Sunday 30 May 2021

Another wee bit of scribbling

 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.

Friday 28 May 2021

More tales from old logbooks

 Maps used Landrangers 50 and 41. Both 1:50.000

It had been the usual long, tedious overnight run up from the south. Something I have never mastered is to sleep on long distance coaches. A change of  buses in Glasgow, no chance of getting some breakfast, it was straight off one bus and on to the next. The advantage of using night buses is that days are not wasted on travel. Got off the bus at Kings House, a rather grey, drab sort of day but that was fine for me, I was just darned glad to get off the bus. A tad jaded, I set off down Glen Etive. Road walking is not something I enjoy and I tried to thumb a lift several times. No one stopped, how things have changed, at one time many folk, myself included, often hitch hiked, always certain someone sooner or later would stop for you. People now seem to be hermetically sealed inside their little cocoon, fearful of strangers getting in their car.

It seems an awful thing to say, but those miles down the glen were more of a route march. Little time was spent admiring the scenery. The last time I had come this way, I recall coming off the hill, heading down toward Alltchaorunn. My intention had been to cross the river Etive by the bridge. It had been  a shock to find a large, barb wire topped gate barring the way. By the looks of it someone else had hit the same problem. Looking closely, I had noticed that somebody had cut a couple of strands of the barbwire. It had been an awful tussle, but I had managed to peel back the strands of wire and finally, with some difficulty and bad language got over the gate. Before anyone asks, I did climb back up to bend the wire back to where it had been.

Coming around byCoilleitir and feeling hungry I stopped for a break. A squashed pasty went down well, followed by a cheese sandwich. Fortunately I had picked up some extra food when the night coach had made its statutory stop at the motorway services. The steep, rocky slopes of Ben Starav looked a wee bit  intimidating, possibly even a little sombre. I noticed a path marked on the map that led up through one of the corries. However, I had opted for a north east ridge which looked doable.

In actual fact, it was not too bad at all. The ground was steep but I made steady progress. The last bit up through a jumble of boulders  was a bit more difficult. Thin, wispy grey clouds swirling around had me getting the waterproofs out. Loch Etive, far below, appeared and disappeared. Visibility was poor but I was well aware of the craggy rocks all around me. A narrow spine of rock led me over to Stob Coire Dheirg. Continuing on across  to Meall nan Tri Tighearnan I stopped at the bealach, time was running on and I was tired and felt it safer to find a spot for the tent and camp. The ground was boggy but I found a dry'ish spot.

Rain during the night and when I looked out in the morning, everything was grey and wet. Thick cloud drifted over the bealach, dreich. Did the sensible thing, had a brew and settled back for a snooze. By late morning things began to clear. The midges were bad but I was glad to get out of the tent and head up the hill. It was going to be a lazy day.  Followed the ridge up to  Beinn nan  Aighenan. Despite the glowering, scudding clouds, the views were fantastic, far below blue grey lochs and lochans dotted the floor of the glens. Rough country indeed! Once back at the tent, I packed up and  made my way back to the ridge I had turned off yesterday. As odd as it may seem, I quite enjoyed working my way up Glas Bheinn Mhor. Drifting damp mist swirled around, coming and going, offering glimpses of the glen far below. The descent called for care, picking my way down through rough rock and boulders. Stopped on the  Sron nan Cabar bealach. Found a nice spot for the tent. There was a breeze that kept the midges at bay. The weather has turned colder but the rain has eased off. A short but good day.

Woke to a drizzly morning, but at least it was not clagged in. Spotted a group of deer  on a nearby ridge as I packed up. Headed up the hill, how can step slopes hold so much boggy water?  My first objective was Stob Coir an Albannaich. It was delight to see the sky clearing and at last I was able to shed the waterproofs. Wonderful views, the river Etive a silvery ribbon, a car moving on the road appeared miniscule from my heady perch.. This is lovely backpacking country, challenging at times and care has to be taken, but it offers so so much scope.  The corries and ridges in this area run east-west and I was heading north-south. Thus I had to work carefully with map and compass to find the best route, often up and down steep, rocky ground. There is much pleasure and satisfaction in this. A steady drop off the top and then very carefully eased down a rocky gulley to a watery bealach to  then ascent  back up to Meall . From there it was a case of working my way down and then up to  Meall nan Eun on a broad, rather featureless ridge. Back  tracked a little, somehow I had to make my way over toward Meall Odhar, it meant a very steep descent and an equally steep ascent. Heading down to the bealach was not as bad as it seemed, the easiest way was to follow a narrow gully, a lot of the slope was saturated grass and bog, very slippery. The bealach was quite wide small pools, bog and boulders. Working my way up to the ridge was a tussle. Toward the top it grew tricky, I had to hang on to tufts of grass to prevent a fall. An undignified scramble and finally I was on the ridge. That had been the hardest part of the trip. It was worth the effort though, the way on was gentle walking  following the ridge over to Stob Bruaich leith and on to Stob Ghabhar. Camped on the Aonach Mor ridge. The weather had been closing in but I managed to get the tent up before a few heavy showers passed through. Watched a buzzard quartering the opposite hillside. Camping high has meant a lot less hassle from the midges.

The rain cleared away early last night, but a heavy dew meant having to pack a wet tent, a nuisance on my last day. Once again I faced another steep descent in to a narrow corrie. The ascent looked doable. Once down in the corrie I  then made my over to bealach Euar Choirean. It was then a matter of threading my way uphill through a jumble of boulders to Clach Leathard. The area was devoid of vegetation it was all bare rock. Low cloud was brushing the tops. A quick check of map and compass and then it was a matter of following an undulating ridge over to an unnamed top (1100). Carried on to take in Stob Ghlais. From there I turned back the way I had come. There was a way down off the ridge, a really splendid narrow, curved rocky spine with steep corries on both sides. It dipped down and then rose up to Meall a Bhuiridh. The weather had cleared up and the views where fantastic.  Rannoch Moor stretched out in to the distance, its many lochans and lochs glinting in the afternoon light. A vista of hills all around.  Unfortunately the ski tow and the accompanying detritus where something of an eyesore. With a bus to catch, I could not linger long. Followed the line of the tow down the  hill. The lower section was still operating, carrying tourists up to the first station. The place looked busy, and I got a few odd looks as went through the car park.. Made it Kings House in time to catch the 15:25 bus down to Glasgow. It will then be a wash and clean up in the coach station loo and a fish supper. and finally on to the coach heading south.

Friday 21 May 2021

Exerts from old logbooks

 These are a few extracts taken from old logbooks written up and outlining one or two backpacking trips taken  a few years back. On this trip, map used was OS Land Ranger 40 1:50 000.

October 18. 2001. A long, tiring day, which involved a lot of travel. My day at 0:2AM to catch a  3:05AM bus to Stanstead airport. This was for a cheap, £10 flight to Glasgow, it departed at 06:05 Am. . A short train journey in to Glasgow and on to the 10:Am Fort William bus. The weather looked bad on the way up, heavy, driving rain, roads awash with water. Fortunately things had eased off by the time we reached FW. A quick dash to pick up gas and a few bits and it was on to the Mallaig bus. My intention had been to grab a meal before heading out again but the chippy had been busy, ditto the local supermarket. Bread rolls and cheese would have to suffice.

 The bus driver was a local chap and knew precisely where I wanted get off the bus, a couple of miles before  Lochailort. It was a relief to find that the path marked on the map actually existed. The rough path led me up by the Alt ne Criche. Thankfully the rain had stopped and the afternoon even had some sunshine. Unfortunately the path became increasingly difficult to follow. Stopping to check the map, I surmised I had missed the fork in the path. There ought to have been a divide with one going higher up the hill and a lower path leading down through woodland. After a quick nibble and a ponder, I decided to stick with the lower path, they both led to the track I was aiming for. Possibly this was a mistake!  The wood was no planted block of sitka. Rather, it was akin to a segment of  a more ancient  wild wood. It was situated on the steep slope of  a hill. Predominantly it consisted of ancient, twisted and gnarled Scots pines, there was juniper too and oaks that were clearly of a great age. It was obvious that few ever came this way. Uprooted trees, rotting logs, boulders coated in luxurious coats of verdant mosses, made the going very difficult. Also, the ground fell away steeply. Picking my way down made for difficult going. It was welcome relief to finally get down to Lochan Lon a Ghairt. Had to pause there for a wee breather. There is a small building by the loch, a hydro electric system by the look of it. The track that ran up to it made for easy going down toward Meoble, a small, isolated community, what a place to live!  found the turning I wanted,  initially a track that ran up by the Alt Slaite Coire. The  track became more of a path and then faded away completely, A stream swollen by recent rain made for a tricky crossing. Once over I realised how tired I was getting. A further push up the hill to the Staite corrie, a wide, open bowl hemmed in by walls of high hills. It was a joy to find a camp spot surrounded by wonderful vistas. Tent up in fading light, supper and and I was soon asleep.

A heavy dew overnight meant a wet ten in the morning.  The sun was shining on the surrounding tops but the corrie remained in the shade. There was no rush to be away and I was content to sit and gaze around the corrie over breakfast. It felt like a wild place, off the beaten track and I wondered how many gangrels had stravaiged this place? Packed up and away, heading up toward the bealach that would lead me over  towards Gleann Taodnail. Ahead of me a magnificent stag appeared silhouetted briefly on the horizon. By the size of him and the spread of his antlers, a very mature chap indeed! It being the rutting  season, the hills and glens echoed to the bellowing of the stags. It was steady going up on to the bealach. Off to my right a stream flowed down over rocky slabs, ahead of me was some very rough ground.  A morass of bog, water everywhere, pools large and small, brimming peat hags, jumbled, semi submerged boulders, all hemmed in by the surrounding hills.  It was somewhat disconcerting to find the ground undulating under my feet as I tentatively threaded my way over to a raised rocky shoulder, which led me down toward the upper reaches of Gleann Taodhall. A bit of tricky boulder hopping to get across the river and I was on to the path, clearly an old stalkers path.

stopping for a wee break, I looked around me, taking in the wonderful ruggedness of the area. Wild, though I hesitate in describing it as such. Looking at the map, it is clear that the surrounding glens at one time were populated by many small communities. The glens now empty, devoid of people, many forcibly removed, only crumbling ruins remain.

The morning had started with bright early morning sun but it had become cloudier, the sun coming and going. Autumn was well underway,  the glen me a mixture of russet and gold. It was colder too and I did not linger long. The walk down the glen was a delight with the water of Loch Morar glistening below me. The river, river rushing ever downward, tumbling over waterfalls, cascading into deep pools, swirling around boulders and rocky slabs. Ancient, stunted trees, clung to the steep hillsides. The path appeared little used but the skill of those who had constructed it, still evident. Coming around by Oban bothy, padlocked, a note pinned on the door 'closed during stalking season' Fortunately I had already checked and was informed that there was no shooting in that area on the days I was passing through.

This was the one part of the trip I had most concerns about. My aim was to make my way over to Kinlochmorar. The one problem was that it was across on the other side of the loch. Initially I had hoped that I would be able to skirt around the edge of Sron A Choin. That was not possible, it had to be plan B. After a spot of lunch, cast about a bit and, although fairly wide, the river was flowing quite slowly. Boots off, strip to my undies and I went for it. not the easiest of crossings, at one point I was waist deep, however, I made it. A bit of a tussle getting up and over the hill, heather covered boulders and hidden holes made for caution. A drop down to the AbhainnCean Loch Morar. Almost as deep as the last river, steep banks made getting out a wee bit difficult.

Kinlochmorar appears to have been occupied until quite recently. One or two of the ruins appear to be fairly modern. The afternoon had turned out quite pleasant. It was an early stop, but there was no problem with that. A time to potter, drink tea and generally laze. There was a lovely flat area that looked ideal to pitch the tent. However, it was also well used by the deer. It being the rut, I decided prudence was best and pitched the tent close in to one of the ruined buildings. Sitting outside the tent with a brew, I listened to the roaring of the stags. There is something almost primordial in their bellowing. What was  fascinating too, was the vocal variations of their roaring. Not too far from me, high on the hill, I had glimpsed a large stag with a wide spread of antlers, his bellowing was a deep throated full on roar, seemingly coming from deep within. In comparison the response from a stag on the far side of the loch was still a full on bellow, but somehow not quite the same quality. Somewhere behind me though, further up the glen that linked with the Morar glen, was another contender, he too had a very deep roar. There were several other stags about, but their roaring somehow lacked that that deep resonance. As I settled in for the night, I left the flysheet open and in the twilight dim, I could see the hinds making their way down the hill to graze on the grassy sward. With them came the large stag, he was keeping a close eye on his harem, quickly rounding up any of the hinds who wandered too far. There was an exciting moment when a young stag tried to make of with one of the  hinds. A bellowing roar from the big stag, a quick charge and the youngster fled.

Despite the bellowing of the stags, I was soon asleep. Much later though I was woken up by an unearthly racket, gave me quite a start! Gingerly unzipping the inner tent, I peered out. What a sight, the moon was high in the sky, its soft light bathing the glen, across to where I had first thought of pitching, two stags were squaring up to each other. One was the big stag,  challenging him was a slightly smaller stag.  Big fella took the offensive, after a bit of posturing and sizing each other up, he  lowered his head and charged the interloper. The two of them met head on with a mighty clash of antlers. Eyes bulging, antlers locked, they strained and heaved, big fella tried to throw down his opponent. It seemed to be touch and go as to who would break first. big fella dug deep and with a heave gradually forced his challenger back, suddenly the challenging stag broke free and turned to flee, big fella charged him, hitting him broadside, I winced at the almighty thump, the younger stag almost went down but somehow he kept moving. Big fella let him go, he stood there flanks heaving, his tongue hanging out. His harem, seemingly unconcerned by by all the rumpus, had wandered further down the glen, big fella was quick to round them up, but what a way to win the girls! Nature in the raw!

It felt quite chilly in the morning and it was overcast. . From the start it was uphill all the way. Having read somewhere that the ridge I was heading for was little frequented but offered a  fine, high level walk. The hill grew steeper as I cut diagonally upwards. Rocky outcrops near the top called for care, it something of a scramble.  The stunning view from Sgurr  Breac was breath taking. Loch Nevis lay spread out far below. The high hills on the far side of the Loch stood in fine relief, low clouds scudding across their tops. It was a fine airy walk around to  Sgurr nam  Meileach and then across to Sgurr na Aide. With the dark clouds building up, it time to find a way down.  The ground fell away steeply below me. Coire Dubh look daunting. keeping it to my left, I began to pick my way down. Picking my carefully around an outcrop of rock, focused on where I was placing my feet, I was startled by a rattle of falling stones. Glancing up, I was confronted by a stag just a few feet above me. Fortunately he took off, back up the slope. Stags can be feisty at this time of the year, but this one was only a youngster and and decided retreat was best. A pause for moment or two to let my pulse settle down a bit and I continued weaving my way downward. Finally I reached the glen floor by Finiskaig, just as it started to rain. A tricky river crossing, on with waterproofs and a stroll over to Sourlies bothy. A Spanish couple where making use of the bothy and they had the kettle on and offered me a welcome cuppa and biscuits. Once the rain eased off, I set up camp a short distance away.

Heavy showers during the night, rain had eased by morning. It remained damp though with low, brooding cloud on the hills. Headed directly up the hill behind the bothy. This was just an out and back, thus I left the tent where it was and travelled light.. Came by Druim a Ghoirtein, a lovely, broad twisted shoulder with a mixture of several small humps, dips and hollows. The hill I was aiming for was Sgurr na Ciche.. Wet swirling mist made it somewhat difficult to pick out a route and it became a scramble up through steep, rocky slopes. The mist lifted as I worked my way down to the bealach where I was relieved to get out of clammy waterproofs and  then  headed on up to Garbh Chioch Mhor. Again, steep scrambley stuff and I was glad to be only carrying a light pack. To cap things off,  I took in Druim nan Uadhag before descending wet, boggy ground and picking my way down toward the bothy. The afternoon had turned out quite pleasant. The tent had dried out and to save the probability of packing a wet tent in the morning, I moved in to the now empty bothy.

Was up quite early in the morning but was in no rush, it was time to be heading out. The weather was overcast when I set out. but it remained dry. Cutting across the tidal flats, I came by the ruins of Carnoch. It always feels to me to be a sad place, another deserted community! It felt quite chilly as I came over Mam Meadail. Lovely views from the bealach.  It was still grey and overcast, making Gleann Meadail look rather sombre but it is still lovely glen to walk through. There was a surprise further down, the last time I passed this way there had been a ruin close to the path. Someone had been busy, the building has been completely re built. According to the notice on the door it was now a private bothy, one had to pay to make use of it.  By the looks of it, whatever machinery had been used to bring material in, had caused a lot of damage. The path had vanished, the area was a mess of churned up mud and deep water filled wheel ruts. Inverie look deserted when I arrived.

With time on my hands before catching the ferry, I went in to the pub for a bowl of home made soup and bread, most enjoyable. Wandering across to the jetty, I noticed a guy off loading boxes and crates from his boat on to the pier. He was really pleased when I offered to give him a hand. My reward was a free boat trip over to Mallaig. Picked up a few bits for supper and then caught the train up to Fort William. My intention was to book in somewhere, a hot shower and clean clothes where high on my agenda. Ringing one of the town's independent hostels, Calluna, I was assured that I could book in for the night. The person I spoke to on the phone, asked what means of transport I had? As soon as I mentioned  that I was on foot, he insisted I stayed put and he would collect me immediately. Not only did I get a lift up to the hostel but I am getting a lift back to the station in the morning. It will be an early start, catching the seven o clock Glasgow bus. The beginning of the long journey south. The hostel is quite amazing, a series of buildings, I have one all to myself!  there is a clean and tidy kitchen with all mod cons. Also there is a common room with a small library. A roomy drying room and there is a notice stating that if anyone wanted washing done it would cost £1:50. Impressive, especially since it cost me only nine pounds for the night.