The Two Sgurrs and a Wire Bridge

It was with great joy that I set a ridiculously early alarm for today. Seriously, who gets up just after 6 am on holiday? Yet again, we were being ruled by the weather. The forecast suggested the rain would be coming in late afternoon so we were keen to get home dry and hopefully catch a view along the way.

Sleep Envy

Waking early, I felt like I’d barely slept. Having eaten late last night it took me a while to settle. Meanwhile, Bruce had gone out like a light! I did initially ignore the alarm, but thought better of it and got up. Once on the go it wasn’t quite the hardship I’d perceived. Better get used to it as I’m back to work very soon!

Biking on Dead Legs

Setting off from the Achnashellach Forest car park again, we knew the way. However, a number of extra miles in the legs meant that the way felt far from easy! There was a substantial amount of pushing for much of the way out, quads burning with any exertion. We discussed this on the return leg and my feeling is with a long walk ahead you don’t want to tire yourself too much, where on the home leg it’s easier to push through any pain as you know you’re getting to rest later.

We took our time and stopped to admire the views back regularly.

Before long, we’d reached the small cairn that indicated the drop off point for the bikes and the path to the Sgurrs.

The Wire Bridge

The path led us down to the Allt a’Chonais burn with the wire bridge. This consists of two wires – top and bottom – the idea being that you somehow balance yourself as you work your way across. I was very happy that with Bruce’s excellent planning skills we’d postponed this walk until today to allow the waters to calm, as I don’t think there’s any way I’d have successfully crossed the burn. Having a go on the way back just for fun, I got so far before wobbling precariously and calling it a day. Good luck to anyone crossing if the burn is in spate! My advice would be to rig up something in your garden and practise ahead of time!

A Path Uphill

Once safely across with barely more than a toe dipped in, we began to follow a good stalkers path. After the bogs of the last few days this felt amazing! There was very little water lying and we made good time up the track as the condition improved and the path widened, reaching the first bealach quickly.

The path continued up to the second, higher bealach, again in good time. The legs were a little grumbly but in the grand scheme of things, bearing up okay. The beautiful blue skies with little cloud were also positively contributing towards my good feelings about the day.

The Ridge Walk

The ridge from the distance looked good. There was nothing to suggest it was overly exposed and I was happy to see grassy slopes on one side – think rolling rather than bouncing if you slip!

The initial pull up the Streangan nan Aon Pacan-deug ridge, to give it’s proper title, was not too taxing. There were a couple of rockier sections but these were very brief with good foot placements available. The most challenging thing was that every time we appeared to be reaching the top, another bit would appear. The wind had picked up a little and we stopped to put gloves on, feeling a wee bit of a chill.

It felt like we were never going to reach the summit of the first munro, Sgurr Choinnich, although in reality it didn’t take long at all. Bruce was disappointed that the cloud closed in prior to us reaching the summit; me less so, my reasoning being that if you can’t see the drop it doesn’t exist!

Before I knew it, we’d summited and were heading sharply down the other side onto the continuing ridge. At this point I did wish the cloud would clear a little as aside from following the path it would have been good to know where we were going. The descent led us back into the ridge and we then followed the stony path up to the second munro of the day, Sgurr a’ Chaorachain. It wasn’t overly taxing, but again went up and up, then up some more, into the thicker clouds. The wind direction meant that we were sheltered by the hill for much of the time, occasionally getting a blast of chilly air. I decided to put my poles away, concerned I might need my hands free for rocks; in effect, I’d have been better hanging onto them as this challenge never came.

The cairn on Sgurr a’ Chaorachain was mighty impressive with a broken trig point in the middle. It provided us with good shelter to have a snack and a breather before tackling the descent.

Steeply Down

Heading off the summit with the intention of heading north and going downhill across grass for 700 metres, we paused a couple of times to check our bearings. The cloud was thick and having seen crags earlier, the last thing we needed was to find ourselves precariously balanced or worse, walking off anything precipitous!

It was a long way down but we made it safely. Our pace was very similar to going uphill and we debated whether this was a positive or not. I felt it was positive given the terrain we were covering. Ultimately, we got there safely so that’s all that’s important.

Midway down the grassy slope we spotted a herd of deer grazing. They appeared not to notice us for a while, but moved away as we got closer. Unsure where they went, my money’s on them having run uphill by the stream, then watching us from above!

Reaching the flatter ground, we opted to head across towards the good path we’d taken on route up. This involved crossing an extra stream. It was my turn to dip a leg in, not quite managing the hop between stones.

Safely back across the main burn via the stones, we reached the bikes and congratulated ourselves on a job well done.

Biking Out: The Easy Leg

Wow, it felt great to be back on the bike! We motored along, relishing the downhill sections, any uphill short and grinded out in a lower gear. After reaching the gate it was a real fun blast back to the railway crossing, again enjoying the bounce and comfort of my Stumpjumper.

Us 1: Rain 0

Planned to perfection (thanks Bruce, I forgive you for making me get up early), we made it home ahead of the rain. As per the forecast from the Met Office, it pretty much starts bang on time!

A successful day out. Two summits in the bag and a lot of fun!

No Cheesecake for Clare

Yesterday it rained – a lot. It definitely wasn’t a day for going out as not only was it raining, it was also very windy. The result was a day of imposed rest. We managed to do little or nothing for the morning, heading to the local cafe, The Midge Bite, for a coffee early afternoon. Then, to top it all off, we decided to practise for being old by heading for a drive!

The Stag of Beinn Eighe

Bruce was keen to head down to Torridon to show me the dramatic scenery that he’s enjoyed on some trips away. The cloud was coming and going, at times looking like it might clear, so we headed down to the car park for Beinn Eighe. Almost immediately on pulling into the car park, this handsome chap appeared.

He is seemingly a regular feature, mooching what he can from the walkers’ packed lunches. With the inclement weather and having realised he wasn’t getting anything from us, he appeared more inclined to try and shelter behind the car, ducking his head to escape the rain.

Heading back up the road, the sky did clear a little and we were able to get this stunning view back down Glen Docherty.

Lurg Mhor (& Bidein a’Choire Sheasgaich)

This was our longest day, the route guide suggesting 38 km. The plan was to bike in to Bendronaig Bothy, then walk from there.

The Long Ride In

Parking up on the Attadale Estate, initially we travelled along a good road. Sadly the tarmac ceased after a mile or so, but the track continuing onwards was hard packed and pretty even. The gist of it is that we rode, or pushed our bikes, for just over 8 miles. It was a tough slog with some steep climbs, but we knew they’d be fun on the return leg.

Summit on Foot

From the Bothy, which looks pretty amazing, sadly closed at present due to COVID, we continued along the track as it became tougher underfoot. Finally reaching Loch Calavie, we turned off at the signpost. It was very bizarre, a clear sign leading onto a route that lacks any clarity and was extremely boggy.

We ploughed onwards and made decent progress, crossing little burns and a couple of small streams, all the time headed for the bealach between the two munros. Sadly the weather wasn’t entirely in our favour. We’d set off wearing waterproofs, hoping that the mist and drizzle would clear, but we instead experienced heavier drizzle, with occasional dry spells. As soon as it looked likely to clear another band of cloud appeared.

Turning to the right, the path was clear to lead us to the summit of Lurg Mhor. The mist was now hanging in the air, shrouding the summit ahead and preventing any sort of view. It was also a little chilly, both of us putting on our gloves for warmth.

We followed the path, heading upwards, and went steeply up at times. There were a couple of more rocky sections to negotiate, but it became apparent on the descent that there was more than one path and the route could be varied.

The summit cleared as we approached, allowing us to clearly see where we were headed. The crags on the northern edge could be seen and I’m sure on a clear day there would be great views. On reaching the summit there was little shelter so we turned around and headed off, retracing our steps.

Heading down to the bealach, I decided I’d had enough of being in the mist. I was no longer feeling happy outdoors, so announced that I’d be missing out Bidein a’Choire Sheasgaich (aka ‘Cheesecake’) and would meet Bruce back at the bikes. This was a tick box munro with no real pleasure due to the conditions, the route guide described it as having an ‘airy summit’ and for me that’s not rewarding at all.

As soon as I got out of the cloud my mood lifted and I felt happy to be back among brighter skies, the loch below my target. Reaching the Bothy I had intended to relax and wait for Bruce. Sadly, the midges were desperate to disturb this plan so I ended up walking back up the road a bit to gain a little height and a breeze before settling down.

I didn’t have to wait too long before Bruce appeared, very happy with himself for having completed these two remote munros and getting ever closer to his target of finishing the lot!

Blasting Back

The return leg, as we thought, was so much easier! There was a tiny bit of pushing but we soon realised that despite weary legs we could grind out most of the ups. Looking back we got the views, the mist finally having cleared. The two summits could clearly be seen, Lurg Mhor on the right, Bidean on the left.

The steep sections heading down were a little challenging for the brakes at times and I was very glad to be riding my faithful old Stumpjumper, enjoying the bounce of the suspension. What a relief it was to finally reach the car. 25 miles, one very long day!

Achnasheen: Amazing what’s on the doorstep!

After a fair soaking yesterday, I went to put the boots outdoors (having removed the newspaper that had been absorbing the water overnight) to experience two joys of nature.

One, the Scottish midge. Out in force, they were keen to make my acquaintance. They tend not to be bothersome if there’s any sort of breeze. Sadly today, all wind had died!

The second was the deer making their way into the garden. Along the road, up the drive and over the fence they went. They paused to look but continued on their way when finding I meant no harm.

Fionn Bheinn

Staying in an Airbnb in Achnasheen, Fionn Bheinn literally involves going out the gate and turning right. Bruce has previously done this munro, albeit he didn’t get views, so I put my trust in him to lead the way.

The reason we went up here is not because Bruce is ‘banking’ in preparation for his second round of munros, but due to the weather forecast – a little bleak for today. We had, according to our friends at the Met Office, until 1 pm before the light rain would commence, after which it would be on for the day.

Sealskinz Rock!

The path up was boggy from the outset. Bruce mentioned having walked up the clearly visible track on the previous occasion; we decided against crossing the bridge sitting at a very jaunty angle, instead opting to continue along the path. Hindsight is a great thing – it appears we probably should have crossed the bridge. Our boggy path continued up the hill, climbing gradually, then petering out to nothing. I was extremely grateful of Bruce’s suggestion to wear my Sealskinz. These wonderful socks saw my boots get soaked (again) while keeping my feet themselves dry and happy.

On reaching a boggy plateau with lots of lovely peat hags between two hills, we realised we’d veered off course a little. Our target required us to cross the bogs, so we hopped across as best we could, largely managing to stay out of anything too deep. 

Be Who You Want To Be

As we made our ascent, I spotted a small herd of deer. They were standing on the hillside grazing, but on catching a whiff of us or hearing our voices, they stood to attention. The leader then broke into a run, pursued by the rest of the herd. They paused, assessed the situation and saw we were still headed in their direction and ran again.

So, nothing unusual in this. However, what amused me greatly was that they were followed by two sheep. The sheep, mirroring the movements of the deer would pause, then run again as the herd moved. I like to think that although they maybe couldn’t quite hack the pace they’d been accepted as part of the group.

Head for the Trig Point

The clear skies allowed us to see the trig point in the distance. Not having a path to follow, we opted to cross the hillside diagonally, following a line to the summit. This, while providing a direct line of ascent, also put pressure on one leg, so I opted to zig zag a little, heading upwards towards the path that we could see leading down from the top.

Pretty soon we reached the path we’d been targeting from afar, and being on more solid terrain again it was an easy pull to the trig point and the summit. It was well worth the effort. The views were amazing! Bruce, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of hills was able to point out the highlights.

We also spotted a larger herd of deer, around two dozen, grazing on the lower slopes. Sadly, they didn’t have any others in their midst – no sheep, cows, goats or others apparent.

Finding the Path on Descent

One of the frustrations, or pleasures, of hill walking can be finding a good path on the descent having slogged up the hard way. Going down, we knew we wanted to aim for the small dam as this was the top of the track, so took a direct route to get there, picking up a path along the way.

Again, it was very wet and muddy underfoot as we happily squelched along. The bog was visible in all it’s glory and we were happy to have a target in mind for a dry descent thereafter.

Weather Forecasting

The Met Office were pretty much spot on. As we came towards Achnasheen, making good time down the track, we felt the first fine drops of rain. True to forecast, we reached our door just ahead of 1 pm, the proper rain starting pretty much as we crossed the threshold.

A worthwhile outing, I’m now just keeping everything crossed that the Met Office have got it wrong for the next couple of days as they’re not looking the best!

Maoile Lunndaidh: A Hard Earned Munro!

Look out for passing trains!

One of the more remote munros in the Glen Carron area, Maoile Lunndaidh required a bike in to make life a little easier. Best laid plans, we parked up at the Forestry Commission car park at Craig before crossing the road and then the railway line. It never ceases to amaze me when in rural Scotland how you can just cross the railway line with nothing more than a sign reminding you to look out and listen for trains!

Biking in

Safely across, we then followed a good track for our ‘bike in’. This was 5.4 miles in total and required a fair amount of pushing, my legs not being that used to being on the bike, especially with the added weight of a rucksack on my back, hiking boots, and flat pedals rather than SPDs.

Despite the walk breaks, we managed to reach the forestry plantation where we’d leave our bikes within the hour, this confirming it was quicker than walking all the way in. We stopped to chat to a family who were heading for some neighbouring munros, subject to the dogs getting across the river. I told them about Munro Moonwalker’s exploits with his friend’s dog, Scoop, and left them to ponder this further. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about you’ll need to read the book!

Going up: steeply!

Our route guide had suggested a steep, pathless climb, but I’m not sure either of us fully appreciated what lay ahead. Thanks to the earlier rain leading us to set off late morning, the ground was rather boggy, and we plowtered through the mud, squelching as we went.

Having crossed the An Crom-allt, the real ‘fun’ began. The route guide suggested heading straight up over the heather, the gradient easing around 800 metres. This meant climbing around 400 metres. To add insult to injury, part way up the climb the heavens opened and the rain came on. Fantastic! A nice chilly downpour just to complete the experience. Thankfully it was relatively short-lived!

The ascent was very steep and I was less than comfortable, conscious that although grassy it was a long way down if I slipped. There was little choice but to keep slogging on, gaining height bit by bit. When Bruce finally stated that we had reached 770 metres, I burst into tears! Thankfully he missed this as he’d have had no idea what was ado with me, not sharing my trepidation of height. It’s irrational, I know!

Maoile Lunndaidh: the summit ridge

Approaching the ridge, having dried out nicely in the wind, another rain shower approached. A quick decision was made not to don the waterproofs as the previous one had passed over without too much discomfort. This was a big mistake! The spots of rain very quickly turned to hail, blasting us from the side and stinging greatly as they pelted our legs and faces. The shower also lasted a little longer, long enough to ensure that the trousers were completely soaked through and my feet also suitably squelchy!

With no great desire to linger, we crossed the summit ridge, passing the cairns, and pausing only for photographs of the surrounding area. I didn’t even bother looking into the coire, mainly due to the strong gusting wind, afraid I might end up in it if I stepped too close, instead allowing Bruce to be my eyes with his camera.

I’d started to chill following the soaking, so stopped to put on a cosy layer under my jacket, swapping wet gloves for dry, and adding my Tuffbags to keep me really cosy. We managed to dry out in the gusting wind, so waterproof trousers were added for extra insulation too. One thing that did so well today was my new jacket, a Mountain Hardwear bargain from Wiggle. I was very happy with the way it performed in the rain.

Going down: boggy underfoot

Heading off the ridge, we followed a slight path to begin. It was unclear and disappeared at times, leaving us following the Garmin route and our noses to get back to the plantation.

As it transpired, we took our own route, heading more directly towards Glenuaig Lodge and Bothy than we should have. This incurred an extra couple of water crossings, one where we created our own stepping stones to avoid getting too wet as the water was flowing well, another where Bruce decided to lie down (ok, he slipped); there’s a reason why he’s made to go first!

Snack Stop at Glenuaig Bothy

This Bothy is tiny! It may be like a tardis inside, but from the outside it appears like a wee shed! Not one to bank on having space if ever in these parts.

We stopped outside briefly to get rid of the waterproofs before the bike out, and have a quick energy boost. A Mars always tastes so much better outdoors.

A short walk back to the plantation and we reached the bikes. Bruce rode off enthusiastically, leaving me in his wake. My legs took a wee bit of time to warm up, less than impressed with any effort requiring me to stand and pedal, so I got off and walked up the first tiny incline.

Thankfully they eased back into it and despite riding into the headwind it became easier as we went on. Seeing the average mph on my watch and knowing that I was faster on the bike than walking gave me the momentum required.

Typically though, yet another shower appeared. We had just reached some conifer trees so stopped to allow the worst of it to pass, the wind strengthening as the rain blew through. Moving again as it eased off it was hard to determine whether I was getting wet by spray off the trail or rain from above.

It was with great delight that we reached the level crossing once again, signalling our return leg complete. If I’m honest, this is not a munro I’d rush to do again. It was hard won, definitely Type 2 fun, and a tough day out!

Visiting Old Friends: The Glas Maol Munros

Neither of us can quite remember when we last did this circuit, our guess being around 2012. We’ve since done Carn an Tuirc individually, but not the whole round. Today, being yet another forecast of clear skies and sunshine, seemed the perfect opportunity!

Glenshee

Parking in the big car park by Glenshee, sadly the cafe remaining closed, we set off around midday, later than usual; however, I am on holiday and the forecast looked like the afternoon into evening was set to be the best part of the day.

The initial warm up involved walking along the roadside verge to head back downhill to the parking area at Carn an Tuirc. We had to do this at either end of the day, so figured the start would be the best option. It’s always a little soul destroying finishing a hill day with a slog along the road.

Walking from Glen Shee with Carn an Tuirc in view

Carn an Tuirc

I’d forgotten what a boggy mess parts of this path are. Wearing my old comfy boots seemed a good idea on a dry day. However, as we made our way up the path and hit the boggy section I began to question my judgement. Nothing too serious though and the feet stayed dry so all was well.

The path up is pretty clear, becoming steeper as you progress. Towards the upper section the option of going straight up or veering right and then taking an easier stroll up the ridge was offered. My legs ruled and opted for easy. Hindsight is a great thing. I’m not convinced this was the best option as we ended up crossing stones and boulders to reach the summit.

Summit of Carn an Tuirc

However, we made it safely and found that the shelter cairn was large enough to accommodate physical distancing while sharing with fellow walkers. The first lunch of the day was consumed.

Cairn of Claise

Leaving Carn an Tuirc, the next munro was visible in the distance, across a grassy plateau. There was no significant change in altitude, making for an easy ‘bag’ of completing the circuit for the first time.

We barely paused for breath here, such was the ease of passing from one to the other.

Cairn of Claise

Glas Maol

Again, the terrain was grassy and easy allowing good pace between the second and third munros of the day.

Walking between Cairn of Claise and Glas Maol

A second lunch was enjoyed on Glas Maol, taking in the fine views ahead, Creag Leacach looking large and impressive on the horizon (despite being the smallest of the four munros on the circuit).

Creag Leacach

The final stop of the day looked a little intimidating until getting up close. The path between Glas Maol and Creag Leacach followed a dyke, passing a cairn at Bathach Beag that indicated our descent route for the return.

Drystone dyke leading to Creag Leacach

We veered away from the dyke slightly, crossing stony, bouldery ground. On the way back we chose to stay closer to it and found the path easier. The hill proved much less intimidating up close, instead appearing like the easy walk it is, and we quickly found our way to the summit cairn, meeting again the folks we’d met on the first munro of the day.

Summit cairn on Creag Leacach

Returning today we were able to retrace our steps before descending from the cairn at Bathach Beag to skirt around Glas Maol. Previously when we did this route there was snow so we had to take an alternative route which led to a long slog back up the road.

Today though, we initially retraced our steps taking the line along the dyke.

Leaving Creag Leacach behind on the Glas Maol circuit

We then followed a narrow single track path along the side of Glas Maol, finally leading us onto the Meall Ohdar ridge and down into the ski area where we encountered the ski tows and slowly zig zagged and traversed the ski area until we descended back to the car park. The final descent reminded me of coming off Cairngorm some years ago where I slipped on the grit, landed on my bum and sat on my walking pole, bending it out of shape! I was therefore glad to come off the path onto the grassy side and arrive at the car with poles intact!

Although not necessarily the most scenic of munros, on a gorgeous day they gave us what we needed.

 

 

 

Ben Hope: Type 1 Fun

At the Dundee Mountain Film Festival last year I was introduced to the concept of Type 1 and Type 2 fun by one of the speakers. Type 1 fun is joyous throughout the experience, type 2 fun is tough at the time but fun retrospectively. Today was a perfect hill day: the sun was shining, the skies were clear and most importantly, the views were amazing, hence Type 1 fun all the way!

Setting off after a great night in Alness – we stayed at Tullochard Guest House with great hosts, Ali and David, who well and truly make you feel at home – we headed further north to Altnaharra, and then on to Ben Hope, our target for the day.

Ben Hope signposted from the car park

The route guide suggesting 5 hours walking for 7.5 km, I was concerned that this was going to be a steep, hard slog. In the event, although it was a fairly steep pull, there was a good, rocky path and limited boggy areas. There was some water on the path in places so there’s definitely potential for a mud fest on a wet day!

A stunning waterfall flowed alongside the path after the initial pull up, the path then getting a little muddier as it ascended, unfortunately leading to multiple tracks and increasing erosion.

Waterfall on Ben Hope

The wind began to pick up – the forecast had suggested gusts of up to 50 mph on the top – but the temperature was high, 19.5 celsius at the car park! The wind, although strong, didn’t create any real issues and the warmth of the sun was wonderful! We sheltered behind a large rock for a snack thinking this might be the last respite before the descent.

The path was much clearer by this point and made for easy going. The bouldery path was clear and, despite the wind picking up again, the views were stunning. It was amazing to have such clear skies and beautiful views on a September day. We truly have been blessed with the weather this weekend! We met a few folks on their way back down and exchanged pleasantries as we went. I love hearing stories and chatting on the hills.

Ben Hope ascent

Continuing onwards, it wasn’t long before we saw the trig point, heralding our arrival at the summit.

Ben Hope trig point

Immediately behind it there was a large windshelter cairn and this provided the perfect spot for another break. We were joined by a couple of ladies and their kids, a cosy gathering. I love chatting with children, they’re always a breath of fresh air!

Retracing our steps to descend, I’m not sure if the wind had picked up or if it was just that we were heading into it, but it certainly felt stronger. The descent was quicker though with lots of people to chat to and, of course, continued stunning views.

Ben Hope descent

A truly fantastic hill day! A long way to travel, but well worth it! Most definitely a hill I’d do again! Who’s up for it?

Am Faochagach: Stunning views, boggy paths!

Reported to be boggy, we were prepared with gaiters and our festival wellies for the river crossing. Thinking it’s been relatively dry and with no rain on the horizon we diverted to Am Faochagach on our way to the northerly munros.

We were both a little stunned when we crossed the road to find the bog started immediately across the stile. If this is what it’s like in dryish conditions I dread to think how deep you’d sink in the wet!

Through the initial bog poles came in handy, testing the ground before making the leap of faith across to the next grassy bit. The faint path continued in this vein, marshy and unpleasant. It made for hard going.

Continuing on we reached the river crossing at Abhainn a’Ghrabainn. This is what we bought the Feetz festival wellies for! They’ve been carried on a few outings and not yet been on, but today they were just the ticket. The rocks were far enough apart and the crossing wide enough to be intimidating. The water was also flowing pretty quickly although it was fairly low. Bruce opted for rock hopping – until the ‘plop’ signifying that he’d slipped, thankfully only getting wet up to his knee. I got partway across before retracing my steps and heading further upstream. Walking poles were pulled in the current but gave me a chance to stable myself as I gauged the next foot placement. I was highly delighted to reach the other side dry, albeit with slightly shaky legs.

Onwards the path continued to be boggy and hard going, drying out and becoming better higher up. We finally reached the ridge and the ground levelled out giving blessed relief.

Plateau of Am Faochagach

From here it wasn’t too much further to the summit and the final pull up was gentle. There were two cairns, very close together, and amazing views all around. With such beautiful, clear skies, the slog up was most definitely worth it. Views to the Fannichs, An Teallach, Beinn Dearg, Seana Bhraigh, Suilven and even the top of Stac Pollaidh. Had it been a driech, cloudy day it would have been downright miserable!

Heading back the way we’d come we retraced our steps, experiencing the joy all over again. I ‘enjoyed’ a slip on the mud, landing on my bum, and made it across the river by crossing at the cairns.

Abhainn a'Ghrabainn crossing on the way back from Am  Faochagach

The finale was one leg going down a water filled hole in the bog, causing me to fall over and get one foot completely soaked through. Just as well we were virtually back at the car.

A quick trip down to the river at the parking area saw the boots and gaiters washed off, ready to face another day.

Bla Bheinn: an introduction to the Skye munros

I’ve always maintained that I’m not ‘bagging’ munros, one of the reasons being that some are just too scary looking. I’m not a fan of big exposure and I know what I like (and more importantly what’s just pushing the comfort zone too far). Meanwhile, Bruce very much enjoys a bit of ‘air’ on the hills, hence him heading out alone (or with people other than me) at times.

Being near Skye, I was assured that Bla Bheinn was doable for me, being the one Skye munro that’s known for walking rather than climbing. It’s not part of the main Cuillin ridge, but on a good day affords spectacular views of the Black Cuillin, and would give me some idea of what Bruce had experienced during his Skye trips this year and last. Finally, Bla Bheinn would also allow Bruce to complete the Skye munros, this being the only one he hadn’t yet done.

Arriving on Skye, it wasn’t long before we caught our first glimpse of a mountain. This striking, if a little intimidating, sight transpired to be Bla Bheinn!

The day was as close to perfect as it gets – very little wind and clear, blue skies. Work is currently being done to improve the car park; despite this we were able to park easily. The midges were out but seemed pretty relaxed; they must have had a hearty breakfast as they were not in any great hurry to eat us!

The walk began just a few metres above sea level and very gently climbed through the moor. An impressive gorge dropped off on our left, silver birches growing on the steep slopes and protecting us from what was quite possibly the most hazardous drop of the day.

Continuing on we crossed a couple of small streams with ease, boulder hopping across, before climbing up Coire Uaigneich. This path is good and well maintained by The John Muir Trust. We were gaining height but still had a long way up to go. A wee shower of rain passed over. Waterproofs contemplated, we decided on jackets only as it was warm enough for the trousers to dry out.

Reaching the choire, we turned and began ascending the less distinctive path, following the zig zags through scree as we climbed higher. I can’t quite recall at what point we had a tricky scree section as we appeared to miss it on the way down, but I do recall questioning my will to continue as it felt really tough and my legs went a little jelly-like.

Higher still, there were paths going in many different directions and it was tricky choosing the right line. We ascended a scree chute before scrambling up some rocks, while others nearby chose an alternative (and easier) looking route.

Ascent of Bla Bheinn

The actual scramble, described in the route guide, was indeed easy. We saw people ahead appearing to be struggling to ascend a rocky area so opted to veer left on the advice of another party, and this did indeed prove a simpler scramble up the rocks. By this point we’d done virtually all of the ascent and it was only a short distance to the summit.

Before the final ascent of Bla Bheinn with Marsco peeping through

The summit was surprisingly busy, with a family of four, and the six others we’d played tig and tag with on route up. The views over to the Black Cuillin were spectacular and it was great to see the mountains that Bruce had previously enthused about. Part of the ridge was engulfed in cloud and as it blew over other parts cleared.

Time passed, the cloud grew thicker and darker, and it became very apparent that a heavy rain shower was heading our way. Consideration was given to waiting it out on the summit but we decided instead to head off and possibly shelter further down. The last thing we wanted was to be midway through the scree when it got heavy. As it transpired, although the rain came it was very fleeting and appeared to have moved along the top, largely missing us.

The descent proved far easier than the ascent. Tricky sections were negotiated by having more points of contact – in other words, using my bum! Heading down as part of a larger group may also have helped, easy chat flowing among us all, distracting from the task in hand.

Good path further down on Bla Bheinn

We managed to avoid the scree section that scared me previously – no idea why we couldn’t do that on the way up – and before long we were back on the good lower path, then enjoying the fine walk back, which is when I realised how steep the drop into the gorge was! Stunning views along the return leg.

Overall, a great day out for my 150th munro, and a delight to share in Bruce’s completion of the Skye munros. Chapeau!

Seana Bhraigh: A Long Day

Leaving Ullapool we opted to head for Seana Bhraigh, the munro we could have added on yesterday but didn’t due to the inclement weather. Having now done it I’m still undecided if I would have enjoyed it yesterday. It was quite a lengthy walk, although didn’t look that much of a leap from Eididh nan Clach Geala.

Starting out at the same car park we followed the good fire road for a time before branching off. While the track remained good, it did climb quite steeply to begin with, and I was glad of Bruce’s company on reaching the deer fence as I couldn’t get the gate open. I really wouldn’t have wanted to climb over it!

Continuing to climb, coming out of the trees the views opened up and with beautiful clear skies they truly were stunning. As the path flattened it also became a little boggier, although even crossing the peat hags we were fortunate in not getting too clarted in muck, and conditions underfoot were better than we’d expected.

Further on, crossing the Allt Gleann a’Mhadaidh was easy with stones to hop across. Even I wasn’t phased by it! As we progressed we could see yesterday’s hill and the views in all directions were stunning. An Teallach looked particularly impressive and we could see Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor Suilven and Canisp.

Passing the lochans we headed towards the gully. This took us quite steeply down the side of a stream, the path ahead for Seana Bhraigh tantalisingly visible, but frustratingly far with regard to distance still to cover. This area was quite marshy and had the potential to be boggy and a directional challenge if not walking on such a fine day. Debating the best route, we found our middle ground and were soon on the final ascent.

This proved to be the most challenging part of the day. The ground was very wet and boggy and we had to diagonally traverse the hillside in order to gain the summit. There are two cairns, the first being the lowest, so we skirted around this and headed for the main summit. The final pull was blessedly short and we managed to reach the top ahead of the rain that we could see moving in towards us, drinking in the lovely views before donning the waterproofs for the descent.

At this point, Bruce suggested this may be the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. However, although we did have the jackets on and off a few times, we did also get a couple of brief, but heavy showers and a short spell of more persistent rain before the skies cleared again. An Teallach provided our weather forecast – when it was in cloud or with rain visible we knew it wouldn’t be long before it reached us.

Gate of Ca’-derg

The return route was simple, retracing our steps for the most part. It was a long walk back (as it was a long walk out) but we made decent time overall, finally reaching the car just after 8 hours from leaving, 17.5 miles in our legs! Mission accomplished. How glad was I to get to sit in the car!

Unfinished business in Ullapool: Eididh nan Clach Geala

Search the walkhighlands website for this munro and you’ll find it as part of the Beinn Dearg circuit. Most commonly done as part of this, it’s the fourth munro of the round, and for us, the one we missed back in 2012. It was Super Saturday of the Olympics, we were novices with regards to this hill walking malarkey, time was knocking on and the route guide suggested care would be required on the descent. With tired legs we decided to leave it, maybe for another time, not realising the magnitude of this decision down the line with one single red pin on the munro map taunting Bruce and meaning a frustratingly long walk for what could have been an extra hour’s walking then.

The original plan for today was to tag on an additional munro, Seana Bhraigh. However, a substantial amount of rain had fallen overnight and navigation looked tricky combining these two routes, so we opted to play it safe.

Waterproofs on, we headed off on a good path, optimistic that the skies were clearing and we’d be in for a fine day. The initial part of the walk was on a good fire road and quick time was made. Although we weren’t gaining a lot in height, we were warming up pretty nicely and before long we stopped to strip off the waterproofs as the rain appeared to have stopped.

Our path continued onto a smaller track, again pretty good, although it started to get wetter underfoot as we headed gradually upwards meeting the earlier rainfall outing off the hill. Unfortunately we also met another shower of rain, and having progressively moved from a light spot to something more persistent, the waterproofs went back on again. Despite this, we concluded our day wasn’t going quite so badly as this poor chap …

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Turning off we had our low point of the day. The Garmin was jumping around, one moment suggesting forwards, the next back, and regular navigation checks were required, all the while the rain getting frustratingly heavier. On the upside we were gaining height gradually and although the single track path was even wetter underfoot and a little stonier all was well.

Branching off to ascend a grassy slope we anticipated the big climb of the day. This turned out to be easy and took us onto the wide shoulder of the hill. Crossing the grass and boulders we found our way to the first cairn. The mist was thick and visibility was restricted so a navigational check was required to ascertain that the true summit cairn was a short walk away.

Summit cairn: Eididh nan Clach Geala

Reaching the true summit we didn’t linger as the weather was pretty horrible still. Misty, drizzly and my hands getting sore from the wind chill, I stopped to put on gloves, nearly requiring assistance as I realised my fingers were no longer functioning properly. This was rectified pretty much instantly, much to my relief and comfort.

Retracing our steps we made good time, stopping for a sandwich. This tasted so much better than it would have done indoors! Not far off the summit the mist finally cleared, albeit briefly at first, allowing us glimpses of the beautiful views we’d otherwise have missed.

Although dry by now the waterproofs stayed on as not nearly as much heat is generated on the descent. It was with great joy that we finally reached the fire road again, safe in the knowledge that we only had a couple of miles left.

A long day – 12 miles and around 6 hours. The question remains, had we known 7 years ago what we know now, would we have changed anything?