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Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, situated in the southwestern Highlands, is Scotland's first national park, encompassing a beautiful area of mountains, forests, rivers, and lochs surrounding Loch Lomond itself, the largest lake in Britain.

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by Chris Townsend | 2009-03-17 00:00:00-06

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, situated in the southwestern Highlands, is Scotland's first national park, encompassing a beautiful area of mountains, forests, rivers, and lochs surrounding Loch Lomond itself, the largest lake in Britain. The West Highland Way long distance trail runs through the park below Ben Lomond, the southernmost Munro (3,000 foot peak).

Last autumn I made a short two-night trip along the West Highland Way and over Ben Lomond in stormy weather. The autumn colors were splendid and the rushing clouds dramatic but the hiking was difficult in places, with winds gusting to 60 mph and thick mist on the summits. Photography was challenging too, as holding the camera steady in the strong gusty wind was impossible, so lying down or wedging myself against rocks was necessary, while heavy rain and wet mist meant there were long periods when the camera was kept in its protective bag.

Click a thumbnail to view the image gallery.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 1
In the little village of Drymen, which lies on the West Highland Way, is the sixteenth-century hostelry called the Clachan. This was a welcome stop as I drove up the long winding road on the east side of Loch Lomond in pouring rain, though I was more interested in hot warming soup than wines or spirits. I was also aware that I was putting off starting my hike in the hope the weather might improve.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 2
National Park sign at Balmaha, a tiny village beside Loch Lomond where there is a useful and interesting Visitor Centre. From Balmaha you can take a ferry trip across Loch Lomond to the big wooded island of Inchcailloch. I was just passing through and stopped only for a look round the Visitor Centre.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 3
My hike started at Rowardennan, which lies at the end of the public road along the east side of Loch Lomond. The rain had ceased temporarily, and there were touches of color as the late afternoon sun pierced the clouds. Loch Lomond stretched out to the north between cloud-capped hills. My route would lie through the woods on the shore for many miles.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 4
Walking in the dusk was beautiful and calming after a day spent driving in stormy weather. The wind dropped, and the waters of the loch rippled gently reflecting the drifting clouds in ever-changing patterns. Slowly the distant hills faded into darkness, and the forest became shadowed and mysterious.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 5
I pitched camp in the dark deep in the trees. Sometime during the night I woke as the wind strengthened and started to roar in the tree tops, bringing down a gentle patter of leaves on the tent, soon followed by staccato bursts of rain. I woke to dampness and trickles of drizzle. The forest was silent now, soothing and relaxing, and I watched the trees for a while before packing up and hiking on.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 6
The damp forest floor was rich and bright with plant life - mosses, grasses, and clover - and decorated with a scattering of autumn leaves, brown and gold. Hiking through this natural colorful mosaic as gentle rain drifted down through the tree canopy was pleasant and easy, a quiet preparation for the excitement to come.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 7
A mile or so from camp I started to climb away from the loch and out of the trees. The clouds were thickening again now and the rain showers heavier and longer. Across the grey waters of Loch Lomond, the rugged peaks of the Arrochar Alps thrust up into the clouds. But for the deep golds and browns of the birch trees glowing in the pale light, the scene would have been almost monochrome. The autumn colors gave a richness and depth to the scene that had me pausing to look and take photographs despite the rain.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 8
Soon I was leaving the trees for rain-sodden moorland, a morass of deep water-filled holes and thick tussocks of bouncy grass making for difficult walking. The rain was harder now, the clouds lower, and the waters of the loch starting to surge in rolling waves. As I looked across the loch, the distant hills vanished into the wind-driven clouds.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 9
Turning towards Ben Lomond, I hiked through the wet moorland, my feet now soaked, towards my ascent route along the Ptarmigan Ridge, seen here to the right of the summit. Before I reached the ridge, the mountain disappeared in a swirl of cloud, and my final climb to the summit was over wet, slippery rocks in a gusting wind that stopped me moving at times, leaving me leaning over on my trekking poles glad to have kept my feet.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 10
On the summit, I crouched behind a rock out of the wind for a snack and in the hope that the weather might break. The wind was ferocious, but it did tear the clouds apart, giving brief glimpses of Loch Lomond and the surrounding hills. Roaming the summit area in the storm was exhilarating. At one moment thick clouds reduced visibility to a few feet, the next moment they split open and suddenly Loch Lomond with its islands could be seen over 3,000 feet below.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 11
As the clouds rose and fell and parted and reformed in the wind, they revealed the Arrochar Alps rising across Loch Lomond, hazy in the wet, misty air, but with their summits uncovered for brief moments. On the lochside, the tiny white dots of buildings showed where people would be inside, warm and dry, probably glad to be out of the rain and wind. I didn’t envy them. I was reveling in the excitement and glory of the wildness of the storm and the land.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 12
I had intended to camp high, but I was halfway down the mountain before I felt the wind had abated enough for a reasonably comfortable camp. It was raining and dull when I pitched the tent, and I was soon inside with no intention of emerging until the night was gone. I was delighted to wake to a pink dawn with Loch Lomond shining in the distance and big patches of blue sky.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 13
The previous evening I’d cooked inside the tent, something I prefer not to do, but with no vestibule and a storm raging, there was little choice. The dry morning meant I could prepare breakfast just outside the tent door with a view up the slopes of Ben Lomond, which was much more relaxing.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 14
The squalls of rain were not over though, and I had a couple of drenchings as I descended steep slopes back to Loch Lomond. The newly risen sun was shining too however, resulting in some splendid rainbows curving over the loch.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 15
Whilst the rain and clouds had blown away, the wind was still strong and waves were driving along the loch as I walked back to Rowardennan. The sunshine changed the feel of the landscape though. The bright blue sky, sparkling blue waters and brilliant autumn colors gave an air of friendliness and comfort to a landscape that had mostly been threatening and somber. Compare this image with Picture 4, taken from a similar spot two days earlier.

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay - 16
As the last clouds faded away into the blueness, the hills and woods across the loch stood out sharp and clear for the first time. Looking at the colors and sunshine, it was already hard to remember the cold driving rain and dense mists. This mixture of calm and storm, rain and sun, color and dullness, vast vistas and a few yards inside a cloud are all part of the experience of backpacking in the Highlands, which is always interesting, always unpredictable.


Citation

"Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay," by Chris Townsend. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/lomond_trossachs_nat_park_photo_essay.html, 2009-03-17 00:00:00-06.

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Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay on 03/17/2009 16:14:06 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay

Peter Atkinson
(sewing_machine) - MLife

Locale: Yorkshire, England
Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay on 03/18/2009 02:34:20 MDT Print View

Fantastic - I love the contrasts of the moorland bleakness to the rich green forests... of the blue skies to the grey... all typical Scotland!

Michael Landman
(malndman) - F

Locale: Central NC, USA
Re: Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay on 03/18/2009 06:40:32 MDT Print View

Can something be done to fix this article's formatting when viewed in Firefox (ver 3.0.7)? It is just a series of thumbnails on the right side of the browser within a narrow column of text. It is no better in IE 6 sp3.

Thanks

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay on 03/18/2009 06:50:15 MDT Print View

Michael, click on the first thumbnail and you can then view the images in succession in a larger size with the captions.

Mark McLauchlin
(markmclauchlin) - MLife

Locale: Western Australia
Definately formatting issues on 03/18/2009 06:57:23 MDT Print View

Tried on 2 PC, with three monitors and there is definately a formatting issue.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay on 03/18/2009 07:48:17 MDT Print View

Chris, great photos. I love reading these "trip reports". It's neat to see all the different landscapes out there. One question, what's with all the water (3 'platipi' by your tent)? Were there no reliable sources?

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay on 03/18/2009 08:00:55 MDT Print View

Steven, glad you liked the report. Thanks. There were two reasons for all the water. Firstly although there is more than enough water in the valley and on the flanks of the mountain there isn't much high up so if I'd camped near the summit as planned I'd have needed to carry water up there. However in the Highlands I usually carry enough water containers for an overnight camp so that if the weather is wet, which it often is, I don't have to leave the tent to get more water.

Robert Kuhnert
(bkuhnert1) - F
photography on 03/18/2009 10:21:19 MDT Print View

Rocky Mountain High

Terrific photos Chris, I could feel and smell the earthyness in the photo of the forest floor.
Thanks, Bob

Michael Landman
(malndman) - F

Locale: Central NC, USA
Re: Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay on 03/18/2009 10:23:54 MDT Print View

I love the piece BTW, exclusive of the formatting.

Take a look at your code. You have a table (<div>) with a style of 150 pixels, formatted to the right. Just put it in paragraph format (

) instead.

</div>

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay on 03/18/2009 10:35:18 MDT Print View

Michael, glad you like it anyway! The formatting isn't my field, I just provided the photos and words. I don't know who did the design and layout.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay on 03/18/2009 10:53:47 MDT Print View

Ahh, I figured such. But if it is that wet, couldn't you just hold your cup out the door of your tent... :)

Kathy A Handyside
(earlymusicus) - M

Locale: Southeastern Michigan
It's On My Life-List Now! on 03/18/2009 10:59:19 MDT Print View

Thanks, Chris, for a beautiful photo essay! As my family heritage is Scottish, I especially loved seeing some of my ancestral homeland.

By the way, do you or anyone here at B.P.L. know of a book that gives information on backpacking in other countries? Information about any requirements of registering your backpacking equipment with Customs beforehand, regs about what you can and can't take, that sort of thing?

Kathy Handyside

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay on 03/18/2009 11:16:47 MDT Print View

Kathy, I don't know of a book like that but there's no problem taking backpacking equipment into other countries other than possible hassles with flying with some types of stove. I've never heard of anyone having to register any backpacking equipment.

Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs on 03/18/2009 12:08:05 MDT Print View

As always, nice photos Chris. I can't believe you picked the only 2 wet days in Scotland that year for your trip though! ;)

Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Gallery formatting on 03/18/2009 13:40:40 MDT Print View

We commonly post photo essays in gallery (not inline with the text) mode to better display the photography. Simply click on the first photo to bring up the gallery, which you can then click through, one by one.

If anyone has further trouble or questions, don't hesitate to submit a support issue and I can better answer questions in that medium!
Thanks,
Addie

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay on 03/18/2009 19:22:44 MDT Print View

Fantastic photo essay! Thanks for your continuing efforts.

Your past articles were an inspiration for me to start spending time out in the cold and wet this winter. Have really enjoyed it.

Michael Landman
(malndman) - F

Locale: Central NC, USA
Re: Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay on 03/19/2009 07:02:25 MDT Print View

Great place, beautiful lakes and setting. The Inn looked like a really nice place to start a hike from.

All in all, just stunning. Thanks for the report.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay on 03/19/2009 08:54:44 MDT Print View

Chris, thanks! What I really enjoy about the photo essays you've done is that we get to enjoy your photography and experiences... along with invoking memories of similar trips. I think it's human nature to search for common links. Reading and viewing this essay made me remember a thunderstorm in the Boundary Waters many years ago. Huge banks of black clouds were boiling across the lake toward us, spewing huge lightning bolts in all directions. I lay sprawled out on a boulder with my tripod legs all askew, shielding the camera somewhat with my torso from the rain between flashes, and a silnylon stuff sack with a hole cut out of the bottom (for the lens) flapping away. It was magnificent, but I hadn't thought about it for a long time. Thanks!
Brad

Dwight Mauk
(melnik) - M
The pictured tent on 03/19/2009 09:29:28 MDT Print View

Hi Chris, great photos.

Is that a Warmlite tent? How did it do? How did you like it? I'm really curious about condensation in these tents, as I'm thinking of buying one, but I don't suppose 60-mph winds are a fair environment to test condensation.

Steven Nelson
(slnsf) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Beautiful... on 03/19/2009 11:49:12 MDT Print View

Absolutely beautiful photos, Chris. Makes me want to visit there, and rivals my home base of the Adirondacks for fall beauty.

Also would love to see a report on the Stephenson - is one in the works?

- Steve

David Erikson
(derikson@cox.net) - M
Photos and Stephenson tents on 03/20/2009 21:36:19 MDT Print View

Absolutely beautiful photos. Regarding Stephenson tents: I've used them since the early 70's. Condensation will almost always be present after a few hours in the tent. You can minimize it with the double wall option, needed mostly for the main area between the two hoops. A handiwipe takes care of it pretty easily in a few moments in the morning. Main problem is getting condensate on your sleeping bag which I handle with a lightweight bivy sac, used to sleep out when weather is clear. The condensation is a nuisance only as far as I'm concerned; the tent (if seams properly sealed) is bomb-proof otherwise. I've never seen anyone refute their claims of how well it holds up in adverse weather including Alaska and the Himalayas. I challenge anyone to put up any other tent makers tent or tarp up as fast as a Stephenson can be put up - a real plus for that rare occasion of rapidly deteriorating weather.
I don't work for Stephenson.
David Erikson

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
Backpacking in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Photo Essay on 03/21/2009 11:37:16 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the comments.

The tent is a Warmlite 2X. Being single skin there can be a fair amount of condensation. The ventilation is pretty good though. It's meant to be a two-person tent but I think with two you'd have problems avoiding damp walls. For one it's okay. It doesn't have a vestibule and I really missed this. In Scotland's wet and windy weather I regularly cook in the vestibule and store wet gear in it. The tent is very long an Stephenson's call the area under the door a vestibule but it's really just an extension of the tent. Stephenson's assume users will cook inside in stormy weather. I did this but it requires care and I'm not really happy using a stove on the groundsheet, especially with the tent door shut, which is essential in rain as it overhangs the groundsheet.

Even so, this is one of the best single skin tents I've used for Scottish conditions. It is stable in high winds, fast to pitch and of course very light. There's no review scheduled for BPL. A review has appeared in the April issue of TGO magazine here in the UK.