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Thunder and lightning... it's getting exciting!

Thunder and lightning... it's getting exciting!

Postby BlackPanther » Thu Jun 16, 2016 11:48 am

Route description: Maoile Lunndaidh

Munros included on this walk: Maoile Lunndaidh

Date walked: 07/06/2016

Time taken: 8 hours

Distance: 29 km

Ascent: 1186m

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I have never been close to a mountain storm before. I've encountered violent thunderstorms in abundance, living in continental climate, but when it comes to hills, I always kept away from them on stormy days. This time it was different. We knew from weather forecast, that a break in weather could happen in the afternoon, but still decided to go for it. We had already lost one good day due to blistered feet, and we didn't want to waste another one.

Maoile Lunndaidh has been on the list for ages, precisely since we climbed Sgurr Choinnich and Sgurr a'Chaorachain. Rather than following the traditional route, we descended via Sron Frianich towards Glenuaig Lodge, and walked all the way back along the Allt a'Chonais track. Maoile Lunndaidh was so close, but we didn't have enough daylight to include it in the traverse. We decided that day, that we were going to use bikes for the Big Wet Hill, and possibly choose a dry day to make going easier.

And the day has eventually arrived!
Our plan was to cycle from Craig to Glenuaig Lodge, dump the bikes there and climb ML in the classic circular traverse, up Carn nam Fiaclan first. It turned out to be an exciting day for many reasons!
Our route:

Track_MAOILLE LUNADAID 07-06-16.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

The start in Craig was far from exciting though. As soon as we jumped out of the car, we were attacked by a huge swarm of midges. They were everywhere, we actually breathed them in and choked on them! We got back in the car and used half a bottle of repellent before getting out again and preparing the bikes.
Thank heavens, when we started cycling, the wee b*****ds left us alone.
It was a glorious morning, blue sky and lovely sunshine, but we expected more hot and humid weather later. So far, we enjoyed views north to Torridon and pushing our cycles up the steep track along Allt a'Chonais (now I understand the meaning of the word PUSHBIKE :lol: :lol: :lol: )
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 001.JPG

Thankfully, the steeper section didn't last long and it's worth the effort, for once in the upper glen, it's mostly flat cycling to the base of Maoile Lunndadih. Flat doesn't mean comfortable though, some quite stony sections, where my head bobbed up and down like a yo-yo on the string :lol: I did surprisingly well as for the utterly rubbish cyclist I am!
Looks easy, but beware of stony sections:
2016-06-07 008.JPG

We passed a small plantation and about half a km before the lodge, we left bikes by a stack of old logs:
2016-06-07 011.JPG

The first stage requires a bit of up and down across the lump of Sron na Frianich. In wet weather this would be a nightmare but we didn't encounter any bog whatsoever. Hallelujah, a dry Scottish summer AT LAST!!!
2016-06-07 016.JPG

We crossed An Crom-allt, stopped here to refill bottles as weather has turned into sauna again. I spotted a frog hopping away and suggested Kevin to kiss it, but he wasn't interested...
"The poor sod would have a heart attack! How would you feel if a 100m giant picked you up?"
"Well, the only giant I can see is the one in front of us" I answered "The Green Giant."
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 020.JPG

Yes, Maoile Lunndadih looked surprisingly green and "juicy" compare to the brown, heathery slopes of Inverey hills. Back then I was convinced i found a good title for my report: "The Green Giant", but circumstances changed later on...
The climb to Carn nam Fiaclan is one, long, painful push, no path, but the slopes are rather grassy so going wasn't as bad as I expected it to be.
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 029.JPG

After about 400m of relentless slopes, we reached more gentle ground, with scattered stones and lovely views opened up around us. We were close to the dome of the Green Giant.
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 048.JPG

The big, northern corrie, Fuar Tholl Mor, is simply stunning when seen from above:
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 041.JPG

Can't wait to tick off my 188th!
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 053.JPG

The "upper half" of Fuar Tholl Mor corrie has two more lochans and some interesting crags:
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 066.JPG

We noticed, as we emerged on the flat summit plateau, that weather was beginning to change - cloud gathered up everywhere, though it looked benign at this stage:
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 071.JPG

...but something was cookin' to the east!
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 072.JPG

As long as we had good light for photos, we snapped pictures. The view down to the northern corrie is breathtaking from any angle, but the best from near the lower summit (Creag Toll a'Choin, 1005m on 1-25k map):
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 075.JPG

The last remnants of winter... (winter???how can you think about winter on this cooking pot of a day!!!):
2016-06-07 027.JPG

Looking down the corrie:
2016-06-07 037.JPG

We reached the lower top. A small cairn is situated close to the cliffs of another corrie, Toll a Choin. This pano picture shows it in full glory:
2016-06-07 046.JPG

The cloud was thickening and Kevin kept glancing worryingly to the east... Hurry up, Panther!
2016-06-07 047.JPG

And he had a good reason to be worried. Whereas the western sky was still relatively bright, Sgurr Choinnich and Sgurr a'Chaorachain basking in sunshine...
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 108.JPG

...in the south, stormy weather was charging on!
2016-06-07 044.JPG

The southern cloud was still far away from us, and the wind was blowing from the NW, but just to the east of Maoile Lunndaidh, right over Strathconnon Corbetts, another front was developing:
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 111.JPG

Kevin still smiling, but he knew we had precious little time left!
2016-06-07 055.JPG

The cloud was moving slowly, but as we walked towards the summit cairn, we heard the first thunder... Bang! It wasn't very loud at the moment, but this was only the prelude.
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 125.JPG

By the time we reached the cairn, we were actually in the shadow, like under spreading wings of a giant raven. The air was humid, almost suffocating... As I posed for my summit photo (Munro no. 188), despite a wide smile, I was aware of the danger behind me...
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 135.JPG

Here comes the thunderstorm!
2016-06-07 057.JPG

In the few minutes we spent on the summit, the cloud was growing bigger and darker every second and the bangs of thunders became more frequent...
2016-06-07 061.JPG

I don't know why he is laughing :shock: :shock: :shock:
2016-06-07 063.JPG

In less than 20 minutes we went from bright, blue sky to almost total darkness!
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 155.JPG

At this point I admit, I felt a cramp in my stomach. So far, it was "oh, look, a storm is coming, he he he, let's take some photos of the cloud!" attitude, now it turned to "oh, sh*t this is really happening!"
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 162.JPG

It was time to go now, and go quickly. The worst thing to do is wait for the storm by the summit cairn!
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 163.JPG

Before leaving, we decided to pull out our waterproof gear, as we were certain we'd be drenched in a minute. So waterproof trousers, coats and rucksack cover came into use. I kept glancing towards the charging storm...
2016-06-07 maoile lunndaidh 165.JPG

We left the summit and walked briskly downhill, towards the col (759m). The slopes are rocky to begin with, but soon we hit easier, grassy ground and picked up speed. The first drops of rain fell as we descended and we prepared ourselves mentally for the drenching. Lightning flashed right behind us and soon came the thunder - long and deep thud! We looked up - the cloud was basically hanging on the rim of the corrie (no photos sadly, cameras were inside rucksacks for protection) and then we realized, that good, old Green Giant had actually STOPPED the storm from reaching us! Drops of rain were few and far between, soon it stopped altogether. The sound effects from behind us kept coming as we descended, but the storm was halted by the ridge of Maoille Lunndaidh. Oh, thank you, thank you, Green Giant!!!
We stopped for a breather when we reached the deep gorge of Allt an Fhuar-thuill Mhor, a lovely spot by itself. We have walked away from the shadow of the nasty cloud and the world was beginning to look bright again! We took off waterproof jackets, at it was too hot and humid to stand them any longer!
The gorge from above:
2016-06-07 065.JPG

The remnants of the storm above the Green Giant:
2016-06-07 068.JPG

All puffed up in my overtrousers :lol: :lol:
2016-06-07 071.JPG

The waterfall:
2016-06-07 072.JPG

We found a path, descending from here, along the stream. It offered easy going, in fact, we decided to stick to it all the way down to the bottom of the glen, rather than cut across to An Crom-allt as WH route suggest:
2016-06-07 079.JPG

Looking up at our descent route along the stream, the cloud has now moved away from the Green Giant...
2016-06-07 090.JPG

...but further east, in Glen Strathconnon, it was firing on all cylinders. Hope, nobody was climbing Strathconnon Corbetts that Tuesday!
2016-06-07 096.JPG

In wet conditions, I wouldn't recommend our variation of descent, as it crosses some very boggy, soft ground. Luckily, after all that dry weather, there was little moisture in the ground left, so we walked the mossy meadows without any problems. We crossed the river (almost no water in it) and headed for Glenuaig Lodge. When we reached our bikes, I noticed another storm boiling up over the Sgurrs:
2016-06-07 100.JPG

We hopped on our bikes and rolled down the glen, much faster now as it was all downhill. Just as we neared the final, steeper section of the track, it started raining. It wasn't a thunderstorm, just a heavy shower, but it seemed persistent, so we stopped again, to dress up in waterproofs for the second time that day. The final ride back to Craig was a wet experience, but in a weird way I enjoyed it :lol:
The last accord of this long story... Back in Craig, we had to battle the midges while we put our bikes back on the bike frame. 10 minutes of sheer hell! They didn't mind rain, didn't mind repellent, they bit through t-shirts, through socks. What a nasty breed of midges that was!!! When we got home, my calves and ankles were so swollen and itchy, I almost cried!
But I'm a stubborn cat. Good, old Germolene cream soothed the bites overnight, and the next day we set off for another adventure, a great Corbett-Graham combo in the beautiful area of Sutherland. We didn't encounter any storms this time, but we witnessed breathtaking cloud inversion! TR to come soon.
Last edited by BlackPanther on Tue Dec 17, 2019 6:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Thunder and lightning... it's getting exciting!

Postby dogplodder » Thu Jun 16, 2016 12:53 pm

That's the second time I've almost met you... but one of these times we'll surely manage it! 8)

Those skies look so different to the day before when we were there. Glad the Green Giant protected you from the worst of the storm. I think between us we've had a good go at improving ML's sometimes negative reputation! :D
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Re: Thunder and lightning... it's getting exciting!

Postby steverabone » Thu Jun 16, 2016 3:13 pm

An excellent report and superb description of the storm. I was further south when this hit me on Derry Cairngorm. Like you I was stuck up near the summit as I've described in my report. Thank goodness for my Paclite waterproofs that didn't let in a drop of water.


The power of nature is sometimes awe-inspiring and whilst this has made me very wary of being out in a storm I'm glad i've experienced it. Mind you a few days later I really suffered quite a bad, almost emotional, feeling of "what if it had gone wrong"...

Fasntastic photos which really show the evilness of the approaching weather.
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Re: Thunder and lightning... it's getting exciting!

Postby SAVAGEALICE » Thu Jun 16, 2016 4:06 pm

jings! :shock: ....nice storm cloud picsc :thumbup:
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Re: Thunder and lightning... it's getting exciting!

Postby Huff_n_Puff » Fri Jun 17, 2016 9:00 pm

Brilliant photos of the impending storm - glad to hear it missed you. We were up there the day before you, it was very hot, humid and hazy, not surprised it all ended in tears the next day :lol: :lol:
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Re: Thunder and lightning... it's getting exciting!

Postby BlackPanther » Fri Jun 17, 2016 10:32 pm

Thanks for the replies :D I really wanted to share this... An unusual day on the hills, one I will definitely remember for a long time!
ML has recently been popular with Walkhighlanders and rightly so. It's a superb hill and the remote location only adds to its splendour. The Green Giant definitely needs some positive feedback!

BTW I'm out again to climb another hill (hopefully my 190th Munro). If all goes well, I'm going to be 4 reports behind :lol: :lol:
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