Hayley, her husband Stew, Kerry and myself set off very early Monday morning for the drive North, and apart from seeing one idiot almost come off the road after swerving all over on the A9, no doubt on his phone, we had an uneventful, if very salty journey. The plan was to make use of the low temperatures by making an ascent of Am Faochagach from the A835 Ullapool road. It is a particularly boggy hill, so having the ground frozen is by far the best way to have it. It also has a challenging burn crossing over the Abhainn a'Gharbhrain. In spate, it would be nigh on impossible, in low water conditions, the boulders are slimy and well spaced, and in icy conditions, they carry a sheen of verglas that make them treacherous.
Stew suggested putting our crampons on, which he and I did, and with some careful route choice, got across easily enough on the boulders, using our poles to balance us, the crampons biting really well. The ladies decided otherwise, and elected to paddle or wade. It was way too cold for me to do that, and we watched amused as they stripped or rolled up trousers, and used a spare pair of socks for grip on the slimy rounded boulders. It made my feet ache just watching them! Oddly, there was a pair of old boots and also a pair of what can only be described as winkle picker shoes on the far bank, which folks must have used to cross.....but why leave them on the far bank? They were frozen solid, and useless now, but we noted them for the return just in case. They could be of use. Loki the dog just saw them as an ideal chewing opportunity.
Once dried and with some blood back in the feet, we then made our way steadily up the open hillside. It was predominantly frozen, and we had some trail breaking to do in some drifts, but it wasn't too arduous, the views keeping us interested.
All day the views just kept getting better. Back to the Fannaichs, to An Teallach looking fantastic in its winter coat, Beinn Dearg and Cona' Mheall close by. Then, as we made the summit, we could see Stac Pollaidh and particularly Suilven, distinctive and black against the white of the horizon. Finally, we were interested to see the very distinctive weather front slowly encroach from the West, and feel the light breeze veer as it encircled us, never really pushing the clearer conditions away.
The descent was straightforward, and after a little giggle as the ladies again splashed across, it was back to the car by night fall, and the warmth and hospitality of Ullapool.
The next day was forecast for hill fog all day, but Kerry and I went for two of the Inverlael munros, Meall nan Ceapraichean and Eididh nan Clach Geala. It was an icy approach up the long Glen Squaib path, and soon we got into deeper snow. I was thankful for one solitary set of footprints that had obviously made their way up Beinn Dearg the day before, and with the light wind, they had not been too erased. Otherwise, we had to take it in turns to break trail, the snow over the basalt boulders making it strenuous.
We had zero visibility, and challenging navigation on the complicated terrain, particularly on the descent between the two munros. It was absorbing stuff though, and always nice to be able to confirm your map and compass work with a mapping app on my phone. Of course, we were bang on track always, but it is nice to be able to check! Indeed, on reading back in my log, I see I had some challenge there the last time I did it in winter.
We did feel some pressure to be off the steeper, more bouldery ground by dark, and so didn't linger on any summit, there being nothing to see anyway. We worked our way down on various compass bearings to where the descent path should have been (under the snow), and eventually broke through under the cloud for an atmospheric view of An Teallach in the gloaming.
The head torches came out for the last hour of the descent, and finally the lights of the road came into view. A very satisfying couple of hard-earned winter munro ticks.
You so often question your own sanity when slogging up the A9 for such a short visit to these Northern hills, and ditto when you are battling to find your way in a whiteout. But once you are down, showered, dry clothes on had a meal and with a pint in your hand, the memories make it all worthwhile. And have done for years.