Heading to the folks in Sutherland for Christmas I decided to throw the walking gear in the car just incase. Being a 3 season walker I was quite pleased with the unusually warm weather recently which helped me reach my munro target of 50 for the year so anything else would be a bonus. With all the gales over Christmas however this was looking pretty unlikely. I was glued to MWIS morning and night in the hope of a weather window. So my last day at home I decided to go for it and hope the 40-50mph forecast was closer to 40.
I set off from the layby just south of Vagastie bridge just before 10am, slightly later than I would normally. It looked like I was going to have the hill to myself for the day. I had a great view of the full ridge with it’s three hills. Ben Klibreck itself was in and out of cloud but still looking splendid as my objective. I’d told myself I’d head for the first hill, Cnoc Sgriodain and see how the wind was.
There is a fairly clear landrover track for most of the way up the first hill which is pretty boggy till you start ascending. There is a small cairn near the top and then another larger cairn at the first top. Another cairn at the other end of the first top has a nice seat to stop and admire the view, although I didn’t hang around as the wind was picking up.
From Cnoc Sgriodain you decend to the bealach and pick up the landrover track to pick your way across the peat hags. Thankfully some of these were still frozen which made the going a bit easier. Once across it was easier going ascending the second hill Creag an Lochain. Just as I was trying to decide whether to go over the top or around the side a very clear path came in to view traversing the western side of the hill making my decision much easier. Here I was a lot more sheltered from the wind. Although at this point the cloud was starting to come down the clear path helped make the going to the next bealach a lot easier. I was glad of the recent thaw as I wouldn’t have wanted to attempt this path without crampons had it been covered in snow. It was a very steep although grassy drop, so not for those with a fear of heights. When the cloud lifted enough I had some fantastic views across to Ben Loyal, Ben Hope and Ben More Assynt.
I soon reached the other side and by this time was completely in cloud. I took a compass bearing just incase I veered off the path. I then became convinced I’d seen someone coming out the mist, so much so I waved but there was no movement. The wind was really picking up at this point so didn’t want to venture any closer for a look as it was pretty close to the edge and my mind was starting to play tricks on me. I figured it would maybe take half an hour to do the last steep ascent to the summit. The wind was still picking up so dropped behind a boulder to check where I was, take another bearing and try to decide was I completely crazy for continuing in the high winds, I have turned back for less, but it was unseasonably warm and I tried to convince myself that the worst thing that could happen is I just get blown over. I struggled on, bent over and braced against the wind, clinging on to my two new walking poles, a Christmas present I was determined not to lose. The wind tried its hardest to blow me off balance anytime I stood up straight but didn’t seem quite enough to blow me over. After 25 minutes of this I reassessed the situation and tried to decide if it was worth continuing. I told myself I’d give it a few more minutes before giving in. All of a sudden what looked like a wall appeared out the cloud, dare I hope that this was the cairn? I kept going to what looked like a drystone wall and it wasn’t until I peered over did I see the trigpoint on it’s side in the middle. Was the wind really that bad? I was so delighted with myself I yeeha’d and threw my arms in the air thankful there was no-one around to see this crazed woman! A great and fitting end to a year of what has been fantastic walking for me. A couple of years ago I would never have dreamed of traversing a munro solo, let alone in cloud and wind and this year I did 14 of them.
I had to lie in the middle of the cairn so I could get a photo out the wind. I didn’t stop for long and the descent didn’t seem quite as daunting. I leaned in to the wind and ran down to the first bealach. By the time I got there the wind had died down just enough to make walking a bit easier. By this time the cloud had also risen just enough for me to see what I thought was a walker was in fact a tree trunk being used as a fence post!
From here I retraced my steps round the side of Creag an Lochain to the first hill. Just as I was thinking I’d had the whole day to myself an argo popped up over the last hill. They stopped for a brief chat, they were off to find something for dinner as the turkey had run out!
It wasn’t long before I was back at the car quickly changed and decided to have a quick stop in The Crask before heading home. The Crask Inn was in full swing with music and Christmas carols and the proprietor plugging away at the organ and a roaring fire in the corner. A fitting end to a fantastic day.
As it’s my last of the year I just want to extend my thanks to all those I met on the hills this year, whether you stopped to chat for a few moments or let me tag along for most of the day you really made my days out even more interesting and enjoyable. Especially those who extended a hand over scrambles and shared your interesting stories. You all made my days out ones to remember.
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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.