OS map LR 42 January
In need of a breath of fresh air, I took the night coach north. Changing at Glasgow, it was on to the Fort William train. The weather forecasts had been good for the next few days, high pressure, dry, with low temperatures and north easterly winds. There were a couple of young guys also heading for the hills. They would be leaving the train at Bridge of Orchy, while I was travelling on to Corrour. As the train pulled out of Crianlarich, there was a bustle of activity from the three of us. Travelling on public transport in winter is a bit of a juggling act clothing wise. Wear your full winter kit on the train and you will overheat. Being hot and sweaty when leaving the train can lead to a rapid chilling of the body. Thus it is a case of waiting until the last moment before bundling in to your kit. Some of the passengers looked on, rather bemused as fleeces were donned, boots laced up with gaiters hooked in. Woolly hats and gloves made ready. All the usual bits of fussing and faffing. The train conductor was a little concerned about me setting off alone. "Do you realise it was minus nine at Corrour this morning?" She asked. Despite my reassurances, the lady remained unconvinced that I knew what I was doing and was well prepared. The track that led down to loch Treig had been heavily churned up. Vehicles had left deep ruts and pools. Fortunately the morass was frozen solid. Loch Treig was also frozen over. Where the Abhain Rath flowed in to the loch was a jumble of ice. It was interesting to see the slabs of ice along the river banks where the river had obviously frozen, when the water level had dropped everything had slumped down. Now the river was partially frozen with the middle semi frozen, a slushy mixture. the going was good, hard packed snow but no call for my crampons. Came by Staoineag bothy, had a quick look in, but my intention was to push on a bit further up the glen and camp. the day had been cold, crisp and clear with sunshine, but no warmth in the sun. Although still early, the sun had set and the temperature had began to drop. The chill had me rapidly zipping up my jacket and pulling my woolly hat down over my ears. Reaching the ruin of of Luibeilt, I cast about to find a spot to set up camp. Camping in winter requires a wee bit more skill than what is needed in the warmer months. Under the ground sheet I place a sheet of polycryo, it looks like a thin plastic sheet but is much tougher and is very light. A very thin piece of camping mat will go under my Thermarest mattress. With the ground being frozen, tent pegs had to be coaxed in with my ice axe. They would require a drop of hot water in the morning to get them out again. With everything frozen, I made up a pile of snowballs to melt. It can be a tad tedious,, but to melt snow down requires firstly a small amount in the bottom of the pot and as it melts, gradually adding more snow, it takes a lot to get a pot of hot water and when one is desperate for a cuppa, it seems to take an age! My tiny thermometer, which is fairly accurate, was reading minus five as I settled in for the night. Have left it hanging on a guy line, it will be interesting to see if the temperature drops further.
Made an early start in the morning. This being a short, weekend trip, I rather wanted to be in Fort William fairly early to allow myself a meal before catching the seventeen forty three train. The bus service was very limited on Sundays. Thus it was that breakfast and packing up was mostly done by the light of my headtorch. Had to get up during the night for a call of nature. A chilly experience with ice from the frozen flysheet going down my neck. The night was amazing though, the night sky ablaze with stars, everything was still, not a sound. A check of the thermometer, it was hovering around minus thirteen, very chilly! The temptation is always to snuggle down in the sleeping bag for just another five minutes or so! My boots were stiff and semi frozen despite bringing them in to the tent overnight. It was a glorious morning, the first rays of the rising sun turned the tops of the surrounding hills, a deep rosy pink. My tent was still frozen so it was just rolled up a stowed under the rucksack lid. It was tricky going to start with. Having been through this area a few times, I was well aware that there was some rugged terrain to cover.. Taking a chance, I opted for a longer route. I headed down the glen towards an old dam. Turned off and headed up towards Meall Doire na h Achlais. Snow had drifted deep in places, covering all the dips and hollow with just a few rocky outcrops showing. In some places the snow was compacted and quite easy to move over. Every so often though I would break through in to a hidden hollow. Post holing made for slow going but, as intended, I was soon on firmer ground. The snow on the ridge leading up to Sgurr Eilde Mor was hard packed neive and icy. Stopped to put my crampons on. As I did so, took note of the weather, the early morning sun had gone and what been clear blue sky was now grey. the wind had picked up too, coming in from the north east. With the added wind chill, it felt much colder. Just before the summit the ridge becomes very narrow, it was flanked with deep drifts on both sides, I took care to keep to the centre. It felt bitterly cold on the top, my glasses had iced over and I had to do without them. Hunkering down behind a lump of rock, I poured myself a cup of coffee, it cooled rapidly but I needed the fluids, it is easy to become dehydrated in winter. The rucksack was covered in a thin layer of ice and the straps where frozen. The tiny thermometer was reading minus eighteen! The wind chill was pushing temperatures way down. Corie an Lochain, lay far below, it was frozen over. the descent was tricky, steep and icy. As the slope eased off a bit, I took off my crampons. With the hillside being rocky, it was safer to make my way down without them. A fall when wearing crampons can lead to serious injury. Once down by loch Eilde Mor, also frozen, it was just a case of following the track, or at least the outline of it down to roughly were the path turned off, leading down to Kinlochmore. It was a pleasant surprise to see that people had been up the path and I was able to follow their trail down the hill. Once in Kinlochleven, I looked for the bus stop. Working on information given, I had been assured there was a limited bus service. surprisingly, there was a Sunday bus. Unfortunately it was not due until 16:40. Doable but tight on time. Despite the fact that hitching lifts was more difficult these days, I decided to chance it. To my relief I made it to Fort William in two lifts. The first lift was with a retired couple who had moved up to Scotland soon after their retirement. They spent much time walking with their two very friendly border collie cross dogs. They were very happy to have me sharing the back seat with them! The second lift was a self employed carpenter. He too had moved up from the south. He was a climber and his van was both his workshop and his camper. It was dark when I arrived in town, around 16:15. Time for a fish supper and also time to buy a cheap pair of trainers. My boots where soaked and I did not fancy travelling overnight in wet footwear.