We got a bit more than we bargained for - weather-wise - this weekend. Although the forecast was suggesting high winds and snow...just didn't think it would be quite so wintery as we found it on Saturday when we are now well into May.
We're off on holidays next weekend and wanted something easy and self contained for this one. To my surprise I found that Morvich campsite was open for tents - that made planning a bit easier. Allison needed pretty much all the Kintail Munros, so our "Munro yourself back into fitness" plan could continue with the relative luxury of our big tent and campsite facilities. The forecast suggested that Friday would be the best day so we headed up on Thursday evening. An uneventful journey other than I was low on fuel and passed by the filling stations in Fort William as they were busy...reluctantly I geared up to stop at the Cluny (which, along with the garage in Dalwhinnie, seems to have the most expensive fuel in Scotland); however a big lorry pulled in there just in front of me and looked like it would take 15 minutes to fuel up.. on we went: Shiel Bridge was shut (closed til 1st June I believe), there's always Inverinate...also shut (at 6pm). I had enough fuel left to get me to Kyle: but not to get back to the campsite if it was closed...so we motored back along to Morvich and I resolved to get to the garage first thing in the morning.
I haven't stayed in Morvich before - full of ampervans and motorhomes, but a reasonable - if a little soggy - field put aside for tents, on its own. There were four or five ultralight tents belonging to people doing the CWT: we felt like we were in the "holiday tent" as we pitched the big Hille... had a chat to a couple of guys walking the CWT, who had been caught out by the weather - not having Brought warm enough kit for the type of "May weather" then an evening meal that wasn't "Huel - hot and spicy" and a fairly good night's sleep.
Up at 7 on Friday morning to witness a considerable whitening of the mountains overnight. I drove off to fill up the car, which I managed much to my relief, then we decided we'd do Beinn Fhada rather than the Sisters as I'd been thinking. The Sisters perhaps still a little challenging for our level of fitness, plus it makes sense to do them with the South Shiel Ridge and the Brothers...So Beinn Fhada it was - to include the Tops and a Sim that I've been after for a long time. We could set off directly from the tent, which was nice. Gleann Choinneachain was pretty as always, with the snow really adding to the drama of the vista once we'd crossed the Alt a'Choire Chail. Onto the winding path into Coire an Sgairne and deep snow as we emerged onto the "big blanket" (Plaide Mhor). Around a foot of deep new snow to plough through - of course wee had to be the first folk up, so I picked a line up towards the summit and got stuck into humphing myself the remaining 200 or so metres of ascent. That fairly warmed me up...Allison commented that it's one thing to be re-finding your "mountain legs" without having to find your "snow legs" at the same time.
D7FEEEBF-C14E-4B8D-82E1-FFB91A3AF98F_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
21A01587-FE38-46DC-93D5-AE04AEC12320_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
F2AFBED8-436B-4874-A848-832900B772A4_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
F49EF692-2F27-4C0D-A94E-085565664108_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
C55C0A33-A245-467E-AFE8-B93BFD246594_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
CD70D72C-3101-4778-8295-10188FE62FCF_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
Looking over to the Top of Sgurr a Dubh Coire
896F5A05-9592-4BCE-B33B-C34A5355AFE1_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
We perched just down from the trig column and had some lunch, whilst another two couple came to the summit. Looking over at Sgurr a Dubh Coire, it seemed quite far away (2.5km) along the snowy ridge. Pretty, though. We set off - fortunately there's not too much height lost in getting over to this one and the wind had decreased the depth of the snow lying along the ridge. The weather was very changeable, with great clouds and sudden darkening of the skies adding to the visual spectacle. Top reached, it now looked an even longer way back to the west Top of Meall an Fhuarain Mhoir (4km). One thing for it...trudge, trudge trudge. The snow was deep in places, fresh and soft underfoot. I mused that snowshoes would have been of assistance here. Finally we made it to the top, enjoyed fine views of a snow-capped Hunter's Ridge and out to Loch Duich. Time to turn around and descend by way of Coire an Sgairne - one final target to achieve: the Sim of Meall a'Bhealaich. This rocky peak is familiar to anyone who has walked up Bealach an Sgairne, as its cliffs make up the southern side of the valley there. But easy enough to reach from the standard descent path from Fhada. A bit of up and down over rocky outcrops and we'd made it to the summit.
31302540-325E-433E-99A4-9D5A570604CF_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
BCE72E16-8B01-495E-8E37-9EEE2488E3A5_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
8DA7FC10-FC7E-4CFA-9F7B-88D1B548E44C_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
4522C2AF-3E28-4555-ABC0-7BE97B0B2246_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
F783D0C7-E2A5-4CB7-AE93-6E27EFE884ED_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
DF3A14F9-72B9-48D6-8E6E-12F9015333A6_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
003200A9-657C-4F43-A0E2-AF9CD1497E83_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
FBBDA977-A8E1-41ED-BAF5-D4300E2FF158_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
772857BD-1E45-4FCE-BB0F-97210FB032F6_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
D220A4D5-927F-4445-83EE-1766B6A8ABE4_1_100_o by Al, on Flickr
Back along the way we'd come in, tired after almost 11 hours out on the hills. 11 hours - for one Munro?! I remember when we'd have got a whole clutch done in that time. Back at the campsite we spoke to another guy doing the CWT and to one of these hill-runner types down from Aberdeen who was going to be doing the Sisters and Brothers the following day - after he'd logged in for an hour's work. Saturday's forecast was for it to be dry but with big winds. We had another quiet night - although cold and clear.
There seemed to be a bit less snow around today, and for a moment I thought again about doing The Sisters. However, that would have been lunacy...we decided to try the three eastern hills at the Clunie end of the glen - the Sgurr nan Conbhairean trio. Allison needed the tops on Sail Chaorainn, and as these are normally a fairly easy circuit, I thought they should be fine. No other walkers' cars at the parking spot - hmmm a Saturday morning in Kintail, in May? Bit weird. We set off up the standard route, enjoying the well laid path and remarking at the absence of snow all the way up to the first summit of Carn Ghluasaid. The wind was quite strong, but nothing like it was to become...
FE34B834-1A6A-4F72-94D8-612ABA16C46E_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
Carn Ghluasaid looking to Conbhairean
18D15AD2-F12A-42CF-A2DA-18BEF54BCA84_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
Onwards around the perimeter of Coire Bodach nan Gobhar (Corrie of the Goat man??) and on towards the towering peak of Conbhairean...this was getting a bit more serious. The wind still wasn't too bad, but yesterday's snow had hardened into a crisp layer and crampons were required to make the last 100m to the summit. Can't remember the last time we used them! We continued north, around An-Garbh Coire where we had a bite to eat out of the worst of the wind before continuing on to Sail Chaorainn. Visibility started to diminish, but there were plenty of yesterday's footprints to follow. Having reached the Munro Summit we pressed on to the first Top - which had a couple of dicey sections with steep drops on either side and a snow bridge to cross...after we attained this summit we had a parley about whether to continue on. We were fine for time, but the forecast had suggested the weather would worsen as the day went on, we didn't have a paper map with us (not having intended to do these hills) and I thought it looked about 2km each way to the further summit (wrong, 1.2km). So with reservations, we turned around and left Tigh Mor na Seilge for another day (I have a cunning plan to approach from the east and include two hard to get otherwise Sims...).
13B9717D-4DDC-4C55-A7A7-E4FDA36271C2_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
Before the weather closed in
73559336-1889-457A-9A3C-6C3D01E69C11_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
C15272DB-0F87-40C8-98C6-5DF79ED4541A_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
We both were still in two minds about our decision as we made it back to the main summit, but the visibility deteriorated until we found ourselves in "The White Room", where we haven't been for a long while. The wind was devouring our footprints almost as soon as we'd made them. At one point Allison tripped over snow or rock and landed flat on her face, like she'd been pole-axed. Fortunately no damage done. On the way back towards Conbhairean, one of my crampons came apart...managed to find the separated sections and sat trying to puzzle them together whilst the wind and snow whipped me roundly. Kypton Factor moment over, we continued on, contouring round the west of the peak, sometimes managing to find faint remnants of yesterday's walkers paths but often stepping off into pure whiteness with nothing but the GPS to rely on. Then came "the fine arête" of Drochaid an Tuill Easaich. We'd crossed this once before in snow and we remembered it as a little scary then. With very poor visibility and very strong winds it was mildly terrifying today. I went across first, trusting that the snow wouldn't suddenly slide me down into the gaping white maw, and that my crampons would remain in one piece...Once across the snow bridge, we continued up to the final Top of the day at 1001m before heading back south along the rim of Coire Lar. This was where the wind was at its strongest - I felt like a puppet in its grip and was flung back and fro, which is never a great thing to happen on a boulder field. Slowly, with as much care as possible, we headed down the mountainside, the wind lessening as we did, the snow becoming a faint memory.
We've never descended by this route before, I think we've always gone on to do A'Chrailaig and Mullach Fraoch Coire in the past, so this was a new experience. It's quite a long, winding way and we diverged from the WH route, following a clear footpath - sometimes quite slippy and eroded - until we reached the road where we had a few kms to return to the car at Lundie. We were both chilled and tired after our exposure to the wind, and wanted to just collapse in a heap when back at the tent. Couldn't even muster enough energy to have a hot shower. On our drive back to Morvich we'd spotted the hill runner guy we'd been talking to, out riding his bike with his mates. Never got to ask him if he'd made the Sisters & Brothers - but he probably had and was now having a wee relax cycling 100 miles on his bike. How to make an old man feel...old
54E984FB-1CC7-4ABB-A382-8CB8D22DA70D_1_100_o by Al, on Flickr
Sunday was supposed to be OK in the morning, turning to heavy rain all afternoon. The wind, although still quite strong , was nothing like it had been the day before. Allison fancied doing A'Ghlas Bheinn today, which seemed an easy enough target, even though it meant walking up Gleann Choinneachain again. The snow had had quite a fright overnight, and was much reduced on the peaks around us as we walked along - the level of the river crossing commensurately higher with snow melt. Up to Bealach Sgairne and the start of the path up A'Ghlas Bheinn. It seemed to be taking forever to gain height - I had in my mind that the high point on the Bealach was 650m, but it's only 500m- so that explained why after some time climbing we were only at 700m This mountain has more false summits than most and we dutifully headed up and over each one. Although there was some residual snow, it was soft and granular, no need for any ironmongery today. A couple of recent slips have eroded the path in places. We paused for lunch at the top, being joined shortly by a Scouse guy who'd come up from Dorusduain Wood and wanted to head across to Hunter's Ridge...fair enough.
D2D27072-B1E6-4979-8379-C51A5F55BB46_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
4CE395E3-BB59-41C0-8955-67B9D91CB740_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
6D1D8D79-2B50-4E17-8FB2-2733E612EFAD_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
The steep cliffs of Meall a'Bhealaich
5B1D0312-58E3-48EB-8075-2FC9D2443B0F_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
35C4E14D-4D00-4B6E-885E-12138B8372AC_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
551ED7F1-DBE8-478A-9177-5B5E70F0476C_1_100_o by Al, on Flickr
1C686F0D-08FD-441D-9228-4D17F5CA8BFE_1_201_a by Al, on Flickr
55DEA143-7A87-412A-B9B9-F42376B433E2_1_100_o by Al, on Flickr
I wanted to head back on the Bealach na Sroine path, but it proved awkward to find the exit route off A'Ghlas Bheinn in the snow: and when I did find it it looked rough and slippy in today's conditions - probably not worth risking Allison's slowly recovering shoulder. So we went back along the outward route, meeting a couple and their lovely collie who recognised us from on here. We lettered for a while, then continued back to the car and the journey home.
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.