Part 2: Spring Holiday in Achnasheen

Day 4: Slioch

At night we retired to bed with a forecast of overnight snow. I’d suggested we should take a photo from the living room window so that we’d have an idea how much snow had fallen to gauge potential conditions for morning. In the event, it was very apparent there had been a significant dump of snow, the dusting of the tops now increased to a real covering!

Slioch, despite the long walk in, fitted the bill for us as other potential routes had river crossings, never ideal after heavy rain or snow, but especially when temperatures have been good with a fairly quick thaw in recent days.

Parking up we met a couple of men (father and son) and their dog, Bowie. We were all headed the same way so ended up walking quite a bit with them when it became apparent our paces were similar.

The first couple of miles were along a track that didn’t gain any height. I was quite happy with this as it meant an easy walk out later. We soon reached Loch Maree; it looked rather inviting on the return, as did the river that we crossed!

We then began our ascent, heading gradually upwards over some stony, boggy ground. The pull was steady and we finally reached the col where we had a brief reprieve, gentler walking that led us to Coire na Sleaghaich. Continuing on, we headed up to a ridge that enveloped the small lochans.

Slioch, viewed on the ascent

The real challenging climb then began. Ordinarily I don’t think this would have phased me, but the snow was lying in places. It was soft and wet; this meant it was more slippery than we’d have liked. The path was a little eroded and we had to be mindful of the conditions as the path rose quite steeply and, as the snow lay slightly thicker, it was not always clear which way the path meandered next. I was relieved to reach the top of this section, seeing the trig point ahead, but slightly less thrilled at the prospect of returning by the same route.

Heading up to Slioch

From the trig point the true summit cairn can be seen; this was just a short distance away. Having reached this together, we were all in agreement that the best route of descent would be down the gentler slope from the ridge further along. It certainly had appeared easier when viewed on the ascent.

Continuing along the ridge we initially thought there may be snow heading our direction; thankfully it appeared just to be cloud! The ridge, An t-Aon Cheum, was only about half a kilometre in length, but the snow again made it a little more challenging for me. It narrowed, there was a snowy cornice, and also a small rocky outcrop to navigate my way around. Here Bruce’s calming words were appreciated again as I had a bit of a wobble and questioned whether I was able to go any further; bear in mind I wasn’t that enthused about the route down should the decision be made to head back, so my options were limited.

Fortunately for all the ridge opened up again. On this wider section I fell, bashing my finger on a rock. It hurt but I didn’t think much of it until I realised my glove was wet as I was bleeding. Being less than comfortable overall I opted to get up the final pull to Sgurr an Tuill Bhain before seeking first aid in the form of a plaster. The final small ascent had as many rocky patches as it did snow and it was with relief that I reached the top of this peak. First aid administered by the ever patient husband, it was agreed that evacuation by helicopter would not be necessary on this occasion.

Our descent then began, heading across a rocky, snowy ridge. We bore left here, trying to avoid dropping too soon as there appeared to be some steeper ground below and the snow again was making things more slippery due to the lack of substance. It was here that Bruce took an impressive slide.

Descent from Slioch

Our companions took more of a straight down the hillside route, while we veered towards the edge of the ridge, then sweeping around on reacher more gentle terrain. We met once again on the main path, neither route having been any quicker.

The trudge back down the boggy stony path then began; the legs (hello quads) were feeling it by this point, although lacking the tremor of yesterday. Finally reaching Loch Maree again I celebrated by eating a Mars.

Loch Maree on the descent from Slioch

The final couple of miles back from here seemed to take an eternity, the rest of the day having flown past. There seemed to be so many little burns to hop across that I’d not registered on the way out, and by the end I was pretty much plowtering straight through everything!

A quarter of a mile away from the car, suddenly the breeze picked up a little, the sky going from stunningly clear to dark very rapidly. We picked up the pace, clearly seeing a rainstorm moving in ahead, just catching the edge of it as we hot-footed it back into the car park. The heavens then opened as we drove home, temperature rapidly dropping and another sleety snow-shower passing by.

Great timing (almost), and another memorable hill day.

Day 5: Inverness

A day of rain (at road level), sleet and snow on the hills. No walking, day of rest, and a wee wander around the shops.

Top recommendation: Cafe Artysans
A great independent cafe (close to the bus and train stations) with a social enterprise focus; great coffee and very good scones!
http://www.cafeartysans.org.uk/about-us/

Day 6: Mission aborted

Spent the latter part of yesterday swithering as to whether or not we should bomb up Fionn Bhein in the evening. Bands of rain kept moving across so in the end we decided against it, hoping that today would be better.

Sadly, on waking this morning it was snowing, pretty much at sea level, and with heavy snow predicted for much of the day we abandoned the plan of ascending anything. Coverage very quickly progressed from the odd white fleck on the road outside to a fairly thick covering of snow. While it had the potential to be an exciting adventure, there was also a forecast for fog. In combination with the boggy terrain we decided that Fionn Bhein is meant for another day.

Snow in Achnasheen

A quick whizz around saw us packed up and on the road. Stopped off for an impromptu lunch with my Mum and Dad on route home so all things considered not the day we’d planned but not entirely wasted either.

Attempted a run on the Deeside line later. Fail! Managed just short of 10 miles instead of the planned 15 miles. Schedule called for: 2 mile warm up, 2 x 5 miles @ tempo pace with 1 mile recovery, 2 mile cool down. I managed: 2 mile warm up, 4 miles @ tempo pace before my stomach knocked fast running on the head, then a 4 mile shuffle (which on reflection was at easy pace) home. Let’s chalk that one up to experience, call it character building as I ran all the way home (despite my brain calling for me to walk from mile 6), and refocus the energy tomorrow.