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Old Stuff 2: Cape Wrath - Strathcarron 1996

Old Stuff 2: Cape Wrath - Strathcarron 1996

Postby Klaasloopt » Thu Jan 27, 2011 9:20 pm

Munros included on this walk: Conival, Maol Chean-dearg, Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair

Corbetts included on this walk: Arkle, Baosbheinn, Beinn Damh, Cùl Mòr, Foinaven, Fuar Tholl, Glas Bheinn (Assynt), Quinag - Sàil Gharbh

Date walked: 31/03/1996

Time taken: 100 hours

Distance: 280 km

Ascent: 14000m

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Cape Wrath - Strathcarron (1996 Graduation Walk)

NOTE: please open maps in GPS-planner

For long distance walkers among the members of Walkhighlands this report might be worthwhile and the fact that it is 15 years old, just like the 1995 one I posted earlier, doesn't matter much.

The flag on Baosbheinn, looking at Beinn Alligin

The Graduation Walk
(The first paragraph contains artsy stuff and airy theory)
In 1996 I graduated on typography and exhibition design. When designing an exhibition, it has to have a subject, right? A long walk would be my subject. Central to this graduation walk is the simple concept of prospect and refuge. These two are the basis of sports (golf), landscape-designs and landscape paintings. Prospect is outlook, overview, dominance, (unsafe) openness. Refuge is hiding, being secluded, closed-in and safe. Military want prospect and refuge at the same time: a well camouflaged lookout, or striking form a hidden base. English landscape parks are so esthetically pleasing because the experience alternates between being enclosed by woods or shrubs, and coming out in to the open. On the hill this too occurs. The best walk finds a balance between conquering a point in space on the one hand, and making an area into your home by placing the tent on the other hand. Conquering previously undiscovered land means planting a flag.
I decided to bring a home-made flag, and put it on some 10 hilltops. I would cut a piece of fabric out of the flag, leave it behind Hamish Fulton style, and repair the hole once I found a place to camp lower down, a hiding place. In this manner, the flag formed a diary of the walk. Once back home in Holland I built a giant circle out of tent-nylon, landmeasurement-poles and tent-poles. Ten images of the flag on Scottish hilltops where projected on the fabric, clockwise one by one, and the flag was once again blown by artificial wind. This ONLY happened when a visitor would walk on a treadmill. The visitor of the museum space would have the (very clearly artificial) feeling that it was he who did the work to drive the machine and conquer the tops. Side effect: people realized how far I had walked, and how long it had taken.
The flag flying on top of the last hiil Fuar Tholl

The Route
Cape Wrath is a very clear starting point. I had met Sandy Cousins in Oban bothy by Loch Morar in the previous year, and he had done a trek in 1970, starting at this Cape. I read this in Hamish Brown's book, a very valueable source of information for me. Also, a 1950's SMC guide had given me a particularly romantic view of the North.

I arrived in Oldshoremore on March 30, where I left for the Cape on March 31, 1996. Hauling a pretty heavy sack containing four days of food and my two person Phoenix Phreebooter tent, I nevertheless made good progress to a camping spot just south of the Cape (see map) at Bay of Keisgaig. Next day I walked to the Cape, spread out the unblemished flag I brought to record the walk, and started the Walk proper. That day, april 1, is remembered as a very wet day. Not from above, but from the bog below.

1996part1.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

Early morning of the 2nd of april I gained the Durness road and crossed into the Reay Forest, seeking Foinaven's summit as the first one to 'conquer'. Camping in Strath Dionard at the mouth of Coire Duail, I climbed up northeast ridge of the hill in the afternoon, to encounter snow and mist around the 600m mark. Walking alone, one can feel thoroughly intimidated, but my heart was sold on this hill. It took 3 more attempts in 1997, 98 and 2001 before I finally walked the whole ridge and the 914m summit.

Around the bend is Arkle. The weather was greyish, but once I was up on the crescent-shaped summit ridge, the cloud broke and sun shone upon me and my vain project. The view, the silence and the solitude really made a big impression on me.
Next day I crossed the road at Achfary, and hitchhiked up and down to get some food. Behind the keeper's house, a path runs uphill and crosses to Loch Glendhu. Sinister remains of houses at Glendhu and I remember a black ram and singing Black Sabbath songs. Camped along the Abhainn a bit further up. Darkish atmosphere (partly my own doing).

The Stack
Next day, april 5, I rounded the promontory and walked up Glen Coul to the foot of the Stack of Glencoul, 494m. Low, I admit, but a real prow with a good view, a prospect backed by land, looking at sea. The rest of the day is memorized as being 'hot', probably 12 degrees or so, and really rough terrain to the southeast of the Stack toward Gorm Loch Mor below the northeast flank of Ben More Assynt. A beautiful camping spot near the loch, with divers and swans on it.

Conival as a substitute
In the morning, all was frozen. The cardboard tent thing. The vast expanse of the land becomes gradually visible when one climbs the mountain. At this point I chose Beinn Leoid as a very desirable hill, miles away from anywhere. A solid snow cover from 600m up was a joy to walk on. In my exhilaration and no doubt caused by the flattish summit and the connecting ridge to the next munro, I MISSED the summit of Ben More Assynt by some 100 yards. I just skipped a bump the way you do when you think the summit is elsewhere. Not being a Munor-bagger (so I thought) I thought nothing of it and continued to Conival to erect the flag.

The rest of the sunny day I spent walking along the miles of hill between Conival and Glas Bheinn. I was impressed by a visit to the aircraft wreckage at 296233. Aluminium parts all over the place, including a propellor and a wheel. A 1945 bomber.

Quinag bagged
I crossed the A894 at the high point to camp near Lochan Bealach Cornaidh. In the morning I got to the Sail Garbh summit of Quinag very early. I carried the flag, its pole and something to drink, in an Amsterdam Library plastic bag. When two others, climbing up, bumped into me on my return to the tent, their mouths really fell wide open upon seeing a casually dressed guy with a plastic bag coming down. Fortunately I did not tell them what was in it. They where dissappointed at not being the first on top. I would be too, but one cannot beat a walker that camps high up.

Sketch of Quinag route and diagram of flag and cut-outs

Singing in Coigach
The next two days I hesitated. I walked down the road towards Lochinver, took a left for a stay in Suileag bothy and skipped Suilven next day. It was warm and the pools of water were still. I sung whole Neil Young albums. Last year I couldn't remember some lyrics, so I brought them with me, 3 or 4 albums on an A4 sheet. I walked out along Lochan Fada to the A835 near Elphin, and hitchhiked back to Ullapool.

1996part2.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

Not Fannaich
On april 10 I left Ullapool (friends gave me a lift) to Braemore and got out the car in the bend in the Dundonell road near Loch a'Bhraoin. Aiming for the two western Fannaichs I walked up to the bealach between Sguur nan Clach Geala and Sgurr Breac. I did not make it to the bealach by a long way. It was 10.30 when I pitched my tent at 161739. I was knackered, still recuperating from something foul in the still hillwater days earlier.
However, at one o clock I felt like moving on because all is better than staying in a clammy tent, so I got back to the boathouse and made for Lochivraon bothy which looked very much burned (rebuilt now?). I camped nearby and felt rather down.

Mullach Coire Mhic Fearchair
Next day, things didn't seem that much better, but hey, where can one go from the middle of nowhere? This is why I rounded the curve south of Loch an Nid and climbed up, north of MCMF's strange scree stripes. All's grey round here on a grey day, with a little 'dearg' on the side. The flag was blown taut and clattered wildly. Soon I took to the southwest ridge of the hill, contoured round Meall Garbh to the bealach with Beinn Tarsuinn and went almost straight down to the loch. Some 6 km onward I camped in Glen Tulacha, remote and darkened by Beinn Lair's cliffs. The wind, from the east, blew cold and hard so I pitched the tent using all guy ropes. At night the hammering of the rain changed in to the nylon-whoosh of snow. Each evening after raising the flag, I had to repair it. I soon realised how difficult sewing is when one is tired. Also, I had the idea that big hills deserved big patches. Dedication!

Inverewe and Flowerdale, Baosbheinn
In the morning of april 12 my route lay northwestbound, along the cliffs, along Loch Fionn to Inverewe. Beinn Airigh Charr looked good and was added to the whish list. I camped in Poolewe and stocked up. Next morning I set out for what proved to be a lonesome, wet stretch. From 859790 followed a path to Loch Maree's shores, and at Slattadale crossed over the hill, pathless and in wet snow, to the Poca Buidhe path. At Loch na h-Oidhcha I took a right up Baosbheinn's flanks. Great hill. Nothing special, but this day made it into a hill of character. The view on top was stunning: all of Torridon clad in white. Here I made the best picture of the flag in full glory (see top). Down the steep southwest flank to the head of the loch below. I camped on sandy peat at the shore. In the morning the wind turned west and one of the tent-poles broke. Galey wind, but also sloppy pitching due to the soft ground.

No Torridon
This breaking of the tent pole sent me into Torridon village quickly. In the Youth Hostel or some other building I remember repairing the tent pole with a splint and tape, but later on that day, when I climbed up behind the hotel at Annat after rounding the head of the loch, I did not dare camp out on the open hillside. I hid in the wood on the slope above the hotel and praised it for its shelter.

The windy lot
I do not remember this hill much. It was dreich, a word I had learned from Hamish Browns writings. When I look at the pencil-marked route on map 24, I wonder at the little regard I had for steepness. Or maybe it was some guide or book I had read which led me into believing Beinn Damhs east-southeast slope was okay for walking down. I did anyway. Another wet night was spent at Loch Coire an Ruadh-stac. Crossing over the bealach between An Ruadh-stac, Meall nan Ceapairean and Maol Chean-dearg, I left the rucksack and climbed the latter. Extremely windy and bleak, with bands of rock and rubble barring the way. I could hardly raise the flag. I slept in the bothy between this hill and Fuar Tholl, and climbed that last hill of the walk in the morning of april 16, coming down the front (south) towards the road bridge at 957451. An end point a lot less inspiring than Cape Wrath was as a starting point, but hey, I felt like finishing and I sure was confident I got what I wanted: 10 times I had placed the flag on a summit, 10 times I had repaired it in a homely tent in a corrie or glen.
Last edited by Klaasloopt on Fri Jan 28, 2011 11:01 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Old Stuff 2: Cape Wrath - Strathcarron 1996

Postby gaffr » Fri Jan 28, 2011 12:18 pm

Another interesting journey. I just wondered about the building that you called Lochivroan. Could it be the one that I knew as Feinasheen 092731 which I passed by in the 80's heading for Lochivroan linking the Fisherfields to the Fannaichs? At that time it appeared that a fire had happened. I hadn't heard of a fire at Lochivroan although the cottage that I used for an overnight has been turned into locked accommodation in recent times with the outhouse building now be used as a bothy. I have not been in the area in recent times but this information of the change came up here on the Forum :)
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Re: Old Stuff 2: Cape Wrath - Strathcarron 1996

Postby mountainstar » Fri Jan 28, 2011 8:09 pm

Enjoyed that (from one long distance backpacker to another)
I did the Cape Wrath Trail in May 2009, best route I've ever done.
By the way, Your maps don't load up for me to see? (other members do, so I don't think its my side)
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Re: Old Stuff 2: Cape Wrath - Strathcarron 1996

Postby malky_c » Fri Jan 28, 2011 9:53 pm

Something funny about the maps in this report - if you click on 'open in GPS planner' underneath, they do display. Maybe too many waypoints or something?

Also enjoyed this, like the last one. You've probably seen more of the hills in the NW highlands than I have, just through spending so long out in them at a time!
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