Tuesday, 28 July 2015

A' Ghlas-bheinn

I spent a good hour or so last night, preparing a top quality post with hilarious references to Gilbert & Sullivan songs intended to give a flavour of just how wet this hillwalk was last Saturday, and explaining at great length why I hadn't followed through the original plan to go camping. Amongst other highlights, there were clever references to incipient alcoholism amongst middle aged outdoorsy types and heartfelt observations on the unreliability of weather forecasting and the fallout therefrom.

Regrettably, when fine tuning the oeuvre for publication, I pressed the wrong ****ing button and lost it all, so youse are getting some photographs instead.

This hill is adjacent to Beinn Fhada. I mentioned that one a few days back.

In passing, even if I hadn't grassed myself up last time around, and wanted to pretend that I'd done both hills on the same day, Molly's intervening haircut would have rather given the game away. The point being, our story commences from the junction where, on the Fhada walk, you hang a right, away from the main path...

For A' Ghlas-bheinn, the route lies straight ahead, and it's an impressive path that cuts across the hillside, proceeding into a steep sided gorge which eventually leads up to the Bealach na Sgairne.

The fact you can see the notch on the skyline that marks the bealach itself does pull you on a wee bit. Molly still decided to pause and sniff the air just below the cairn that marks the high point though...

...but you soon get there anyway.

It's a bit more substantial than the "sidepath" cairn so it's safe to assume that dog-guide or not you won't wander past the thing and fail to see the start of the hill path on the left that begins to take you upwards. Quite steeply. It skirts some impressively craggy stuff and gives reasonably (if wet and slightly eroded) going, escalating you until the ridge/undulating plateau/endless collection of false summits hoves into view.

As far as I can see, without exception, every report you read about this hill contains lamentations about this false summit scenario. It's hard to disagree; and at least I was favoured with breaks in the weather meaning that I had a vague idea of the lie of the land. I suspect it could be a pretty frustrating day if you had impenetrable clag accompanying your stumbling progress over endless bouldery anti-climaxes. As it were.

On the plus side however, as a gesture of good faith to the vexed hillwalker, the local authority has apparently seen fit to instal one of those fancy infinity pools halfway along the ridge. It certainly serves to break the damp monotony.

Molly approved...

And actually, once you're past that point the views begin to open up properly and there's only about five or six false summits left. Result!

The fact is that you have a properly enjoyable walk from this point on, inclement conditions or not. And as it happened, the constant earlier drizzle, which had admittedly latterly given way to a proper downpour, eased off. I could see where I was in relation to the assumed summit, and it was largely fitting in with my hoped-for timescale. As a huge bonus, there wasn't another soul anywhere on the hill, so I didn't need to pretend to be remotely sociable. I could eat my pieces, take photies of the Big Dug, and enjoy the...isolation.

And actually - on mature reflection - I won't ruin the mood by detailing the torrentially hammering relentless deluge that characterised the walk back down. ;)

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

A game of two halves

Last November saw me and Andy head for Victoria Bridge with a view to engaging with a portion of the Black Mount. As far as I know the term/description also encompasses Meall a' Bhuiridh and Creise, which had definitely been a 2014 hillwalking highlight, so it seemed worthwhile to familiarise ourselves with the other end of the collection.

I'd been up Stob Ghabhar and Stob a' Choire Odhair before, as it happens, back in November 2006, and the trip sticks in my memory for two main reasons.

Firstly, the weather was utterly appalling. Torrential rain, and formidable winds. Not quite "knock you on yer erse" speed winds, but the genuine bitingly cold, unpleasantly rain-driving affair that makes walking up Scottish Munros less a hobby than an odd compulsion.

The other thing that was occupying my mind was the wee stretch between the two summits that's called the Aonach Eagach. Now, obviously it's not that Aonach Eagach, but even although all the guidebooks stress that it's really nothing to worry about, one or two of them used the dread terms "narrow" and "exposed". That's enough to get me fixating from the outset, and given that you don't reach the section concerned until you're about two &  half hours from the car it occurred to me it would be a fairly miserable trek back if I felt the need to turn tail. Oddly enough, the rubbish weather actually ended up kind of confirming my resolve when I reached the first summit - it was so bleak and wet that you could hardly see any steep drops even if they were right next to you, and the impressive wind speed was making you hang onto every available bit of rock anyway, so I figured I'd be as well doing it when I was used to moving slowly and carefully.

In truth, it's fine, even for someone with my degree of reluctance to engage with things it's technically possible to fall off. Wide enough, no sheer edges and it's a very short stretch anyway.

To return to the point of the post, what happened in November 2014 was that we decided at the summit of Stob a' Chore Odhair that we'd had quite enough walking for one day so just wandered down from the bealach between the two hills, affirming our intention to return some other day to complete what had been a rather enjoyable walk up good paths in good weather.

The flaw in the plan ultimately proved to be that we waited until the whole area was utterly saturated, following the traditional Scottish July downpours, and had a bit of a hideous bogtrot on the descent from Stob Ghabhar last Saturday.  The reason why we didn't do both hills this time around was an odd combination of lack of awareness of the surroundings; Jorja taking a while to decide to jump across a fast flowing burn resulting in the separation of the two-legged members of the party; me having to rake about in the rucksack to double check the map before shouting on Andy that we'd missed a path; and his new found hill speed meaning he was too far ahead to hear me. Or his tactical deafness meaning that he elected not to hear me, thus avoiding a repeat ascent of Odhair. ;)

Whatever the reasons, the journey up was significantly drier than the return. I admit we kind of went off piste on the descent, but it was something of a strength and morale-sapping hour or so altogether. You certainly get the full gamut of Munro underfoot conditions on Stob Ghabhar - landrover tracks, dampish paths, good hill tracks, steep bouldery sections, loose scree interludes and knee deep sludge-like purgatory.

So, basically, it's all better than being in the hoose.

The photos here are a selection from both days out. If you ignore the slight change in the weather and ground conditions, they'll give you a wee idea of what the whole walk involves. We'd no dugs with us the first time, so even the casual and disinterested observer will eventually notice once the second lot of pictures has kicked in.

The Abhainn Shira, and the view beyond

Clashgour Hut. Hang a right just after this.

The path up was slightly - I emphasise slightly -  less boggy the first time

The stalker's path up the ridge to Stob a' Choire Odhair 

The view towards Stob Ghabhar

Rannoch Moor

Heading down to the bealach

Looking back to Odhair

And again. From the bealach. With added dug.

Onwards and upwards

Corein Lochan

One of the many Aonach Eagachs...

Some views, recently

Looking back down the ridge

Stob Ghabhar, from the end of the ridge

And just to prove we made it...

As an afterthought, I've once again given up competing with the WBD when it comes to new Munros in the last year.

As a final afterthought, on the walkout last November, not only was it rather drier on the feet, but the descent was enlivened by the sight of some hardy souls who had jumped off a Munro a few minutes earlier...

And here was me worried about walking along a ridge.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Beinn Fhada, or Ben Attow

Or, that big hill right at the furthest away end of Glen Shiel.

As I said to Andy earlier today, if I hadn't had Molly in the car, I'd have been sorely tempted to turn around about 15 minutes before I arrived at the start point of the walk in Morvich, and head home. The last section of the drive was purgatory - even allowing for the fact that I was taking a sneaky Thursday off work, thanks to a half decent weather forecast.

It had started perfectly well. Left the house about 6:30am, and made reasonable progress as far as Spean Bridge. I'd elected - as usual these days - to head up the A9 and cut across from Dalwhinnie, rather than the Crianlarich/Fort William option. That last bit from Ballachullish onwards kind of grinds my gears and it's undeniably worse during the height of summer. I know I'm basically a tourist in that neck of the woods myself, but pottering along in a huge line of caravans isn't the best way to enjoy the majesties of Glencoe and the ensuing stretches of road.

Spean Bridge was actually more entertaining than normal. I established that in addition to the public toilets it boasts, one can purchase a very acceptable pair of bacon rolls for a total cost of £4, which isn't too shabby for hungry lowlanders and their hungry dogs after three hours in the car. It also gave Molly the opportunity to go through her repertoire of taking bows and barking on command to a coachload of American sightseers who had been simultaneously offloaded to sample the delights of the woollen mill.

Refreshed and replete, I set off with (for me) uncommon enthusiasm. Shortly after Invergarry the penny dropped that the A87 on a weekday mid-morning is effectively rush hour for articulated lorries heading Skyewards.

Gosh, it was slow.

It's amazing how fatigue can kick in quickly at moments like that. It felt like I'd been awake for ages, and driving for ages, and the prospect of a six hour walk was, well, emptying me of glee, if that's a phrase. Perhaps ironically, I was saved from the ignominy of turning tail by my renowned over-cautious approach to overtaking. By the time I'd satisfied myself it was safe to actually pit the foot down and go for it, everybody else that had taken the plunge earlier was so far ahead that I regained a fair bit of lost time. Or at least that's what I'm telling myself. Whatever the reality, an element of mojo was regained, and thanks to the crystal clear Walkhighlands directions, I even found the car park at the first attempt.

The adjacent caravan park at Morvich looks rather enticing. Well placed and well kept. One to keep in mind as a Glen Shiel walking base for the future, because I camp so often these days, obviously.

As for the walk itself, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The path across the moorland, up the glen and towards the bealach just gets better as it goes on, and any hillwalk with two separate hanging corries is fine by me. It's also a route that tends to take a while to reveal anything in the way of views proper - and those are undeniably worth waiting for. The path gets faint and the terrain gets boggy just below the summit; and it's not the ideal dog hill as there are random groups of sheep and feral goats high up, but Molly hasn't been up a Munro for a while so she was too busy "conserving her stamina" to be interested in the wildlife.

I was up at the summit in a shade over three hours, and back at the car just under two & a half hours after that. I'm not saying I was looking forward to the drive home, but I made slightly better time than on the outward leg and was back in Bellshill just after 9pm. I'll settle for that as spending a summer's day wisely. Depending on one's personal definition of wisdom.

As to the way up, I doubt you could do better than follow the Walkhighlands route suggestion.

It wasn't a great day for photographs as it turned out, but predictably I'm including a few regardless.

She was on the lead at all relevant moments, obviously.

Molly crossing the Allt a Choire Chaoil

Very carefully...

...and, relax.

This next bit is key - if you're heading for Beinn Fhada, hang a right. Straight ahead takes you to the Bealach an Sgairne. Which wasn't on today's agenda. Oh, and look out for the wee cairn, because it's unlikely the dog'll be there.

Hanging corries galore just round the corner...

The path is still pretty good, all the way up to the plateau. It's kind of odd how it peters out thereafter, and as all the guidebooks say, you can expect navigation practice up here if you're less lucky with the weather than we were.

The view back down

The views open up properly after the last section onto the plateau. (Which is quite a steep and boggy section, unusually.)

A' Ghlas Beinn. That would add a fair bit onto your day.

And then, much in the manner of the grand old Duke of York, when you're up, you're up.

The Long Mountain, right enough!