Am Bàthach from Rannoch (9 snowy days)
by Klaasloopt » Tue Mar 10, 2020 9:46 pm
Munros included on this walk: Gairich, Gleouraich, Sgùrr Mòr (Loch Quoich), Stob Bàn (Grey Corries), Stob Coire an Laoigh
Corbetts included on this walk: Am Bathach, Sgùrr an Fhuarain
Date walked: 20/02/2020
Time taken: 70 hours
Distance: 165 km
Ascent: 6700m24 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
The family agenda prescribed that my yearly outing to the Highlands was to take place in February. After last year’s walk on Islay and Jura, I formally stated that I’d like to have some winter. Proper winter.
I shouldn’t have said that
Day 1 Into the great wide open
As soon as storms Ciara and Dennis had calmed down, I arrived in Glasgow. When the train left Crianlarich, it started snowing. At Rannoch station my pride and eagerness got me walking instantly, without changing the rucksack from airplane mode to all-terrain mode. I turned onto the Road to the Isles. It winded through a gracefully undulating landscape under a sky filled with very fluffy snow clouds and a blue patch here and there. I aimed to place my first camp in Coire Eigeach ready for Sgor Ghaibre. In search of the ideal pitch I walked past many suitable spots. When the light dimmed, I was walking along the Allt Eigeach with nothing left but bumpiness covered in snow. Because I hadn’t taken the time to put on gaiters, my trousers legs where wet and one slip into a small stream was enough to fill my boots with water, rendering them wet for days. I swiped the snow aside to find bog and heather, in which I prayed my pegs would hold. Once inside my shelter, I discovered I hadn’t brought a headtorch (but I brought a spare), I hadn’t bought a lighter (but found my spare matches) and everything else I’d brought was not where I expected to find it. I cursed my lightheartedness, cooked a meal and got into the sleeping bag. That night the snow and hail whipped the tent, but it didn’t budge. One-nil for my new tent.
(7.2km, 200m up)
On the Road to the Isles near Rannoch Station
First camp on soggy stuff
Day 2 Incessant Rain
The MWIS forecast writer is a poet of the sublime. Tortuous walking, extreme windchill and incessant rain, with those phrases he (or she!) evokes a narrative of man against nature. It was plain to see that the “easy” Ossian Munros wouldn’t be a good idea today: the murk of Rannoch moor produced one wintry squall after the other. It muted all colour, one wet planet. I rejoined the Road to the Isles. The track was blown full of snow most of its length. Rain and sleet lashed my left cheek. I aimed for Loch Ossian Youth Hostel for a break. Winterwarden Bob reacted most kindly to my request to stay for a while (a donation was in order). An English family made me tea, I dried up a bit. All had to be gone by three, because a group had booked the hostel exclusively.
While we all made hopeful remarks about the weather, it didn’t abate just yet. At 2, I left, carrying 4 bone dry blocks of wood and some kindling, kindly donated by the warden , into wind and rain. Upon reaching the railroad, I cheered up: Leum Uilleum is nice to look at, Loch Treig came into view, the pace was good, the afternoon train whizzed by. I waved at it to entertain those inside.
From the loch’s southern shore I took the path along the south bank of the foaming Abhainn Rath, headed for Staoineag bothy. I knew I wanted to be in Meanach bothy eventually, but couldn’t bring myself to stay out another hour. The path was alright, through charming small patches of oak wood with a delightfully mossy floor, high above the river. Staoineag was cold and dark, and the right hand room fireplace lacked draft, but I got the fire going. It ignited a sense of home.
(21.5km, 320m up)
all photos by Klaas van der Veen, on Flickr
Road to the Isles looking north
Osawa cake, baked for me (594 grams )
Bad weather, seen from near the stove in Loch Ossian YH
Day 3 Kneel
In the morning, I couldn’t help laughing: the steppingstones north of the bothy were vaguely visible some 3 feet under the river’s surface. Snow showers came and went in rapid succession. I retraced my steps to the bridge at L Treig and had to choose between walking to Meanach or walking to the Lairig Leacach bothy. I followed the north bank to Meanach, enjoying the drama of the wintry scene. I met Emma and Andy, who said they’d left candles and some coal at Meanach. I told them the YH was fully booked and they were glad to see my scotrail timetable. Entering the great plain I was taken by the way Meanach is out in the open, with bulging Aonach Beag on the right hand horizon and the Mamores to the left, Binnein Beag most prominent.
After a lunch of smoked mackerell I packed my little roped rucksack with crampons and ice axe and headed for Stob Ban, up the path to the Lairich Leacach. The wind was quite powerful on ground level. Higher up in Coire na Cabag, it wipped up ice particles, and when a snow shower passed, made one kneel to its force. (When asked, I show friends a 20 sec video showing the 80 mph winds, tortuous, quite in line with the forecast’s wording).
Between squalls I trotted along the long whaleback of Stob Ban to the summit. Stob Coire na Ceannain looked fine from there. Good experience. Great to return to Meanach, time spent reading on the matrimonial sleeping platform.
(16km, 720m up)
Cascades on the Abhainn Rath
Stob Coire Claurigh and Stob a Coire Ceannain from Stob Ban summit cairn
Stob Ban summit selfie
Day 4 The Birthday Scare
In the morning, I was allowed to open an envelope with my name in gold. It contained confetti, small drawings, a small painting and one candle. My fifty-first birthday! I stuck the candle into the cake my wife baked me and thought of home. Meanach bothy did its best to be homely, candles in the window.
Since the food would run out, and I had promised to call that evening, my route was to take me across the Grey Corries ridge at a low point, into the wild northern corries and then into Spean Bridge. I made my way up the river to the watershed and turned north to Coire Easain. The headwall of the corrie seemed the easiest way to go. I said to myself ‘the weather is better than Saturday’ – a wish more than a fact – and looked forward to reaching the ridge.
On closer inspection, the upper corrie was banked out with snow, while the flanks of Stob Coire an Laoigh looked scoured. A route up and over the summit was likely to take less energy than staying low in the corrie. That might have been right in itself, but it turned out to be a mistake. Battling the wind, stomping wide-legged like a Haka dancer, I managed to reach the summit cairn and crawl into it. Two times I tried to stand up, turn and walk towards Stob a’Coire Easain, two times I immediately turned back. Ice was hanging from my eyebrows, snow was rapidly filling my pockets and clogging the velcro. By choosing to follow the ridge to the summit, I had added a leg with a headwind into my route. Impossible. So I'd best retreat, wind in the back, down to Caisteal. I took out my printed map, enlarged to compensate for the lack of reading glasses, and plotted the course. The wind blew me down after a couple of seconds. Sitting on one thigh, the wind moved me along the ice-encased scree until I anchored with my axe. A descent northward was out of the question, so I retreated down the steepish rock-banded slopes between Laoigh and Caisteal, frontpointing facing the slope and when sliding using the ice axe as a break. Giving up my plans felt good: it released me from any further battle with the wind.
What made me happy, was this: my brain had kept working. I drew the right conclusions and used the axe well, getting down safely. I decided to get out through Glen Nevis, the quickest way to civilisation, across the supersoggy watershed.
Some kilometres later, I saw a man on a hillock, apparently waiting for me. It was a long haired wanderer with oldfashioned snowshoes and a pair of very wet tracksuit pants.
“I’m sure glad to see someone” I said. “Same here” he said, offering me a chunk of chocolate. The company turned the mood around. And so we had a jolly good walk out, the designer turned 51 and Quentin the astrophysicist studying zebra fish through image processing, half that age. At the Glen Nevis parking we saw a nice and warm BMW and pushed ourselves unto the German driver and his Russian girlfriend (the ones privileged to hang out in the Highlands this time of year all belong to the same group, it seems ). In no time we found ourselves at Ali’s in Fort William, where we chatted away above a big plate of fish n chips.
The oddest thing that day? The Frenchman, the German, the Russian all said “too bad we didn’t climb Ben Nevis, we would have but we started too late”. The girl at the desk of the hotel said: “fortunately the weather was nicer today”. Ben Nevis? Nice weather? Had I been dreaming? No. People just hadn’t been up close and personal with the weather, that’s all.
(18km, 800m up)
Coire Easain. To the right the scoured ridge up Stob Coire an Laoigh
Looking down to Beinn an Each from Coire Easain
Bushy eyebrows catch ice on Stob Coire an Laoigh summit
Ben Nevis from Glen Nevis (with the sound of the rescue helicopter )
Day 5 Reset
The family was very glad to hear from me. In the morning, after a big breakfast, I went to Ellis Brigham to find replacement waterproof trousers and a new flask (I lost it on the hill) and to Morrison’s to find five days of food. The rucksack nearly toppled me, but this was to be a ‘flat’ day of forest walks.
To pick up my original route, I travelled to Spean Bridge, where after lunchtime I followed the river Spean through wonderful woodland and later along a dismantled railway, topped off with dismantled caravans and finished with the Caledonian Canal locks. The Great Glen Way is a typical tourist board long distance path, winding and predictable, but in the rain I sure appreciated a clear path. I visited St. Crianan’s church and passed Achnacarry House where the commandos used to be trained. I followed the south shore of Loch Arkaig for a while and pitched the tent in Glen Mallie among beautiful Scots pine.
(19km, 200m up)
Five days of food and the big smock inside the rucksack on Spean Bridge Station
Dismantled railway above river Spean
Scots Mangrove in Loch Lochy
Mock landing craft to train commandos near Achnacarry
Saint Crianan Church interior
Day 6 The longest day
I woke up with snow on the tent. It was a wonderful morning, the big trees and heather dusted with snow to create a dark lilac picture, wraiths of mist around. And it was silent. Preciously silent.
Glen Mallie surprised me with its beauty. I followed it west along a good lazy track, the snow thickening. After the ruins of Glenmallie the path petered out and I struck a line uphill to the col between Gulvain and Mullach Coire nan Geur-oirean. The summit of Gulvain was very close but the snow was deep. If I wanted to get to Glen Kingie (the main attraction) anytime soon, I’d better push on. I picked up a line down along the Allt Choire Screamhach. Again, beautiful but really deep heather. I feared for the next leg: along the wooded shores of Loch Arkaig. Fortunately, I was saved by deer tracks which avoided thick growth and height loss. Saw snipe and woodcock. Near Kinlocharkaig there’s a track, too wet to be useful. In the ruin itself I met a barn owl, a treat, this ghost of a bird. I beelined to the bridge across the river Pean, with views of the surrounding hills coming and going. I took the messy path into the plantation and came out at Strathan. What a depressing sight.
Four o’clock, let’s aim for Kinbreack bothy. When dusk came down I wandered over the col, no path to be seen, plunging into holes and thumping into snow banks. I didn’t realise I would see so little. In the last light, Glen Kingie came into view. And when I saw the bothy, I saw the warm light of a fire inside. Doug and Jack were sitting by the fire, praising Max for lifting 20 kilos of coal across from their car at Strathan. Lucky me, to be shown a place on the bench and to be handed a sip of whisky after more than 10 hours of walking. We blethered about the saying ‘if you steal a sheep you might as well shag it’ and how to fit it into everyday talk. At night, a mouse gnawed a hole in one of my belt pockets to get to a chocolate wrapper. The starry sky was of an astonishing beauty, hadn’t seen a sky with that many stars for years.
(28.8km, 1150m up)
A morning dusting in Glen Mallie
Glen Mallie silly bridge
On the col northeast of Gulvain, looking into its northern corrie
Along the Allt Coire Sgreamhach, looking at the end of Gulvain's NE ridge
On the southern shore of Loch Arkaig
The ghost of Kinlocharkaig
First glimpse of Glen Kingie
Day 7 The oldest on the list ticked off
The Birthday Scare of Stob Coire an Laoigh hadn’t entirely faded, so I was glad that Jack The London Dentist proposed to do Sgurr Mor together after Doug and Max had left. In new snow we left the bothy at 9.30, crossed the river and took the stalkers path up Glen Kingie. We aimed for the col between Sgurr Beag and Sgurr Mor because we knew the stalkers path up the next col would be snowed up. I profited from his tendency to lead, relaxing in his footsteps. The day unfolded like a true winter sports day: partly blue skies, dazzling white hills. High winds and yellowish-grey squalls were waiting in the wings to bring back memories any minute though. The maiden snow hid rocks and streams and proved itself treacherous at times: high up in the corrie the slabby top layer of snow gave way to a thick layer of graupel underneath. We lost traction completely, like in quicksand. Snow showers passed, the wind hurled all things icy at us, but the summit couldn’t escape us. Sgurr Mor had been on my wishlist for 26 years.
We added Sgurr an Fhuarain, what a nice ridge, talking about Jack’s upcoming wedding (I married in 2018). We beelined for the bothy, making a sizeable bumslide underway. Back ‘home’ (at 4, after 6.5 hours!), Jack left for Strathan, I read my book, ate a lot and built a mini fire, just for the homeliness of it. Doug had left some Jura, I saluted him and had a sip. The mouse went after a packet of silicagel smelling of chicken tikka.
(11km, 1050m up)
Fraoch Bheinn, to be renamed Buchaille Kingaidh Mor soon.
Deep merengue, heading for Sgurr Mor
Jack looking up to the summit
Lochan nam Breac in the depths, seen from Sgurr Mor summit cairn
That's me! (photo by Jack)
Sgurr Mor from Sgurr an Fhuarain summit
26 years ago, A'Chuil bothy
Day 8 Status Quoich
It had turned colder overnight, and another layer of snow had been added. I went and buried the ashes (and found plastic wrappers when I dug a hole) and left the bothy tidy for the next visitors. On my way to Gairich I felt some doubt. The wind was brisk, the air was cold, a snow shower killed the sunny morning and filled the air with stinging white stuff. The stalkers path up Gairich Beag soon disappeared under snow and ice, forcing careful navigation. On the summit of Gairich, views opened up. I realised my navigation was too much dependent on sight, I should re-awaken the skill of counting steps and plotting courses. Fortunately, before descending, the route down was revealed, bathed in sun.
With some effort I could bumslide part of the way. When I saw that the shore of Loch Quoich was snowless, that seemed like a nice treat so I beelined for it. Dumb, because following an indented rocky shore isn’t easy. I crossed the dam and walked along the road westward. When I took a breather and sat down for a bit in a patch of Rhodondendron and trees, eating kippers, I suddenly saw a fine pitch amongst the larks. I decided against walking any further and pitched the tent, nice n early, and right next to the stalkers path up the mountain. (18 km, 820m up)
Take the shovel out into the morning chill
Trudging through deeper snow in grand wintry setting below Gairich Beag
Gairich summit, views on the way
Bumsliding in the sun is great fun
Gairich, very bulky from the Kinlochhourn road
Day 9 No more white stuff
Day old weather forecasts can be misleading, so can the morning cloud base. They both said ‘up you go’. I took the stalkers path up Sròn a’ Chuilinn, first on the path, then on snow recognizable as the path, and finally following my own interpretation of where the path could be. Reaching Druim Seileach I felt cheated: once again the buffeting wind, the spinning drifts. On the Mhaoraich ridge across Glen Quoich I saw a group of walkers. Did they spot me?
The col revealed the cliffs of Gleouraich to be fully ice covered. This ended plans for a descent down the north ridge of the hill. I was steering through the white from one dark speck of rock to the other to avoid the cornice, which was sometimes visible as the faintest shift in brightness to my left. Higher up, I panned around and saw white, but to my left a ‘big bristly thing’. Checking the GPS it dawned on me: the big thing (in these conditions I perceived it as small) was the summit
The next bit was okay, along the ridge to the east top. From this top the slopes seem similar in most directions. Lower down I steered W too long (I saw a reassuring piece of rock!) and had to climb back through a small cornice. Swimming, swinging my axe to the softness. At the Fiar Bealach I knew what to do: skip Spidean Mialach and head down and north. I jumped through the snowbank, landed in the fluffy snow to start a delightful bumslide. Delightful, not for joy, but because it got me low so quickly. As was to be expected, the corrie was a misty bowl full of merengue, but one hour later I stood on the squelchy floor of easter Glen Quoich. (A stalkers path down starts at 650m where the west wall of the corrie meets a north ridge of Spidean, but I assumed I wouldn't be able to locate it).
Mentally the work seemed done, physically the Cluanie Inn was still 13km away. The track was filled with wet snow and water. At Glacachuilinn ruin I sat down, thinking the food left might as well be in my stomach. Thanks to the people at Wayfarer, who make meals you can eat cold, I had a delicious Asian dish, with shortbread fingers for dessert. In sleet and snow I skidded down the Glen and round the east end of the South Shiel ridge. Above 350m, the snow was thick and I was just groping about in the white. You go up Coire Odhar, but when you seem to be over the bump, the river down to your right is still the River Loyne. Each time I had an intermittent view I would claim I was there, while in reality I would have to go another bit around the bend northward.
With the light waning, suddenly a bigger dark object stood out from the white hillside below: a bridge! An old bridge! This means I finally had reached the wider track to the lodge and the road. I celebrated prematurely, because soon I lost the track again because of the snow. Only in view of Loch Cluanie I found it again. The rest was easy. I drank, I sang loudly and soon the Inn showed its Christmas-like lights.
The refurbished Cluanie Inn is sheer paradise : a drying room, tea, hot chocolate, fragrant shower gels and a brand-new bed. I skipped proper dinner because of the price of the room and ate muesli and cheese instead, drinking mug after mug of tea.
The crossing of Gleouraich and rounding of Craig a’Mhaim had taken me 9.5 hours for 14km. Snow was the culprit.
(19.5km, 1130m up)
Last view before Gleouraich. In this view, and in views from Glen Kingie, Ben Tee is very visible.
It could be a mirage
The extra hill at the end of the walk
I was knackered, muscles full of lead. I was ready to swear I would never set foot on a snowy hill again. And yet, when I saw the Saturday morning forecast during the big hearty breakfast… I knew I was simply not allowed to stay off the hill with those sunny icons filling the screen. I left my rucksack at the reception and scuttled off and up Am Bàthach, all sunny ridge, transversely banked, with tremendous views into Kintail. I felt sorry my walk didn’t extend to Ciste Dubh, but I know one day it will.
At 12 I boarded the Citylink bus to Inverness for a visit to my Ullapool ‘family’, the Copestakes. Culturally, culinary and conversationally always a big hit. My friend Paul was clear: this edition of my walks had been good because it had been challenging.
(8km, 610m up)
Am Bhathach, Ciste Dubh and Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan
Am Bàthach from Cluanie
Cullen Skink in The Frigate in Ullapool
Tent: I brought a new tent, a Tramplite made by Colin Ibbotson. Very sympathetic tentmaker. I had to get used to a single pole shelter, but the stiffness of the DCF material and the stormproofness of the design were a big plus. It is not light, however. The outer is well under 700 grams, but with the pole, the inner, a Tyvek sheet and 6 pegs, 5 guylines + pegs + 3 snow pegs, it weighs around 1500 grams.
Shoes: A good decision to bring boots. Scarpa Zodiac Mid GTX. One design flaw: the suede upper gets wet and never dries again, blocking any breathability.
Drybags: clothes and sleeping bag are in a drybag of course, but these were now in a 30L silnylon packliner, that also holds the inner tent and the mattress. This was a good idea.
Goggles: should have brought a pair.
Snowshoes: the snow fell when I was already in Scotland, so these sat in the cupboard at home. Had I brought them, the snow might not have come
Maps: digital navigation is fallible. I brought printed maps on double sided A4s for all ridges. Glad about that, too.
by HalfManHalfTitanium » Wed Mar 11, 2020 11:42 am
The photos are so atmospheric - both the cloudy and the sunny ones really capture the feel of the Highlands in winter.
by jimbell21 » Wed Mar 11, 2020 1:42 pm
by R1ggered » Wed Mar 11, 2020 4:47 pm
by audreywaugh » Wed Mar 11, 2020 5:05 pm
by weaselmaster » Wed Mar 11, 2020 6:30 pm
Lots of deep snow to plough through, not to mention the rain and wind. I do like your positivity when encountering weather challenges. I look forward to the next instalment
by malky_c » Wed Mar 11, 2020 11:11 pm
by Klaasloopt » Thu Mar 12, 2020 8:49 am
HalfManHalfTitanium wrote:The photos are so atmospheric - both the cloudy and the sunny ones really capture the feel of the Highlands in winter.
'Atmospheric', that's the right word! Nicely understated, and underlining the main thing: it was just so beautiful, inbetween the weather-related harassment.
malky_c wrote:You picked an interesting winter for that . .... Glad you survived the Grey Corries - it’s probably good to have a test like that occasionally....but not too often!
These testing moments are reassuring too, you really know you can manage.
weaselmaster wrote: I do like your positivity when encountering weather challenges. I look forward to the next instalment
The positivity might have been upped a bit during writing
I think we all try to see weather as something that 'just is'. No control.
My next walk might just be the TGO challenge. Would be a long wait though, but the walk would also be longer...
by JackColclough » Fri Mar 13, 2020 6:22 pm
Feel free to let me know when you’re back in the North West
- Posts: 1
- Joined: Mar 13, 2020
by Fife Flyer » Fri Mar 13, 2020 7:48 pm
I wonder if you will return so early in the year next year?
That really didn't sound like much fun although looking back it never seems as bad.
We were out last week on Ben Avon trampling through ankle (ish) deep snow for 20km is anything but easy, even following in footsteps.
Out of interest do you make notes each day? Your routes are so descriptive and you make it sound like so much fun.
by Klaasloopt » Sat Mar 14, 2020 7:20 pm
Fife Flyer wrote:I wonder if you will return so early in the year next year?
Out of interest do you make notes each day? Your routes are so descriptive and you make it sound like so much fun.
One of the benefits of digital navigation: check position, take a pic. Hence the photos of ‘grotty conditions’.
Next year might be the TGO challenge in May. Nice n easy, weather wise
Yes, I write notes each evening, except when I’m very tired & collapsed in a dark tent ... I try to keep the writing ‘dry’, short. I reread and add things when in an Inn or train, with plenty of time.
by Klaasloopt » Sun Mar 15, 2020 7:34 pm
JackColclough wrote:Great post Klaas! Great photo’s 👌especially that one of you descending Sgurr Mor!
Feel free to let me know when you’re back in the North West
Hey Jack, good to hear from you!
As you have read, I really appreciated the company up Sgurr Mor
by Collaciotach » Sun Mar 15, 2020 11:07 pm
by Mal Grey » Thu Mar 19, 2020 3:25 pm
Walkhighlands community forum is advert free
Can you help support Walkhighlands and the online community by donating by direct debit?