Friday, September 06, 2013

Glencoe: Meall Dearg (212)

Walk date: 20/4/13
My Munro #'s: 242

Pronunciations - translations - heights:

Myowl d-yerrack - red hill - 953m
Duration - 08:30 - 12:30
Distance -  8.5km
Total ascent -  920m
Weather - windy and cold at times, but also with moments of calm.  Only a light drizzle at one point. 
Team - with Paul P
Other hikers: 2 on top, one seen on ridge

The no-nonsense ridge-free approach!

Having previously taken on the Aonach Eagach ridge and failed in my young gutsy days (write-up here), I had no intention of facing it again without a full support team carrying me in a rope cage the whole way over, and so, with Meall Dearg still unvisited, I started to look for alternatives routes.

Thankfully, it proved quite simple to find one coming up from the Kinlochleven road.  A longer but very much straightforward approach.  Indeed, one of the trickiest bits is finding the 'car park', but from there a clear path sets off on a friendly incline up alongside the river.  

As the first part of the glen comes to a head and the Aonach Eagach looms impressively ahead, the incline sharpens over rough grass and heather, but there are plenty of options and the bealach between Meall Dearg and Garbh Bheinn is soon reached.

From the bealach the slopes up to Meall Dearg are actually very steep and reminded us of our approach up Sgor na h-Ulaidh the day before.  Although not quite as bad as that, it did have quite a lot of snow patches though which Sgor na h-Ulaidh did not have.  A lot of these could be avoided both up and down but some others had to be crossed with lots of patience and tiring kicking.

Eventually the slopes eased off and we were striding across the snow dome of the summit.  The views were very rewarding as Glencoe opened up below and the Aonach Eagach ridge was face on with us.  Also satisfying was that the top represented my last Glencoe peak, and one that had loomed in my mind for a long time as I was convinced it would mean repeating the ridge of doom!

On the summit we were met my an amiable couple and chatted for a while, but we had to laugh to ourselves as this, clearly more experienced and technically-minded, pair said how they though the conditions would be more wintry and they expected more of a challenge.  What a pity!  They are welcome to it, each to their own!

The return was fine, just a need to be careful on the snow, and, ironically, on the almost flat lower grass slopes metres from the car, where I took my hardest fall of the whole week, nevermind!

Anyway, here's hoping next year brings up better weather!

The east side of the ridge with the infamous down-scramble:

The Aonach Eagach, as seen from upper slopes of Meall Dearg:

Victorious on top!

Looking over the ridge...

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Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Glen Etive Hills and Glencoe: Beinn Fhionnlaidh (198) and Sgor na h-Ulaidh (149)

Walk date: 19/4/13
My Munro #'s: 240 and 241

Pronunciations - translations - heights:
Byn yoonly - Finlay's hill - 959m

Skoor na hoolya - peak of the treasure - 994m

Duration - 09:15 - 21:00
Distance -  34.3 km
Total ascent -  2636 m
Weather - nice amount of sun combined with light winds, made a nice change!
Team - with Paul P
Other hikers: none

The simple blue route just wasn't going to happen, but we managed the doggedly persistent red route!
The inclines say it all!

2013 Hiking Week - Day 7

Now this was an epic of a day!  In the preparations for this week, I knew we would be moving into this area and I was frustrated by the number of single hill days.  Scanning the maps I wondered why my books neglected putting Beinn Fhionnlaidh and Sgor na h-Ulaidh into a single walk, two hills that seemed so close together.  Was it just that the former was officially a Glen Etive hill and the latter a Glencoe hill, therefore not lending themselves to a walk that would fit a rigid book-by-region format?

I started to research the possibilities online, and reassuringly found some intrepid souls who had had the same mind and had managed it.  They had done it the other way round to my plan, and had had a car pick up rather than needing to make the return, but it all seemed feasible.  They complained a bit about the quality of the link between the hills, but not too much.

With the weather onside then, we set off with a good pace from Elleric where we had started the day before's hike, and it felt good to have a seemingly straightforward day ahead of us after a mixed-bag of a week. 

The initial incline upon leaving the area of Glenure was much kinder than the day before too, and soon we were striding up the very long and grassy ridge of Beinn Fhionnlaidh, with nothing in the way of snow at the lower levels.  Above Lochan Cairn Deirg there were pockets of the white stuff, but it was confined to hardened patches that were easy to walk around.  

With not much fuss the summit was soon reached and we felt elated, rewarded with stunning views all around including Sgor na h-Ulaidh, the next target, looking extremely steep and sturdy but achievable, once the simple task of getting off Beinn Fhionnlaidh was completed of course.

This seemed fine to start with, a little bit of steep soft snow initially giving way to a good path on fine ground.   After that it was back to striding along a wide ridge as we made our way east to the subsidiary peak marked at 841m.

However, surveying the land from this vantage point, it was not at all obvious where the route on lay.  The ground from this point on dropped away too steeply for a clear line of sight, and we started an incremental process on continuous making our way down to the immediate next grassy patch, having another look, and repeating, all the time wondering if our luck would run out.

After some good time at this, and with the slope getting ever steeper, we had dropped considerable height, but still had no clear solution to the tempting flat ground below.  Eventually, it was too much for Paul who rightly expressed his concerns.  Although I had a few more steps down to try and see a route through, none appeared, and I had to agree that we had scant guarantee of remaining safe going forward.

Gutted, but satisfied that when in doubt we made decent decisions, we started on up the steep slope, eventually making it back to the 841m mark.  Although the default position was that we would now return to camp, it was at this point that my mind started to muse on arduous yet safe alternatives.  

I voiced to Paul an idea I had to retrace our steps all the way to Lochan Cairn Deirg (we were going there anyway), but then to go north and then north east past Lochan Caorainn and down the long seemingly gentle ridge down to the foot of Sgor na h-Ulaidh.

After the initial shock that his chips and pint would take longer to come than expected, Paul agreed to follow me onward and so we took a deep breath and slogged back up Beinn Fhionnlaidh and then down to the lochans.  The route up to Caorainn was fair enough and then the second attempt to get off this hill started.  Initially all was good, although just like before we didn't have a clear line of sight for the route and so we remained quite nervous that our luck would run out again.

As I knew that the end of the ridge was rocky I took us off onto its southern flank down some extremely steep but acceptable grassy slopes.  With the nearby river and its gully getting closer, these slopes were getting awfully restricted, and for a while it looked like we might be getting to another dead-end, but thankfully a tiny, slim, channel remained and we we able to push on through.  

After all the effort we could finally exhale and begin chatting again!  However, we had merely achieved access, and the effort for the second hill was just beginning.  With this in mind we clambered up to the bealach between Meall a' Bhuiridh and Sgor na h-Ulaidh before we allowed ourselves some snacks!

Sgor na h-Ulaidh is an impressively steep hill, and a route has to be picked at between outcrops of rock with substantial drops off them!  The advantage of this is that height is soon gained, but it was exhausting work after all we'd already done.  Eventually a path emerged and the inclines lessened and there was no more up to do!  Reaching the summit meant that suddenly views down into Glencoe appeared and they were an incredible reward!

We had only reached the summit at 5pm and we knew it was going to be a long slog out.  With that in mind I texted home to give them warning of a late finish, and after a brief rest we re-traced our steps (carefully!) down to the bealach.  

Probably the quickest way back would have been to climb again to the lochans and then rejoin the path down Beinn Fhionnlaidh, but we had had enough of climbing and we set off west down the glen instead.  This was initially a fine route over rough grass, and so we happily ignored a forest track appearing over the river on the northern bank, but this was to be a mistake, as the route on skirted the south side of forestry plantations, and this was to be gruelling walking traversing a slope for a good hour on rough grass mounds and with significant and unexpected incline.  

Eventually the forest finished and we got down to flat ground, but the track on the map which had been our target took a little while to emerge, and so we weren't even saved then.  Once it did make an appearance we could finally grit our teeth and try for a decent end-of-day pace.  In fading light, we practically hugged the car when we made it there.

Looking back, I would certainly link these hills again, but the best route would seem to be using the Lochain Caorainn ridge for the journey there and back, something much more palatable without the effort and time lost to the ill-advised jaunt down Beinn Fhionnlaidh's eastern ridge.

Looking down the eastern ridge of Beinn Fhionnalidh:

The summit of Beinn Fhionnlaidh:

The view of Beinn Fhionnlaidh from the 841m point:

Paul contemplating that blind descent:

The way we'd been trying to come down seen from the other side!

The view from Sgor na h-Ulaidh:

Enjoy the rest as you'll need it!

The sun beats down to reward our efforts:

The last time you'll smile for 4 hours!

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Friday, July 19, 2013

The Glen Etive Hills: Beinn Sgulaird (237)

Walk date: 18/04/13
My Munro #'s: 239

Pronunciations - translations - heights:

Byn skoolard - unknown - 937m
Duration - 13:45 - 18:00
Distance -  9.22 km
Total ascent -  968m
Weather - blasts of wind at the start but they soon died off as did the spatters of rain we'd felt.  the rest was still breezy but ok, with the cloud lifting on our descent.
Team - with Paul P

Other hikers: 2 others

This day saw us driving to Fersit again with the intention of another attempt on Stob Coire Sgriodain and Chno Dearg, but after sitting in the car for 15 minutes with hail smacking against us and the whole car shaking with the wind we thought better of it, and spent most if the rest of the morning in a cafe reading the newspaper! 

However, with the weather calming down in the afternoon, we decided to give the short and sharp Beinn Sgulaird a go. 

This was a good decision!  The walk starts off nicely on a private road going from the car park at Elleric to the hamlet of Glenure.  Once past these buildings though, and once over the pleasant little bridge, there is a subtle cairn on rocks to the right, which signals that, most definitely, that the only way is directly up!  

From this first field there is very little relief, just a couple of flat notches on the way up a steep and direct ascent.  For a while paths appear, but they're easy to lose amongst the grass and rocks and as long as you carry on going up you can't really go wrong. 

Toward the very top this hill is quite craggy and bouldery, but bizarrely this made the hiking quicker as we could easily stride over the gaps.  Soon we were at the cairn, happy to have claimed a hill in this week of weather woes, and so not too sad to be in the cloud without a view to speak of.  

The return was pretty straightforward.  We veered off our exact route up a little, but it was of little concern as gravity's helping hand made sure progress was very quick!  After that it was a shift over to the Glencoe Youth Hostel ready for our final two days!

The private road to Glenure, with Beinn Sgulaird in the distance:

Me celebrating on top:

And Paul!

Halfway down and the views opened up, looking west:

This was from the next day's hike; Beinn Sgulaird from the east:

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Friday, July 05, 2013

Loch Treig and Loch Ossian: an attempt on Stob Coire Sgriodain (174) and Chno Dearg (86)

Walk date: 17/4/13
My Munro #'s: N/A

Pronunciations - translations - heights:

stop kora sgreeadan - peak of the scree - 979m
knaw jerrack - red nut or red hill - 1046m
Duration - 08:30 - 11:30
Distance -  9.15 km
Total ascent -  600m
Weather - High winds with heavy rain that turned to fine, biting snow
Team - with Paul P

Other hikers: none

The blue line was the intended route 
(including the optional extra Beinn na 
Lap, but that hill was never really under
consideration due to the weather).  The
red line is as far as we got!

After taking a day out on the previous day due to the forecast all day long 100mph winds, we were determined to make something of this day; the winds were forecast to be high, but only in the afternoon, and so we hoped that we could repeat our Strathfarrar success by making a quick push in the morning.  We also sought to make things easier by taking the cue from the previous Ossian day and converting a ridge circular into a 'corrie-T'!

From the start the day was officially a wet one.  Constant heavy drops poured down as we set off through the tiny hamlet of Fersit.  After the houses, the track exits onto open farmland and the route departs to the right (south) across boggy fields and a crossing of a river that on a dry day probably isn't even there!

Height is nicely gained on fairly steep grassy slopes with a 'path' that dips in and out of view. Once over this initial burst of hill the incline softens and good paths are found.  Unfortunately for us the paths soon disappeared under the increasing snow.  To our right, the snow-pocketed northern ridge of Stob Coire Sgriodain disappeared ominously into thick cloud.  It was at this time too that the heavy plods of rain rain finally gave over to being white too, which worked to add a fresh layer to that already underfoot.

All through this stretch the southerly winds had been picking up, eventually to the level to make things difficult, and this was still at a relatively low level (~700m or so) and with the protection of the hills ahead.  This planted a healthy dose of doubt in our minds that progress could be continued.  We decided to get to Lochan Coire an Lochain, have a snack and make a decision.

However, about half a km below the lochan we came to some crags and the route on was through a channel between two outcrops.  As was to be expected, this channel had become a wind tunnel, with fierce winds flying through carrying fine harsh snow, both fresh and drifting.  After sheltering in the crags, we gave it a determined push, but soon burst out laughing at how ridiculous it was.  There was no decision to be made, with the conditions so difficult at this level, there was no sense in carrying on, and it was a return to the car for us.  No hills, but still a fair bit of fun was had!

Once back at the car, one other car came to the car park, with suited-up hikers inside.  They parked for 5 minutes, and then drove away, put off by the conditions!  That made us feel totally intrepid!

Paul taking shelter:
The channel between the crags below Lochan Coire an Lochain:

Loving it!

Snow banks on the river:

Resting it up in the Grog and Gruel, Fort William:

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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Loch Treig and Loch Ossian: Carn Dearg (231) and Sgor Gaibhre (208)

Walk date: 15/4/13
My Munro #'s: 237 and 238

Pronunciations - translations - heights:

Kaarn jarrack - red hill - 941m
Skor gyra - goat's peak - 955m
Duration - 09:45 - 16:45
Distance -  27.3 km
Total ascent -  1312m
Weather - very mixed.  Dry throughout but never settling on wind, sun, or cloud...
Team - with Paul P

Other hikers: none

After the severe weather of the previous days, it was a relief to have one vaguely forecast to be acceptable.  However, the predicted 60 mph winds meant that we did change the route from a circular ridge walk to one going straight up the glen and then jutting out to each peak, a 'T' if you will!

After a lengthy drive from Pitlochry on exceptionally windy roads, we pitched up near the extremely remote Rannoch Station and started off up the good Landrover track.  This was only slightly delayed by a river crossing slightly too wide and deep to stride through, fortunately the next, bigger, one had a bridge!

To take the glen route, as the turn at a small forest is reached, leave the good path and take the thin trail alongside the Allt Eigheach, this improves as it goes along and it soon meets a deerstalker's track and so widens a little although it was rather wet on this day.

As height was slowly gained we started to enter the snow fields, patchy at first, but then more constant, with plenty of melt-water streams underneath ready to catch you out (up to my knee in one on the way up!).

Making a line up the bank of Carn Dearg, we eventually kicked our way up onto the crest, and were met by the forecast blustery winds, but fortunately also the expected incomparable views across the bleak wilderness of Rannoch Moor and Loch Ossian, over to Beinn na Lap and the imposing Ben Alder group.  We felt truly privileged to be there, but also well aware that this was wild land, and it was our responsibility to work at getting back safely!

After the summit of Carn Dearg, we almost went wrong immediately, strutting off down the northwestern spur before correcting ourselves with a compass bearing!  From there it was plain sailing down and up onto Sgor Gaibhre, simple even on snow.  Only the return down into the glen was problematic as the meltwater streams hiding under the snow were plentiful and deep.

Once back to the path the long stride out beckoned, but a lone hiker in the distance provided a quarry to keep a pace on, and we were soon enough back at the car.

Looking down the glen before the final climb:

Wild Rannoch!

Loch Ossian:

Sgor Gaibhre from Carn Dearg:

Getting closer:
Ben Alder:

Paul on Sgor Gaibhre:

And me:

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Glen Affric and Strathfarrar: Sgurr Fhuar-thuill (82) but NOT Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais (60)

Walk date: 14/04/13

My Munro #'s: 236

Pronunciations - translations - heights:

Skoor ooar hil - peak of the cold hollow - 1049m
Duration - 10:00 - 14:30
Distance -  10.8km
Total ascent -  1045m
Weather - calm in morning, hint of sun and blue sky, very windy along top ridge.  Heavy rain at the end of the day.
Team - with Paul P
Other hikers: none

Loch Toll a' Mhuic:
With a forecast of winds upto 100mph in the afternoon, there was considerable discussion with the team at home regarding whether or not anything at all should be attempted on this day, but with the forecast also predicting a 'lull' in the morning, we decided to reduce our aims and just try the one hill which would mean minimal time up at height and maximum protection against the wind.

And so, after a tremendous breakfast at the Struy Inn, we drove up lonely Strathfarrar and set off on a good Landrover track over the lower slopes, soon gaining reasonable height.  The river beside the track was immediately a torrent, and the waterfalls marked on the map were very impressive.  

Above the waterfalls was a small bridge which would have been used on the way down if we had still been going for the circuit, but that will be for another time.

After that the path becomes more winding, but also flattens out and progress was good.  However, just below the loch in the corrie the path hits a river but there was no crossing possible with the depth of the flow going through.

In soggy conditions then we had a last ditch effort to round the loch just in case it was possible, but fully expecting to have to turn back. Fortunately the far side was quite manageable, and we were soon back on the path entering the high corrie below Sgurr na Fearstaig and treading over thick patches if snow.

With cornices above, Paul spotted a diagonal line of snow moving NE which indeed turned into the route onward, helpfully confirmed later on by snowy footprints.  This route was hard going, with a deep snow ascent being replaced by a slippery traverse on all fours.

Eventually, we made it onto the broad ridge, with less than 500m to the summit.  Here the winds were strong but manageable, I would guess being 50-60 with gusts of 70mph.  A quick tap of the cairn then and we were retracing our steps.

As predicted, as soon as we were off the ridge, we weren't really affected by the wind, and soon we were making a decent quick descent in the increasing rain, looking forward to a dry car, a late lunch, and an eventual dinner in Pitlochry at The Moulin Inn.  

The shortened day means Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais is the only hill in the whole district that hasn't received my attention, but somehow I'll cope with having to stay at the Struy Inn again, and it's always better safe than sorry!

That tricky traverse on the way down:

Looking south with Sgurr na Muice on the right:

Me 'enjoying' the traverse:

Making good progress once down:

The diagonal of the traverse visible on the slope:

The Moulin!

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