Mayar and Driesh were the planned hills for today. However, changeable forecasts and the prospect of prolonged heavy rain put paid to this plan. The decision was made to head for Braemar instead, and Carn an Tuirc seemed like a good bet. We’ve done it before, although not during Bruce’s 50 in 150 challenge. It’s short – an easy up and down – and would give the one munro necessary to round things off. It didn’t have to be today, there are still 22 days left, but once the seed is planted there’s no changing his mind.
Parking up, the waterproofs went on straight away. With warm temperatures this made for a rather unpleasant ‘boil in the bag’ feel as we progressed up the hill.
Pit zips opened, trousers vented, drizzle turning to rain; pit zips closed, trouser vents closed. Repeat – and again. You get the picture!
The small track, a little muddy and peaty in bits, took us all the way up to the stony top with relative ease. Rain came on properly as we neared the summit, the mist closed in a little, and as I made Bruce go under my sticks we spotted another couple in the windshelter! Sitting chatting, I became aware that they were all slightly sheltered from the rain while I was getting soaked! Meh!
Returning from the summit, we headed back the way we’d come, in theory at least. Initially we did appear to be on the same path. However, as we progressed we realised it was different, for the better, so we stuck with it. Before long the mist cleared and we could see the road and car parking area.
Continuing to descend we made our way back towards the stream, finding the ascent path. The heavy shower that was forecast arrived and was blessedly fleeting!
Back at the car we had a quick change of footwear before heading to The Bothy for our usual stop. At this point we realised that the rain appeared to have perhaps just touched us as the road back to Braemar was soaked. Result!
Having checked out the weather forecast for the weekend we were left with no alternative. Alarm set for 5 am, it was a ridiculously early start (all the more so for those of us on holiday!) in order to head for Spean Bridge.
These have been on Bruce’s radar for a few years now, but have always escaped his clutches due to bad weather. Not today though. The very warm weather followed us west and it was near 20C when we left the car. Way too hot for my liking! Suncream clarted on, sunhat and full sleeves/long trousers, I was a’ the bash!
First up, a good track took us to meet the wee minister, a carved wooden statue that watches over the glen. He was somewhat larger than anticipated, not really that wee!
This good track continued climbing very gradually allowing us to gain a few hundred metres in height. Reaching the Lairg Leacach Bothy, we stopped for a sandwich, only realising at this point how long it had already been since breakfast.
Onwards, the wide stream was easily crossed thanks to the spate of recent dry weather. We even had a few sheep pick their way over the stones ahead of us to show the best route. A small cairn then marked the track off up the hill and footprints could be found in the grass to indicate the pull up the side.
This faint path swept round to the shoulder, a good path then pulling us along the ridge and up onto the summit of Stob Ban. This final ascent was steep, but the zig zagging path meant there was nothing too taxing involved. Always good on the first summit of the day!
Continuing on, we had to descend via a steep scree slope. Oh, how I love scree! I debated in my head whether I have more affinity towards scree or scrambling; the decision has not yet been reached. Maybe scrambling is preferable?!
The flatter bealach was fairly easily reached as there wasn’t too much drop overall. This was good as it obviously meant not too much ascent to reach our second summit, Stob Coire Claurigh. There was a good path up this so we made decent progress and before long had reached the top with stunning views along the ridge.
Although it had been a little windy at times, we’d managed to dip in and out of it with the odd bit of shelter as we’d progressed. However, as the ridge opened up the wind also appeared to pick up. We were increasingly buffeted, more so as we moved along, and it was at this time that Bruce’s Buff cap blew away! How very frustrating, particularly given that it was it’s first outing! To make matters worse, it didn’t just blow away, it soared upwards, tantalisingly floating around for some time before coming to rest somewhere down the rocky slope, far out of our reach.
The ridge took in three further tops before reaching Stob Coire an Laoigh. Due to the wind we weren’t greatly inclined to linger. I was, by this point, getting a little fed up of being blasted and the ridge, although not exceptionally steep at the sites, was enough to make me uncomfortable in these conditions. Reaching the top of Stob Coire Easain I therefore decided to sit the next one out – quite literally.
While Bruce continued on to Sgurr Choinnich Mor, I sat in a sheltered position behind the cairn. It was amazing how even in the mild temperatures I cooled quickly, and before too long I had both jacket and gloves on while seeing Bruce finally reach the shoulder ridge on his ascent. It took around 90 minutes for him to return and I was glad to see him reappear, particularly as my Raynauds had kicked in and my fingers were cold and painful, despite the rest of me feeling okay.
I very quickly warmed up again on moving and we followed a path across a minor peak, Beinn na Socaich, before descending via a grassy slope with vague hints of footprints here and there. The stream at the bottom was easily crossed, again thanks to the recent dry conditions, and it was then the long slog back to the car, fortunately on good fire roads which made it less arduous.
Finishing our day, reflecting as we walked, I was happy with my lot – again quite happy to miss a peak as I’m not ‘bagging’ so don’t really care about the numbers – while Bruce was delighted; as they’ve been on his radar for a few years and now they’ve finally been done!
The day got off to a mixed start. Frustratingly, having bolted down breakfast to get the early (8 am) train, it was approximately half an hour late. On the upside, we hadn’t realised we needed to book seats (it was the Caledonian Sleeper) but were advised we were in luck – seats were available – and we enjoyed a very comfortable start to the day!
Getting off the train, we got chatting to a couple of ladies who’d come all the way up on the sleeper. They were staying for a couple of days, minus their friend / navigator. More on that later …
Having parted ways with the others from the train, we began our walk on an excellent path towards Loch Ossian and the Youth Hostel. What a stunning location for a hostel! I would love to go back and stay there sometime.
As we proceeded, the track it split and we took the higher path. Having already started around 400 m, this allowed us to make good progress.
Further up, we passed Peter’s stone, a memorial to Peter Trowell who died in 1979 at 29 years old. He was working at the youth hostel alone over winter and his body was sadly found frozen in the loch after several weeks missing, the thinking being that he tragically fell in whilst working.
Turning uphill here we followed the hill with little visible path at times. At other points there was a clearer path which made for steady walking. Despite yesterday’s heavy rain, although boggy, it could have been worse underfoot. As we gained height, we’d climbed into the mist and low cloud, so waterproofs were donned.
We reached Meall na Letire Duibhe with relative ease, then following the broad ridge around to Carn Dearg, marked with an impressively large cairn. Despite it’s size we were very close before seeing it as visibility was variable, thick mist with cloud coming and going. We didn’t stop for any time as we were getting slightly damp.
Continuing on we found the path that led us down to the Mam Ban, and as we progressed the path became very clear and easy to follow. As the descent to the bealach was not significant we concluded we should head back this way as the alternative was said to be very boggy, and given conditions we had no prospect of views. The summit cairn of Sgor Ghaibre was far smaller and again was enshrouded in mist, so we only paused briefly before, in theory, retracing our steps.
Initially it appeared that we were on the right path heading back towards Carn Dearg. However, somewhere along the way we lost the good path that we’d been on; the path split so we must have gone in the wrong direction. We’re none the wiser on reflection. Thankfully Bruce realised and with a combination of coordinates from the Garmin and basic map and compass skills, we established the direction we required to proceed in order to achieve the summit again.
Further down we had similar issues, again veering off course and requiring the map and compass to point us in the right direction. In the end we headed directly for Peter’s stone, the mist having cleared in order to see the loch below and give confirmation of our route. We were two very happy walkers on reaching the good track again!
Along this track we met a few people and stopped to chat, before going to the cafe at Corrour Station. A thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours was spent here, refreshing ourselves after the walk. We got chatting to others, including Alan, the knight in shining armour who’d come to the rescue of two damsels in distress (pretty much fresh from the sleeper train), struggling to navigate in the mist on Beinn na Lap. The ladies appeared shortly after and were delighted to receive a lesson on map and compass skills courtesy of Bruce. We all get a bit rusty if not using these skills regularly so it’s important to practise as we found out today!
As the time for the train approached, the cafe emptied, all bar the two ladies returning in the same direction as us. We were all cheerily waved off as we began the return leg of the journey to Tyndrum. A great day out, and a memorable one to boot.
Sitting in the Glencoe Cafe mid-morning it was hard to conceive that the torrential rain would stop within the next hour or two. However, stop it did, or at least lighten, thus we found ourselves travelling along the road to begin the ascent of our final munro, Sgor na h-Ulaidh.
The most treacherous part of the day was the initial walk from the car park across the bridge and along the road for a few metres. The traffic is pretty fast – it is the main road after all – and it’s not pleasant crossing a bridge with a barely there pavement as the road narrows!
Safe and well, we began our ascent, again from low level, starting out on a very good track. This continued for a couple of miles, climbing very gradually, before we branched off and headed straight up the hill. Views back across the road were great, cloud clearing nicely.
This was tough! With over 500 m of ascent, my calves felt like they may explode! Lungs were fine, but definitely a leg buster. Although dry, sadly this also meant heading up into the mist.
On reaching the bealach, the terrain eased momentarily before climbing again, over the top of Stob an Fhuarain. The path here was clear, fortunate as the ground was wet, and there was too much potentially slippery rock for my liking. Crossing this, we dropped again before gaining height once more, this time to the summit of Sgor na h-Ulaidh. There were scary looking crags here so care was needed to ensure we did not stray off the path from the summit. Another walker, on approaching, did stumble, thankfully managing to right himself! It would have ruined my lunch had he disappeared!!
Retracing our steps, we took our time on the descent, careful of the potential for slipping on wet rock.
Knowing the route made light work and before we knew it we were back on the scree ahead of the main descent down by the stream. At this point we met a hill runner – walking, as it wasn’t quite what he’d hoped for in terms of ground – and we enjoyed a good chat with him before parting ways when the ground became more gradual in descent.
All that was left then was the trek back to the main trail. The lower section was a bit wet and stony which made it slow going; it was a relief to finally reach the main track, the home straight. Typically, the mist cleared at this point giving a view of what we might have seen has we held out for another couple of hours.
Holidays done, all the munros planned for the week achieved, two very happy walkers!
The drive out Glen Lyon seemed to take forever, all the more so being caught behind a bus! Parking up just ahead of the dam, we donned our boots and began a gentle walk to the cairn that indicates the turn off for Stuchd an Lochain. This took us gently across the hillside before beginning to climb.
The climb was comfortable. Despite not having been on the hills much the legs felt okay. Husband meanwhile has done lots of hills over the last few weeks and climbed in the style of a mountain goat, effortlessly!
The path was fairly steep but good, and before too long we reached the broad ridge that would take us along to the summit of the first munro of the holiday, Stuchd an Lochain. This was indicated by a couple of cairns along the way and we made good time despite the small drop to the bealach on the way. We got chatting to another walker and this also passed the time. Lots of friendly people on the hill today.
The thrill of the day came while chatting: an eagle soared overhead! It was one of those wonderful moments that you’re glad to be in the company of others to have confirmation of what you’re seeing. It was shortly pursued by some other, much smaller birds, and the walker we were chatting to suggested they must be nesting nearby and trying to see it off.
Reaching the summit we were rewarded with great views of the surrounding hills. Even Ben Nevis looked to be considering peeking it’s head out of the clouds.
Having enjoyed lunch at the summit cairn there was nothing further to do aside from retrace our route back down.
As always, this was quicker than the up and before long we were back at the car. Holidays begun, next stop, Tyndrum.
Day 2: Ben Starav, Beinn nan Aighenan & Glas Bheinn Mhor
There’s always one long day on the holiday and the fantastic forecast deemed it to be today! We decided to do a ‘two’ and add on an extra munro that essentially followed the same route up, adding extra time today but saving a long day somewhere down the line should anyone wish to complete the munros.
The first munro of the day was Ben Starav. It was also the highest at 1078 metres and there was the added joy of starting pretty much at sea level. On the upside, the boggy ground described in the walk guide was fortuitously dry for the most part. The ascent was long and steady, taking quite some time to complete.
The summit looked somewhat intimidating on the approach. As we neared it, the terrain became a little stonier and there were some more exposed areas. For the most part though there was a clear path. I kept my focus on the ground immediately in front of me, avoiding looking down. I was quite delighted when we reached the cairn!
Leaving the summit to head down to the bealach, the ridge narrowed and made for an interesting traverse. For the most part it was manageable; there was only one scrambly section where Bruce required to talk me through the steps required to ensure I didn’t have too much of a wobble! Before long we were heading down towards the intersection of paths that would lead us to Beinn nan Aighenan, later retracing our steps for Glas Bheinn Mhor.
Beinn nan Aighenan looked like an easy walk, aside from the additional distance and time, and this proved to be the case. It was great fun on the descent with just enough interest and choice of route without any real danger involved.
Despite adding an extra two and a half hours to our day, we were both glad we’d made the detour for this one.
From the bealach, we began the long pull up Glas Bheinn Mhor. This was a fairly easy ascent and our legs felt remarkably good. The ridge was wide and the path was good.
Reaching the final summit of the day, we were quite elated; little did we know what a hard slog lay ahead!
From here we had to descend all the way back to just above sea level. The initial couple of hundred metres was fun, with good path and dry underfoot conditions. Sadly conditions deteriorated, ground became boggier as we descended, and stones and boulders on the path made for pretty slow going. We were both pretty scunnered!
Finally we reached a point to cross the stream which allowed us to join the better path we’d followed on the way up. Arriving at the car we were as delighted to see it as the midges were to see us!!! So much so that they even joined us in the car!
A tough day, but a great day: 10 hours, 14 miles, 3 munros & 5700 feet of ascent, and a milestone … 232 munros for Bruce, leaving only 50 to go!
It feels like a long time since we’ve been in the hills and December has been a long month so far. Despite my best intentions to be active, the dark nights and life in general have conspired against me; a general feeling of malaise and a lack of motivation to get out at all. Thankfully, with the holidays now upon us I had a newfound desire to get out and was delighted to be met with a good forecast for the weekend.
After a little deliberation thanks to Bruce’s planning with various options of offer, but primarily due to the car parking area being full, we made the decision to park a few hundred metres further along and head up An Socach. I had a desire to get up high, and Loch Callater just didn’t hold the same appeal today. We were also in agreement that it’s a better option when the loch is frozen and it’s not cold enough for that as yet.
It did amuse me somewhat that Bruce made mention of the extra walk (all 300 metres of it, making a 600 metre addition in total). I sometimes think similar thoughts when parking in order to go for a run or walk; bizarre given the total distance you’d cover without thinking about it in order to achieve the planned route itself. Anyway, along the road we set, and within a very short time were on the correct route, a good track that leads to the path for ascending the munro.
The first obstacle in our path was a small stream crossing. This shouldn’t have presented any difficulty with a few small rocks and boulders paving the way, but on my crossing I managed to slip on one of the stones, thankfully only dipping my toes in and not getting wet feet, but still enough to make me wary of the others. This later led to us thinking perhaps we could head around and ascend via another route that we could see opposite us.
Continuing up, I was in a thoughtful mood and my mind wandered to a running friend who has recently passed away. He and I had talked hills on a few occasions and it seemed fitting to say a quiet goodbye as we reached the windshelter cairn on An Socach.
The wind on this broad plateau had picked up and it was beginning to get chilly. However, the sun came out and provided warmth as we moved off. We had decided not to go to the second windshelter (the true summit cairn) as we’ve done this munro previously, instead deciding to roam free and head off in another direction rather than retracing our steps. Heading down we followed a large snow patch and it was fun going over this. I have to admit that I did generally follow in Bruce’s footsteps making the going easier for myself. I decided that this was Type 1 fun. This was a topic of discussion at the Dundee Mountain Film Festival, and this is genuine fun where you’re enjoying the here and now. This changed to Type 2 fun, the type of thing that isn’t particularly fun at the time, being challenging or tough and involving mind over matter, when we realised that we were in fact heading into Glen Ey, not where we wanted to be at all!
On a positive note, this forced us into testing our navigational skills. With the help of the map, compass and OS Locate to give us very accurate grid references, we realised that we had to head back up towards Sgurr Mor in order to pick up the path back towards our track again. This proved to be quite a slog and involved both boggy ground and heather bashing. On the upside, we saw a herd of deer on the hillside and several mountain hares who made bounding up the hill look very effortless indeed!
Repeated checks of the map proved that we were on the right line, and reaching the flatter path on the approach to Sgurr Mor we could see where we were aiming for.
Finally we made it onto the path down the opposite side of the stream and had views back to An Socach again looking clear in the late afternoon sun. It was a relief to be able to view the track on which we’d return to the car. Despite never being lost and always feeling confident in our navigational ability, there had been a moment where I’d wondered if we’d be needing our head torches for the return leg. As it transpired, we made good time and got back with daylight remaining.
All that was left to do was head to The Bothy in Braemar for coffee and cake. Today’s offering of Lemon Drizzle Cake was outstanding and really put the shine back into the day.
Day 4: Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy
Having very much enjoyed the last few days but feeling somewhat tired, I’d resolved last night that today would be a day off. The original plan had been to have breakfast, read my book (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine) and go for a run along the West Highland Way. The weather forecast went in my favour though as with high winds and rain to come, Bruce opted to have a ‘rest’ day too so I had company for a walk instead.
Thus, after another excellent breakfast (freshly baked trout for him & porridge, fruit, scones and yogurt for me, no chance of starving when staying with Heather at Tigh-Na-Fraoch, we headed off along the West Highland Way to Bridge of Orchy. This is a fine easy walk, all the more so when the legs are weary, and we made good time.
At Auch we diverted to recce the river crossings for Beinn Mhanach, a potential walk for the coming days. Our concern was that the river may be in spate due to the rise in temperatures, and while it wasn’t excessively high it was quite fast flowing. The decision was made to leave this for a summer day instead.
Heading back onto the trail, we passed the Bridge of Orchy Hotel and continued up the WHW to get to the viewpoint, stopping for photos before heading back to the bar.
As always along the way, there were some friendly folks to chat to – these three turned out to be in the same boat as us, walking the hills and staying lower because of the weather.
Heading off we went out early to catch the bus. Having successfully hitchhiked from this point previously I suggested that we should try to thumb a lift ahead of the bus to save a few bob! In the ten minutes we had two cars stop – the first, a mountain biker who was willing to rearrange his car (and bike) to fit us in – we declined as with the bus being imminent it seemed rather unfair on him; the second was two ice climbers who’d been on Ben Nevis and were heading back down South. We were delighted, simple pleasures, and enjoyed the chat on the road back to Tyndrum. As we walked back towards our B & B the bus passed. Thankfully their car was long gone!
To complete the circle, I can now add retrospectively that we came home via Bridge of Orchy in order to return the favour, giving a lift along to a lovely young American couple who had decided to knock a few miles off their long day. Balance is restored!
Day 5: Beinn Achaladair & Beinn a’Chreachain
It was one of those perfect hill days according to the weather forecasters (Met Office, I hasten to add, not MWIS) – not too windy, foggy for starting out but due to clear with the prospect of sun. It was therefore a no-brainer for us. We needed to do something scenic and may as well go for a big day out!
Off once agaain the first challenge of the day was to be the river crossing at the Water of Tulla. We walked up and down for a bit trying to find a good crossing place.
Options were limited, with deeper water in places and a lack of stones within jumping distance; I can run but I’m not blessed with the ability to jump or throw! Bruce eventually bit the bullet and crossed, only dipping one leg in to the knee which with his gaiters on wasn’t too bad. Me, being a bit more cautious and accident prone, walked further upstream, walked some more, and finally had to strip off more of my clothes than I’d like in order to don a spare pair of liner socks and wade across, very grateful that there was nobody else around for all our sakes. It wasn’t as cold as anticipated but seeing the supportive husband capturing the moment on camera tipped me over the edge and provoked an impressive array of colourful language!
Safely across, I dried off and dressed. We proceeded to follow the path around, eventually starting to gain some height. The path went on to climb pretty relentlessly and unfortunately there was no sign of the fog burning off.
Eventually reaching the ridge of Beinn a’Chreachain, still in the fog and with tricky underfoot conditions – lots of snow which was a little slidey in places – we opted for the precautionary measure of both the ice axe and crampons. This should have been spectacular but instead was somewhat scary; the ridge narrowed, the wind got up and it wasn’t clear how far the drop was due to the lack of visibility. Once again I was venturing out with my comfort zone.
The ridge soon widened and we made it up to the first munro summit of the day. The wind was still strong so we chose not to linger here, instead just pausing for a quick photo before battling on.
Dropping down was easy enough, the snow assisting with a quick descent before the steep climb to our second summit, Beinn Achaladair began. This was really daunting, appearing just to keep going up into the fog. The fact that the drops were again not visible, combined with a gradient that would challenge me on a fine day, never mind a day like this with snow covering the slopes, again led me to feel a little less than delighted to be here. Ultimately there wasn’t a whole lot of option but to keep going as the prospect of trying to retrace our steps did not appeal either!
Climbing into the cloud we did finally reach a flatter plateau and found the summit. Again, only time for a quick photo stop. Shortly after we paused to put on our waterproof trousers to try and combat the windchill. It really was getting quite bitter and any pause led to slight shivering and feelings of cold seeping in. Top tip for putting your waterproofs on a windy summit: sit on your rucksack; that way nothing’s blowing away, even if there is the danger of squishing any remaining food!
The hard part over, the crampons came off. The snow had softened again which meant that going downhill our feet sunk in well. I felt comforted by this as I figured that worse case scenario I could sit down and stall myself by sinking in should I slip, hopefully not going too far. Thankfully this wasn’t required.
The descent was fairly quick with regular checks of the bearings to ensure we were headed in the right direction. Finally we dropped out of the fog and could see the path ahead which was very refreshing indeed! By this point we only had a few miles left and I was no longer phased by anything! Stream crossing? Wade through it! Snow covering a burn? I’ll take my chances, fall through it and sink in to my knees. What’s the worst that can happen?
I can’t begin to express how happy I was to see the road appear in the distance and to know that the end was in sight. The day, according to Walk Highlands, should have taken around 7 hours. They’re usually pretty accurate and we finish within their forecasted times, but today was an 8.5 hour day for us.
In all honesty, it’s probably one of the toughest days I’ve done in the hills and again one that pushed me to my limits. Am I glad I did it though? Definitely yes, especially when safely home reflecting on the day with a glass of wine in hand. Amazing how a couple of hours can change perspective on things!
Day 6: Beinn Fhionnlaidh We headed for Beinn Fhionnlaidh as it was an ‘easy’ munro – relatively short distance and not too long.
A fine easy start, we began by heading along a road towards the estate houses. From here it was quite a steady ascent which felt steep, but this could be due to the miles already in the legs. Mercifully, and for reasons unknown, this was incredibly dry! This was a real treat after all the boggy ground we’ve had.
Progressing upwards, we were slow and steady. It was around 500 m before we started to get cold as it was very windy indeed! The jackets went on here and the hood went up as it’s a struggle to see with hair all over your face! It’s one of the rare times I envy my follically challenged husband!
The route continued climbing steadily, we passed a couple of wee lochans, and the ground became stonier. The surprising thing was that there was very little snow. Thus, we’d carried our crampons and ice axes for nothing – this was in itself a pleasant surprise.
Continuing to the summit, the views were absolutely stunning! We saw Ben Nevis, Mull, and so many mountains around the Glencoe area. Beautiful! While Bruce captured the views I sat down having been blasted against the trig point by the wind, increasing my sense of vulnerability.
Amazingly enough, as we turned and made our way down the wind completely died. It was quite surreal having been buffeted all the way up. This allowed us to progress at a leisurely pace and stop to enjoy lunch in the sunshine. Beyond this it was a fairly easy walk, quickly descending back towards the estate houses.
What a way to finish the holidays! A truly spectacular day!
This was chosen as our first munro of the week as it’s short and a simple up down – allegedly.
A clear parking area was located just after a very clear sign showing the access path to the hill. We donned our boots, fixed ice axes on the rucksacks and headed off – that sounds very swift; in actual time we probably faffed around for 5 minutes. We then quickly realised just how warm it had become and more faffing ensued as layers were shed. In contrast to last time we were out, we were comfortably in base layers until well up the hill.
The path was decent, albeit a little wet and boggy, gaiters on though, we were unperturbed. The snow line was high, around 750 m, and we were fortunate in that even at this level it was quite patchy. It was only towards the final pull that we swapped poles for an ice axe just to be safe, and managed to the top with no need for crampons, the snow being pretty soft.
On reaching the dizzy heights of my 111th munro, Bruce asked, “How many munros have you done now?”
Summit of Meall Ghaordaidh
This is a standing joke as I’ve usually got no idea and he can tell me as he remembers things. On this occasion though, as I replied correctly, a little voice in my head queried whether you’ve done the munro if you’re not yet back down. Hold this thought!
Descent off Meall Ghaordaidh
Heading downwards we retraced our steps (and those of others who had passed through previously), making our way through the snow with relative ease. Off the snow I stopped for a comfort break and Bruce carried on. I couldn’t have been far behind him, but lost sight of him. I blew my whistle and shouted but no response. I lost the boggy path. Meanwhile, he’d gone a little further down and realised he’d lost me, also shouting and getting no response.
Thinking I’d come upon him soon I tried using OS Locate to get an exact pinpoint on the map – it didn’t work. I had a compass showing but no grid reference. On return to the B & B, having reinstalled it, I now realise that you need to give it access to location services on your phone. Oops!
Anyway, with no ability to get a proper reference point I vaguely orientated my map in line with where I’d come from. I then made the mistake of following what I thought was the main burn – it was in fact a small tributary but everything’s bigger just now with the snow melt – and ended up back at the road as planned, but a mile or so up from where I should have been!
Despite the unfortunate turn of events this all turned out okay. A minor feeling of panic as I descended wondering where husband was had been reciprocated as he shouted and retraced his steps to find me. As I saw the car coming into view I hollered and blew my whistle, just in time to catch him about to embark on the next ascent. For once, timed to perfection!
Day 2: Stob Coir’an Albannaich & Meall nan Eun
Having debated last night which walk to do with concerns of streams in spate and marshy ground due to yesterday’s rain we settled for the above munros. As we headed up the boggy path we did briefly question our judgement; the marshy grass was slow going and a steady incline meant that although we were gaining height it was neither quick nor easy.
Continuing up we had to cross a series of small waterfalls and streams. The main issue here was snow – although we could hear the water flowing we were in effect walking over it, hoping that the snow was still firm enough to hold our weight. We wouldn’t have come to any real harm as the water would have been shallow but walking with wet feet’s not particularly pleasurable! Thankfully we reached the bealach dry.
The true ascent then started with the top of Stob Coir’an Albannaich in sight. We followed the curve of the slope up and around, and I was grateful to Bruce for taking the lead for much of this. It’s far easier following in someone else’s footsteps rather than having to break trail yourself. The snow was fairly soft and for the most part the walking was fairly easy. The thing that played on my mind was the steep descent to come between the tops, as per the Walk Highlands route guide.
Reaching the summit cairn we stopped to admire the views which were stunning. The cornices along the top of the ridge were very apparent and I really did start to worry about what lay ahead! Having checked the map and route guide the line of descent became clear and it was somewhat steeper than I’d have liked.
Initially we dropped down to a bealach. This proved manageable once started despite looking (to me) quite horrific in the beginning. The next step was to find the rake that lead down to the next bealach: it was steep but the softer snow allowed our feet to sink in. Alongside the comfort of the ice axe it quickly saw me reach the floor of the bealach, although if I’m honest I did have a feeling of panic at the start of the descent from the cairn. The upside of heading for a bealach is knowing that you will stop if you slide. This was the fear higher up – how far down would you go, and what might you hit, before stopping!
Bit of a thought having to descend from the peak above
Have a feeling that perhaps the descent of the rake may be easier in the snow
The walk to the second munro, Meall nan Eun was easy. We ascended a peak between, Beinn Tarsuinn, which was a pleasant walk with gentle incline compared with what we’d done previously, followed by another short descent and the final push up to the munro. It proved stunning as the views around were breathtakingly clear.
During the ascent we’d had a brief spell of gentle rain. This may have added to the chill as prior to this we’d been warm; however it happened, we chose not to linger too long as the cold was noticeably for the first time.
Heading back across the plateau we had another descent to tackle. This was an experience indeed! Essentially we had to drop down the steep crags (snow covered) and lose height quickly. Bruce led the way and I followed in his footsteps again. However, at one particularly steep section he suggested I’d be better going a marginally different route as it may prove easier. I found myself frozen to the spot, terrified, as I became very aware that the soft snow may well give way beneath my feet resulting in a slide downwards! Bruce was somewhat surprised by my polite request for help, and calmly coached me to use my ice axe to hold the position, dig my feet in and go sideways. Having succeeded with this I was then able to get moving more comfortably again, all the while being given gentle encouragement from below – my hero!! (He later told me that he could tell I was scared so figured not to crack jokes or take the mickey!)
Back on the grass, although we still had a good height to descend it felt easier. The ground was much better than the route up with a decent path; despite the boggy wet conditions in places we made good progress. A few small waterfall and stream crossings eventually took us back to a land rover track and after this it was only a short walk back to the car.
A truly joyful day in the hills again: felt like I was pushing my limits at times but looking back I’d do it again.
Day 3: Ben Challum
Opting for a shorter day, we decided to try Ben Challum. Despite being short this hill was a hard slog, climbing steadily after crossing the railway line across boggy ground. The snow, as we progressed, took care of the bogs and again we were able to walk across covered streams and areas that would otherwise have been unpleasant.
The views further up are said to be quite spectacular but sadly we didn’t get to appreciate them. The cloud was low and it became very foggy as we approached the top. The snow line was higher than it has been (around 900 m) and again the snow was slightly wet allowing the feet to sink in making progress easier, particularly on the descents. A familiar story, ice axes provided security for self belaying, but crampons were just extra weight in the rucksack, along with the Microspikes, spare gloves, down jacket, base layer, hat and 2 buffs!
As the snow got deeper I had a fleeting moment of thinking maybe this is as far as I go. However, Bruce assured me that we were within a few hundred metres of the summit. Problem was that you couldn’t see the summit, and with the route guide describing a cleft on the ridge I was worried we’d fall down it! It transpired the cleft wasn’t too big, we didn’t fall down it and we did get to the top safely. On this occasion the return leg was far easier, retracing our steps back down.
As we descended the sun attempted to break through and the route opened up to show views back down. It’s amazing how much less steep and scary something is when you can actually see it!
2018, a new year and some new resolutions. Like most people, last year I made the usual resolutions to ‘improve’ myself. This year is all about self-acceptance and remembering that I am enough.
My resolutions therefore have a different slant:
1. Be strong – looking to be physically strong through a daily yoga practise (at least for the next 30 days – Yoga with Adriene, True, free online 30 day course), and mentally by taking time for me and nourishing myself as well as others.
2. Reclaim my life – focus on the things that are important to me, ditch the stuff that isn’t (and stopping feeling guilty and beating myself up if I can’t do everything all of the time!)
In light of this, I took it as a sign when I received an e-mail from the organisers of the Lumphanan Detox 10k offering an exchange of places, offloading my place to a clubmate. I do love this race but haven’t trained as much as I’d like during December due to a combination of feeling a little under the weather / dark nights / icy pavements, and decided there was no point in racing and then beating myself up for doing ‘badly’.
Cue an ideal opportunity to head for the hills. A perfect forecast window for Lochnagar on 1st January made it a complete no brainer. So, husband and I headed out and had the most amazing day! The day was truly spectacular. Hard packed paths from the car park …
Had it not been for the awesome spectacular presented on the approach to Ballater you’d have had no idea what fun lay ahead!
Our Kahtoola Microspikes came in handy as we progressed up and out of the tree line and I thanked my lucky stars for having a husband with foresight who gifts me these things (along with the ice axe and crampons for Christmas which thankfully remain as ‘cool’ accessories on my rucksack)!
There were a surprising number of people out on the hill and, as always, it was lovely to pass the time of day with them as we walked.
Onwards and upwards, we thoroughly enjoyed the views and were delighted to see the view open up temporarily for us as we approached the summit. Temperatures dropped and I resorted to adding another pair of gloves (taking the total to three pairs) and my down jacket to keep truly cosy!
Coming off the summit we enjoyed our lunch – tomato soup never tastes quite as good as when it’s out of a flask on a cold winter’s day!
Then the long descent back down to the car park via the beautiful frozen waterfall.
Finally, on arrival back at the landrover track we hot footed it back towards the car park aware of the sun setting behind us and the moon rising ahead.
We chased the light for as long as we could before succumbing to the darkness and digging out the head torches, if for no other reason than to ensure we didn’t slip on one of the small icy patches on the path. We met a number of people at this point headed for the bothy, recently refurbished (but not quite with en-suite facilities sadly), two of whom were pulling a trolley!
A brilliant day out and hopefully the first of many great days in the hills.