The Loch Lochy hills, 1 April 2018

April Fool’s Day saw five members – Nell, Kevin, Arthur, Douglas and Robin – one guest, Mihaela, and one canine – Skye the irrepressible Hungarian Vizla – head south down the Great Glen on what turned out to be the very opposite of a fool’s errand.  Conditions were well nigh as perfect as they can be in Scotland in spring, with saltire blue skies, sunshine, superb snow and soaring summits.  The day’s objectives, in deference to Kevin’s Munro bagging campaign, were 918m Meall na Teanga and neighbouring 937m Sron a’ Choire Ghairbh, overlooking the deep blue black waters of Loch Lochy.

It proved a long and perspiration inducing pull up to the 2000ft bealach between the two, from where the decision was taken to tackle Meall na Teanga first.  Once the shoulder of the subsidiary top of Meall Dubh was rounded, crampons were donned for a surprisingly steep traverse on excellent neve to ascend the equally steep summit ridge from the north, a more direct assault being ruled out thanks to the presence of a beautiful but fragile cornice.

Our reward for all this effort was a stupendous view of snowy peaks stretched out in all directions, with the Ben to the south lording it over all, and the long ridge of sharp summits that are the Grey Corries doing a credible impersonation of the Alps.  There followed an entertaining game of “Name That Hill” before we relinquished the summit cairn to a party from Aberdeen’s Grampian Club who had been following in our footsteps.

Back at the bealach, the zigzag stalking path up the opposite side helped make relatively short if tiring work of the 300M ascent up to the broad summit of Sron a’ Choire Gairbh for yet more inspiring panoramic views.  Kevin and Skye the Incredible Hillrunning Hound elected to descend via the way we had come; wisely so, given the latter’s predilection for admiring the view while perched on the edge of the cornice – some way to go with his winter skills yet.  The rest of the party tackled the pleasingly narrow ridge out to the minor summit of Sean Mheall (887m) before making a direct descent to Kilfinnan and the road to Fort Augustus, where a much anticipated rehydration stop was enjoyed by all; never has a pint of lager shandy tasted so good.

It was universally agreed that the real April Fools were those who hadn’t been out and up high in the hills on such a day.

Blackrock Cottage, Glencoe, 23-24 March 2018

Blackrock Cottage offers the unexpected novelty of a modern shower room in the coalshed.  I should mention that the coal is now stored elsewhere.  As well as this novelty, the cottage has an ambiance and sense of history which makes staying there a great pleasure.

We had a very enjoyable weekend meet to the Cottage in Glencoe with parties tackling Ben Starav, Meall a’ Bhuiridh, Beinn a’ Chrulaiste and further south, Beinn Udlaidh and Beinn Bhreac-Liath, all in their winter finery.

Kevin and Skye (aka the Hound) made an early start for Meall a’ Bhuiridh and Creise.  He set off so early that he was cramponing up as the ski centre workers were just arriving; poor visibility meant that day was cut short at the summit of Meall a’ Bhuiridh.  He had the benefit of missing on his ascent, the very large numbers of skiers who arrived later in the morning.  But on the descent, Skye found many new playmates with the hapless skiers and boarders he encountered.

Michael and Douglas followed in Kevin’s footsteps the next day, climbing Meall a’ Bhuiridh via its south east ridge.  On the Saturday they tackled Ben Starav in really blustery winter conditions with poor visibility, ascending the normal route via the north ridge and descending via the south ridge.  Icy conditions and poor visibility made for a pretty long day.

Meanwhile a larger group headed for the lesser ranges of Glen Orchy for a spot of Corbett bagging.  Arthur, Kirsty R, Richard, Steve, Nell, Shona and Robin climbed Beinn Udlaidh and Beinn Bhreac-Liath, missing most of the weather that the other two parties encountered.

On Sunday, Kirsty and Shona went off for some extremely serious navigation practice; one preparing for her ML assessment, the other aiming not to get misplaced on the Cape Wrath Trail.  The remainder of the Corbett bagging party, joined by Kevin, had a short but pleasant day on Beinn a’ Chrulaiste.  It was marred only by the views across to Buachaille Etive Mor being obscured by cloud as they reached the summit.


Day meet 4 March – Achnashellach hills

The Beast from the East never fully made it to the west coast.  But it did force us to change our plans from the Beinn Dearg group because of persistent showers sweeping in from the east and dumping snow in a band stretching from Dornoch to Ullapool.  There was no sign of that at Achnashellach – just perfect neve, ice on the paths and another dozen walkers from our sister club, Highland Hillwalking Club, heading the same way as we were.

Michael, Dougie and new potential member David, had stopped at the parking area near to Loch Sgamhain to head for Moruisg – pictured above – by its northern ridge.  Challenging conditions required the full panoply of compass, map and GPS for the detailed navigation to reach the final steep pull up Sgurr nan Ceannaichean’s ridge.  In deteriorating weather the trio retraced their route, descending the North ridge with a wee sigh of relief as they exited the cloud. David’s first winter excursion was deemed challenging and enjoyable in Ledgowan Lodge afterwards.

Ewen, Toni, Peter, Marion and Nell headed east from Achnashellach station and enjoyed a gentle climb up the hillside to the Coulin Pass.  After elevenses, Marion and Peter headed west up Carn Odhar.  Ewen, Toni and Nell carried on round to the Teahouse bothy at Easan Dorcha.  It was a very pleasant walk with frequent stops to enjoy the views and take photos.  Frozen waterfalls seemed to be the outstanding feature of the day.

The rest of the group – Robin, Masoud, Kirsty, Shona, John and Arthur – loitered for a bit in the forestry car park at Craig to allow the Highland Hillwalkers to get a head start, before walking up the track to the stalkers path up Sgurr na Feartaig.  It was good neve all the way, and after the summit the cloud cleared to give the group clear views of where they were heading along the ridge, although there was still a chill wind.   A steep descent down towards Carn Mor took them to the stalkers path  – below – and the long march back to Craig.  En route, a pair of climbers who were also descending reported stonking conditions on the waterfall climbs in Coire na h-Eilde.

Tulloch meet, 16-17 February

Eleven club members had a great weekend at Tulloch Station Lodge bunkhouse.  Most hills tackled were defended by deep snow or forest lower down, but a couple of Munros, a Corbett and a Marilyn were successfully ascended on foot and snowshoes.  We enthusiastically celebrated a club member’s significant birthday (see below; who would have believed that he was so young?) and your scribe fell head first into a rather cold burn and also narrowly escaped the amorous clutches of Kevin’s lively hound.  It was all very good fun, apart from the burn and the hound incidents.

On Saturday, a trio of Steve, Dougie and Michael made their way through the woods near Burnside Cottage, eventually joining the usual way up Beinn Teallach.  Although there was a group ahead of them, the snow conditions made it hard work.  Summit found, they slip-slided their way back.  Skis would have helped.

Arthur, Nell, Robin and Shona set off for Cnap Cruinn along the old tramway from Fersit, but became bogged down in a mixture of deep snow, running water and mud.  They ended up following the old tramway and new forest road in a circuit of Meall Laire instead.

Another group of four people (Mel, Ewen, Richard and Kevin) and two dogs (Sky and Bracken) ascended Beinn Bhan, west of Gairlochy,  in mixed conditions but clear of the worst of the weather.  Great views of the Great Glen were had until after lunchtime, but a whiteout on the summit meant they had to search around on the plateau for the cairn.  It was a fairly brief day, but that allowed a trip to Nevisport for coffee and cakes.

On Sunday, Dougie and Michael, following in their footsteps, also went up Beinn Bhan from Errocht, describing it as a calf busting circuit; see top photo.

There was a lot of snow in Glenspean – that’s Stob Coire Easain above – so Steve, Richard (pictured below) and Ewen decided to go snowshoeing on Sunday.  Meall Luidh Mor to the south of Loch Laggan was conquered in very deep snow – hard going even in showshoes – and they were glad they hadn’t tackled anything more ambitious than 514m.

Arthur, Kevin, Nell, Robin and Shona went east to Aberarder and headed up Carn Liath initially in very deep, soft snow; conditions improved considerably from 600m upwards.  Poor visibility near the summit gave some navigation practice and the sight of avalanche tracks on the Sron a Choire spur of Creag Meagaidh on the descent kept them focussed.

Day Meet 4 February 2018 – the west Fannaichs

Eleven of us met up at the parking area on the A832 near the track to Loch a’ Bhraoin at the west end of the Fannaichs.  The weather was fine, with snow down to about 500m.

Two parties set off for the Corbett, Creag Rainich.  John and Ewen went via Loch a’ Bhraoin – see below – and Lochivraon bothy, intent on using their snowshoes – and they were pleased to report that they enjoyably did that.  Marion and Peter also went to Creag Rainich, but set off directly across the moor from the car park.  We didn’t see them again!  But they did text to say they had a very enjoyable day and got home safely.

Just past the east end of Loch a’ Bhraoin was the parting of the ways for the other two groups.  Michael and new member Dougie headed off east for the Fannaich munros of Meall a Chrasgaidh and Carn na Criche.  The rest of the group, comprising Arthur, Nell, Robin, Shona and guest Masoud set off up the north end of Druim Reidh to Sgurr Breac (below) and down to the bealach at the head of Allt Breabaig.

There was good neve on windward slopes from about 650m upwards with unconsolidated windslab on the lee slopes.  The sunny, almost alpine conditions may have given Masoud, from Iran, a less than typical impression of Scottish winter conditions.

We resorted to the Inchbae Lodge Inn for refreshment and recounting of the days adventures.

Burns Supper meet, 19-20 January 2018

The first arrivals at the Caving hut in Elphin were met with a need to dig out the track to the hut – thanks, guys – and all assembled on the Friday night full of anticipation for a good day on the hill.  The SMC contingent ascended Cnoc Breac at the back of the Naismith hut on Saturday in deep snow, and thanks are due to Mike the snowplough.  Others went on a photographic trip down the Cam Loch.

Michael headed out early on Saturday for Cul Mor followed by Shona, Jim, Richard and Robin, who caught up with him about halfway.  The fresh soft snow slowed progress considerably – see above – but conditions underfoot improved with height and crampons were donned for the final 200 metres to the wind blasted summit cairn.  There then followed another long exhausting trudge through yet more deep snow to regain the road and the hut.  Thankfully the superb views made it all worthwhile.

The snowshoers had a brief trip up the south ridge of Quinag.  Great conditions – snowshoes on from the road and bright sunshine – but Andreas’s culinary duties meant a short day on the hill, returning via the not-to-be-missed pie shop in Lochinver.  The haggis towers – see below – were worth the effort, and all 18 attenders had a very convivial evening with a huge choice of culinary delights.

The weather on Sunday was poor, so everyone decided to bank their gains from the previous day and go home, some calling in at the cafe on the seafront at Ullapool for coffee and lunch.

Sgorr Ruadh, Achnashellach, 7 January 2018

The weather had been cold and clear for a couple of days after New Year.  So we had our fingers crossed that this would continue for our first day meet of the year.  And it did.  Five members and two guests from Highland Hillwalkers Club met up at Maryburgh and headed off to Achnashellach Station on clear, dry roads.

The walk in underneath Fuar Tholl – pictured below – and Beinn Liath Mhor towards the bealach with the prow of Sgor Ruadh looming ahead lifted our spirits although the effect of spirits from New Year may have reduced our performance a little.  At the Coire Lair bealach, Michael and Ewen decided to wander back, dedicating the day to photography.

Robin, Nell and Arthur with our guests – Janet and Laura – donned crampons and headed up the rocky North West ridge of Sgorr Ruadh.  The older snow was topped by a thin layer of fresh windslab.  Because of that we avoided the slightly exposed section of the path and had fun on a short corner choked with snow.  At least I enjoyed it.

Pleased with ourselves, we headed off from the summit – shown below – down easy slopes to Loch a Bhealaich Mhoir.  The half a kilometre from the loch to the head of the path at Bhealaich Mhoir seemed to be the longest half kilometre in Scotland.  Then we realised that we had not stopped since the Coire Lair bealach.

Refreshed and reinvigorated, we wandered down the path in the gloaming to pick up the main Coire Lair path. Seeing ice on the path was a problem in the fading light.  We reluctantly lit up torches and descended, each in our own five metre pool of light, each with our own thoughts about a very enjoyable day.

Then we went to the pub.

Pre Christmas Escape meet, 17 Dec 2017

Sunday morning saw 8 club members (Robin, Arthur, Ewen, Michael, John, Lawrence, Shona and Nell) congregate in the teeming rain and ice rink that was the Achlean car park.  The day’s destination and route had yet to be finalised but an easy decision was made: we all piled back in the cars and headed for the Boathouse Restaurant at Loch Insh!  While we enjoyed coffee and convivial company, the weather got its act together and by 10am we were headed off along Glen Feshie in much more pleasant conditions.

Four stream crossings were safely navigated, although recent floods had rendered the approach to the Allt Garbhlach quite awkward.  By midday we had reached the bothy: we tried the door and found, not only a beautifully tricked out bothy, but a roaring fire and a pot of fresh coffee on offer!

Tempting though it was to stay in the bothy, we headed west, following convenient cat-tracks on the lower slopes of Druim nam Bo.  One of the party decided to turn back in order to appreciate properly the views and take photographs.  Our aim however, was Lochan nam Bo (770m) and we reached the north end of the loch by mid-afternoon.  We settled down for a coffee break and to admire the frozen loch and then headed west to Creag na Gaibhre, where we were exposed to the the full force of the biting west wind.  We glanced passed the cairn and hurried on, following the zig zag path down the hillside and back into the shelter of the Caledonian Pines.  From there we passed the bothy again (resisting the temptation to stop off for a while) and retraced our steps back along the glen.  It was fully dark by the time we got back to the cars and I don’t think I was the only one with soggy socks after wading through the streams again.

The day was finished off with a visit to the Old Bridge Inn at Aviemore.

Morvich Christmas Dinner, 8-9 December 2017

The venue for this year’s Christmas Dinner was the Morvich Outdoor Centre; room for 20, and we had 19!  An added attraction was Steve Bell’s last Graham, which was Biod an Fhithich beside The Saddle.  On Saturday the entire party – of 17 at that stage – trooped up the track from Glen Shiel, and enjoyed a well-earned dram to toast Steve’s achievement; he is pictured above in his moment of triumph.  The weather was mixed as you can see from the photos, and no-one went on down the ridge to Shiel Bridge, instead concentrating on preparing enough food for at least 28.  It was almost all consumed during a very convivial evening.

It froze down to -8C over Saturday night, and the winter morning ritual of scraping ice and frozen snow off car windscreens and thawing frozen locks was a bit of a novelty after our spell of mild winters.  The day was promising, low winter sun sparkled on fresh powder as we gingerly drove a couple of icy kilometres to the car park below Sgurr an Airgid.  Kevin, Shona, Kate, Michael and Arthur planned to go up Sgurr an Airgid.  Alan and Gina  followed the same route to the bealach and then went for Beinn Bhuide.

The day was as promised.  Low winter sun, little wind and lovely views.  The progress of both parties was hampered only by trail breaking in soft snow and unmissable photo opportunities.  Both parties met up at the bealach on the way down and descended with views of the sun setting sun behind Beinn Sgritheall and the hills astride Mam Ratagan.  Not a bad day.

Mar Lodge Bunkhouse, 24/25 November

There was a strong northerly wind driving snow and hail into our faces as we approached the summit of Sgur Mor.  Misted up glasses froze over as we stumbled over to the summit cairn, touched it with chilled fingers and fled into the lee of the hill.  One hundred metres lower down out of the wind and in sunshine we – Robin, Shona and Arthur – wondered if it was just that we were not yet used to winter conditions.  But John, Michael, Richard and Steve had exactly the same experience on Ben Breac, fighting the wind, touching the cairn and fleeing to shelter.

So, it was a windy Saturday for our first day on the weekend meet at Mar Lodge Bunkhouse.  Out of the wind it was a nice day: sunny with a covering of fresh snow on the hills.  Cerian reported similar conditions on Carn na Drochaide, north of Braemar; and Peter and Marion had a good day on Carn Mor.

The comfortable Mar Lodge Bunkhouse is in the old stable block of the Lodge.  The Lodge and estate are owned and managed by the National Trust for Scotland, which has embarked upon an extensive programme of deer control and conservation projects.  This year, the 29,000 hectare estate was designated as a National Nature Reserve.

Sunday saw everyone opt for relatively short days.  The roads as well as the hills were in winter conditions and we all wanted to get underway in daylight.  Peter and Marion opted for Carn Oighreag, a great viewpoint for the Northern Cairngorms, overlooking the gloomy Corgarff Castle.  Steve headed south to Glenshee, climbing Glas Maol and Crag Leachach – a second Munros round seems to be underway!  Cerian mixed local walks with essential retail activity before meeting up with the rest of us in the Bothy cafe.

The rest of us, with Kate – who had joined the meet the previous evening – followed in Cerian’s footsteps of the previous day, climbing Carn na Drochaide from the Linn of Quoich in cold, windy, but clear conditions.  We found some shelter in a drifted snow bank, but did not linger long and quickly descended to the Punchbowl, where the footbridge remains the only crossing over Quoich Water.