Sunrise on a Snowy Schiehallion

Route: Schiehallion

Munros: Schiehallion

Date walked: 07/01/2018

Time taken: 4.5 hours

Distance: 10km

Ascent: 731m

Happy New Year folks !! So Schiehallion again it was then. Those of you who follow me on any of the social media platforms are probably well aware that I have never fared too well on this particular mountain, 3 previous visits to the summit had amounted to a grand total of Hee-Haw in the view department. Well known throughout the land as ‘The Fairy Hill’, here I was praying that the clag loving little blighters had buggered off South for the Winter leaving me with at least a slim chance of finally seeing something from the top, other than the hand in front of my face. The various forecasts certainly suggested that I would never get a better opportunity. I knew the hill would be busy so an early start was in order. Oh how things have changed, I can guarantee if High School yearbooks had existed in my day there was absolutely no chance of me being voted most likely to be up at 5.30am on a bloody freezing, Sunday morning in January ! I very much doubt my wife would’ve forecast such behaviour either as little as a few years ago. As I cursed under my breath whilst stumbling and tripping during the 5 yard ‘assault course’ from my side of the bed to the bedroom door (I now appreciate why they are called scatter cushions !) it is a near certainty that my current behaviour would most definitely be under scrutiny by my better half. As much as I tried to create as little disturbance as possible whilst making my final preparations, I was failing miserably. Why is it the quieter you try to be the more noise you invariably make ? I must have missed this particular law of science, -sshhh=(CRASH+BANG)*WALLOP². As I closed the front door behind me I began to ponder, would a divorce judge determine my actions to be ‘Unreasonable behaviour’ ?
Nothing like a wee -8 to wake you up of a morning !

As I stepped out the front door just how freezing a morning it was became quickly apparent. The car was absolutely frozen solid. After managing to pry open the car door and start the engine I sat there and marvelled at the pointlessness of the ‘quickclear’ heated windscreen. Yes it does what it says on the tin but unfortunately I require to be able to see out to either side of me as well. Basically as an ‘optional extra’ it is about as useful as a kettle that switches off at 55 degrees ! As I hacked and scraped at the frozen windows, mirrors and lights I had probably turned every neighbour within 200 yards into a potential hostile witness in my impending divorce proceedings. Around 6am I was finally on my way, given the temperature reading in the car was showing as minus 8 and my cars performance on ice being something akin to Bambi’s, I thought it prudent to take extra care on the relatively short journey from Perth. As it transpired the gritters were ahead of the game and the road to Aberfeldy had been liberally treated. The temperature had actually risen to around minus 5 on the way up the A9, however, things were about to change ! I’m not sure whether Aberfeldy ran out of 50p’s for the meter but as I drove out of the town limits the temperature began to drop quicker than Jason Manford’s trousers when he picks up his mobile !! (Now there’s a fella who’ll know a thing or two about begging for forgiveness from the Mrs). The grit had also run out, leaving me with a fairly treacherous 9 miles to the car park, which I approached with a degree of nervousness matched only by my drive home from hospital with my first born (I remember the town bus overtaking me lol). Minus 6, Minus 7, I think we ‘peaked’ at minus 10. The last mile or so down the Schiehallion road to the Braes of Foss car park was still covered in snow and it was with some relief that I reached the snowbound car park in one piece. Getting in and safely parked was another story !
The gleaming white lump of The Fairy Hill behind the trees from the car park

As I faffed about getting kitted up I could hear another driver struggling in the snow further up the car park. I offered my assistance to help push his van out of the deep snow and between us we soon had him parked up out of the way of the access road. My reward for that particularly small act of kindness was the excellent company of a cracking fella by the name of Iain, and his 3 dogs whom I ended up joining for the day. It was a still wee while before sunrise as we started off up the initially gentle slopes. Even at this lower level there had been a considerable level of snow fall and almost immediately we found ourselves corralled into single file as we followed the well broken trail. At points the snow was above knee deep either side of the trail. I certainly would not envy being the ‘trailbreaker’, it must be absolutely exhausting especially given the route chosen was a touch more ‘direct’ than the route of the well-constructed path you would usually ascend on. Whoever you were, I sincerely thank you for your efforts, although I do wonder how you feel about all the people like me who benefited from your unseen exertions in the days after, and who happily wax lyrical about how easy the ascent had been as a result. It must be like watching some random guy swan in out of nowhere just before the last dance and begin ‘sookin the face’ of the young lass you had spent all your money on and all night chatting up !
The knee deep snow and the delight of an already broken trail

Not long into the walk, the horizon began to turn a hazy orange and the high, wispy cloud became tinged with pink. It looked like we were in for a very nice sunrise away to the East. Last night I had briefly considered getting up even earlier and making an attempt to reach the summit in time to watch the sun rise but decided that was just a step too far. In any case, even at a much lower altitude, we were treated to the most wonderful array of ever changing colours, the sky, the snow, the clouds, each time we stopped and looked back behind us to the East each element had taken on a slightly different hue, all equally stunning. I love a sun rise, I also love a lie in, so each time I’m blessed with the opportunity to witness the magic of the sun breaking the horizon I never take it for granted. On a day like today it was very special indeed and a privilege to witness. We found out a little further up the mountain that someone had indeed made it to the summit in time for the main event. Meeting the fella on his way down he told us how he had spent the night in the car park in his VW camper. He described having to basically break his way out the frozen van, with as much ice on the inside as the out. He noted that the mercury had dropped to minus 11 at one point but couldn’t be sure if that was as cold as it got. Still the smile on his face was enough to convince me that every shivering minute of his night had been worth it.
Looks promising !!

.....wait for it....


There she is !!! All the trials and tribulations of getting here were now quickly forgotten

he ascent was easy going and the dogs were having a ball in the soft snow and it didn’t seem like long at all until we had reached the broad ridge and start of what would, in the warmer months, be the start of the dreaded boulder field. Having crossed it a few times I can tell you that it is a real pain in the erse ! Boulders of all shapes and sizes, each seemingly designed specifically to snap your leg like a twig in the event of any misplaced step. Not today though, today there was no boulder field as far as the eye was concerned, just a wonderful carpet of pristine white snow, covering up the Quartzite horror show below. The trail of course continued its merry way along the ridge and just before it reached its final destination we could make out the tiny shapes of another couple of ‘baggers’ who had beaten us to the punch. No surprise really, there had been another couple of cars as well as the campervan in the car park when I arrived. God knows what time they had climbed from their pits this morning and I doubt the wife would see this as any form of mitigation on my part but I’d give it a bash anyway on my return. The conditions were absolutely perfect and about as benign as you could hope for on a Scottish mountain early in January, it really was a pleasure to be out and I couldn’t wait to reach the summit. Finally the summit views that had eluded me for years would soon be evident, they do say the best things come to those who wait….unless of course you are waiting on the ‘night bus’ in the early hours of a Saturday morning, then all that comes is some horrific amalgamation of the world’s worst circus and the ‘queerer than a bottle of chips’ wing of the asylum……on wheels !
The dogs were having a great time

The ever rising sun giving a great view behind us all the way up

The route to the summit layed out before us

Nearly there, the last few 100m to the summit

I had paid very little attention to time but reckon we reached the summit somewhere around the 2 hour mark. Having just exhanged pleasantries with the 2 guys to summit before us, we now had the top to ourselves. If you are reading this then you’ll already be aware that I can ‘waffle’ with the best of them, but I have to admit that on this occassion I can’t really find the words to adequately describe the stunning beauty of what we could see before us. Probably best that I don’t try and just let the pictures do the talking. Luckily the images came out alright as these were actually the only ones I managed in the very limited time I could stand to have my hands out of my gloves. I had been concerned how the battery in the phone would hold up in these temperatures, seems it is much less of a Jessie than I am and handled it easily. Well. I say these were the only pics, there was in fact another 130 images of me standing proudly on the summit ! Having handed over my phone to Iain to do the honours, we weren’t sure if the phone would respond to his gloved fingers, turns out the ‘burst’ function worked extremely well ! When I got home I discovered that Google Photos and Samsung had automatically ‘backed up’ the days captures, so I now had 390 images of little old me atop the Fairy Hill….I’ve not posted one here as despite a couple of sleepless nights, I’m still unable to decide which one is my favourite !!

Schiehallion Summit 360

The frozen North

Away to the West over Rannoch Moor to the peaks of Glencoe

South West to the Lawers range

Summit Pano 1

Summit Pano 2

I have no idea of the temperature on the summit, but Bloody hell was it cold. My fishing buddies would describe it as a ‘Willy Shrinker’. A term it transpired was actually 100% anatomically correct in this instance. A rapidly disappearing appendage is one thing but that coupled with a post-Christmas increase of at least a full cup size to my ‘man boobs’ meant that I had begun the day as a Stevie but could well be returning as a Stephanie ! I’ll admit part of the desire to get onto a hill this weekend was to redress some of the damage inflicted to my body in the last couple of weeks, I must have eaten my own body weight in Cadbury’s Heroes alone (other half-filled tubs of over-priced, individually wrapped confectionery are available). It appears that Santa had also brought me a hearty helping of middle-aged spread this yuletide season and not wanting to push the limits of my Montane ‘stretch’ pants too far, it had become a priority to get out and burn up a calorie or two. Having said that, the extra layer of ‘insulation’ was certainly being put to good use as we took in the views from the summit. It soon became obvious though that enough was enough, as much as I would have loved to stay on the summit for hours on end it was time to head back down before Hypothermia set in. Not surprisingly we passed a huge number of fellow walkers making their way up as we descended. It was going to be a very busy summit over the next hour. We arrived back at the car park in a little over 4 hours from setting off and all that was left of today’s adventure was to somehow safely negotiate our way out of the car park through an incredible amount of motors in various states of snow induced abandonment. It had been a simply fantastic day, made all the better by the great company. It didn’t get me an increase in my Munro tally but the Fairy Hill has taught me that, despite it becoming an annual rant over the festive period, you shouldn't always dismiss the ‘repeats’.

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