Sailing More Without Sailing Back
by aaquater » Fri May 28, 2021 9:05 pm
Route description: Sail Mhòr, from Ardessie
Corbetts included on this walk: Sail Mhòr
Date walked: 08/05/2021
Time taken: 3.75 hours
Distance: 10.9 km
Ascent: 893m3 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
It's time to leave
Are yours to keep
That's how Lauri sings it, and looking at the forecast, I was right there with him, joining in. Well, in spirit; nothing good would've resulted from me singing audibly... Either way. Low, rainy clouds were supposed to cover the country throughout the day, but up north, there was a chance they wouldn't arrive until evening, creating a window for some short-ish walks. Spying a hill not far from Ullapool (as far north as I dared to go on a one-day trip), relatively isolated, not too high, and not far from a suitable parking area, I'd made my decision. It wasn't until later that I remembered the song, and the 'Sail' in the hill's name only reaffirmed the resolve to go!
On the day, though, the drive up didn't fill me with confidence. In an oversight, I hadn't checked the snow conditions, and guessing by the elevation of Drumochter pass, I judged the snow on the hills around the A9 to start from around 500 metres, and the clag from 550, and it was only 8 am. 'I should be faster than the clag,' I was telling myself, but there was nothing I could do about the snow. Fortunately, pulling up in Ardessie, I could still see my target hill, Sail Mhor, as well as its higher neighbour, An Teallach, meaning I truly had overtaken the clag. (By how much, though?) On a note just as encouraging, Sail Mhor hardly had any snow on it. That wasn't the case for An Teallach, and judging by how full the Dundonnell car park was, it didn't seem an issue. I'm a wimp, though, and want to see what exactly I'm stepping on, so the sight in front was encouraging (despite most likely being the barely-700-metre side top and not the actual summit).
On the E side of the allt, I took the path heading uphill, at least initially. I'd read that the path could get boggy... after a few metres, the ground flattened, and I just couldn't see it anymore. Perhaps it was due to the weather, perhaps I'm just that useless, but I found myself asking, 'Which one is just a stream, and which one is meant to be the path?' And I picked wrong, as the 'path' disappeared after a while, and I had to just trudge through mud and heather. Not blindly, as the target was unmistakable in front of me the entire time, but still trying to figure out where exactly I was meant to be. As the terrain got steeper, though, I found the path again - all nice and clear now - and the ascent past the waterfalls and the gorge was easier.
A little higher up, the ground got level again, and the path got indistinct, again. I thought I was still keeping track of it - or of its current form, at the very least, as the evidence of past erosion and landslides was striking, and the path had to keep diverting to stay on the higher ground, above the stream. Regardless, what comes around, goes around, and so the time I lost the path again did come somewhere just before the multi-confluence.
Not such a tragedy at this point, though. Instead of sticking to the suggested route exactly, I wanted to do the walk in reverse, as I prefer to get ascents done ASAP (and then descend by the longer, milder route, if given the choice). Thus, with no path left to follow, I dropped down to the allt to cross it.
Easier said than done. The walk description mentions moss-covered stones. Relatively few stones had moss growing on them - but for some reason, all the routes across the allt I could identify had at least a few! It took quite some time and a venture upstream to get to the other side.
The official route would've now headed for the bealach between the two hills in front of me. I'd contemplated a direct ascent of Sail Mhor, but a single look at the cliffs from Ardessie had convinced me to stick to the suggested route. From here, though, the ridge didn't look all that bad, and I don't like retracing my steps if a circular route can be made. Making up my mind, I went for the direttissima, thinking I would just move diagonally into the bealach if I couldn't go straight up. But I could, no problem. At no point did I feel like the slope was dangerously steep; it was a really nice ascent, even nicer due to the lack of false summits - where the hill started flattening, a point reached sooner than I expected, it was actually the top. Well, the side top, to be exact, but that was still pretty satisfying.
The picture above shows two things: 1) that the summit was only some 10 min away, and 2) that it was right on the edge of the snow. The 10 minutes were spent zig-zagging between the snowy patches (as I tried stepping on one and it was really slippery). The very summit had a more continuous layer on, but the ground wasn't steep there, so the cairns were reached and the views enjoyed with no issue.
Well. No issue in terms of the landscape, at least. Alongside the clouds and rain - still keeping their distance, thankfully - the forecast also mentioned strong wind. I hadn't really felt it until I'd started ascending Sail Mhor, and it had been a little helpful in pushing me up the slope if I'd angled myself right, but on the summit, the arctic wind meant I only stayed long enough to snap a few pictures before taking off W down the ridge, along a path that existed on that side.
1.5 hours from Ardessie to the summit, and I had a path to follow now. It didn't look half bad. And since I was trying to outrun the clouds, perhaps not stopping on the summit for a snack wasn't something to mourn.
Except the path only lasted until the 525 m bealach below Ruigh Mheallain; the little pull up the hill (that didn't feel so little) was pathless again. But it was a good vantage point for all the interesting stuff S and W, and there was a lot!
From Ruigh Mheallain, I decided to make another shortcut, descending at an angle instead of continuing towards the bealach. I reasoned that I would've had to cross Allt Coir' an Teallaich either way, so might as well save a few minutes and omit the bealach. Descending through a field rich in boulders, I made it to the allt, and... I was higher up than 1.5 hours before, so the crossing should be easier, right?
...Maybe, but if there was a difference, it was marginal. Once again, the rocks in the stream weren't too friendly (no smiles thrown my way), and finding a crossable spot took a few minutes.
On the other side, though, it was a long slog back. I kept finding these tiny paths, one boggier than the other, and sooner or later, they all slipped down the erosion and/or turned into streams, leaving me to fight my way through the heather. I hoped to find the path I'd used on the way up - and I did, eventually, but I was almost by the gorge again, long past the place where I'd lost it before. Paths don't agree with me at the best of times, and even less so when everything is soggy, squelchy, and saturated (are there more s- words that would fit?).
Trying to stay on the path once again, even on the next flatter section, it was confirmed that I'd strayed off on the way up, as what I currently believed to be the path led me much closer to the allt. As a result, I came across a few waterfalls that I'd seen in pictures but not in person 3 hours before.
A few minutes later, I'd made it back to Ardessie. Not a moment too soon; it had drizzled a little as I'd been making my way down the glen, but while I was enjoying the lunch I'd omitted on Sail Mhor, it started full-on raining. The rain arrived before the low clouds did, unlike what the forecast said. Not that it mattered anymore.
What am I missing... goats? I didn't see any up on the hill - but that didn't mean I missed out, as I'd already spotted them down by the road coming in. (No evidence; I would've had to be in a Streetview vehicle to get some.) Guess they were staying away from the wind?
Oh, and to explain the title a little... when I first saw Sail Mhor (More) on the map, I started also looking for Sail Bheag (Back), believing there should be one. And there was, but I don't know how well the two can be combined with Sail Mhor's steep NW side in the way. Thus, I stuck to Sail More only. And in terms of the sailing... granted, I don't know how windy it was on the coast. But once out of the hills' wind shelter... could be that if someone tried to do some sailing on that day, they wouldn't be sailing back, as they'd end up dealing with Canadian border control authorities before they knew it...
by gld73 » Sat May 29, 2021 9:47 pm
by kevsbald » Sun May 30, 2021 6:22 am
by aaquater » Mon May 31, 2021 9:30 pm
gld73 wrote:It's comforting to know that other people also suffer from the inability to differentiate between streams and paths ...
You're welcome! Not sure if it's due to thinking too much or not thinking enough... but I'm also not sure if coming across the answer would help much...
by aaquater » Mon May 31, 2021 9:39 pm
kevsbald wrote:That last photo of the waterfall is incredible. I must get up there.
Yeah, the waterfalls are wonderful. The level ground around them, not so much. I'd say it's better to do this walk after a few dry days, except waterfalls put on a better show in rainy weather... maybe in the wet, it's preferable to start from the middle, whichever way you're going?
by jmarkb » Tue Jun 01, 2021 8:20 am
kevsbald wrote:That last photo of the waterfall is incredible. I must get up there.
There is also a sketchier path on the west side of the burn, which isn't obvious from the road - it only really appears a little way up the burn. If you just head up diagonally from the parking spot towards the burn, you should soon find it. It has a couple of advantages - a better view of the upper set of falls, and avoiding the need to cross the burn if there is a lot of water in it, so it is worth doing at least in one direction!
The erosion that has removed bits of the path above the falls all occurred during a flash flood in August 2014 - see https://floodforecastingservice.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/berth-storm.png for a couple of scary pictures. This also excavated a lot of the bare slabs next to the burn and closed the road for a couple of days.
by aaquater » Tue Jun 01, 2021 11:13 pm
jmarkb wrote:There is also a sketchier path on the west side of the burn, which isn't obvious from the road - it only really appears a little way up the burn.
I considered staying on the west going up, but then decided to take the path said to be clearer. In the end, the difference likely wouldn't have been that great and I would've been spared one awkward crossing - so yeah, I second the opinion that if taking a shortcut and not going via Ruigh Mheallain, staying on the west would be a very reasonable option!
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