Thursday, April 30, 2009

96. Beinn Chabhair (244) 25/04/09

On the way down south, I tried to find another hill of similar difficulty to that climbed on the previous day. I settled on Beinn Chabhair at the southern end of the Arrochar Alps, a very popular area for walkers due to its proximity to the West Highland Way. In fact, it was very busy, because it was a saturday and it was sunny.

We had perhaps slightly underestimated this hill, because it was fractionally longer than the previous day's walk and mum was starting with tired legs, but we still managed it. It started with a steep ascent, followed by a long flat section to get closer to the hill along a reasonable path, then a steep off-path section to gain the ridge and finally a path (described by one walker as more of a motorway) along to the summit. Despite the need for plenty of stops near the top, we made it and could make out quite a few hills around us from the top. There was a bit of haze, so we couldn't see far, but it was sunny and the nearby hills of Beinn Laoigh and Ben Lomond at least were discernable.

It was a good knobbly ridge to climb with plenty of false summits and I gather there were some nice flowers in places as well. We finished off with cream teas in the Drovers' Inn (formerly the 'Stagger Inn').

Looking back along the knobbly summit ridge, with Ben Laoigh just visible through the haze.

95. Sgurr a'Mhaoraich (104) 24/04/09

I was very pleased that mum decided to join me for a couple of days at the end of my trip and I set about looking for some maternally suitable hills. Some walkers like dark ominous crags and narrow twisting ridges for maximum excitement, but mum has a different agenda. The hills would have to be not too steep, with nice views and plenty of interesting flora and fauna and obviously not too strenuous. So I set about finding such a hill. The one I settled on was at the far end of Glen Garry on the borders of Knoydart. A nice area, but notorious for drizzle.

When we arrived at midday, there was a fair amount of mist around, but it was not altogether inclement. There was a good path which climbed steadily up the grassy slopes of Sgurr a'Mhaoraich's west shoulder. I believe there were good sightings of ptarmigan and deer on the way. After the first subsidiary top, the way looked to get more narrow and tricky, but this proved not to be the case and in fact all the rocky obstacles and steep drops were easily avoided by the path. At one point near the summit, we had to climb a steep grassy slope to avoid a snow-covered path, but this was no problem.

We reached the top without too much trouble, but unfortunately by this time the drizzle was well set in and although we could make out a few hills around us, our view was somewhat unimpressive. Not to worry, it was still an achievement to reach the top and the drizzle wasn't too persistent so as to be an impediment to our descent. A nice walk that fitted well into an afternoon.

The dark and ominous summit, before the drizzle set in.

A slightly chilly mother at the summit cairn.

91-94. Saileag (205), Sgurr a'Bhealaich Dheirg (96), Aonach Meadhoin (135), Ciste Dhubh (173) 23/04/09

With the luxury of a car, we were once again able to escape up to Glen Shiel since it's such a nice place. The Five Sisters of Kintail are world famous, but nestled alongside is a ridge of comparable splendour, which benefits from its lesser popularity - that is 'The Three Brothers of Kintail'. It is less memorable to look at, but when climbing one tends to look at the surrounding hills for iconicity rather than those you are climbing. We were able to have commanding views of not only the Five Sisters, but also the South Glen Shiel Ridge (some 7 munros climbable in a day) and the Saddle, not to mention all the hills we had climbed in Glen Affric. It was an inspired choice.

The only potential letdown about ridgewalks is the fact that you have to start and finish in different places. However, a painless walk down the road from Cluanie at the start of little more than an hour ensured that this wasn't going to be too much of a problem. From a small car park at the near end of the Five Sisters (and far end of our ridge), it looked like gaining the ridge was going to be no easy feat. The steep sides of Glen shiel which makes it so eye-catching were not going to be working in favour. This wasn't helped by the fact that the small path we began to follow petered out and we were resigned to just going for it. In the end it wasn't too bad and we had the benefit of getting most of the ascent out of the way quickly. Once on the ridge, we could enjoy the panorama and after the first peak of Saileag it began to get narrower and more rocky - there were even some short scrambling sections to keep us on our toes. The peak of Sgurr a'Bhealaich Dheirg was particularly interesting - some 100m to the north of the main ridge on a narrow rocky promentary.

Carrying on to Aonach Meadhoin saw the most enjoyable part of the ridge - lots of twists and turns and ups and downs. This is really what hilllwalking is about; getting up high and then following the summits without having to lose too much height. There was a bit of a drop to Ciste Dhubh, but we still managed the re-ascent in one go. From here we could see Alltbeithe, Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan and the A'Chralaig ridge (much of which had been a mystery to us when we had actually climbed it). We also had the classic view of the Five Sisters and various other ridges. One great aspect of this area of Scotland is that within perhaps a 10 mile radius were no fewer than 30 hills of Munro height.

The descent back to Cluanie was also pleasant and we were able to refuel on HN+T, the walk taking us 8 hours including the walk along the road.

The majestic Five Sisters of Kintail

Looking back from CD to AM, with the south shiel ridge behind

Me at the rocky summit of SaBD.

Looking along the ridge from Saileag

89-90. Beinn a'Chaorainn (80), Beinn Teallach (282) 22/04/09

After depositing Chris and Jack on the only train heading south, Ben and I made our way to a couple of hills that we thought would be relatively straightforward and possible to complete in half a day. We had also heard rumours that the weather was going to turn for the worse - and one must always be very careful hearing rumours like this. We had visions of blizzards, sea fog as thick as soup or tropical storms (or possibly all three). What we weren't expecting was a clear warm and dry day with only a few small white puffies well above the tops.

We were totally unprepared and in our confusion we carried jumpers and waterproofs to the top of the hill, expecting some cruel jape from the weather gods - but this didn't happen. We steadily climbed the grassy southern slopes of Beinn a'Chaorainn and because of the good terrain, we were very soon at the top. There was a very broad and flat summit ridge, with great scary-looking cornices on the sheer east side. It also afforded a great view of the snow-capped Grey Corries to the south.

The descent to the bealach was gentle and on non knee-jarring terrain, for which we were grateful. Before the climb of Beinn Teallach, we had our obligatory scotch egg stop whilst out of the wind. As we began to climb again, the wind did become quite strong, but this is never a problem when it's dry. The blustery summit was reached without further ado, but I was in for a shock. Looking at the GPS at the top, I discovered it was reading 2999ft - disaster! Fortunately this was just a momentary inaccuracy and with a bit of a shake, it eventually agreed with the 3002ft on the charts.

The descent was again gentle and we were back at the car within 5 hours. A jolly pleasant stroll.

Looking back along the summit ridge of Beinn a'Chaorainn

Nevis and the grey corries from Beinn a'Chaorainn

87-88, Mullach Fraoch-choire (49), A'Chralaig (33) 21/04/09

With lighter packs, we began to make our way back to Cluanie, where our car was parked. And what better way to walk there than over the top of two 1100m+ peaks. Admittedly, the walk did begin in the drizzle, but all was not lost. The drizzle made way for a nice patch of rain and then, by the time the ridge was reached, this was coupled with a pleasant dose of howling wind. It was positively atmospheric

The long climb up to the ridge was steep and therefore quite tiring, since we had our packs with us. We were undeterred by the elements and soldiered on to the top and were very glad to have done so. The mist cleared at times, the rain abated for short periods and we were at least able to get some idea of our surroundings. The ridge between Mullach Fraoch-choire and the next peak was gripping and we were grateful that the wind went from a howl to more of a whistle. By the time we reached A'Chralaig, the conditions had improved massively and on our descent, the sun even came out. We were able to dry off on the walk on to Cluanie, where we feasted on cream teas, the walk taking us about 6 hours.

The ridge between the two peaks from neighbouring Ciste Dhubh.

MFC in the fore and A'C behind, from An Socach the previous day

84-86. Mullach na Dheiragain (167), Sgurr nan Ceathreamhan (22), An Socach (269) 20/4/09

A fine day in the highlands saw our intrepid group of mathematicians climb Ben Nevis before lunch and drive up to Kintail in the afternoon, before walking the 8 mile journey into West Affric to the Alltbeithe YH. The following day was almost as fine and despite some grumblings over the porridge made with water, we set out full of energy and enthusiasm for a tour of three hills to the north of the YH.

As with all the best walks, we started with a steep climb to gain the ridge, then across an eerily quiet and remote corrie to take in our most distant objective first (Mullach na Dheiragain). The ground was firm underfoot and the going was fairly good, the only drawback being a little mist when we reached the top. Fortunately this was to be the last we saw of cloud for the rest of the day.

The long walk back on the ridge, followed by a sharp climb up a good bit of ridge to the highest point of the day (Sgurr nan Caethreamhnan) proved quite strenuous and meant we thoroughly enjoyed our scotch eggs at the top. Many songs have since been written about the merits of these wonderful delicacies. SnC is a classicly shaped peak, looking positively pyrimidal from several angles and perhaps because of this it even provided us with some moments of phone reception. Naturally the views were stunning.

During the descent along the ridge towards An Socach, much tomfoolery ensued in the patches of snow that remained. But once we had got over our inner children, we made good progress. From An Socach we were able to feast our eyes on the day's achievements, since this vantage point allowed views of the whole ridge. What was also unusual is that the air was so still (especially on the second and third tops) that we were able to remain on each for quite some time. After a while, we went back down off the ridge to the YH for whiskey, pasta and cards. The round took us about 8 hours.

Looking back from An Socach

Looking along the ridge towards An Socach

Searching for reception at the top of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan

Looking in to West Affric and our YH at the base of SnC