Ben Hiel: Spontaneity, Sparkly Lights & Mega Suns

Sub 2000s: Ben Hiel

Date walked: 15/12/2020

Time taken: 3 hours

Ascent: 535m

Sometimes back pain and insomnia are good things.

4.30am and I'm wide awake, lying flat and uncomfortable on a mattress that's in dire need of replacing, gazing up out the window at a single winking star.

My groggy brain takes a while to register what I'm looking at and twig to the significance... but eventually I join the dots. A star?

A star means clear skies. And clear skies at.4.30am might mean a potentially good day for the hills.

I get up, check the weather forecast, and sure enough it is, as the kids say, a day forecast to be full of 'mega suns'. Not a cloud anywhere in the north Highland region till after sundown. Excellent.

I did have things planned for the day. Useful, practical, necessary things - a trudge round the shops, and a long list of farm jobs that get ever more pressing by the day, but... mega suns demand spontaneity. I devour porridge and coffee, pick out a route, pack the rucksack, de-fog the car and hit the road in record time.

I drive alone along the north coast road through darkness, speeding past lonely cottages bedecked with lavish Christmas lights that sparkle out in defiance of 2020.

I turn left at Tongue and head down the side of Loch Craggie, stopping for a sunrise photo op:

Sunrise over Loch Craggie and the silhouette of Sron Ruadh, Beinn Stumanadh

There's a large passing place/parking area at the foot of Ben Hiel, just south of the sheep fold at the north end of Loch Loyal. From there you can head up along a clear but very boggy ATV track to the Vodafone/EE radio mast (not marked on map but clearly visible from the road), and then continue upwards on soggy ATV tracks from there.

For me, the first stretch of the climb is all in the shadow of Creag Dhubh to the south - always a frustration on winter walks when not enough consideration has been given to the angle of the sun on the approaches chosen - but once I reach the small bealach between Creag Dhubh and Ben Hiel itself, it's all blazing sunshine and majesty.

Looking back the way I've just come: the view north(ish) over Loch Craggie and beyond from the bealach

Cnoc nan Cuilean Loch Loyal Dubh Lochan.jpg
Dubh Lochan, Cnoc nan Cuilean, Loch Loyal and beyond

Stunning views of Ben Loyal to the east and Cnoc nan Cuilean to the south, a solitary golden eagle soaring overhead, and interesting moss, boulder and dubh lochan outcrops all the way up.

Ben Loyal and boulders

I'm high as a kite and decide that mountains on a good day equal peak happiness. There must be an equation for that.

Usually I don't seem to get much phone reception when I'm in the mountains, but most of the way up this hill my phone is pinging messages and emails at me - maybe due to the proximity to the radio mast with the big Vodafone sticker on it. I didn't give it any thought, but at the top of Ben Hiel, right after I snap my last picture of the summit cairn and the stunning views in every direction, my phone gives up the ghost from an exhausted battery. It has never done that before. Just as well I'm not relying on it.


The Summit of Ben Hiel.jpg
The summit of Ben Hiel

The descent is an easy retrace, took me two hours to climb up - slowed considerably by compulsive photo taking - and then barely even a hour to get down.

The chores for the day didn't get done, but the hill was more than worth it.

Ben Loyal from the slopes of Ben Hiel

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Comments: 1

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Date walked: 29/11/2020
Ascent: 558m
Views: 91

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Attachment(s) Date walked: 07/11/2020
Distance: 13km
Ascent: 515m
Views: 136

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Attachment(s) Munros: Ben Hope
Date walked: 21/09/2020
Ascent: 927m
Comments: 4
Views: 330


Activity: Walker
Place: North Sutherland

Munros: 1
Sub 2000: 2

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Trips: 4
Distance: 13 km
Ascent: 2535m
Munros: 1
Sub2000s: 2

Joined: Nov 07, 2020
Last visited: Jan 17, 2021
Total posts: 7 | Search posts