road in Scotland. It did of course hail last July on the summit as we waited to have our race numbers and transponders removed. It is called the Radar Ride and if you like cycling up hills it can not be beat. Great site and an inspiration – love the new layout and the way you pull something together that is very beautiful.

  4. Geoff I will be putting an extra big tick next to Lowther hill in my log book! I was desperate to get off that hill and that feeling of panic is still etched in my mind!

    Pete I thought that I would get a bit of video in so when my body was found people would not think I had simply wimped out! I have decided that I do not want to be on the Cairngorm plateau during a winter storm now.

    Warren, cheers for the very kind comment glad that you like it. I read about the race in the local newsletter that was pushed through the door when I was there. 108 miles over those hills sound like a toughie.

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