Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Saturday 16 June 2012 - Maol Chean-dearg

After last night's party, those still standing chose a relatively easy hill for today's walking exploits.

Thus it was that after waving goodbye to Steve, Jenny and Richard, who were heading off today, ten of us drove through light rain to Coulags, where it wasn't raining.

The path up to Bealach a' Choire Ghairbh, past a rather smart bothy, is a delight, from near sea level to around 600 metres without really noticing the gradient.

From the bealach the path steepens to reach the Munro summit of Maol Chean-dearg (933 metres) rather more easily than the slabby route up the neighbouring Corbett - An Ruadh-stac (892 metres). Both are fine hills, but today their summits were only intermittently revealed through the cloud. Our summit photo was, for the first time for a while, without a view, although it was warm and calm enough to enjoy our lunch around the massive summit cairn, which for many of us featured large slabs of Louise's alcoholic chocolate cake.

A pair of ptarmigan were on hand to inspect the site and join the mice in a hunt for Sue's dropped crisps.

An uneventful descent concluded our travails in this part of the world for the time being, though others in our group are continuing to other parts of Scotland in an ongoing hill climbing frenzy.

Today's 17km included about 900 metres ascent and took around 6.5 hours.

As soon as we set off from Coulags the rain started again. Sue thinks she saw an otter swimming in Loch a' Chroisg. Julie had been on a short walk slightly to the east of us; it had rained all day there. The ten of us had been very lucky.

We've also been very lucky to have Louise and Liz as our catering department. They have fed us like the Lords and Ladies who are their usual clientele, finishing tonight with Mull scallops, haggis-neeps-n-tatties, apple crumble, and the usual fine cheese board.

I'm out of time now, so you are spared more fauna, flora and geological etc stuff - until next time! We travel home tomorrow, and some 're-grouping' will be required before the next trip.

Today's photos were both taken near Bealach a' Choire Ghairbh, the first showing Meall nan Ceapairean, which I'd planned to climb but didn't, with the second picture of today's girlie contingent (Sue W, Tove, Sue B, Ruth and Carol) in front of An Ruadh-stac.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Friday, 15 June 2012

Kinlochewe Lodge

This week's venue, situated amongst some of the finest hills in Scotland, is an early C20 hunting lodge currently owned by Pat Wilson, a Perth landowner. It's rented out on a weekly basis to groups like ours, with the Wilson family using it for just 2-3 weeks a year.

The occasion, as mentioned earlier, is G+T's 100th birthday party, celebrating their passage of fifty years each.

It's a great place to stay, and quite reasonably priced if the cost is divided between 18 people plus 'staff'. There are lots of rooms. Cluedo style jokes abound - was the murderer Miss Brown in the Billiard Room with the Ice Axe, or was she in the Music Room when the gory deed took place?

I know of other groups who have used the Lodge on a self catering basis, but we have Louise and Liz, thus freeing the rest of us from any worries about where our next meal is coming from.

Although the Lodge is close to the centre of the village, we are told that pine martens can often be seen serenading on the lawns at dusk. It would be a treat to see one of these elusive animals, but we haven't seen one yet.

The Lodge is altogether a brilliant base for a trip of this nature.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Friday 15 June 2012 - Fionn Bheinn

With high cloud and a bit of a breeze drifting in with a gradual change in the weather, we chose an easy day on a Munro that Sue hadn't previously visited.

Taking a direct route from Achnasheen, beside Allt Achadh na Sine, we soon reached a pleasant spot (pictured, with Meall a' Chaorainn behind) for a cup of tea or two.

I thought the ascent would be harder, but despite an increase in the wind velocity and the absence of a clear path, the summit trig point dutifully appeared a couple of hours and 800 metres ascent after our 9.30 start.

We were just below the cloud base, in a strong breeze against which Sue braced herself for a summit photo (see lower image). Two other walkers were also enjoying a day out; otherwise we saw nobody on the walk.

It wasn't a day to linger, but the easy path down Sail an Tuim Bhain enabled us to enjoy the wide ranging views. To our south, cloud had enveloped the summits, whilst to the north everything was cloud free - including An Teallach on the horizon. So the rest of our group would have good views as they 'toured', visited gardens, or ascended a nearby hillock.

We reached the road after passing through a sequence of deer fences, with the inevitable roe deer being trapped in the forest that the fences are supposed to protect. Here we bumped into the gents we'd seen on the summit; it would have been impolite of us to refuse the lift offered back to our car.

The 11km walk, with about 800 metres ascent, had taken just 3.5 hours - leaving plenty of time for lunch at the roadside viewpoint that overlooks Kinlochewe, and a long chat with Louise before anyone else arrived back at the Lodge.

Today is GI's 50th birthday, which together with Tove's achievement in reaching the same vintage earlier in the year is the reason we are all here this week.

Happy Birthday, Graham and Tove (who don't read these pages, but I'll refrain from insulting them on this occasion).

So there will be a big party tonight ...

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Thursday 14 June 2012 - Beinn Alligin

Beinn Alligin is one of my favourite hills, so it was great to be up there again today.

Unlike Monday, when both hills had several summits of similar height to visit to ensure that the tops had actually been 'bagged', Beinn Alligin sports two indisputable summits - one at each end of its easy summit ridge. The difficulties, such as they are, on Alligin involve the traverse of its three 'horns' which grace the north eastern spur of the hill. Today we chose to visit these in ascent, which perversely involves an awkward if well protected descent move on the way down from the final horn before scrambling easily up to the Munro summit of Sgurr Mòr.

Sue and I had set off with Steve, who would spend the whole day with us, and with Graham, Richard and Jenny, who chose the excellent traverse of Beinn Dearg for their outing in the continuing wonderful weather.

Initially we took the wide path up Coire Mhic Nòbuil, where Sue is seen above with Graham, with a Beinn Alligin backdrop. Then after leaving Graham to guide R+J over Beinn Dearg the three of us climbed steeply up through bands of rock, eventually gaining the summit of the first 'horn'. From the ridge we could see the others slowly rising up Beinn Dearg's airy western flank, and we enjoyed splendid views across to yesterday's summits and far beyond.

Sue is pictured in the lower image with Steve on the third and highest 'horn', with Baosbheinn behind them, before we descended more easily than I could recall, to the col leading to the summit.

We felt we had earned our lunch, which was enjoyed at leisure today, with no time pressures to hasten us along our way.

Continuing to the summit, we paused frequently to admire the dramatic outline of the 'horns' below us, and just beyond that high point we halted again at the spectacular cleft of Eag Dhubh.

Soon afterwards we met a couple of Scots on their way to explore the 'horns'. We met only six people all day, and nobody else seemed to be traversing the hill in our anti clockwise direction, though erosion on the summit ridge and on the path in Coir' nan Laogh was clear evidence of its great popularity.

A stroll along the ridge soon brought us up a band of sandstone slabs, to the southern summit of Tom na Gruagaich, where we enjoyed a final slug of tea before descending easily and quickly back to the car park on the Diabeg road.

We noticed the bright yellow flowers of Bog Asphodel on the lower slopes today, and a small yellow orchid appeared amongst the huge numbers of blue and white ones. The large single flowers of Melancholy Thistles occasionally nodded as we passed them in gullies on lower ground, and Mountain Everlasting is abundant in these parts.

On the subject of flora, we've found Ken Butler's 'Wild Flowers of the Northern Highlands of Scotland' brilliant for this trip. It deals with just 250 of the 1500 species found in the area, but of those 250 we've only spotted a small handful of plants.

Anyway, after our 12km walk, with about 1200 metres ascent, completed in less than 7 hours, we had plenty of time for the usual indulgences, including a trip to the Kinlochewe Hotel to sample their tasty draft beer.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Wednesday 13 June 2012 - Beinn an Eoin and Baosbheinn - A Classic Round

Sue and I set out alone today; others had different agendas. We all enjoyed fine days out in perfect (sunny, clear, no wind, no midges) weather, so everyone was happy tonight.

We started at about 9am from the 'Red Barn' by Am Feur-loch on the Gairloch road. The track to Loch na h-Oidhche is a good one, with information boards and four waymarked routes designed for the more casual traveller in need of a short walk from the Red Barn.

We took that path for 6km, meeting two men on a buggy, with a couple of dogs. These were the only people we saw all day. The stepping stones over the Abhainn Loch na h-Oidhche were high and dry, evidencing the fact that since 13 May, when all May's rainfall fell in one day, there has been very little rain hereabouts.

A few hundred metres beyond the stepping stones, two massive erratics announced the need to turn left. We would now be pathless for many miles, initially over easy ground to reach the ridge by Coire Loch na Geala that rises to point 715 at the northern end of Beinn an Eoin. We were delayed by 'flower stops' after discovering sundew and orchids, and by Sue falling into a bog and covering her legs in a substance that looked like ... sick. Bogs were hard to find today, but Sue was up for that challenge.

The flattish ridge culminated in a short burst of ascent to the summit, from which the views of Torridon and far, far beyond were absolutely magnificent on this crystal clear day. It had taken a little over 3 hours to get thus far.

A pleasantly blunt knife edge ridge took us to the rocky convex nose of Beinn an Eoin, down which we picked our way slowly but entertainingly to a point a little to the left of the bothy at Poca Buidhe, which appeared to be occupied by two dogs!

Lunch was followed by the ascent of a pleasant ridge with widening views, to Ceann Beag, Baosbheinn's 705 metre outlier.

It was still some way to the summit, due to a couple of abrupt gashes in the ridge, but we got to admire those summit views, and enjoy more of our tea and a second lunch, at around 3pm, some 6 hours after setting off from the Red Barn. The upper picture shows Sue approaching the summit, with
Beinn an Eoin behind her and more distant Torridonian giants to her right.

It was a truly magnificent day for this classic round of hills.

Some more undulations delivered us to the pinhead of a further summit, from which the most precipitous descent of the day (walking poles were tossed down to make the downclimb easier) took us to a lovely broad ridge that rose gently to our final 801 metre summit. The views to the Outer Hebrides from here were wonderful, as were the views back to the central Torridon peaks. (Sue is pictured in the lower image on this broad ridge, with our steep descent in the background and Beinn Dearg to the right.)

After lingering with our last cuppa to take in these views, we embarked on a final steep 600 metre descent into the Flowerdale Forest, to reach the thin river known as Abhainn a' Garbh Choire by a small but obvious footbridge. After the first 300 metres down steep but easy grass, the gradient eased but the going became somewhat 'lumpy'. Sue was flagging, but revived when she found a spring issuing crystal clear cool water. We continued over a rocky bluff to a deer fence that was easily climbed at a well used corner, and on to the previously mentioned footbridge. Here we didn't cross the bridge, instead joining the 'yellow' trail, a path marked by posts beside the left bank of the river that took us through more stunning scenery all the way back to the Red Barn. We reached there at about 6pm, 3 hours after leaving the summit of Baosbheinn. The 26km walk (hardly a 'stroll' today) had involved about 1800 metres ascent and had taken 9 hours.

We returned to the Lodge in plenty of time for a cream tea, bath, beers and another fine dinner, after this most satisfying of mountain days.

Simply wonderful!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Tuesday 12 June 2012 - Beinn Eighe

Thanks for your comments on various posts, I'll respond next week when I have more than a weak phone signal.

Today Sue and I had a last minute change of plan when we woke to a gloriously sunny morning. Beinn Alligin was left for another day.

We were joined by Steve for this fine walk up one of the best hills that Scotland has to offer - Beinn Eighe. Whilst we knew from yesterday that Steve is a sound walker, we didn't know how he would cope with a long scrambly ridge. We had only met him on Sunday and he had only walked on a few Scottish mountains. So we decided against tackling the entire ridge, targeting instead the comparatively easy central section.

A car was therefore left at the Ling Hut car park, then we returned to Loch Bharranch to start walking at around 10am. It's a well made path all the way up to Spidean Coire nan Clach, our first summit and Steve's tenth Munro, mercifully clear of cloud although the day's weather had now settled into a rhythm of sunshine and showers.

We enjoyed the 2km ridge walk to A' Coinneach Mhor, from which today's image was taken - towards Torridon, with Beinns Alligin and Dearg.

Lunch had been taken en route, and we enjoyed the friendliest of several encounters on the hill today. Terry Gallaher, training for a forthcoming triathlon event, paused during his run for a chat. We wish him well, and we were pleased to note later that he did find a quick way down from Ruadh-stac Mòr, our own next objective.

By the time we got up there the cloud was down. Despite a long wait amongst strikingly pink beds of Moss Campion, we couldn't persuade it to clear, though eventually the rain eased and our waterproofs could finally be stashed for the day. That left us relatively unencumbered for the steep descent to Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair, where we enjoyed our last sip of tea, with some CCS (shortbread), in view of the mountain's magnificent triple buttresses.

An easy amble around Sail Mhor to Coire Dubh Mhòr, all on an excellent path with fine views of Liathach's spiky ridge, brought this 18km excursion to a most satisfying conclusion by about 6.30pm. The route involving 1300 metres of ascent had taken us all of 8.5 hours, but we were back at the Lodge in time to enjoy tea and cake and a hot bath before tucking into a delicious joint of lamb.

Ten of the others arrived back at the same time as us from a successful walk up Slioch, on which the main point of interest seemed to be Richard's failed attempt at a cartwheel. He was just a little battered.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Monday 11 June 2012 - Sgurr nan Ceannaichean and Moruisg

Today our 18 strong party all took to the hills. The 'A' team comprised nine of us who headed off from the outskirts of Craig, in Glen Carron, before 10am.

We'd left Tom's car at the usual parking spot for Moruisg and immediately reaped the benefit of avoiding the direct route up that hill. The track beside Allt a' Chonais and subsequent stalkers path up Sgurr nan Ceannaichean were a delight in comparison with the thrutch of the former route.

The view back to Fuar Tholl and its neighbours (pictured) enthralled us through our wing mirrors as we rose gently to the former Munro's summit. The zigzag stalkers path was Alpine in nature and easy to follow. I could see Keith and Phil ahead, four more behind, with Sue and Jenny bringing up the rear, each group strolling in apparently opposite directions on the zigzags.
Then Sue and Jenny disappeared. We waited for some time at a zag, then at a zig. No sign of them. A search ensued, finally tracking them down to a cloud on the summit. Once we'd all arrived, the cloud rose and everyone was happy.

The errant duo had been distracted by the flora, which like the path they failed to follow was decidedly alpine in nature. Today we added the following to our tally:
Lousewort
Thrift (why is it just found on sea shores and on mountain tops?)
Common cowwheat
Cowberry
Starry saxifrage
Yellow mountain saxifrage
Atlantic butterwort
Wild thyme
Cotton grass, and
Water avens

Up here there were lots of wheatears, ptarmigan mothers with excitable chicks, and a baby red deer that ran off after being disturbed by Tom; we hope its mother found it again.

By the time we reached Moruisg's summit we could enjoy wide ranging views - from Glen Carron (pictured) that was in the centre of an arc of cloud laden hills to its south, with the cloud free tops of Liathach, Beinn Eighe, Slioch and the Fisherfield Forest hills amongst many lined up to its north. Whilst the Cuillin massif was in cloud, the hills of Harris were clearly visible beyond the northern tip of Skye.

The direct descent (better in descent than in ascent) to Tom's car was steep but easy, apart from a newly erected deer fence near the bottom, where the planting of a forest of 'native woodland' is imminent. We managed fine despite the absence of a stile or gate where we entered the new plantation site, where the ground had been massacred in preparation for planting.

We returned to the Lodge for 5pm, when France were seen to thrash England's footballing underdogs 1:1 in the sides' first game in the European championships.

Then Louise excelled again, with another fine meal.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sunday 10 June 2012 - The Sow of Atholl and Meall na Leitreach

This four and a half hour walk was really just a leg stretch on the short journey from Pitlochry to Kinlochewe.

With the cloud base at 600 metres we were never really going to see very much, but the flora and fauna kept us entertained all day.

A bleep from the phone brought sad but not unexpected news from Southport. Kate Wood's battle against cancer had finally come to an end. Our thoughts are with Tim and the family. Later we were to pass the point in Kingussie where we first met 'Little and Large', on the TGO Challenge in 2008.

The mist brought a few surprises - red deer, startled by our presence, lots of frogs and froglets, some red grouse chicks instinctively hiding from us as their mother pretended she had a broken wing.

There was lots of other bird life, in particular around Loch Garry - including oyster catchers, lapwings, ringed plovers, the usual mallards, common sandpipers, and a fly past from some greylag geese.

Flora included lots of heath spotted orchids, a profusion of common butterwort, milkwort, tormentil, cloudberry, heathers, ladies-mantles, birdsfoot trefoil, dog-violets and various Ranunculus (buttercups).

By the time we got down the rain had eased, but I'd established that my old waterproofs are now due for recycling, a bit like Mike's car (anyone wanting to get rid of a good runner for up to £1500?).

Others enjoyed longer walks, and we were first to arrive at Kinlochewe Lodge, at 5pm, apart from our catering department - Louise and Liz, who have now established themselves as an essential resource, having provided our group of eighteen with a superb meal.

Pictured: The Sow of Atholl from near Dalnaspidal Lodge (which is undergoing an impressive looking refurbishment).

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange