Creag Ruadh and Dun-da-Lamh day meet – 5 January 2020

Eleven brave souls pitched up at the car park by Balsporran Cottage at Drumochter, possibly enthused by new year resolutions or possibly just not having seen the MWIS dire forecast for the day.  The cloud crept down the mountains and the wind gusts drove the rain into our faces as we exchanged new year greetings.  By a unanimous show of hands we agreed to seek something lower and a bit more sheltered. Dougie’s option of heading straight for coffee was voted down – we were made of sterner stuff.

And so we adjourned to a very pleasant walk in Strath Mashie from Feagour, near the Wolftrax Mountain Bike Centre, through Black Wood.  Our first objective was Dun-da-Lamh, an early Pictish hill fort from around 400AD which sits high on a crag at the north-east end of Black Craig above Glen Shira and the River Spey to the north and Strath Mashie to the south.  The remains of the walls are up to about 2m high and up to 7m thick, so it must have been a very impressive structure.  

Black Craig

We wandered along the top of Black Craig sheltered by very nice stands of Scots pines, and it was only when we exited the trees to squelch up the Graham, Creag Ruadh, that we were exposed to the rain and wind. Normally, there are fine views from Creag Ruadh, but today all that we could see was that the summit was adorned by a tall cylindrical trig pillar, which as you will all know is called a “Vanessa” rather than the familiar Hotine design of pillar.

A wet summit party on Creag Ruadh with Vanessa

We scurried off into the shelter of the forest, which turned out to be a bit more interesting than we anticipated with obstacles of wind blown trees, and a rather special line in dead trees which toppled when given a gentle nudge. That led to some nifty footwork from Wendell and Arthur as they stood, momentarily mesmerised by one such trunk heading towards them.
We rounded off an excellent day with coffee at Wolftrax.

Participants: Arthur, John, Dougie, Wendell, Dan, Michael, Irene, Robin and potential members Charlotte, Brian and Carol.

Carn Chuinneag and Navigation Course, 8 December 2019

The six Corbetteers – three members and three prospective members – started up Glencalvie from the end of the public road near Glen Calvie Lodge.  One hundred and seventy five years earlier, Glencalvie had been the site of one of the most poignant episodes in the clearances when eighteen families from the glen were evicted and sought refuge in the nearby Croick Churchyard. Some of their names and messages can still be seen scratched on the church windows.

The track up Glencalvie made for fast walking and we were soon at the start of the fine stalkers path which ascends the north spur of Carn Chuinneag’s west top which surprisingly, does not seem to have a separate name.  We had hoped that the spur would provide shelter from the strong south westerly squalls of sleet and snow. We were to be disappointed.  However, from the west top we had the wind at our back as we headed to the summit in cloud and driving snow.  No-one in the party took any photographs whatsoever and we quickly set off down the lee side of the north ridge, trying to glean whatever shelter we could.  Soon we were out of the cloud and heading down to Glencalvie again. Passing Diebidale Lodge we idly speculated about it being a fine location for a club outing. But at £3000 per week, we quickly put that out of our minds.

Navigation course with Mountaineering Scotland

The navigators had equally poor weather and combined some desktop work on avalanche awareness and winter route planning with navigation practice in the forest around Glenmore Lodge.

Some of the take-aways which the team shared are the need for winter route planning that takes account of weather patterns, recent wind directions, slope aspect and slope angles in assessing avalanche risk. The SAIS avalanche reports have now started for this winter, and their “Be Avalanche Aware” app and website provides really good advice on planning winter trips and the things to be aware of throughout the day.  The team were also introduced to an excellent app called “Fatmap” which provides 3D satellite images of terrain, which can be overlaid by filters like slope aspect or slope angle.

… and at night!

The value of bothy bags providing group shelter was reinforced, and the need to vary pacing counts to take account of darkness, ground conditions, snow cover and slope  were all brought firmly home – in the dark, in the forest!  Thanks to Dougie and Irene for these take-aways.
Carn Chuinneag group: Ewen, Robin, Arthur, and prospective members Charlotte, Maria and Brian.
Navigators: Dougie, Dan, Kirsty R., Irene and George.

Kintail Christmas Dinner, 13-14 December 2019

The snow started to fall quietly as we walked up to the Bealach an Sgairne heading for A’Glas-bheinn, above.  This was in some contrast to our last visit on the Christmas meet last year, when we were battered by strong winds and abandoned our attempt a few metres above the bealach.  There was no repeat this year. The fresh snow accumulating on the Eastern flank of the hill needed a little care when rounding the succession of bumps and false summits that guard the way to the summit of A’Glas-bheinn. The snow stopped and the ascent gave excellent walking in fresh winter conditions.   No hill day is complete without finishing on steep, wet, grassy slopes. And we duly found these when descending over A’ Mhuc to pick up the path back to Morvich at the edge of the forest.

Sgurr an t-Searraich and Sgurr na Moraich from south of Shiel Bridge

 The team of eight arrived back at the Kintail Outdoor Centre to meet up with the other club members.  Michael had walked part of the Affric Kintail Way up Gleann Lichd.  Lizzie and Albert walked up the path beside the Allt Undalain from the Shiel Bridge campsite. Jim, Ewen and Catherine had chosen to ascend Beinn a’ Mheadhain from Killilan – a Marilyn whose modest height belies the difficulty in reaching its summit.  It is defended on two sides by water, then on three sides by crags and the apparently “easy” side is defended by rocky lumps and grassy bumps – not to mention a couple of lochs. Robin was last to appear from his ascent of the nearby Corbett, Sgurr an Airgid.  He had a contemplative day on the hill – his GPS showing 4 hours walking and 3 hours at rest.

Lunch stop – sheltering from spindrift

Our fine Christmas dinner rounded off the day. The choice of three starters, three main courses and four sweets preceded by mulled wine and rounded off by fine chat beside the wood burning stove made for a very sociable evening. 

Sunday was a less active day. I am unsure whether the crop of sore feet, sore hips, sore knees and sore heads should be attributed to the exertions of the previous day or the previous evening. Ewen, Jim, Catherine and Andreas had a pleasant walk in the woods at Balmacara; Irene and Dan followed Lizzie and Albert’s trail from the previous day; Kirsty, Michael and Arthur drove to Glenelg then decided in favour of the Eilean Donan coffee shop; and Robin got wet in the glen behind Coulags. Participants: Masoud, Andreas, Dan, Ewen, Arthur, Kirsty R., Jim, Wendell, Michael, Irene, Robin, Albert, Lizzie, Richard and Catherine.

Ballater meet, 22-23 November

The Club’s weekend meet to Ballater was notable for the dreich weather, superb accommodation at Ballater Hostel and an enjoyable dinner celebrating the birthday of one of the party.   Although hills of varying stature were climbed, there is little photographic evidence of this so we must rely on the words of those involved…..

On Saturday, Dan, Dougie, Kirsty G, John and Irene had an ascent into the clag on Morrone.  Fay and David visited a couple of the Balmoral cairns and Gelder Shiel bothy, and on Sunday cycled to Aboyne on the disused railway then up to the Glen Tanar visitor centre, and back to Ballater on the south Deeside road.

On Morrone

Steve spent the weekend in pursuit of Marilyns, bagging three on Saturday on the drive north.  With even lower cloud on Sunday, he kept heading south to find a cloud free hill, but to no avail.  Neither Kings Seat near Coupar Angus nor even the diminutive Moncrieffe Hill south of Perth at just 223m afforded a view.  Though all small in height, the combined ascents nevertheless tallied to a respectable 1000m.

The birthday party

One Corbett bagger, who shall remain nameless, made an early start on Friday which saw him set off totally preoccupied with a walking pole refusing to lock, and heading on the wrong path leading to the wrong ridge. Our hero promised himself to concentrate when at the summit and taking a different route down.  However, he reports that the GPS showed that his concentration powers were on a par with a goldfish.  He is signed up for our navigation course.

Despite guidebook promises of superb views and fine outlooks, Arthur’s weekend involved following hill tracks and fencelines into the clag until a trig point or summit cairn was encountered, and then following another hill track or fenceline out of the clag. This performance was acted out on Friday on Cat Law; again on Saturday on Mount Battock with Robin and Richard; and again on Sunday on Gaellaig Hill with eight of the group.  

Exiting Burn o’Vat

Robin compensated for the lack of views by poring over the map to come across some interesting place names – a croft named Flatnadreich, another simply called Waggles, and a gorge in the River North Esk tagged the Rocks of Solitude.  One such finely named place that most of the group thought well worth a visit was Burn o’ Vat – above and top – a pot formed by glacial meltwater in the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve.

The extent to which we enjoyed the celebration of a significant birthday of one our group is perhaps illustrated by the array of eleven misplaced items that were left in the Hostel following our departure.  Participants: Andreas, Dan, Dougie, Kirsty G., Fay, David, Richard, Steve, John, Michael, Irene, Robin, Arthur, Kirsty R. and the posh folk in Airb&b – Cerian, Mel and Sherine.

Maol Chean-dearg, 10 November 2019

An encouraging weather forecast did not disappoint.  The conditions in Glencarron were excellent, and we decided to ascend Maol Chean-dearg from Coulags.  There had been a hard frost, and the ground was well frozen – handy for negotiating boggy country.  The first part of the walk up the glen was by the track to the new hydro dam.  There are few suitable glens these days without a run-of-the-river scheme; much less intrusive than the windfarms.

An Ruadh-Stac

Past the stone where legendary hero Fionn tethered his dog when he went off to fight the baddies, then take the track to the left towards the col.  We cast a few longing glances up at An Ruadh-Stac; padding up the slabs is great on a summer’s day, but route-finding on the way down can be awkward – and slippery in these conditions!  We left it for another day.

At the col, we left the path leading over to Torridon and struck off right up the hill path;  well-defined in most places, but crossing a few boulder fields.  The weather had been calm up until this point; we started to feel the wind chill heading onto the higher slopes.  By the top the visibility was superb, but we were glad of the shelter of the elaborate cairn.  Great views north to Torridon, west to the Applecross hills, south to Ben Nevis, east to the Monar hills…..

A well-deserved summit break

After a lengthy photographic stop at the summit we reluctantly headed back down the same way, stopping off at the bothy for some food and drink and getting back to the car at dusk, around 4.30; late enough for this time of year.  But we cheered ourselves with the thought that the sun will be coming back towards us in around six weeks’ time!

The day was rounded off by a visit to the Ledgowan Hotel in Achnasheen and their ever-welcoming hosts, blazing fire and comfortable armchairs.  The team this time was Daniel, Masoud, Michael, Dougie and Ewen.

Kinlochleven, 25-26 October 2019

The view from my window of snow on Ben Wyvis on Friday morning had me excitedly scrabbling around to find my ice axe as I packed for the Kinlochleven meet. Alas, it was a false promise of early season soft, unconsolidated snow, but hopefully an early portent of good things to come.

Kinlochleven, since the closure of the Alcan plant twenty years ago, has been transforming itself from a factory town into a tourist destination and centre for mountain pursuits. The town is surrounded on three sides by mountains with networks of walking and biking trails, it is an important staging point on the West Highland Way and hosts the Ice Factor which contains the world’s biggest indoor ice climbing wall. In the last few years the surrounding mountains have been the venue for the series of extreme Scottish Skyline races – the Mamores Vertical Kilometre, the Ben Nevis Ultra, The Ring of Steall Skyline and the Glen Coe Skyline – all of which start or finish, or start and finish, at Kinlochleven.

Ascending Glas Bheinn, Buachaille Etive Mor in the background

The assiduous reader will have noted that little has been said, so far, of the towering peaks ascended or the feats of derring do undertaken by your correspondent and his companions, however, the photo at the top of this report demonstrates otherwise; it shows Garbh Beinn, Kinlochleven and Beinn na Caillich, with Mam na Gualainn behind.
Saturday saw two parties ascend, in squally weather, a quite unprepossessing Corbett – Glas Bheinn – which lies between Loch Eilde Mor and the Blackwater Reservoir. Despite the modest size of the hill itself, its position – with the Mamores to the North, Glencoe to the South and Ben Alder to the east – gave superb mountain views. One party descended below the dam of the Reservoir to visit the small graveyard for men who were killed in the construction of the Reservoir.  Some of them perished in winter weather walking back to camp from the Kingshouse, others in the construction of the dam which is nearly one kilometre long and was the last major dam built without mechanised help, with 3000 navvies employed in its construction.

Proof of snow, Glas Bheinn

Your correspondent also summitted Garbh Bheinn to the South of Loch Leven in fairly windy conditions on Friday and, on Sunday with Robin, traversed Beinn na Caillich and Mam na Gualainn, on the north side of Loch Leven.   Dougie and Michael were thwarted in their ascent of Fraochaidh from Glen Duror by a missing bridge over the River Duror, and by forestry plantations. Other lesser hills were ascended en route home.
Participants: Arthur, Steve, Michael, Dougie, Kirsty R., Jim, Ewen, Ian (guest), Peter, Marion, Robin.

Glenelg Hills, 13 October 2019

The road sign at the entrance to Glenelg proclaiming that it is twinned with Glenelg, Mars always raises a smile as you head to the Skye Ferry or the Beinn Sgritheall hills.  
We were aiming for  a pair of sibling Corbetts – Beinn nan Caorach and Beinn na h-Eaglaise – which, it turned out had been visited before by only one of our party and then only Beinn nan Caorach had been climbed by your correspondent.  With that sketchy claim to local knowledge the party set off from Corran at the road end for the track into Coire Chorsalain to pick up the grassy east ridge of Beinn nan Caorach to the accompanying roaring of rutting stags on the hillside below.

Beinn na h-Eaglaise and Beinn Sgritheall from Beinn nan Caorach

The weather turned out much better than forecasts earlier in the week had led us to anticipate. Ascending the ridge and at the summit we had superb views of Knoydart and the Small Isles round to Skye, interrupted only by the looming bulk of Beinn Sgritheall, and then northwards to the Torridon hills.  The views eastwards gave a hint of building cloud and a chill in the wind prompted us to move on. We descended easily to the wide, grassy Bealach Dhruim nam Bo (“bealach of the ridge of the cows”). This was obviously popular country for cattle grazing, because apart from the bealach there was Druim nam Bo itself, two separate corries with that name and a burn named Allt Coire Dhruim nam Bo.  Although we had seen a fine herd of cattle in Glen Arnisdale, there were no sign of any this high on the hill.

A relaxed group on Beinn na h-Eaglaise overlooking Loch Hourn

The steep pull up the North East ridge of Beinn na h-Eaglaise soon had us on the airy summit, with even steeper slopes dropping away to Loch Hourn.  The breeze had dropped, and a spot just a little way south of the summit was a fine place to linger and drink in the views across Loch Hourn to Knoydart and across the Sound of Sleat to the Small Isles. The toughest bit of the day was the descent off, with my knees complaining about it even on the following day.  We headed off on the easiest ground to Beinn Bhuidhe, then picked our way down the steep, but nowhere difficult, ground back to the track up Glen Arnisdale.

It was altogether a very nice day in a special place.  The fairly long drive to Corran and the fact that we neither met nor saw anyone else all day added to the sense of remoteness of these hills. Participants: Dougie, Dan, Michael, Helen, Robin, Arthur.

Dun Flodigarry, Skye, 27-28 September 2019

A young lady in white trainers and pink jacket emerged out of the mist as she descended the muddy path from the summit of Meall na Suiramach. We felt distinctly over-dressed and over-equipped in our full hillwalking gear among the end of season tourists seeking out famous film locations on Skye.  Although we climbed past the Needle to the Table in the Quiraing we saw no sign of Macbeth, Snow White or the Huntsman. The photo above is looking south along the Trotternish Ridge to Cleat and Bioda Buidhe from the Quiraing path.
In truth, neither the visitors nor the midgies bothered us much on this weekend. On the Storr most visitors did not venture much beyond the Old Man, and on the Quiraing few folk ventured past the Prison. The lower slopes of the hills were no busier than Ben Lomond or Ben Nevis, and once past the main attractions we saw relatively few people.

Heading up to the Needle at the Quiraing

After some grumbling about paying for parking, Saturday saw most of the party head up past the Old Man of Storr across Coire Scamadal to the Storr summit and then on to Hartaval for a short day.  The completion of the new car parking, toilets and footpath should make significant and much needed improvements to the badly degraded route to the Old Man.  
A visit to look for Sauropod footprints at An Corran at Staffin completed our afternoon. The evening entertainment was provided by a school of porpoises feeding in Poldorais – “The bay of the burying place” – below the hostel between Skye mainland and Eilean Flodigarry.

View from the Table at the Quiraing

Sunday saw us approach the Quiraing from Loch Langaig rather than the usual parking place on the Staffin to Uig road. That approach, and a north to south traverse of Meall na Suiramach, kept us out of the crowd for a bit until our return via the main path from the car park through the Quiraing.  Again the number of visitors did not detract greatly from the tottering cliffs and pinnacles.  Most of the people we spoke to seemed to be from Europe or the United States – perhaps a reflection of the exchange rates. A really enjoyable meet was enhanced by the excellent Dun Flodigarry hostel.
Participants: John, Arthur, Michael, Robin, Wendell, Masoud, Rob (potential new member), Peter, Marion, Sarah, Jim.

Grey Corries, 15 September 2019

We paid our respects to the slightly scary figure of the Wee Minister on the track above Corriechoillie.  The plaque at the wooden statue says it is of the Reverend John McIntosh but I am told that local opinion favours it being Dr Thomas Chalmers, the first Moderator of the local Free Church. Once we got through the forest and onto open ground the group split. The keen squad of Dougie, Dan and Masoud strode off up the hill for a trio of Grey Corries Munros. The remainder of the group continued for a bit up the Lairig Leacach track for a brace of Corbetts.

The Grey Corries

Dougie, Masoud and Dan report that they had a grand but tiring day on the three Munros. They made a traverse of the Grey Corries from Stob Choire Claurigh as far as Sgurr Choinnich Mor, prior to returning back along the ridge as far as Stob Coire Easain before descending its north ridge. The ascent of the first hill, Stob Choire Claurigh, was mired in rain and wind and demanded a bit of compass work. Happily, whilst resting on the top the weather backed off and blue skies appeared. Following the second Munro there was an unanimous decision that a third was needed. However, the notorious exit through the forest plantation below Stob Coire Easain’s north ridge knocked the stuffing out of three tired bodies and on finally descending there was a unanimous view that the third Munro was probably a wrong decision.  A late return to the vehicles meant a drive straight back home without a pub stop – but it was a nice day out.

The Innses group

The rest of the party headed for the two rocky Corbetts of Cruach Innse and Sgurr Innse to the east of the Larig Leacach. On the summit of Cruach Innse, we discovered that we had gained an additional companion – a solo walker from Aberdeen who was having a week Corbett bagging. A steepish descent to the bealach led on to the rockier ascent of Sgurr Innse with its myriad of hillwalker’s trails trying to find the best way through the rocks and crags, although it was nowhere difficult. A descent – possibly by the same way – stroll along the track and very brief interlude in the Spean Bridge Hotel bar completed the day.

Participants: Arthur, Dougie, Dan, Masoud, Shauna (potential new member), Wendell, Michael, Kirsty R., Robin, Andreas and a.n.other.

Glencoe, 30-31 August 2019

The SMC hut at Lagangarbh – photo above – was the venue for this meet; we had most of the twenty available bunks. We were joined by a group of four who took up the SMC places, but even this young and fit group thought twice about tackling one of the easier ridges of Buachaille Etive Mor; it just wasn’t sensible in the conditions, which on Saturday were appalling.

Dan on the Glenorchy hills

Undeterred, Dan and Dougie went to Glen Orchy to climb the Corbetts of Beinn Udlaidh and Beinn Bhreac-liath. They claim that the weather was not too bad, with the tops clearing on descent of Beinn Udlaidh offering views to the Tyndrum peaks. Michael walked from Lagangarbh over the Devil’s Staircase and down to Kinlochleven, returning the same way. An enjoyable but wet walk!

Buachaille Etive Beag

Sunday dawned with better weather; Irene, Michael and Dan had a good walk up Buachaille Etive Beag. Mostly clear tops, brief squalls and fine views, and importantly given the amount of water on the hills, no river crossings. The sunglasses even had to be deployed intermittently. John had a good day on Creise in the Blackmount – below. The way from Meall a’ Bhuiridh looked very challenging from afar, but proved to be straightforward with a clear path, and one climb of about 2m.  Only a few showers until after he was ensconced in the cafe.  Nearly a clear summit, and the day finished with a rainbow.

The Blackmount

Meanwhile Jim, accompanied by Ewen on the first hill, indulged in a Marilyn-bagging expedition to Meall Mor and Glas Bheinn to the south of Loch Ba. The hills may only have been 500m high and a mile on either side of the A82, but gave superb views of the Blackmount, Orchy hills, Rannoch Moor, Glencoe ……… Other participants in the meet were Steve, Terence and Andreas.