What a week!
This has been a busy week for me in the Scottish mountains. With cold, clear conditions holding on through midweek and then warmer, clear conditions at the weekend, all coinciding with the true end of my summer season’s work I was able to get out 5 of the last 7 days and continue my preparations for my winter ML assessment.
On Monday morning I left the house completely undecided as to my itinerary for the day. I really wanted to do a route up a grade I snow gully out west but I feared it would just be an epic battle through powder snow. Mid-journey I decided to redirect toward Ben Klibreck, a hill much closer at hand and which, although I had been up it several times before, I had never seen the view from. The weather forecast was promising full sunshine all day. Surely this time I would see a view from the summit!
What followed was still an epic battle through powder snow on the slopes of Cnoc Sgriodain and Carn an Fheidh, reaching a high point of 808m for the day and the view from Ben Klibreck eluding me once more.
It had been -8C coming out the back of Lairg and many of the passing places on the road were out of bounds to a car with summer tyres such as mine, but fortunately it was quiet and I made it to the bottom of the hills with great hopes of the bog being well frozen. It was. But it was also buried deep in the snows and my progress was painfully slow as a result. By the time I reached my high point for the day, it was late, I was physically shattered and a cap of cloud had spilled down from the north covering the summit of Klibreck with more foreboding clouds lurking in the background. I admitted defeat and descended back to the car. This wasn’t any easier a task than the way up, but the views out west to Ben More Assynt were fantastic and the snow-covered spiky outline of An Teallach on the distant skyline totally made up for the fact that I hadn’t completed my day’s objective.
As if to rub it in, I did get an outstanding view of Klibreck once I returned to the car. I feel snow shoes might be something worth investing in!
By Wednesday I was itching to get back out and this time successfully summit a hill. Looking close to home once more I decided to go for Beinn Leoid, a corbett in far north-western Sutherland, approached via 2 lower Grahams.
Circumstances meant I had a late start onto the hills. It was 1030am when I reached my start point. It was in a narrow valley at the watershed between east and west on the Lairg-Laxford Bridge road and was hidden from the sun, about 100m above sea level and it was still -1.5 with snow on the ground and an icy sheen on the tarmac.
As I set off up-hill, following the route of a stalkers path zigzagging helpfully up the slope, the snow was rock solid and I had to think about whether crampons were required. But soon I burst out of the confines of the glen onto higher open ground in bright sunshine with more deep powder snow. From here I made straight for the summit of Graham number 1, Meall an Fheur Loch.
I reached the summit in about 1 & ½ hours and was greeted with a phenomenal view in all directions. Foinaven, Arkle and Ben Stack out west, Ben Loyal in the north, the full length of Loch Shin in the East and Ben More Assynt in the south. This truly was a winter wonderland!
I could also see Beinn Leoid and it was apparent that in these snow conditions I didn’t stand a chance of reaching it on that day. So I settled for climbing the next Graham, Meallan a’ Chuail. This was an even better hill than the first, with a fine ridge leading to the summit. It was also another physically challenging climb, ploughing up deep snow covering a boulder field.
Again the summit view was outstanding and I hung around a while just savouring it. You could even see Braeriach on the horizon. A golden eagle swooped past about 50m below me. Perfect!
The descent went smoothly enough, and I picked up the stalker’s path back to the road at a small cairn that I’m not sure how I found. The sunset was simply stunning and capped off probably one of my best winter days to date.
On Friday I was headed south. I had a weekend walk planned with my Dad on Saturday and was due to lead a walk with my old Glasgow hillwalking club on the Sunday. But with one last day of cold, clear conditions forecast I had to do a hill en route.
Due to their accessibilty from the A9 I decided to go for the East Drumochter hills. By the time I got down the road it was another late start and it was gone 11am when I was off the A9 and heading up the track. My plan had been to do both Carn na Caim and A’ Bhuidheanach Bheag. However, there was a front due and with my late start and long drive ahead I quickly realised that I should probably settle for one Munro. So Carn na Caim it was.
As I climbed away from the road the views over to the west side of the pass were stunning!
Up on the plateau, the conditions were perfect. Albeit I was still wading through deep powder snow with a tantalising crust that kept giving way beneath me. The sun felt warm. The cloud was rolling in from the north-west but above this the Alder hills looked stunning. And further west the Ben even made a brief appearance!
I followed the fence line as it wound over the undulating country. It wasn’t long before I reached the top to be greeted with a view of the main Cairngorm massif rising above a sea of cloud. I stayed a while just drinking in the views and the enjoying the tranquility. This was the first time all day that I had escaped the continual hum of traffic on the A9.
As I decended I entered the cloud that had spilled over the plateau from the west and by the time I reached the car it felt like a completely different day. Mild and grey. Change was definitely on the way.
The next morning I awoke in the central belt under still under grey skies. I drove with my Dad up to Arrochar and we set off to do Cnoc Coinnich. This is a hill which until this year had been classed as a Graham, but after a re-survey it was found to be 762m high and just squeeks in as a Corbett. This change in classification seemed quite noticable on the hill as it was really very busy. There were atleast a couple of dozen people on the hill. Hardly the crowds you see on the likes of Ben Lomond, but much busier than I think the hill would have been if it was still a Graham. We probably were there for that reason ourselves!
But choosing this hill on that day was a good decision well made. As we left the mess of the commercial forestry by Ardgarten the skies started to clear. From the high point on the Cowal Way we follwed the NW ridge of the hill straight to the summit. There was a keen northerly wind keeping conditions cool, but there was a thaw in full swing and we hardly had to cross any snow to reach the summit. We found a lunch spot tucked away below the summit crags out of the wind and here it felt more like spring. Blue sky now dominated and in the clear air you could see as far as Ben More on Mull.
On the way down we varied the route a little traversing behind the Brack and descending down into the forestry from the Ben Donich-Brack bealach. It was a bit random but it allowed us to stay high a little longer and enjoy more of the views and warm sunshine.
After another night in the central belt I was headed north once again. I met a group of 12 from the hillwalking club at the Victoria Bridge car park near Bridge of Orchy at 9am and we set off for Stob Gabhar.
The forecast was for a clearing day with dropping temperatures. This didn’t seem likely with dull, grey and mild conditions prevailing but we were hopefull! In any case it was nice to be back in the area. After being the hut custodian of the GUMC hut at Clashgour for several years I am very keen on this wild country heading in towards Glen Etive.
We entered the cloud around 800m with only patchy snow cover. My choice of ascent route was the Aonach Eagach ridge. This is bit more of a formidable sounding name than the reality of the ridge itself but it does narrow right down for a short section giving a nice interesting route to the summit.
By the time we were up here, around 1000m, the temperature had dropped noticeably and, as I had thought, the thawing snow of yesterday was now well consolidated and rock-solid. I felt vindicated that I had insisted that everyone carry crampons but there wasn’t the continuous covering to justify putting them on.
My group were all going well and everyone reached the top comfortably. As if to repay our efforts, the cloud cleared as we were eating our lunch giving spectacular views north and west, fog bows and broken spectres. I have no excuse for not getting any good pictures of this. I suppose it was just a combination of how damn cold it was and just wanting to enjoy the moment that kept my camera tucked away in the rucksack.
For a further variation we descended via Sron a’Ghearrain and Clashgour Farm. This made a nice descent route, although there were some very slippy bridges in the icy conditions! The views west to the Etive Munros were phenomenal.
Once we were down and been for a quick coffee in the Bridge of Orchy Hotel it was time to head home once more after a super week of walking in the Scottish Hills. Let’s hope the cold & snowy conditions return soon.