But today I had one of those lovely early summer’s days in Glencoe with Jackie that makes Scotland so special, and I think I will let the pictures speak for themselves. We did Bidean nam Bian via the excellent NE ridge of Stob Coire nan Lochan, then Stob Coire Sgreamhach before descending the Lost Valley.
I haven’t put a blog up for a while. Not because I haven’t been out and about – Indeed, I have been bagging Corbetts on Arran, cycling around the NC500 in the North of Scotland, walking in Borneo where I ascended Mount Kinabalu over 4000m, visiting ancient temples in Cambodia or just pottering on the hills.
But today I had one of those lovely early summer’s days in Glencoe with Jackie that makes Scotland so special, and I think I will let the pictures speak for themselves. We did Bidean nam Bian via the excellent NE ridge of Stob Coire nan Lochan, then Stob Coire Sgreamhach before descending the Lost Valley.
So, back to Arran for my final recce in advance of a job this weekend, and not exactly perfect conditions for complicated route-finding and slabby scrambling. 5c on the summits, rain from the off and getting heavier, the wind gradually increasing to around 35 SW, and cloud over 400m. I wanted to do the Glen Sannox round clockwise, but guidebooks were giving anything between 9 and 12 hours, so timing it with the ferries was a minor worry. Thankfully Caroline popped over the day before, so was able to meet me and we could drive to the start, a real boon.
The route has some simply excellent, airy scrambling, and I am sure had we been able to see, it would have been spectacular! We found our way easily enough onto the ridge of the sensually named 'Coich na h-Oighe', despite many of the guidebooks and trip reports suggesting it was tricky, but I doubt you ever go the same way twice. In the dry it would be a joy. The wet added a certain frisson to say the least.
The summit ridge has all sorts of variations, and it's just a case of picking the best route depending on the conditions and how brave you feel. Before long we were at the summit of North Goatfell, and starting the dodgy down-scramble. It is never really more than a very steep path, but strewn with loose rock and the weird ball-bearing like granite granules that abound on Arran, it commands care.
Then after hitting the low point at the famous Saddle, it's back up very steeply indeed to Cir Mhor. Caroline had (as ever) been concerned about her fitness, but on this relentless climb she kept a steady and more than respectable pace, and despite the murk, we made the summit in good time. Zero views maybe, but atmosphere aplenty. After a sharp break, it was find the path down to the bealach and on to the corbett of Caisteal Abhail.
Here it really started to feel serious; the wind was up, it was throwing it down, we could see nothing and it was very confusing. Despite having my GPS, I still felt I needed my trusty old compass, and using the two, we only made one short false attempt at a descent before getting back on track. Then we decided on a quick re-read of both Dan Bailey's route descriptions and Walkhighlands. Dan's mentioned scary 'grade 2/3 pinnacles', which in the cold, wet, wind, and against the clock for the ferry would be a real challenge. I was convinced that in my memory, my Andrew Webster scrambling book mentioned bypass paths, so after briefly considering an easier, more circuitous route off, we girded our loins and just went for it. Yes, there were moments, but it was actually fine until the loose, steep and committing down scramble at Ceum na Caillich, the famous Witch's Step. This had one very hard and unnerving move at the bottom. Once that was done, (very carefully!), and the bypass to the Step was found, it was plain sailing, albeit wet and windy. There was no way we were attempting the climb in these conditions, rope or not.
It was nice to get below the cloud and actually the cloud lifted briefly as we descended towards Cnochan Donna, Glen Sannox, and to some dry clothes.
8.5hrs was a very good time indeed in the conditions, and testament to some very efficient moving and fitness, so well done Caroline.
Arran is unique.
There isn't anywhere else that I can think of with this weird granular granite, and despite the erosion that can arise due to the sandy soil, the paths are good. They have been worked on by SNH to good effect, so well done to them too. It is always challenging though. As for the scrambling, the views (when you get them) and the feeling of satisfaction when the big routes are 'in the bag'....well, you need to go and give it a go.
A fine but very windy weekend working for Steven Fallon Mountain Guides on the island of Rum. For my full blog, click on - https://www.stevenfallon.co.uk/blog/2019-04-12-rum.html
I haven't written a blog for a while as I have been cycling a lot, but yesterday was the kind of day you feel you have to commit to the written word. I have a booking in May to take a group to Arran, and whilst I have been a few times before, I like to ensure my knowledge is 'current', and that I have walked or scrambled all the main options so I have a menu of choices for the folks to do dependent on conditions.
I have also always wanted to do the 'rounds' of the two main glens, Rosa and Sannox, and so when a relatively dry forecast was given, I made plans.
Obviously the first challenge when going to the isles is the ferry, but a 7am sailing from Ardrossan seemed to fit the bill. But there was no space for my van, or my car, or even a scooter! The idea of wrestling a bike on board, when Calmac say 'they will endeavour to fit them on, but no guarantees' meant I resigned myself to being a foot passenger. I could see there was a bus for Day 2 when I planned on Sannox, so all looked good. Now for accommodation. The bunkhouse is handy, but too dear in my opinion for what facilities it has, and the camping up Glen Rosa is no better than wild camping, and too far from the pub. I resolved to treat myself to as cheap a hotel as practicable, and found one en route to the hills, handy for dropping off my bag. It was a typically quirky, run-down but friendly island place, on which a whole blog could be written in itself, but it did serve excellent haggis, neeps and tatties, so all was forgiven...even the 9am breakfast time. 9am! In an outdoorsy environment!
So with the spring in my step that comes with a spontaneous arrangement and a good forecast, I set off up Glen Rosa. I hate walking on tarmac, so was relieved to get off the road from Brodick and onto the hill properly, passing the Glen Rosa 'campsite' en route, (it has to be seen to be believed!). It was cold, breezy and cloudy, but it promised to clear up early, and I believed them, fool that I am.
I took the wee path that cuts the corner at the Garbh Allt, and that was an error. Firstly it was overgrown and felt 'ticky', and true to form I had to brush a couple of monsters off me as I walked. Then I got to a gate with a sign that said the gorge had become dangerous, and to cross at the weir, not marked on my map. The path had obviously fallen into disuse, but I resolved to press on, and eventually came to the weir, indeed dilapidated too, with treacherous greasy rock to cross. Not nice, and I was glad it wasn't in spate - NB. Cross lower down at the bridge where the Garbh Allt meets the Rosa Water!
After that it was a brief section of well-made path before it petered off into a boggy trace as it made its way towards Coire na Cuiseig and onward towards Beinn Nuis. I paused for a snack, but the wind was cold and the clouds had yet to lift, so I was pretty miffed as I finally made the summit with poor views. As I descended though, things did start to clear, finally giving me a much better afternoon, albeit gusty and cold. Beinn Tarsuinn came next, the first Corbett, and then my first real taste of the slabby granite nature of Arran's higher hills. The path split many times, and the descent wasn't at all easy, involving a good few back-tracks and reassessments. All the time I could see the famous but challenging A'Chir ridge, but knew that was out of bounds for today, solo as I was, and with the nasty cross-wind. I could also make out the by-pass path, welcome as it was, out of the wind and in the sun, despite the height loss.
The spectacular summit of Cir Mhor was next, with simply wonderful dramatic views of the rest of the island's rocky offering all around. If it hadn't have been so cold, I would have stayed a while. I was getting a little tired by now, and I knew the descent to the Saddle was steep, so I carefully made my way down the worn path East. But it was tricky. I negotiated a steep face-in down-climb, then a loose hold-less gully. 'My, I don't like this, and I am certain my clients won't' I thought. One more hard down-climb, and I was stuck. Surely I don't need a rope?! I could see folks below, and the easy ground probably only 20m, but it was impossible. This can't be the way. After a bit more casting about to try and force the route, I realised it just wasn't justifiable solo, and with a little difficulty I climbed back up, angry and feeling foolish. The well-worn path was no doubt as a result of folks doing just as I had, and the easier, more circuitous way went off to the South for a while, before contouring back East. Back on route.
I had read about a dangerous and loose scree gully on the ascent back up from the Saddle to North Goatfell, and it was indeed unpleasant, but thankfully after some great pathwork by the NTS, not quite as bad as it could have been. Again, there were a number of dillyings and dallyings as the route wasn't obvious, but that's par for the course on such terrain, and I got to the top without too much time wasted. There the wind hit me again, and despite the late afternoon sunshine, it was raw. The views back over Glen Sannox were excellent, and the rocky towers between here and Goatfell proper begged to be scrambled. I did the first one, but in the wind, elected on the path for the rest of it - Next time.
Goatfell was deserted, it being gone 4pm by now, but I passed a few parties of occasional walkers on the descent, hobbling and dawdling with various sore knees and feet. I was footsore too, but able to plod on through years of self-abuse ;)
I could see Brodick and the incoming 5pm ferry, and knew I would need to rush on tomorrow's route. Being able to see it all made it seem all the further, but it bloody well was - As I said, I hate road walks, and the last few of my 27k were on tarmac, and my feet were singing. The route took 10 hours, and although I had not hung around much, the extra traipse from Brodick and back told on me. I grabbed a pint at the Wineport (to fortify myself you'll understand ;), and was back in the hotel and showered by 7pm.
So, having showered, eaten and packed for tomorrow, let's read the route description in detail.....what? 9-12 hours? Another 1700m of ascent?. OK, a toughie. What about the bus and ferry times? That's easy, not possible. Forecast? A nice day, eventually, but cold and windy after a wet start. Y'know, some days aren't meant to happen.
As Arnie said, 'I'll be back'.
This winter has been late in coming this year in Scotland, but the last week has been a lot more like it. The only problem is that the wind is shifting the snow about as usual, and your route choices have to reflect the extra effort that is going to be required, along with the avalanche risk. Chris had various desires in terms of peaks to attempt, and we finally settled on Bidean nam Bian after a good few emails and phone calls, reviewing both the weather and avalanche forecasts . It would normally be linked with Stob Coire Sgreamhach, but I severely doubted whether the final slopes to the bealach above the Coire Gabhail (or Lost Valley) would be safe on either ascent or descent.
Tackling Bidean from the A82, up the Coire nan Lochan means that you are on a succession of ridges, safe from avalanche, as long as you assess the approaches correctly, and although we knew that it would be hard work in the drifts, it seemed the best option.
And what a choice! The forecast had been for heavy snow showers in the morning, with a possibility of a clearing later, but coupled with strong Westerly winds. We knew we would be sheltered in the coire, but expected a battering on the ridges. What we actually got was almost no snow, and a wonderful clearing as we summited Stob Coire nan Lochan. It was sublime. The ascent was indeed hard work, but Chris dealt with little scrambles and climbing sections with aplomb, and indeed, although you need to wade a lot, some of the bouldery sections were easier than in normal 'summer' conditions, allowing us to stick to the crest for some exciting little sections.
We couldn't pause long at the summits, as it was cold of course, but we did wait long enough to get our appreciation from a following Plas y Brenin group for our trail breaking! We asked hopefully if they intended on going on to Bidean, but to no avail, so we'd be breaking trail ourselves again...at least we'd have their trail for the descent. I shared a conversation with their guide though, and we both expressed dismay and disbelief that we had seen a party trying to ascend the steep head-wall of the Lost Valley. Had they not considered the avalanche forecast? We never saw them or evidence of their passing again all day, so can only assume they either backed off of went a route with which I am not familiar. I can only hope they didn't come to harm, but am incredulous that they would choose such a route on such a day.
The onward ascent of Bidean looked brutal, and it was. Deep drifts, cornices, and no possibility of course of seeing the path, let alone using it! The only safe way was straight up the crest, not normally done in summer due to the looseness of the rocks and awkward boulders, but today, feeling your axe strike a rock under the deep snow was reassuring, knowing your were above terra firma. The final section usually involves a short flatter section above Church Door Buttress, where a pause can be taken before the last pull. Not this time though - It was a huge snow pillow, heavens knows how deep, and I had to wade though it. Chris held back, as we were keen to not weight the snow too much, cornices breaking off at 45 degrees as they do. Eventually, sweating profusely, I was across, and Chris followed on, still finding it a toil. Then it was a relatively scoured section to the top, and some simply stunning views. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
The descent was actually quite easy, still being able to follow our trail most of the way, and we wearily slogged back up to the summit of our first peak. This time we turned West, and from then on were able to use the Brenin group's trail, which made life a lot easier. The views continued to be a joy, the light constantly changing, and we almost tired of snapping pictures, as we needed to press on. We retained our crampons well down the path, and had a smile as we spotted slip after slip in the snow on the path...there seems to be a kind of snobbish machismo from some folks, (especially hard-core climbers) to get your crampons off asap, in a kind of show of skill and technique in descent. Me, I am quite happy to descend steadily and securely, finally taking them off when there was more rock than ice. And of course never once slipping :)
We got to the cars at 17:30, so a full 8.5hrs to do the route. We hadn't hung about, and our legs knew they had had a day out, but it was a day to remember. Let's hope the winter keeps delivering days such as these......
The last recce trip of the 'quiet' period of November and December saw us making a festive time of it in the beautiful Glen Feshie. It was particularly nice to have the company of my wife Tracey, youngest son Frankie, and friends Hayley, Stew and Kerry. As I wanted to recce the Westerly route into the Monadh Mor, Hayley needed the munro Beinn Bhrotain, and Tracey wanted a relaxing time walking the dog and reading, it worked really well for us all.
We were more than a little worried on arrival at the car park at Auchlean, as it was completely full, a sight I have never seen in my many times down the glen. Of course, we knew it was the Xmas holidays, and we had a benign forecast, so coupled with that and the growing reputation of Ruigh Aiteachain bothy, it was a fair bet that the bothy would be very busy. Still, we were here now, and it does hold a good few folks....
The walk-in is around 90 minutes, and you have to cross three burns of varying sizes, so it pays to take care after heavy rain. We were fine, as it had been very dry for December, and apart from our 12yr old border terrier who had to be carried, we all crossed without incident or difficulty, despite our packs laden with all the gear necessary for a comfortable night, along with copious libations and Xmas leftovers. We arrived just as night fell (16.15 in Scotland at this time of year), to be greeted by Lyndsay the bothy maintenance organiser, or M.O. as they are known. It was indeed busy, but not overly so, and were able to have a room and fireplace all to our little group.
It is not that unusual to meet an M.O. at his/her bothy occasionally, but Lyndsay all but lives in his, and the standards are a testament to that. It is simply palatial in bothy terms. Indeed, he had various members of three generations of his family there! He gave us a tour, and threw a few thinly veiled comments in about care, tidiness, toilet etiquette etc. which left us in no way uncertain about his expectations. You can't really fault him, given the work and care he has put in (amongst others), but It was a little irritating to get tarred with the same brush after all my years of careful and respectful bothy use. Ah well, bite your tongue and get on with it, it's his train set! :)
After the usual bothy night of restless dogs, rustling sleeping mats and nocturnal ablutions, augmented by some spectacular festive flatulence, we were ready to get walking at first light. Tracey was staying local to the bothy, walking Meikle our terrier, and Stew was going to walk out, having suffered a calf strain during an energetic session dancing to Madness in our kitchen the day before (I kid you not!). That left myself, Frankie, Kerry, Hayley and Loki the springer spaniel to attempt the 32k there-and-back route, with around 1600m of ascent and descent. This is a long day in summer conditions, and without skis would be very difficult indeed in 'normal' winter conditions. We however, had clear, almost snow-less going, with just a little ice and a superlative track for much of the way. I know I normally bemoan such tracks, but on this occasion, I could almost forgive the estate....seriously, it is very well done and maintained, so at least there's that.
The route has little dramatic to commend it, other than the wilderness feel you get once you ascend onto the Monadh Mor itself, the wide expanse of Braeriach, Carn Toul and the Angel's Peak, the depths of Gleann Einich, Glen Geusachan and finally the Lairig Ghru. Actually, come to think of it, apart from the effort, it has lots to commend it in reasonable visibility!
At the summit of Beinn Bhrotain we spoke to the only couple we saw all day, apart from a solitary walker and a distant fell runner during 10+ hours of walking at such a busy time....illustrative of the wild nature of the location. The walk back was character-building as light dimmed, and we summited Mullach Clach a'Bhlair in full darkness. With little wind, it was enchanting, the lights of a distant Kingussie shimmering many kilometres below. I don't think any of us enjoyed the descent down the track, be it new boots rubbing, old knees complaining or even older boots disintegrating, the metres took their toll.
Eventually we got to the glen, and blessed flat ground for the final kilometre to the bothy, a meal and a dram. A fantastic day, superbly executed.
We awoke to wind and rain, but by the time we had eaten, packed and swept up, the rain had dissipated, and we walked out dry. Well, dry that is except for me, who in a momentary lapse of concentration whilst watching Tracey cross a burn, put my foot on a sloping stone and took a pirouetting tumble into the water, bouncing off a couple of boulders on the way. Idiot! My sore arm and knee weren't as sore as my bruised ego of course.....
Stew was there to meet us, and we sallied forth to the splendid trucker's cafe at Newtonmore for a 'healthy' late breakfast by way of a celebration. A great way to end 2018, bring on 2019.
As I approach the end of my second round of the munros, I find I can maximise my time by reconnoitring alternative routes for clients, and/or finding out what has changed on the ground to the maps. When it comes to hill tracks, I am finding an awful lot.
On Tuesday I chose Beinn a'Chaorainn and Beinn Bhreac, as there was a good forecast for a long day, and I hoped to shorten it by cycling up the long track to Derry Lodge where you leave the bike. What was I thinking!? Of course, it was frozen solid, and there were treacherous stretches of frozen water run-off everywhere waiting to upend the unwary cyclist. Indeed, I was wearing the same trousers that had been repaired since my last such foray up this very glen 12 months ago, when my pal Sean and I had abandoned the bikes after only a kilometre or two en route to Derry Cairngorm, but then tried to at least ride the last bit back, in the dark to boot. The repair on the expensive Mountain Hardware trousers was worked miraculously by my trusty Polish tailor in Stirling (she's excellent...and indeed trades as Excellent Tailors, so give her a whirl, you won't be disappointed), but my unceremonious get-off also cost me a nice gashed knee through said hole. Ouch.
So as the painful memories came flooding back, the route was quickly changed for Carn Bhac, which is also normally cycled up Glen Ey, as far as Altanour ruins. I was walking this time though! I spotted a nice ridge on the map, (and after a detour to check out the 'Colonel's Bed' gorge), I noticed a new track going that way, over Carn na Seileach, so with the hard frosty ground, I left the track and struck off up the hill to cut the corner to the upper track. It was great, soon lifting me up to take in the views of the Southern Cairngorms, coming and going as they were through the cloud, resplendent in their coats of fresh white snow.
The track peters out at the foot of Carn Creagach, but the obvious way is to contour to the high bealach at the head of the Allt Carn Bhathaich. The ground here is wet and peat hag ridden, so though I benefited from the frozen ground, I suspect this section is the route's bad bit as it were. It is short-lived however, and I was soon plodding up the crisp and snowy flank of Carn Bhac to the summit. Of course, as I arrived, the cloud closed in, and though I waited as long as I could in the cold, I had to set off down before it then inevitably cleared again. Grrrrr!
I chose to go back the same way, and on foot, I definitely think this is the better way. But if cycling, I would maybe go for Altanour. Indeed, if you were a good MBKer, you could ride the higher track, and then enjoy an exciting descent! A lovely day out, and I also noticed that the Fife Arms, the big hotel in Braemar is to open on the 10th December at long last, so hurrah to that, (though it did look awfully posh!).
Today, with another good forecast, I decided on a wee look at Invermark castle, and to check out the track along the Water of Mark to the Queen's Well for my more genteel clients. Then I would also nip up Mount Keen of course. After what seemed an eternal drive due to traffic and a holdup for a crash on the A90, I eventually arrived at the very frosty glen at 10:30am, quite late for a winter's walk. It is a very beautiful drive along Glen Esk. Pheasants abound, and the Aberdeenshire countryside still has a wild and remote feel despite its relative low levels, rounded hills and agriculture.
The forecasted change to a southerly air flow was coming in early, and the hills were swathed in low cloud. I skipped and dodged along the track, once again eschewing my bike as the ice was everywhere, and apart from a wait at the Glenmark lodge to let a sheep gather go by, I made short work of the ascent. The track, though ugly, allows for a rapid ascent, and I was soon at the point where the track becomes two paths on the map, one across the mounth, and one to Mount Keen. Except it doesn't. They now continue as one, in the form of a very good sandy path in the same direction. All traces of the old path have been removed by the builders to ensure we take the new one. After not too far, it does split, and then with a couple of steeper sections makes a bee-line for the stony summit.
It got a good bit windier up there, and the sub-zero temperature along with the moist air left rime ice all over the rocks, and indeed me too. It was very cold in the breeze, so I rushed my snack and high-tailed it down. I did take one slip on an icy boulder lower down, the ice being coated in rain now too, doubly slippery, but apart from a jarred elbow and a bruised ego, I was fine. It does annoy me when a momentary lack of concentration allows such things to happen, and the air was blue! I made the car just before darkness, wet through as the rain had come on in earnest, signalling the end of the cold settled weather and a return to Atlantic lows for a while, Booo!!
Winter will be back, and I will be ready............
Today I thought I would grab the chance to get out before the weather completely spams out with the deep low arriving imminently. I need Beinn Mhanach (Monk Mountain) for my second round, and I also wanted to recce the easterly approach from Glen Lyon, as the approach from Auch is characterless in my memory, and has troublesome repeated fording of the burns, irritating at best, in spate, impossible.
I had always wondered if an approach up the 'longest, loneliest and loveliest glen in Scotland' (Walter Scott) would be better? Thankfully I didn't need to drive all 34 miles of it, but did have to cross from Killin to the Bridge of Balgie over the high pass that is the Lawers access road. This ascends to over 550m, and can be very troublesome in winter conditions. I took my 4x4, and though it was icy and covered with a light dusting of snow, it was fine, taken slowly.
Eventually, (this route may be short and sweet, but the drive isn't), I arrived at the far end of the public road, just below the dam and hydro station. Parking so as not to block the narrow road or any gateway, I set off on foot up the track on the north of the loch. I had read that you can use a MBK for the 6k ride to the fording of the Allt Meran, and now having walked it both ways, I would recommend doing so - I was just too lazy to dig out the bike, load it up, and moreover clean it afterwards, so taking to Shank's pony, I marched it in about 75 mins.
The stepping stones over the one and only burn crossing, the Allt Meran, are excellent. Real big ones, testament I suspect to how high the water can get. I would think if it was ripping through and you were teetering on the boulders, a good set of poles would be more than welcome, probably essential.
From then on, it was just follow my nose up. I had spotted on the map a nice easy to follow burn, and that did have the least-wet ground. It was easy-angled, but relentless, and totally off-piste. Typical Scottish terrain, boggy and strength-sapping. As I got higher, the snow increased, and freezing level was around 800m, where the snow was like icing on the grass.
As you approach the summit, it narrows nicely, with a lovely coire to your right, so is a much better ascent than the featureless slog from Auch in that respect too. There were cornices building on the leeward lips of the coire, and it had a really wintry feel up there. I waited a few moments hoping for a view, but it was cold, so I made short work of the descent, back the way I came. The soft ground made it very quick indeed, and I was soon back at the burn.
After a snack and a tea, it was just the tedious slog back, (I detest track walks out, but what can you do?). As I said, a mountain bike would make it a lot easier.
A nice day out, a nice tick, a nice recce, a nice alternative route. And back in time for my dinner.....what's not to like?
So said the famous mountaineer George Mallory, when asked in 1923 by a reporter about why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. He couldn't think of a better reason. My objectives are usually rather more prosaic in comparison, but the urge he so aptly described is probably the same I suspect - I mean, why would I choose to get up at 5am, drive 120 deer-dodging miles in the rain and dark, spend all day slogging up a boggy mountain for zero views, get wet, cold and footsore, then drive home again? Why, if not compelled to do so?
Well, I often ask myself the same thing, but there is never one answer. 'Because it's there' does encapsulate one urge - that to 'compleat' the munros a second time. Why do I want to do that? Well that's another essay I'm afraid. But it runs deeper than that. I NEED the hills, and it isn't important which ones usually. I am in a slow period in a mountaineer's season. There's not really any winter conditions yet, people are thinking of Christmas and the like, the nights are long, the weather usually unpredictable, so work is thin. January kicks off the Winter Skills training, so I will be very busy, but for now, I need to keep my fitness up and mojo honed by such days.
Of course, doing recces on hills I haven't climbed for decades is always useful, and it is entertaining to read my log from previous ascents. I think I remember so much, and yet I don't. Memory is an odd thing. I may remember a particular rock or view even, but the human aspects of the climbs are lost in all but my few words in the log. I found this a slog yesterday, and I did 13 years ago. I had a sore ankle yesterday, I did 13 years ago! I still came back. I still enjoyed it.
My pint last night tasted all the sweeter as it always does after a hard day. Had I stayed at home, despite always keeping busy chopping wood, doing long-neglected maintenance and more often than not fixing Lambrettas, I would not have felt the same. I get stir-crazy, my Rousseau-esque needs can only be satisfied by the outdoors, by adventure, by toil, by sweat.
Gulvain is set in wild and remote country, a finger of land stretching north from Loch Eil to Loch Arkaig, not often crossed by the public. It is 'dah dah daah' Tick Country as so amusingly but helpfully posted by the estate at the entrance marker post. As a solitary hill, not easily climbed in the pleasant circular trip that satisfies the senses, it requires a long walk (or rough MTB ride) in, and then a hard 850m straight up, before the same effort out. Purists and masochists only. But it ticks the boxes. It IS there :)
A totally frantic weekend of riding 1960's Lambrettas 550 miles to and from East Yorkshire, followed the next day by a 405 mile drive up to Cape Wrath and back down to Fort William is not really the best way to prepare for a 'demanding day on rough terrain' promised by the munros north of the Glenfinnan monument, (and the now exceptionally popular tourist attraction of the viaduct, thanks to JK Rowling and Harry Potter). But, my friends Stew and Hayley Webb and Loki the dog were embarking on a barking mad November attempt on the 230 mile Cape Wrath Trail, and needed to leave a car up north, so what could I say? I collected them from the ferry point, and after a night of luxury in a B&B in Torlundy, we set off at 08:15 from the car park adjacent to the Glenfinnan Monument. They had provisions and kit sufficient to get them to Kintail, and I to get me around the two munros, so our rucksacks were rather different!
The route starts up a fine tarmac drive, and just after the viaduct, we stopped to chat with Alistair, the estate manager, who was a breath of fresh air. He was interested in where we were going, what we were doing, which way etc, and we in turn about the developments on the estate since the Harry Potter phenomena. So different to the usual at best indifferent and at worse hostile reception you so often get from estate workers if you're a walker, and a fine ambassador for the estate.
We parted company at the stalker's path that cuts up the side of Sgurr a'Choire Riabhaich, and I watched the figures get smaller as they entered the wild country of Gleann Cuirnean en route for A'Chuil bothy. 230 miles seems an awful long way!
I made rapid progress up the ever more frozen and ever more rough ground, but there was a decent trace of a path most of the way. It is likened to the Rough Bounds of Knoydart on these two hills, and I concur - Much up and down over rocky knolls and peaty bog in between, made all the trickier by the abundance of much ice. Never enough for crampons, but requiring care. The drop and re-ascent to Sgurr nan Coireachan is irksome and bouldery, but the views from the summit were spectacular. Winter is definitely here.
The long broad ridge on to Sgurr Thuilm seems to take a long time as you wind amongst little knolls and crags. A nuisance in dry conditions, challenging in the ice, especially on a couple of little steps early on. Eventually you arrive at the broader final ascent to the summit, and the going gets easier. I passed two chaps all day, one with a very skittery greyhound on a lead who was most definitely pleased to see me, so we didn't chat long! Again, the views from the summit were wonderful, and I lingered as long as I could in the cold, taking pictures as the sun struck a distant Ben Nevis.
I decided to cut down the west flank of Druim Coire a'Beithe rather than stick to the ridge to avoid the rocky tops, and the softer ground was welcome, my knees feeling the frozen and rocky terrain previously. I must admit I would have chosen to cycle in the the bothy at Corryhully as I dislike road tramps, and the surface is so good, had I not been with the Webbs, and I was ruing the decision as I started the long walk out. Then I came across some grand stags who posed for photos, the very pleasant Alistair again, and finally despite the location, had a phone signal so was able to while away some time chatting to my daughter, so it soon passed!
A splendid couple of munro ticks, great weather, wonderful views, and nice to see off the intrepid duo. Almost worth all the driving! :)