Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Friday 10 April 2009 - A Fine Mountain Day - Beinn Liath Mhor

A one-legged man attempts the wrong gate in Coire Lair

The rain had eased by the time Pam and Paul turned up for today's escapade with Andrew, Sue and me.

Bagger Martin set off independently - desperately seeking Graham, or was it Marilyn? Or both?

Ken and Anne chose a coastal day, hoping to see interesting birds, etc. Anne had spotted a golden eagle at Attadale on Wednesday. (It proved to be both challenging and wet.)

Meanwhile Max nursed his arthritic ankle, perhaps feeling a little queasy after having washed down the other cottage's meringue mountain with sloshings of red wine.

The five of us parked up by the main road at Achnashellach and headed along the familiar (to me) path into Coire Lair. Fragrant pink alpine flowers (below) adorned grassy banks by the railway station. Lots more flowers are coming into bud and flower, and a brilliantly blood red rhododendron is flowering just by the station.

Lousewort, by Achnashellach Station

I'd been here three weeks ago on my last trip to these parts. Although that week's weather had been generally better, the nearby mountains had been in cloud on that visit. Today they were clear, and the weather was due to improve.

Ascending into Coire Lair, with Beinn Liath Mhor ahead

We wisely took our chance and headed straight up to the ridge of Beinn Liath Mhor, with our obligatory 11 am tea and CCS stop, and a southerly wind just about behind us. Views were extensive, and as we approached the first 876 metre summit the peaks of Torridon came into view, together with those of the Fisherfield Forest and An Teallach.

On the way we had been discussing walking poles.
"I dry mine out after every trip" observed Sue.
"I've had mine for 15 years and have never even cleaned them" bragged Andrew.

A few minutes later, Andrew appeared looking sheepish, using just one pole. Closer inspection revealed two jagged bits of tube protruding from his rucksack. "I slipped" he offered, as his feeble excuse!

As we strolled along the 2 km ridge to Beinn Liath Mhor's 926 metre summit we saw cloud coming in from the south and west. We hastened to the top, beating the cloud and enjoying lunch with fine views over Upper Loch Torridon and beyond.

The view to Kinlochewe and beyond, with the Fisherfield Forest ahead, and the jagged crest of An Teallach in the distance to the left

Looking back along the ridge

Summiteers

Although two folk in front of us, the only people seen today, headed on up the next peak, any thoughts of continuing to Sgorr Ruadh to bag our second summit of the day were soon dispelled by descending cloud and light rain. So we headed down the fine stalkers path into Coire Lair, past an intact and well concealed SSI (Site of Strategic Importance), and back to the car in showery weather, well satisfied with our 6.5 hour stroll.

Whilst 'the other cottage' visited Kyle for fish 'n chips, our small band finally cracked its food mountain problem with a four course extravaganza.

A final visit to say goodbye to the others revealed a fairly tired band of holiday makers after all this week's fresh air and exercise; early nights were deemed prudent.

So, another little excursion has come to an end. There will now be a brief pause in transmission whilst we clean the cottage, whizz home, and process a few photos in a bid to brighten up this week's postings.

Here's today's route - 15 km with 1130 metres ascent, taking just over six and a half hours, including numerous breaks:

Ciau

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Thursday 9 April 2009 - A Trip to Applecross, and a Dip in the Sea

Seaweed at Applecross

First, a note for Shona, the owner of this excellent 'cottage', Duilisg:

We are glad you are enjoying these tales from Plockton... this really is an excellent spot, Shona; we are in the lap of luxury. Sue is particularly impressed as:

1. Afternoon tea can be taken in the sunshine in the front garden with its magnificent Loch Carron backdrop.

2. From that same spot a swim in the sea can be enjoyed, followed by an immediate therapeutic hot shower.

The photos will follow after we return home. (Now below.) (As usual, Sue has forgotten her swimsuit, and as usual that has not deterred her.)

Secondly - hello Alan, thanks for your comments - we are having a great week here and have managed to test some of our (mostly leaky) gear much more thoroughly than in the entire year of sun dominated 2008. Really, whatever the blog may infer, we are happy to be in the mountains with our friends, whatever the weather and whatever the pace, so apologies to anyone who may be concerned about holding us up. If it's any comfort, I was the laggard yesterday.

Today's dire weather forecast proved accurate in the early hours as the rain lashed down. So it wasn't a difficult decision to opt for a rest day. Occasionally a leisurely day can be most rewarding, and so it was today.

Sue, Andrew, Bagger Martin and I rose slowly (except A, he still can't quite get to grips with this aspect of retirement!) and lingered at home before tripping off up the spectacular Bealach na Ba road to Applecross. On the way, coffee was taken at the posh café near Attadale Gardens. Neil Barlow's 'Painted Mountains' prints are on sale here, and very good they are too.

Our collection of jugs was boosted at the nearby pottery.

The weather was grey but actually much better than yesterday, with most tops clear. It was warm, dry and calm - the forecast was completely wrong.

Fuar Tholl's rugged outline failed to entice us though, and we headed as planned for lunch on the beach at Applecross.

Minutes after we rose to enjoy a beach/river stroll in the vicinity of Applecross House a helicopter landed on our lunch spot. We continued on to explore an ice house and an impressive walled garden.

Highland cattle near Applecross House

The view across Applecross Bay to Raasay

The ice house

It was a busy, if remote, place with much evidence of a vibrant community. Not least, the Applecross Inn provided excellent local beer and was serving good value food overseen by a stuffed otter. Two sea kayakers pulled in from the calm waters of Applecross Bay. They were Sarah and Loz, on holiday from the Lake District. (Sarah was my predecessor as editor of 'Chunks', the newsletter of the International Munro Pineapple Society.) They had kayaked in from the Crowlin Islands, and planned to spend the next week with their kayaks on South Rona.

It's a small world!

Our rather more mundane day continued with a spectacular return over the 600 metre bealach, followed by the afore-mentioned afternoon tea in our front garden,

and Sue and Martin's dip in Loch Carron

followed by a wet t-shirt contest. (The video may belong to a future posting.)

We had a bacon mountain, so invited the 'other cottage' for a dinner of spaghetti carbonara. They brought their own paté mountain, and our combined fruit mountain was utilised to provide a most enjoyable and convivial evening, with an excellent quiz - courtesy of Andrew.

This fine cottage easily catered for the nine of us (after all, we had ten on Monday) - our guests just needed to bring a stool. Everyone is very careful, Shona, we all admire your handiwork and 'outdoor shoes' are not allowed past the entrance mat.

We haven't looked at tomorrow's weather forecast - it's bound to be wrong - so we'll go up something regardless...

...we have a plan! In the meantime, here's today's 5 km 'wheelchair route':

Wednesday 8 April 2009 - Oh Brother! - Aonach Meadhoin

In An Caorann Beag, near the Cluanie Inn

We woke after overnight rain to a dry morning in Plockton, but showers persisted and it was clearly wet in the mountains.

Chris was keen to do the Five Sisters, but it was clear that would have been over ambitious in today's conditions, so he and Avril tootled off home to Dundee.

Bagger Martin headed off to Skye for an appointment with a Marilyn or two on MacLeod's Tables. Meanwhile Andrew repeated his walk with Max, but in the other direction and without the now bed-ridden, gout suffering, arthritic Max, who is somewhat debilitated today. Was it all that red wine Paul drip fed him last night?

In a bout of unexpected sophistication, Anne went on a tour of local gardens and other places of interest. (She saw a golden eagle above Attadale.)

That left me, Sue, Pam, Paul and Ken. We decided to drive up to the Cluanie Inn for an attempt on the three summits to the east of the Five Sisters, on the north Glen Shiel ridge. I think they are known as the Three Brothers. We left the car on a brightening day - at 10.40 - the bad weather was supposed to be clearing.

We strolled purposefully towards Bealach a' Choinich, with the south Glen Shiel ridge behind us

And so it did clear, at least enough for us to enjoy a shortbread (CCS) stop after just 20 minutes. Well, it was 11 o'clock!

There are many old sheep pens, like this one, in the area

A good path led gently up beside Allt a' Chaorainn Bhig, and the weather continued to look hopeful as we reached Bealach a' Choinich at 600 metres. In a rising wind we turned sharp left (SW) to ascend the easy ridge of Sgurr an Fhuarail, pausing in a sheltered spot on the edge of the snow line at 800 metres for lunch, with jokes provided by Ken.

Lunch at 800 metres, in a pile of slush (or was that Ken's jokes?)

The snow laden summit ridge of Ciste Dhubh to the north looked impressive as it came and went from our increasingly misty view.

Onwards and upwards we went. The ridge sharpened and the snow became deeper. It was mainly soft, but as the others slithered up next to a precipice I decided crampons were in order. I faffed for ages on a flat section of the gnarly crest - the crampons hadn't been used since last winter and appeared to be adjusted for my trainers. With my ice axe taking the place of my walking poles I rejoined the others for the final section up Fhuarail. They were flailing on, having decided the snow was too soft for crampons, each with an ice axe in one hand and a walking pole in the other (the latter hopefully ready to be jettisoned in an emergency!!).

It was quite windy, and we were being splattered by increasingly frequent squalls of soggy snow.
The onward ridge to our first Munro summit of the day, Aonach Meadhoin, 1001 metres, was easy enough, but was traversed slowly, and with care. Ahead of us was 4km of similar going - a jolly romp on a fine summer's day. It was only around 2.30 pm, so we had plenty of time. But in today's conditions?

I think Ken told some more jokes.

Reluctantly, given the unrelenting wind and the unexpected persistence of the squally showers, which instead of clearing as forecast were tending to merge into each other, we decided to descend from here.

A false start - my fault - resulted in a re-ascent to the summit before we headed south down the ridge above Coire na Cadha. It was steep but sufficiently unencumbered with mountain furniture to enable a swift glissade for the first 150 metres or so.

Great fun!

A herd of deer spotted us as we contoured high in the coire to cross the river before it became too swollen - it was clearly impassable lower down. Then it was an easy descent to the road and a rather tedious 2-3 km walk back to Paul's car beyond Cluanie. At least that was much closer than the car we had optimistically positioned at our planned finishing point south of Saileag.

Crossing the river in Coire na Cadha, above the main torrent

All across? Nearly! I'll just nip back over for this self-timed photo!

The rain had continued to flail us and I don't think anyone regretted the decision to retreat.

It was 5 pm, so we'd had a good 6 hours in the wintry weather, and could now return safely homeward for another convivial evening in the two cottages.

Another fine day out...here's the route - 13 km with 904 metres ascent, taking just over 6 hours including stops:

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Tuesday 7 April 2009 - Soggy in Skye - Sgurr na Coinnich

Setting off in good humour from Bealach Udal

Today Chris and Andrew joined Sue and me for a quick outing on Skye. It was showery, and not due to improve, so we simply made the short journey towards Broadford, turning left along the road to Kylerhea, and parking at a convenient point near 279 metre Bealach Udal. From here a blustery hour and a half's plod through heather, bog, grass and rock saw us on the 739 metre summit of Sgurr na Coinnich.

Conditions deteriorated, and some were unhappy about the pathless terrain

Sue had wet feet - not surprising as she'd forgotten her boots and was wearing trail shoes.
"Remind me never to contemplate using this sort of footwear for the TGO Challenge" she remarked. Of little comfort to Sue, the Hi-Tec boots given to me by Darren for testing had their first taste of rain today. They were just about as waterproof as Sue's trail shoes. Not really waterproof at all then, despite the optimistic label! Very comfy though.

Alan, as the intended recipient of these boots, may have made some more interesting comments on their performance. But do you enjoy walking with wet feet, Alan, and would you have been able to control the natural inclination of these featherweight items to shoot ahead of others on the same walk? They are not suited to 'Slow Munros', especially in cool, windy weather!

Andrew and Chris had had enough of the buffeting wind and slithery heather by the time we had descended to Bealach nam Mulachag. So they contoured back south, whilst Sue and I spent the next 30 minutes popping up to and down from the 733 metre summit of the pimple named Beinn na Caillich.

RAB clothing - ideal for people with large heads!

It was quite wet and breezy, with mist obscuring the fine views that must exist from here.

Returning to the car, we spotted Andrew and Chris below. Whilst we lunched they disappeared towards the road, and a walk back up to the bealach where the car was parked. Sue and I did our best to contour all the way, dropping down to the road a few metres before we reached the bealach. We had encountered steep ground and should have stayed a little higher in Coire na Coinnich.

This short outing was enough for all of us on this breezy, showery day. So we returned to base for a leisurely afternoon, a stroll around Plockton and another communal meal, this time at Shores Restaurant. And very nice it was too.

The cottage we stayed in is named Duilisg, after the hill across the loch, Creag an Duilisg

Shore's Restaurant seems now to be the premier 'eating house' in Plockton

Herring gulls look out for scraps in the village...

...with great views down Loch Carron

During the course of all this the ever witty Martin S (aka 'Bagger Martin') turned up after a four hour drive from Aberdeen, to join us at Shore's and resume occupation of the bed-settee vacated on Sunday by Janet and David.

Here's today's route - 7 km and 737 metres ascent, for two 'Grahams' in rather less than 3½ hours.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Monday 6 April 2009 - A Good Day Out - A' Ghlas-bheinn

Sue and I were joined by Pam and Paul today for the amiable ascent of this pleasing hill - conducted at a more normal pace (calculated by Paul as 1.6 mph compared with yesterday's rather pedestrian 0.8 mph!).

Parking beyond the mountain rescue post in Morvich, we set off in fine weather along the 'new' path towards the Falls of Glomach. We soon branched off right up the superb stalkers path to Bealach an Sgairne, encountering four others en route. Waterproofs were donned to combat the elements, and this simple act secured our freedom from precipitation for the rest of the day, which was nevertheless somewhat grey, with an occasional weak sun.

Today's wildlife was minimal - some goats in the glen, and hooded crows observing our progress from the tree tops.

But coal tits and sparrows abound in our garden, and we've seen bullfinches in the other cottage's garden. David, who knows a bit about these things, reckons the dying deer we saw yesterday may have been starving to death - maybe nature is lending a hand to control the excessive numbers of deer that humans are reluctant to attend to.

Wood anemones and dog violets accompanied primroses on today's walk, and there was lots of sweet smelling bog myrtle lower down the glen.

In Gleann Choinneachain, looking towards the distinct notch of Bealach an Sgairne

The view west from Bealach an Sgairne, with Beinn Bhuidhe ahead and the Corbett, Sgurr an Airgid, poking up on the right

Beyond the bealach a windy path led north towards the summit through easy crags. I startled a chap when passing him - he was deeply immersed in his own world and hadn't noticed our approach.

Above the bealach, on the start of the undulating ridge leading to the summit of A' Ghlas-bheinn

After 2 hours 50 min, at 12.40, we reached the blowy summit, beyond which lunch was taken in a sheltered spot nearby.

On the summit of A' Ghlas-bheinn, with Beinn Fhada in the background

We were joined for lunch by our startled friend, a Munro bagger who had driven up from Glasgow today, and would return home tonight with just this solitary tick. He had been Munro bagging for 50 years, and still has 50 summits to go. I fear that at some point he got distracted.

He may of course have got more ticks than he bargained for - of a different variety - later Sue required a couple of 'extractions'.

The descent down the west flank of A' Ghlas-bheinn was easy and uneventful. We reached the Falls of Glomach path by the forest junction and strolled down the track to Dorusduain, where the bridge over the river to rejoin our ascent route was nearly missed. But our wits were with us and we got back to the car at 3.20 after a five and a half hour, navigationally successful, stroll.

Primroses near Dorusduain

On the last lap back to Morvich, with the long ridge of A' Ghlas-bheinn behind us

Meanwhile, Chris had enjoyed the road to Arnisdale so much yesterday that he returned with Avril today. Andrew dragged Max around a 12 mile, low level, circuit. Ken and Anne had set off with them, but peeled off half way on the pretence that the BBC needed them to sign a contract in connection with Escape to the Country's exposee of their house (actually true!).

This was the evening of our combined meal for the two cottages. It went very well. We hosted Andrew's beetroot and goats cheese starter, followed by our Chardonnay chicken with parsley mash, before transferring en mass across Plockton to the other cottage's meringues, ice cream and apple pie, with copious toffee sauce.

Luckily, it remained dry whilst we staggered back to Duilisg, after a most enjoyable day.

Here's today's route - 14 km with 990 metres ascent, taking us about 5 hours 30 minutes, including stops:

Monday, 6 April 2009

Sunday 5 April 2009 - The Slowest Munro - Beinn Sgritheall

Nine of us set out from Arnisdale, after over an hour in the cars, only David (birding in Applecross), Max (dossing in Plockton) and Avril (arthritis) being absent from today's minor epic (in timing anyway).

Setting off from Arnisdale in fine fettle for a week in the hills

The sun was shining at 10.20 as we left the eider ducks and the gentle lapping of the water in Loch Hourn.

The first 3 km, along a road lined with bright yellow gorse, a third of today's total mileage, were covered in 40 minutes. Our pace then slowed drastically after leaving the road at Creag Ruadh to bushwhack our way past two dying deer (do they catch Lyme's Disease?), through juniper and bramble, lesser celandine, dog violets and primroses, squidgy bogs and across streams.

A dying deer - its mother was in a similar state nearby - David thinks malnutrition may be the cause

We eventually reached a deer fence at 300 metres. Someone had created a way under it. We used this route, then filled the gap with rocks before heaving ourselves up a steep narrow gully to reach the ridge, just above a lochan.

It was windy.


Chris stands on the easy ridge after all the hard work getting there - Beinn Sgritheall's 974 metre summit is on the right, with the minor 928 metre summit that some of us ascended to directly, on the left

A ponderous ascent of Beinn Sgritheall followed, with lunch at 12.45, in a lovely sheltered spot out of the wind.

Some of us had spent a lot of time waiting, so we popped up the minor 928 metre outlier before reaching the main summit, where the four of us still had to wait for all bar Chris, despite being distracted by a hare that had tried to be invisible as we walked past it.

The well camouflaged hare, just before it streaked off

We left the summit, with its fine views to many Highland regions, four hours after starting the walk, not expecting to take more than a couple of hours to descend the final 3 km to the cars.

Starting the descent from Beinn Sgritheall, with Loch Hourn and Knoydart beyond

But it was steep, and some found it difficult. Others pottered along then waited. Luckily the weather was clear and warm, if breezy.


Descending Beinn Sgritheall - the horizon is straight, but Janet and Andrew are bending in the wind

Some were fitter than others.

We saw four other people out on this hill today. Apart from one easy and avoidable snow slope near the 974 metre summit we encountered no significant 'white stuff'. Luckily the weather remained fine and clear.

After some moments of concern everyone made it back down over steepish ground, past waterfalls, ptarmigan and bluebells to Arnisdale by 5.30, three and a half hours after leaving the summit. We were greeted by smiles and waves from residents enjoying the warm afternoon sunshine, midge free, outside their cottages.


This cottage had no tea drinkers outside it, but did have a garden laden with daffodils

Sue found a tick. They like her.

Back at Duilisg we admired our banana mountain (gained due to the generosity of the other cottage, in return for some of our own salad mountain) and a fine meal was prepared, after David and Janet, the latter exhausted from this uncustomary exercise, had returned home to Inverness. Thanks for the delicious cake and the wine, you two.

The beef stew for six was eagerly consumed by five of us.

Andrew and I then visited 'the other cottage' where plans for tomorrow were hatched. The forecast is fine but few will be venturing high.

Today's walk calculates as being a 4 hour 50 minute trundle according to Naismith's formula. We took nearly double that - our slowest ever Munro, I suspect!

Here's our route - 11 km, 1170 metres ascent, taking us a leisurely 7 hours or so.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Saturday 4 April 2009 - A Dash to Duilisg


Today's nine hour journey saw us travelling 400 miles to this well equipped cottage, Duilisg, in Plockton by 5pm.

Chris and Avril had arrived first and Andrew soon turned up to keep the kettle busy.

We had woken to rain in Manchester, left home in sunshine, and enjoyed clear blue Lancashire skies, past flapping lapwings and buzzards being harried by crows.

We enjoyed coffee with Andrew at Tebay, then headed off into intermittent rain for the rest of the journey, stopping at Nevisports in Fort William but finding nothing there of sufficient interest to trouble our wallets.

For mile upon mile of Highland highway we passed the pale green sheen of trees laden with moss, so air quality must be good up here?

David and Janet arrived on time, then we enjoyed Avril's excellent lasagne, and Chris's excellent wine, in this lovely, freshly decorated, cottage. Shona and Frazer, the owners, have spent the last few weeks here and have left it immaculate. It's a lovely place in the 'picture postcard' village of Plockton.

I joined David outside at dusk. Blackbirds were singing sweetly from the chimney tops, tawny owls were 'twit-terwoo'ing, and David could hear woodcock nearby.

Pam, Paul, Ken, Anne and Max had arrived efficiently at their abode for the week - Caladh Reidh in Harbour Street, another excellent spot - and they joined us for a nightcap before we all turned in.