Monday, 29 June 2015

Third time's a charm

Forgive the unorthodox slang title, but I'm working my way through the final season DVD of Sons of Anarchy, and I feel all...transatlantic.

Yesterday saw me and Andy manage, after two false starts, to get to the top of Sgurr a' Mhaoraich, above Loch Quoich. On our first visit, at the end of 2013, we failed to make any inroads on the hill at all, with the singularly bogging weather causing us to elect instead to embark on a "fact finding" low level wander to Barisdale. The full story can be found here.

We returned a couple of months back, and actually gained a wee bit of height. Result! The summit proved beyond us though, entirely due to the fact that there was a large, deep, slippery and unstable-feeling snow slope just before the final ascent. We both had the Kahtoola spiky quasi-crampons with us, but - well - it just wasn't the right, um, vibe. The section was an odd combination of long, steep run out and protruding pointy boulders, so votes were cast and unanimously we retreated to the car, from a position (as yesterday proved) about 15 minutes from the cairn.

Before I do anything else, as a matter of mild interest, compare and contrast the vista at the end of April with the late June conditions...

Indeed, in this next photo, if you're bored enough with everything else on the internet to look closely, the path through the snow - and a potentially telltale debris trail - are both visible.

We turned round (cautiously) at the big rock to the right of the debris. Given that the path to the summit, as we established yesterday, would have been entirely buried under the section of the topmost snowfield that's lying in shadow in the last picture, I'm satisfied that the Munro walkers Spideysense was fully operational in April.

I found the walk itself rather more enjoyable than the route descriptions would have you believe. The stalker's paths get you onwards and upwards rather smoothly, and there's a nice combination of undulating grassy stuff, craggy sections with impressive drops, and near scrambly bits near the summit. Once you're there, it's also a tremendous viewpoint, although as ever, my photies don't really do it any justice. It's also a right good dug hill. Admittedly I was slightly concerned about the numbers of deer that we'd seen on our previous sojourns to this neck of the woods - Jorja finds the smell of hoofbound venison irresistible - but in the event we saw none of the big chaps at all on this trip.

We were a shade over four hours for the walk. That's not bad going, albeit we just went up and down the same way, rather than turning it into a round trip as per some of the route descriptions, but not still not too shabby. The pace was largely set by Mr Fitzpatrick, whose recent cycling epiphany and consequent fitness upgrade seems to have removed the need for either of us to stop for any kind of breather on the way up. Thanks for that, like. ;)

Useful  information? Well, it's definitely a hill that's easier when you can see the path. That last section is a bit clambery anyway, and if it was snowbound and/or icy you could find yourself embroiled in a full on winter fankle if you weren't sure precisely which bit you were aiming for. I also have to admit that the half hour section on single track road to get to the starting point of the walk is a bit of a bind, and something I'd far rather be doing in the daylight. Finally, and most importantly, if like us when travelling north west,  you tend to head up the A9 from Lanarkshire then cut across via the Laggan road to Spean Bridge, thus avoiding the Fort William traffic bottleneck, the good news is that the former hotel at Dalwhinnie has partially reopened, transforming itself into a perfectly acceptable wee cafe, serving bacon rolls, coffee and other tasty comestibles. Given that Dalwhinnie is generally bang on two hours away from Airdrie, it's a good stopping off point. And they've recently shut the public toilets in the village too, so buying a roll and sausage is a small price to pay for the use of the cafe facilities.

It's about a four hour drive from darkest Lanarkshire to the Glen Quoich bridge. Eight hours in the car for a four hour walk might seem...unbalanced. In more than one sense of the word, I suppose.

On the other hand, we had a great day out on Gairich last September, and we had a grand jaunt last Saturday up this yin. I still tend to the view that I enjoyed those two hills far more than if I had tried to do both of them on one trip, driving a couple of miles round the lochside inbetween ascents. Which is a thing, apparently. Having said that, I'm sure I'd feel worse about my carbon footprint, and do a bit more hill-combining if I was getting up more than one new Munro every nine months.

We have a mix and match selection of photos. The light was better the first time, the height was better the second. Thus it's mainly April pictures. ;)

Not a bad wee vista, straight from the car


The stalker's path soon gets you up high, into the beautiful April weather. Five minutes later...'s snowing.

Target acquired.


Damn right, hmm. Slip crossing that, and you're not ending anywhere comfy.

The view back the way was good too. :)

It was still a right good walk, of course.

Here's a few from Saturday. The summit photos from the most recent visit went a bit monochrome, because I'm trying to learn how to work my camera, and I've, er, found a new button. Just be grateful it's not all sepia.

The last stretch, about five minutes beyond where we turned back in April. 

I maintain this section would be little fun in the snow that we saw two months earlier.

There's folk on that ridge...


Nearly there

Looking back down the ridge. Gleouraich in the middle distance. 


Yon's the South Glen Shiel ridge in the last photie. I'm beginning to wonder if the Wee Black Dug could manage that. Watch this space. But don't hold your breath. ;)

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Near coincidence.

I've maybe mentioned before on the blog that the primary reason that I continue to pay £10 each year to Munromagic is that it kind of makes me record hillwalk details soon after the event. I'm a man who likes to get his money's worth. Actually, given that I can't quite fathom what other advantages it gives you when compared to every other free Scottish Munro-related website, that is now the only reason.

Indeed, at risk of labouring the point - and now I think about it -  I've just realised that despite the subscription, nobody at Munromagic HQ is even bothering to publish the dug photos that I faithfully send in whenever one of the mutts bags a new yin. So, from starting a post about how yon tenner is a useful investment, I've just argued myself into emailing them to ask if anyone is checking their inbox these days.

Back in a minute.


That was a bit of a digression, eh? All I intended to say when I set out was that me, Andy and Maura were up Cruach Ardrain yesterday, and according to my Munromagic records, my last visit to the summit was on the 30th April 2005. So that was very nearly a coincidence.

Now I think about it even more, this is an entry that's probably best cut short, and rapidly directed towards photographs. ;)

(For any concerned Jorja watchers, she's had a wee recurrence of a neck pain problem, so it'll be a week or so before she's hill fit. Hopefully the presence of Maura, one of Andy's collection, will soothe the fevered brow of anyone missing a fix of Wee Black Dug.)

If you follow Ralph Storer's route, you miss a lot of bog!

The forestry road ends at a newish quarry. Stride over the stones and you're fine.

"You have now reached the open hill." :)

If you went over that stile, you'd follow the "old path" down to the A82. We started from the A85. See Storer!

Looking over to An Caisteal/Beinn a' Chroin. Ish.

Distant view of the new bypass

Grey Height - rocky.

Looking back over Grey Height

Cruach Ardrain. Looks a bit steep from here...

...and here.

It wasn't deceptive. A calf burner. ;)

Still cold higher up!

A brightly coloured fellow walker provides a focal point between Ben More and Stob Binnein. ;)

We left Airdrie just after 8:30, and we were home the back of 6, thus allowing for Saturday evening beery relaxation. Given that I had spent the Friday night reliving my youth watching UFO at the O2 in Glasgow, I consider the weekend comprehensively seized. Good times!

Sunday, 12 April 2015


Last Monday was the third time I've been to Invervar for a walk on the hills that lie on the Chesthill Estate. Both previous visits were eight years ago. On the first adventure, I met a couple of other solo walkers just below the summit of Carn Gorm, and the weather conditions - proper vicious whiteout stuff - led us to consult and reach a common decision that it was foolhardy to go any further, and we all turned tail and repaired to the car park as a group. By that time the sun was splitting the trees and the howling wind had completely disappeared, so it was a slightly sheepish bunch that jumped into their respective cars and drove off.

A few weeks later I went back, in unremarkable "showery with tolerably sunny spells" kind of stuff and managed the round of four Munros - four in one go for the first time ever - so I was rather pleased with myself.

Sadly, and thankfully unusually, it was also a wee bit of a relief to get the hills out the way. The estate has (apologies - this link seems to go straight to a download from the Mountaineering Council, and I don't know how to make it optional!) a reputation, gained over a long number of years, for being decidedly hillwalker-resistant, and you can't help - well certainly I couldn't help - letting the tales of access-related woe unsettle you a bit when you're leaving your car for seven hours or more in the middle of someone's land that really doesn't want you to be there.

Plus, I didn't want some unhinged gamekeeper to shoot me.

In all events, although there were some distinctly unwelcoming (and rather misleading) signs around the start of the walk, I neither got confronted nor assassinated, so that was all well and good. Fast forward to the present day, and the thought occurred that warm welcome or not, (a) the round of four would get the Wee Black Dug closer to the imminent 100 Munro landmark without a long distance expedition being necessary; (b) the forecast for the South eastern hills was distinctly better than for anywhere else, and (c) Andy hadn't done them either. ;)

It was a good Easter Monday day out. And I feel it always adds to a jaunt up a hill if there's an element of irony involved. That link to the MCoS survey is only one of many stories on the internet about access issues. Here's another one. My favourite quote from that article is the Chesthill Estate website saying: "The estate is subject to ever increasing access which is affecting our wildlife operations and business. We would ask you to cooperate to mitigate these adverse environmental impacts."

Yeah. Here's what the start of the walk looks like now...

Those pesky environmentally-unfriendly walking boots, eh?

Regardless, and in the interests of balance, we had a jolly good walk. The signs at the start do tend to prod you in the direction of an anti-clockwise round - a prodding we were content enough to go along with, because there were huge yellow diggers rolling up and down the Big New Road - but other than causing our otherwise finely-honed navigational skills to malfunction slightly when (having brought the route description for the clockwise trip) we thought we were at the top of number three a full hill too early, matters largely went according to plan. Our recent good fortune with the weather remains intact.

A couple of other points that we established. Firstly, if you're having that conversation in the car park about whether you should actually take the ice axe that you bothered putting into the car up the hill with you, because it really doesn't look like there's much snow left up there...just do it. Secondly, keep a proper ongoing tally of your dog's Munros, and then you'll realise that she's actually reached the ton on Meall Garbh, and you've omitted to bring champagne or party poppers or anything! ;)

A few pictures...

"Gaining height rapidly" on Creag Mhor

Summit ahoy

Jorja decides to let Andy go first, in case it's deep

Ben Lawers across the road

Carn Mairg

That could go any minute, eh?

Happy Hundredth, WBD

The onward route...

...and again.

Last pull to Carn Gorm

Four - count 'em, four.

And then it was just the descent. Remember that ice axe conversation?