This is our first walk report so please go easy
2020 was supposed to be a year of big plans; more epics, more remote trips. Knoydart, the Fisherfields, the Fannichs and more were on the list. We were especially keen to make up for last year, when we didn’t manage as much as we’d have liked due to various factors. We still managed 25 Munros which I’m sure a lot of people would be delighted with! A couple of Munros during the winter were to be the warm-up for these planned trips come spring, then it happened. LOCKDOWN. And, in a cruel twist, of course it had to be the hottest and driest spring on record. It was agonising having to sit inside and just plan and plan without being able to put these plans into action. And so we waited. Waited for Nicola to tell us we were allowed back out into the hills. And then the news came that we’d all been waiting for. As of the 3rd of July, the 5 mile travel restrictions were to be lifted and we were free to go wherever we liked and climb whichever hills we liked! With Friday being a work day, Saturday would mark our long-awaited return to the Highlands.
We started to look at a number of routes, repeatedly checking the forecast for different areas and summits, and, as bloody usual, the weather looked best in the east. There were still some rain showers forecast, but we had waterproofs and had been away from the Highlands so long that we were willing to just go for it. With everything all checked and ready to go, our chosen route was to be the two Munros from Inverey; Carn Bhac and Beinn Iutharn Mhor. According to walkhighlands, the long approach up the glen deters many from this round… not this weekend! As we pulled into the car park at around 10am, we were in one of the last spaces of the day. The route has an excellent track for several miles, with many mountain bikers already setting off, undoubtedly smug in the knowledge they would be saving their weary legs a long walk out. After a 2.5 hour journey from Glasgow, I nipped to the ‘bathroom’, which in outdoors speak means a quick pee concealing my dignity behind a tree, causing the first issue of the day. As I did a quick check of my trouser legs and went to change my trainers into my boots, I removed 10 of the wee buggers known as ‘ticks’ from my trousers. After some paranoia-induced scratching and frantically triple checking for any more, I finally got the boots on and we headed onto the track out of the carpark, beginning a wonderful ascent up the long and lonely Glen Ey.
Once through a gate, the track continues at a gradual incline and follows the course of the river. It was a particularly muggy day; or maybe the extra heat was caused purely from the first lengthy exercise for the first time in a few months?! As the rain never came to anything for the first while, Scott and I and our two friends sauntered along in only our base layers as long as we possibly could. Just as we reached the first bridge of the day, the rain started. It wasn’t horrifically heavy rain which many of us have suffered before in the hills; it was a refreshing rain. Although they were large droplets, it was completely vertical, as there was no wind and it was a calm, serene morning. Other than the slow gentle ripples heading downstream, the river remained almost still. It was incredibly peaceful and moving.
After another bridge crossing and around half an hour later, the rain lessened to no more than a light drizzle as we reached the old ruins of Altanour Lodge. Surrounding these ruins, we counted 13 mountain bikes scattered along the fences – not such a quiet hill today. Of these bikes, two belonged to another two of our friends who, coincidentally, had also chosen the same hills for today. Nicole and Stuart had decided on tackling the route in reverse, so as to meet us for a chat halfway. We stopped here for a while, savouring the first snacks of the day and hung the waterproofs up on the stiles to dry off a little while we did so.
Suitably energised from the food, we set off and, soon enough, the track had faded away to a single boggy trail which headed up to cross the Alltan Odhar, following an exceptionally rounded ridge past a number of grouse butts. Seeing the path slightly veer off and heading up hill, we continued on some particularly muddy terrain along the line of the higher ground, aiming for a large scree scar that pulled us up towards the summit of the hill. Heading over some bouldery ground briefly, we reached the cairn atop Carn Bhac. According to walk reports, the view to the Cairngorms is supposed to be quite incredible… we wouldn’t know, as the clag rolled on in just as we reached the top. It did however make some good pictures as the mist drifted on and off the hillside, exposing the valleys below. Thankfully, I’d made it up hill first on my own as the boys had stopped for 10 minutes not realising how close the summit was. I hadn’t told anybody, but I had a little bit of my papa’s ashes stashed away in my bag with me today as I knew we’d be heading into the Cairngorms; a place close to his heart. So rather than any awkward chat or sympathy, I had the chance to say a few words and scatter them before the boys silhouettes emerged from the cloud.
After pottering around for a while here, taking photos and having some lunch, we decided we may as well start on the walk again. Aiming slightly away from the route we came up, we followed a faint path which headed towards the 920m point on the map before turning south down more pathless, wet, soggy ground in the direction of the peat-hag infested broad bealach which linked Carn Bhac to Beinn Iutharn Mhor. The joy…! I ended up at the back; as usual. This time it was thanks to the tread being worn away on my boots so badly, the sole was beginning to come off and I decided I’d rather take my time than risk a slip in the wrong direction and need the help of the local MRT on the first weekend back on the hills. As the boys were up ahead, I could make out our other two friends who’d made it to the halfway mark and had stopped to say hello. Finally catching up, we enjoyed a wee chat for a while before heading off in opposite directions. Every few steps, a covey of grouse would rise from our feet, giving us a heart attack (Every. Single. Time.) as they made a startled racket heading into the sky. As we moved on, mindful of our footing, Scott spotted a tiny grouse chick in a peat hag near our feet. Amazing as this was, it caused us all real concern there were nesting birds in an area which was clearly busy with walkers today. Just above this chick, lay another tiny, almost camouflaged chick in a tuft of heather. We knew we had to be exceptionally cautious and carried on a little slower until we were off of the heathery, boggy bealach.
Beinn Iutharn Mhor was in sight, with a steep scree path running down the left-hand ridge of the mountain… probably what we should have been aiming for. As the incline towards the flanks of the mountainside increased, yet another de-layering stop was needed for my jacket removal. Scott will tell you, his favourite part of our walks is the sheer amount of time I spend layering and de-layering. As I stuffed the soft shell into the hood of my bag and set off, I noticed a little black speck on my inner elbow, before closer inspection confirmed it was, in fact, another bloody tick. This time, embedded. So I called Scott back and with the tick tweezers, got the pesky wee bugger out successfully with no drama. Off we set again, with Stuart and Brian on up ahead. Stuart doesn’t hike much, or run much, yet I am absolutely convinced he’s half mountain goat. The speed that man manages to get up and down hills, with no injuries, no training, barely ever looking like he’s broken a sweat, stopping for a smoke every half an hour on the way uphill, while I stand at the bottom, dripping in sweat, beetroot-faced, making sure my Ventolin’s nearby, is honestly ludicrous. It fills me not just with pride and amusement but also envy. New Life Goal – one day beat Stuart to the top of a mountain. The problem is, he can’t ever find out anybody is racing him though, as he’d never actually let you win, and would likely run uphill, just to ensure he comes first.
Anyway, Stuart was so far ahead and made the executive decision to go as the crow flies and there wasn’t any debating this as he was too far gone now. My god, I regretted not shouting anybody back. It was bloody steep, and loose. At times, it was one step forward, two steps back and made for an exceptionally arduous ascent with my usual irrational fear that, at any minute, the dislodging of rocks would trigger a landslide that would engulf us all and take us back down the hill to our death… thankfully that’s just the vivid imagination of an over-thinker and jumping to the worst possible conclusions. On reflection, there’s probably a reason there’s a clear path through the scree.
Mercifully, the worst of the steepest ascent was soon over, and the ridge was reached with sheer relief and a bit of a huff and puff as the wind had really picked up resulting in quite the wind chill.
Another final pull following the easy ridge and we had arrived at the huge summit cairn. Irn Bru cans cracked open, sweets and sandwiches inhaled by everyone, as we all said how much of a tough climb the steep section was. Brian had decided that, due to the aforementioned section, he was renaming the hill Mount Doom. The main bulk of the Cairngorms looked so impressive from this summit, as the view to the north west showcased the Devil’s Point and Carn a’Mhaim as the gates to the Lairig Ghru which was sprawled out miles ahead. The cloud clung to the summits of Cairn Toul and the higher Munros, with a constant Virga lingering high in the valley adding to the drama of the Lairig Ghru, even from afar.
With time ticking on, we decided to head off to try and make it back to the car at a reasonable time before the long drive back to Glasgow. We followed an easy faint path along the main ridge line before this curved around the shoulder of the mountain down to the flatter ground below. As we approached the nose of the ridge, the ground dropped away at a steeper gradient following a faint but muddy path as we progressed down the wetter slopes leading to the boggy valley floor. With the steepest part over, the path disappeared and we decided to tackle the descent straight on. Well, I didn’t - the boys did, and I was so far behind them I had to follow despite what did look like a faint path that clung to a low ridge. Gladly reaching a stalkers path, we followed this for some respite from the rough ground, which emerged onto a clear path, crossing the bridge and reaching the ruins of Altanour once more.
As it was such a long walk in, I had brought trainers to use as approach shoes and opted to change into them here to make the long walk out as easy as possible. After removing one of my boots and socks, it appeared yet another tick had decided to get its teeth sunk into the arch in my foot. Brilliant. So, the tick tweezers were looked out (again), the twelfth tick of the day removed safely before the trainers were donned for the walk back to the car.
As we glanced back a couple of miles up the valley in the direction which we’d just come, we could see clouds closing in with some pretty heavy rainfall which we were thankful not to be on the receiving end of. It was a wonderful feeling looking back; such a beautiful part of the country to be in, and I felt really emotional and sad about heading back to Glasgow. As the boys were ahead, I decided to stick on my ‘Scottish playlist’ with songs of Celtic music and bagpipes, which really added to the atmosphere for me. Sad, I know - my friends like to slag me for this. The car was starting to feel further away, and we were green with envy at the prospect of the 13 bikers who’d cycled up and had a nice free-wheel back to their cars.
Around halfway, everybody seemed to stop talking, as we all now had the marching heads on to make it back to the car quickly and in one piece. There was still energy enough for a wee game of ‘guess where we are on the map vs GPS’ with Scott – I was within 10 metres of pinpointing our exact location and, as always, very, very smug about it. Back across the first bridge of the day over the river, and turned the corner to see the cars just in time, as the heavy rain had finally caught up with us. During the drive home, there were masses of deer along the road which made for a quick brake (should have been looking ahead and not glancing at the mountains…) and it was apparent that Scotland was in for a wet night ahead. Soon enough, it became some of the worst rain I’ve ever driven in, aquaplaning umpteen times and enduring a treacherous motorway which made for slow progress – around 45/50mph at some parts, and a very, very, very late arrival with empty, hungry bellies back in Glasgow! After not wanting to go home to Glasgow earlier in the day, it felt as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders as we arrived back at our flat after such a long day and a nervous drive home. The relief at being home never lasts long though, and the next trip is usually being planned by the next morning - if not on the way home! And this time was to prove no different…
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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.