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99 to go after Kintail raid

99 to go after Kintail raid

Postby old danensian » Fri Sep 19, 2014 10:38 pm

Munros included on this walk: A' Ghlas-bheinn, Beinn Fhada, Carn Ghluasaid, Sail Chaorainn, Sgurr nan Conbhairean

Date walked: 12/09/2014

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Benign beauty above Lundie
20.5km; 1360m; 7h 30m

The night before, the reflection of a waning harvest moon shimmered the length of the Cluanie reservoir. The Plough hung above the hills to the north, ready to cleave its way across the sky, and I was engulfed by the silhouettes of ridges on either side.

Carn Ghluasaid, Sgurr nan Conbhairean and Sail Chaorainn lurked up in the darkness, waiting.

But, after a five hour drive, and with the lingering smell of Fort William’s fish supper, I wasn’t in any mood to appreciate this idyllic prospect. At 10.30pm it was too late to drive even further, pitch a tent in the dark and then drive back a few hours later. So, the estate car came into its own. Within five minutes the back seat was folded down, a mat and sleeping bag rolled out, and I was drifting off.

The forecast for Friday had been good so I wasn’t unduly pessimistic on waking to cloud-shrouded surroundings. “September Race Week Mornings” we used to call them in Doncaster. The town would be crowded with race-goers, tipsters, travellers’ caravans and the hubbub leading up to the last Classic of the season, the St Leger. On the Town Moor, the racecourse would be blanketed with an early morning covering of mist, out of which would thunder a dozen horses on their morning gallop. Having snatched a couple of autographs (from jockeys and trainers, not horses), then breakfast back at home, you’d see the mists gradually dissolve during the walk to school. On the occasional lucky day school, at the top of the Town Fields, would be out of the mist while the view back to home and the racecourse beyond would be under that sea of cloud that’s become so familiar in my later mountain years.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings, suffice to say I just knew what was in store.

What I hadn’t expected though was the initial early morning entertainment. I have seen the fate of the midge – and it is good. The midge met its maker.

Having spent the summer giving myself grief about the state of the inside of my car, the guddle and mire finally found their purpose. Not wanting to be awash with condensation, I’d left one of the car windows open, just a smidgeon, not a howling gale kind of open window but enough to get some ventilation. This, of course, was also just enough to allow early morning access to any wee blighters who may have braved the forecast low temperatures.

But I wasn’t alone in the car.

My potential early morning visitors hadn’t foreseen my in-car-companions. A cluster of lurking spiders, the result of countless bags of garden rubbish being left in the car overnight, had made preparations for their breakfast. You cannot imagine how viscerally satisfying it was to watch a spider scuttle across its web and systematically despatch the midges caught there: the arachnid equivalent of a “full Scottish.”

By 8.00am the mist still hadn’t lifted, but I wasn’t to be delayed any longer. With visibility down to about 20m or less, the old military road from Lundie provided easy access to the hill. Soon the radio mast appeared like a spectre from the mist and the curiously unorthodox pathway markers were followed up wards. A road somewhere was missing its bollards but they added a certain something to the landscape.

Radio mast lurks in the mist below An Cruachan

As the knoll of An Cruachan was passed, the air began to brighten, blue sky appeared in streaks above, and the anticipated panorama of mountains above a sea of cloud appeared. The path up the slopes of Coire Ghiubhais could be traced and the ridge along to Carn Ghualsaid stretched across the horizon. Hills above, cloud below: some days are made for walking and make all the effort of getting there worthwhile.

Rising above it all - Coire Ghiubhais

An Cruachan and Beinn Loinne over the cloud and beyond Cluanie Reservoir

Stones mark the way across slabs below CarnGhluasaid

After easy zig-zags and a wee scramble to the open plateau, three scattered cairns give options for those who haven’t already looked closely at the map. In worse conditions and with little or no visibility, a cautious approach to the suddenly plunging edge of the northern corries means that the true summit cairn can be found without too much trouble. However, it was one of the those days when there was all the time in the world to wander between all the cairns and enjoy the prospect from each: after all, it had taken only a few minutes short of two hours to get there and the day still stretched ahead.

Final slope to Carn Ghluasaid ...

... but the summit's over there

Following the rim of the corries, an hour’s saunter later and the sturdy shelter on Sgurr nan Conbhairean formed the hill-top armchair from which to partake in that clichéd activity of “taking it all in.” By now the glens below had appeared and in all directions ridge after ridge dissolved into one another. While the distant summery haze belied it being mid-September, there was just sufficient clarity to make out the weaving ridges above and around Affric and Mullardoch: so much more to do.

Sgurr nan Conbhairean from Carn Ghluasaid

Mullach Fraoch-choire from Sgurr nan Conbhairean

The stroll out to Sail Chaorainn, pleasant as it was, prompted me to wonder why this qualifies as a Munro and not a mere shoulder of Sgurr nan Conbhairean. The height gain from the bealach is less than 90m. Nevertheless it deserved its visit, as did Carn na Coire Mheadhoin, sitting four hundred metres distant and a mere one metre lower than its neighbour. Maybe it was just laziness, and the reluctance to lose too much height, that the trip wasn’t extended out to the nose of Tigh Morn a Seilge. The Corbett beyond, Carn a Choire Ghairbh , would have blocked any impressive views down to Loch Affric: that was my excuse for turning round and heading back.

Sail Chaorainn from Sgurr nan Conbhairean

Mullach Fraoch-choire from Sail Chaorainn

Carn na Coire Mheadhoin

Returning towards Sgurr nan Conbhairean, a tiny cairn marks the traverse across its western slope and makes a revisit unnecessary. Beyond it, Drochaid an Tuill Easaich was a comfortable spot for a snooze before descending its long southern ridge. This steepened a little in its lower stages, and could have proved more awkward in wetter conditions. In these unexpectedly dry days it only presented the problems of tired knees and thighs when arriving back at the military road.

Sgurr nan Conbhairean from Drochaid an Tuill Easaich

A gently rising traverse around the higher ground was a better option than the foot-burning prospect of trudging along the tarmac of the A87. Boggy in places but largely dry, the remnants of track trodden by troops soon leads to the now visible radio mast and the final stretch of track that snaked its way back down to the car.

Improved visibility back down by the radio mast

Would that more Munros could be so benign. There were lots of ups and downs but with none of the brutal, unrelenting slopes that characterise many of their neighbours. Yes, there are times when you can enjoy the physical challenge, but there are other times when it’s great to be able to cover so much ground and so many tops in a less punishing way.

And I’d got some energy left for the following day, which I suspected was going to prove a little tougher.

Silhouette Saturday: belief and hope on Beinn Fhada and A Ghlas-bheinn
22.5km; 1580m; 8h 30m

In the west, Beinn Fhada had beckoned the day before, the pale coloured stone of its summit plateau catching the sun and tempting a visit: a long stretching arc connecting Meall an Fhuarain Mhoir with Sgurr a Dubh Doire. I’d already enjoyed the high level walk by tracing a line on the map from the warm enveloping comfort of the sofa at home. There’s something escapist about being able to “read” a map, build a distant sense of anticipation and create a picture what the future holds.

Promises, promises; but oh, what could have been. This was pre R-Day and the temptation to believe in hope or a late promise or two had become the regulation order of the day.

Starting the walk up Strath Croe from Morvich there was no promise of clear blue skies. Lingering mists that could be climbed above were absent now. Passing the cottages at Inchnacro, the tops and ridges above were mere silhouettes in a gloomy haze. The only optimism lay in the hope that sunlit tops would be revealed as the huge bend into Gleann Choinneachain unfurled.

Up the Gleann Choinneachain towards the Bealach an Sgairne

Instead, a narrowing gorge drew the eye onwards and upwards into more greyness. The well graded path meant that the gain in distance out-paced the height achieved as the path progressed above the pools and waterfalls below. In the distance, the track snaked, clawed and zig-zagged its way upwards below Meall a Bealach, splitting to the right into Coire an Sgairne and left towards the incised notch in the skyline: Bealach an Sgairne. This dramatic gap, as impressive as The Window on Creag Meagaidh, conjures up all that a mountain pass should: a sense of becoming tightly hemmed in by steepening slopes to either side and, of course, a curiosity about what lies beyond. But more of that anon.

Looking up into Coire an Sgairne

Ethereal light on Creag Coire an Sgairne from saddle below Meall a Bhealaich

Tantalising sunlight that never crept over

With an ethereal light illuminating the crags of Creag Coire an Sgairne, the path to the right was taken. The skyline of the plateau hinted, just a touch, that there might be clear sky ahead. That glimmer of hope we all crave still shone. However, once up into the corrie such foolish delusions were dispelled. Climbing to attain the saddle on the ridge from Meall a Bhealach what became clearer was that the top of Beinn Fhada had no intention of being clear. The sun continued to tantalise on the cliffs behind, but the top of the Beinn Fhada plateau remained resolutely in the cloud.

Some you win, some you lose. Another entry in the file “cairn in the clag” was in the offing. I avoided being drawn towards Plaide Mhor and headed upwards, occasionally following stretches of track. Yet again I managed to follow it, lose it, stumble across it and finally give up altogether.

Summit cairn of Beinn Fhada emerges from the mists

Still, simple navigation sufficed: keep the precipitous steep stuff to the left and keep going upwards, reassured by a combination of new and old technology. A compass bearing, coupled with the GPS checking the number of metres to go, and finally the triangulation point and cairn loomed from the mist, and a personal milestone was reached: 182 – 100 to go.

Then the frequent question and dilemma: was it worth waiting? Was the sky getting brighter, or was it a sub-conscious optical illusion?

But time pressed on, so I retraced my steps on to ridge of Meall a Bealach. One benefit from chatting with those you meet on the hill is the advice on the intricacies of route-finding and options for the way ahead. Up and over was one option. Dropping back into Coire an Sgairne, traversing round and then up to the Bealach an Sgairne was the other: six of one and half a dozen of the other.

There’s an ease and reassurance in taking a path previously travelled, especially in such spectacular surroundings. So, A Ghlas-bheinn, and getting my target down into double figures would be reached by the latter route.

However, before I left the ridge and dropped into Coire an Sgairne, a mystery was resolved. I’d been full of admiration for the cyclist who had made the effort to create the tyre tracks that were evident on the upper slopes. Then the sputtering sound of an exhaust echoed around, and an expertly ridden trials bike powered up from below. I was, and still am, in two minds: horrified by the brutal cacophony we were subjected to and the damage being done to the path, or impressed by the skill of the guy who bounced, leapt and lurched in the direction of the top. I just hoped he didn’t need to call out the AA.

With the unexpected acrid smell of exhaust fumes in the air, I started on for A Ghlas-beheinn, the smallest Munro of the day. And what a mistake that opinion was. Knowing it crept into the list by barely four metres and was only number 273 lured me into my own complacency. I believed my own promise this time: just “popping up” was hardly an apt description.

The never-ending ridge and shoulders towards A Ghlas-bheinn

There were more false promises on the climb up and along to the final summit cairn of A Ghlas-bheinn than in a televised Yes: No debate. It took ages; worth getting there in the end but it seemed never-ending. False tops, a succession of shoulders and the only thing missing was the appearance of a mirage before the cairn was reached.

Summit cairn of A Ghlas-bheinn with Beinn Fhada beginning to emerge from the background mist

I opted for simplicity on the return: just back from whence I’d come to the Bealach an Sgairne and down the Gleann Choinneachainn. I’d been told that the drop off the western end of the ridge and the thrash through the forest wasn’t one to relish.

And of course, Sod’s Law dealt the final hand. As I left the top of A Ghlas-bheinn, to begin the various stages of my journey home, the top of Beinn Fhada emerged from the clouds and a streak of blue appeared.

A Ghlas-bheinn from Strath Croe

As legs tired the bend in the glen took ages to arrive and gave plenty of time to ponder the implications of what I’d just achieved. My target for 2014 had been to get my Munro “to do” list down into double figures. A Ghals-bheinn saw me with 99 to go with three months to spare. While wandering back to the car I realised how long it had taken me to do my first hundred and wondered if it wasn’t such an achievement after all.

So here’s to the next ... and the next ... and the next
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old danensian
Posts: 418
Munros:282   Corbetts:64
Joined: Jul 6, 2009
Location: Ayrshire

Re: 99 to go after Kintail raid

Postby Fife Flyer » Sat Sep 20, 2014 8:18 pm

Nice one Nigel and well done for getting down to double digits :clap: :clap:
Is it a compleation next year :wink:
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Fife Flyer
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Posts: 2390
Munros:195   Corbetts:47
Grahams:24   Donalds:50
Sub 2000:121   Hewitts:2
Joined: May 15, 2013
Location: Guess?

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