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West Monar foray - second try

West Monar foray - second try

Postby NevJB » Mon May 05, 2014 1:40 pm

Munros included on this walk: Sgurr a'Chaorachain, Sgurr Choinnich

Date walked: 28/04/2014

Time taken: 48 hours

Distance: 23 km

Ascent: 1230m

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Monday dawned sunny, warm and calm. We enjoyed our last breakfast at the B&B before reorganising our stuff for a few days wild camping. We bade our farewells to our lovely landlady (another ‘No’ although a native of Skye) and headed for ……………… the Kyle of Lochalshe and then on to Broadford in search of a walking shop. Neill had managed ‘one sticked’ yesterday, but I thought he ought to have two when carrying a heavier pack. We weren’t in a hurry as there was only a short walk in today. The Kyle was bathed in sunshine, but Skye was still draped in haar. The walking shop was found and a cheapy pair of poles bought; luckily the middle section fitted into Neill’s Leki pole. Hopefully, it would do the job provided that he didn’t ‘lean’ on it with the same force as he had coming off the summit of Maol Chean-dearg. The drive back to Lochcarron was quick so we stopped off at the Tearoom for a sandwich and a cuppa – very good. Then on to Craig, by which time it was around noon.

After our wild camping exploits last year we were determined to carry less. The new improved tent weighed 2kg less. No crampons, so less by another 2 kg. Fewer clothes so down by another kg. Only one stove this year, but an extra pot – 500g less. But then we come to food rations. Neill and I do not do ‘rations’, this is our bête noire and by turn, the bulk of our burden. Sorry Chris Townsend, but we are never going to be lightweight, going far and fast, campers.

3 x 150g portions of porridge + 80g of dried milk (3 breakfasts)
6 sachets of ‘Look what we’ve found’ casseroles (3 dinners)
3 bags of ‘boil in the bag’ rice (3 dinners) – to ‘bulk out’ the dinners with carbohydrate.

Now it gets serious
14 x High 5 peanut energy bars – these are heavy!
Energy drink powder – in portions, enough for 3 days

And very serious
6 x mini pork pies (comfort food)
1 x 1lb pork pie (extra comfort food for essential emergencies)
6 x Snickers bars (dessert and morale booster)
6 x Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers (because we do)
500g of Demerara sugar (for the porridge of course – an essential for Neill)

Of top priority
24 tea bags
1 pint of semi-skimmed (dried milk in tea is simply unacceptable)

Let’s face it – we need a Sherpa or two.

Anyway, like two mad Englishmen of days gone by we set off in the midday sun.
01_Sgurr nan Ceannaichean.jpg
Not a cloud in the sky

The packs were lighter than last year, but that positive was immediately nullified by the temperature. It may have only been 18-20C; it might just as well have been 10 degrees higher. Off we trudged past the new hydro works and up the track – you could see the workers thinking, “Mad buggers, they must be English.” Several vans went up [and down] the track and not one offered us a lift. It may have been something to do with H&S, after all we didn’t have hard hats; or, they thought we ought to do this without cheating to gain a greater sense of achievement. Be that as it may, my feet were sore from yesterday and did not appreciate the added pounding on the forestry track. As those who have done this walk know the first 3km is ‘up’ and the second 3km a gentle ‘down’ (mostly). We reached Pollan Buidhe after about 2 hours or so and any thought of striding on to Bealach Bhearnais had long since evaporated. We camped by the wire crossing; it was flat, it was dry, it was sheltered, it was close to water and dammit, it was no further to go!
02_Neill on reaching Pollan Buidhe.jpg
Neill - hot and bothered

03_Camp at Pollan Buidhe.jpg
Camp at Pollan Buidhe

04_Camp at Pollan Buidhe_2.jpg
Camp with mountain backdrop this time

After a brief rest we put up the new improved tent and it had better be improved [given the outlay]. Then yours truly made things right once more by producing two mugs of tea. What does this brew have that almost no other can match? After that I drifted into oblivion for 20-30 minutes until I heard a loud ‘splash’, followed by ‘Aarrrgh!’ and raucous laughter. He’s ‘fallen in the water’ I thought. Neill doing a good impression of Bluebottle [younger readers should ask parents] presented himself outside the tent – dripping head to toe. He’d tried to find a way across Alt á Chonais (without poles) and slipped; he was not to be the last as you will read. The wire crossing is crap at helping you across the burn, but it does provide a wonderful clothes line and in no time at all Neill’s clothes were dry.

Time for dinner. ‘Wild West Highland Venison Stew’ + rice + Snickers and tea. Luxury! Whilst draining the last dregs of tea from our mugs two ladies returned from Lurg Mhor; both stumbled a bit over the very same slippery rock, but without getting wet. And so to bed – a rather clammy, but quiet night. In the morning it became obvious why it had been so clammy; there was a thick fog.

Breakfast: tea, porridge, tea.

Small packs ready, we decided to try and do Sgùrr Choinnich, Sgùrr a Chaorachain and Maoile Lunndaidh. We made the bealach in just over an hour – time for pictures! I’d always wanted to see a cloud inversion and was hoping that with the fog this would happen – it did and I was ‘appy.
05_Mist over Loch Monar.jpg
Mist over Loch Monar

06_Mist in Pollan Buidhe.jpg
Cloud inversion over Pollan Buidhe

07_The way up Sgurr Choinnich.jpg
The way up Sgurr Choinnich

On we went up Streangan nan Aon Pacan-deug (west ridge of Sgùrr Choinnich); past the places where I was blown over last year and slowly towards the summit.
08_Neill_Sgurr Choinnich.jpg
Part-way up Sgurr Choinnich

08a_Sgurr Choinnich_Near the Top.jpg
Nearing the top

09_Nev_Sgurr Choinnich_2.jpg
Part-way up Sgurr Choinnich - 2

The pace was more Himalayan than Highland as the last few days were catching up on us. This is the problem of only doing Munros once [or at best twice] a year. No matter what we do to try and prepare ourselves there is no preparation for hill walking like hillwalking and it is rather difficult to do that in Essex. The stamina you need for multiple day climbs only comes from doing multiple day climbs. However, we still managed to make the summit of Sgùrr Choinnich in 2½ hours from our camp. Not far, but a lot of ascent. After a rest and a sumptuous energy bar – Neill doesn’t like my energy bars – he grudgingly admits that they do work [a big step forward], but they are no replacement for proper food.
10_Neill_Sgurr Choinnich_Summit.jpg
Neill does not like High 5 energy bars

You know where this is going so just be patient a while.
11_Lurg Mhor and Bidein a Choire Sheasgaich.jpg
Lurg Mhor and Bidein a Choire Sheasgaich - tomorrow?

12_The way off Sgurr Choinnich.jpg
The way off Sgurr Choinnich

We took a few pics of intermittent views through the mist and then descended to the bealach between the two Sgùrrs at which point I had to stop and do some remedial work on my feet. They were beginning to resemble an advert for a compulsive Compeed user; no matter, after covering a few more toes we were off again.
13_Looking back to Sgurr Choinnich.jpg
Back to Sgurr Choinnich

Reached the summit of Sgùrr a Chaorachain quite quickly – was it the energy bars or the lure of ‘proper’ food? I suspect the latter. Neill produced a fine looking 1lb pork pie from his sack and generously cut it in half. I have to admit, they [pork pies] do reach the parts that sensible food doesn’t.
14_Neill_Sgurr a Chaorachain_2.jpg
Got a signal - calling the wife: on Sgurr a Chaorachain

15_Maoile Lunndaidh.jpg
A peak too far - Maoile Lunndaidh

Maoile Lunndaidh looked a long way off, a long way down and long way back up again; and it looked boring in comparison with the peaks we’d just climbed. We’d convinced ourselves that this was not worth the effort; at least not today. Although our legs were holding up fairly well, my feet would not have welcomed the extra distance. So we walked north for a bit before dropping [quite literally] off the ridge towards Pollan Buidhe. It was steep, but the tussock grass provided good foot placements for most of the descent. The few rocky bits could easily be by-passed.
We eventually made it back to the tent around 4:00, 8 hours after leaving it that morning. It was hard to believe we had been so slow in covering little more than 11km, albeit with around a 1000m of ascent.

Dinner: ‘Beef in Black Velvet Ale’ + rice +Snickers and tea

Meanwhile a couple we had seen in the distance ascending Coire Learhad an Tobair returned from Lurg Mhor, both looking lean and fit [I comment because we are not on both counts]. He crossed the burn with a hop and skip; she slipped [on the same rock] and ended with wet feet. All he could say was that he wished he had a camera. Not a gentleman I thought. No sooner had they left than another guy appeared also having done Lurg Mhor. He was visibly tired, being in his mid-late 50s at a guess. He went to use the upper wire for support when crossing the burn and immediately went in the water up to his knees – both feet. Neill felt a little better by now. He [the guy] said that he had done the same walk 8 years ago and it had taken him 12 hours and he hoped to do the same this time, but he added that it had been hard and that dropping down from the bealach between Lurg Mhor and Bidein á Choire Sgeasgaich was not necessarily the easiest option. The previous couple had retraced their outward path – but were younger and very obviously fitter. I am in awe of those who can walk that far and climb that much in one day. But, all of this served to sow seeds of doubt in my mind about our attempt the following day. We could do it, but it would take us a long time.

After a good night’s sleep (not clammy), we rose to find it cold, windy and the cloud was down to 500m. Not promising. After breakfast it was clear that the weather was deteriorating and we knew that wind/rain/snow had been forecast. Neither of us enjoy walking in poor conditions; we had enough of that in the Glencoe/Mamores area. We like climbing Munros, but are not really ‘baggers’ in the sense that we know we’ll never compleat. So, with little reluctance we packed up and headed out to the car at Craig. On the way we met a lovely couple who were aiming to compleat this year. He had 29 left and she, 30. Although English, they had lived in Glasgow for the last 22 years and for the past few years had been averaging 50 peaks a year; last year they did 74!. They’ll do it too. I did notice that their packs were about half the size of ours and they were planning on camping in Pollan Buidhe. What do they eat I thought?

We walked out in under 90 minutes; it was cooler and mostly downhill! By now breakfast had worn off so was replaced by second breakfast – yes, by now you can guess. The weather was meant to improve from the north so we decided to give Stac Pollaidh a go and then return to a B&B in Ullapool. The cloud was down and the wind howling by the time we got there so the Summer Isles Hotel in Achiltibuie won the day; that and the smoked salmon platter and pint of An Teallach.

The B&B in Ullapool was excellent (Eilean Donan on Market Street). We braved the rain and wind to walk to the Seaforth for a meal. The meal was mediocre, but the An Teallach very good.

Tomorrow was to be our last day.
Last edited by NevJB on Wed May 07, 2014 9:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
Posts: 117
Munros:55   Corbetts:3
Joined: Dec 11, 2008
Location: N Essex

Re: West Monar foray - second try

Postby AnnieMacD » Mon May 05, 2014 2:32 pm

That was just great. I laughed and empathised with you all the way through. Great photos too - looking forward to the next exciting episode. Thanks!
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