I had arrived in Sutherland yesterday after a four hour drive and immediately set about tackling Ben Hee. A grand day on the hill saw me back at the car by dusk and my first task was finding a spot to park the car for the evening. I had spotted a large quiet area and headed for that as darkness fell.
The stove was soon on and I enjoyed a cracking tea and the rest of the evening was spent reading my book and watching YouTube videos in the passenger seat!! Eventually bed called and I clambered into the boot and fell into a long deep sleep.
Waking at a late time of 07.45!! (shock horror !! well it was still dark!) I managed to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag and get my kit ready for today’s adventure. The hill I had chosen was a 3 minute drive down the road and has one of the longest hill names I can remember seeing !! - Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill sits above Loch More and before long I was striding along the track beside this northern Loch. The views along the loch to Ben Stack were fantastic and a halo of cloud circled the peak with the top popping out above – how I wish I had chosen that peak today!! Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill was looking a little less inviting with a layer of cloud sitting down from about 500m, and little sign of any protrusions above it! A good ATV track leads up the hillside just before Aultanrynie is reached, but beyond this I knew it was going to be pretty much pathless with rough ground in the clag – and it was. As I reached the ridge, I as well and truly in the clag! Up and down I went over Meallan Liath Beag and it was not until I started the pull up to the higher ridge between Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill and Carn Dearg, that things started to change. The higher I got and I started to notice little breaks in the cloud. I was sitting between some ill-defined layers of clag and every now and again I’d get a glimpse through the clag to see – erm well more clag . Up I went and I soon found myself on the higher ridge and I had to drop a little height. It was probably the summit of Carn Dearg providing shelter, but for a short spell some brightness appeared and I was accompanied by my my brocken with is glories and a fog bow – always a nice sight J However this didn’t last long and as I ascended towards the summit of Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill the clag fell about me again! It was now white with ice and the wind was strengthening . I didn’t linger long and started down southwards off the summit. It didn’t take long but soon the cloud started to break so I headed towards the edge of the ridge and I got lucky. For about half an hour, the clouds parted to give me some smashing views over Sutherland and out towards Ben Stack , it was amazing as the sun was lowering to the south and the clouds rolled about the lochans and hills, a fine sight indeedJ As quickly as it had dispersed, the clag filled in again and with the sun lowering I descended a little quicker. A section of peat hags had me cursing but after what seemed like an age I found myself back on the ATV track. A quick hello to a few herds of deer and I was soon back at the car and first task was getting a brew on! By the time I got the car sorted the darkness has won its battle and I was already readying myself for the winter solstice hike the following day.
It was the week before Christmas and I had to use up my remaining holiday entitlement before the end of the year. With the kids at school and my better half working, I had a week to playJ
Monday had seen me head for a day trip to Ardgour and Tuesday was an indoor day as a large Atlantic weather system swept over Scotland. The forecast for the rest of the week was changeable across Scotland – apart from the far north! So decision made – I was headed for Sutherland! Leaving the house at 6am, I arrived on the shoes of Loch Merkland four hours later at 10am. At this time of the year the days re short (an even shorter the further north you go) so I was aware I needed to get cracking and I had decided on Ben Hee as it would fit in with me getting back before dark. The plan there after was to enjoy some carlife (;)) and spend the next three days in this area.
The forecast was looking good and I set off in glorious sunshine with little wind. Numerous herds of deer greeted me as I headed up the track and towards the Allt Coire a’ Chruiteir burn. The skies were still blue but as the summit of Ben Hee came into view I noticed it was capped in cloud, which was skudding over the summit . The path was ok, but had been eroded away by the burn in places, but I wasn’t complaining as it was dry and nicer than the rest of Scotland. Once out of the wee glen the winds picked up and it was cold!! The pull into the cloud and towards the summit was also the freezing level and a white rim coated the rocks as I approached the cloud capped summit of Ben Hee.
As opposed to coming back down the same way, I decided to drop down over Sail Gharb and hoped to snap a photo of Loch an t-Seilg. I wasn’t sure whether the cloud base would enable this , however the views soon opened out and the views over to Ben Hope and Ben Loyal were fabulous. I was a bit jealous as these near bye peaks were cloud free. A few more snaps and I was soon chasing the unset down the hill to get back to the car before nightfall.
Back at the car and I found a larger parking area to spend a cold night in the car before another adventure on the Thursday J
11pm and I settled down and a few hours later I was up again feeling excited at what lay outside the tent doors. Getting up and looking outside the tent at 03.45 and it was glorious. There was still about an hour till sunrise but there was no wind and no sound – a bit surreal actually but absolutely perfect. Excited for the Arete I was soon rock hoping my way to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg where I watched the sun rise over the Aonachs to the east and light up the north face of the ben – one word – stupendous!
The next few hours were bliss, easy scrambling over the arête an upon reaching the end of the arête , another treat lay instore. A family of very friendly snow bunting welcomed me and kept me company whilst I enjoyed another snack. This was turning into one of those mornings that would live with me for the rest of my life. Someone was definitely smiling down on my from the heavens J
By 0530am I was pulling up the final slopes towards the highest point in the UK. There were a couple of tents but the occupants were still in dream land. I had the summit to myself as I did 6 years previously after a fantastic winter round – what a place!
After lingering about, I soon reversed my route and was soon striking camp under a blue sky and a glorious morning. I started meet the first people I seen since leaving the car park the day before – weekend warriors like me were surprised to see me heading down the way so early, after their super early starts. I didn’t have the heart to tell them they had already missed the best part of the day ;)…..
Solo Backpack to Britain’s Highest Mountain via The CMD Arete
Having a bucket list is a good thing, but in some cases (as in mine) it can also be a bad thing! The reason is two fold ; firstly my bucket list is endless, every week I seem to add more and more to it and I should rename it “my dreams” ; secondly, in this case specifically getting the conditions at a time when I am free has been a major pain ;) So many times I have noticed a weather window and for one reason or another I cannot make it to the hill and this has prevented me from ticking this one off the list.
Not this time though. The weather gods had been smiling down on Scotland for months and when I noticed the high pressure system centered over Ben Nevis, I knew this was the time to start planning.
My last trip here was an absolute belter – another high pressure weather window but that time it was the middle of winter and I experienced one of my best ever days in the great outdoors (see bottom of report!). Today and the seasons were flipped, middle of summer and rather warm. My planning had, as usual, looked for the nearest water source to my intended campsite, however with the months of dry weather I was skeptical on whether the stream would have any water in it! So an extra , extra heavy backpack. My photography gear weighs the same as my camping gear and now I had 3.5 liters of water to humph up the mountain! Ho hum…..
My plan was a steady hike to Carn Mor Dearg to find a pitch with one of the finest views in the UK – The North Face of Ben Nevis! In addition to my water research I had also been scouring the web for others who had done the same but it seems not too many others have! This usually means that finding a suitable pitch can be difficult and my memories of other trips round the arête (in summer conditions) were of lots and lots of rock and not much grass!! But nothing ventured, nothing gained so I set off under a blazing sun in the hope that I’d find a semi flat area to pitch up!!
As usual the views were fabulous. The steady pull up Carn Beag Deargs slopes was punishing! Lots of stops were required and you can imagine my bipolar response when I eventually reached the stream just about 900m up! It was full of water! My anger at this act of nature not drying up in the heatwave and causing my knees and shoulders to suffer more than normal was soon replaced by joy as I splashed the cool water over my face and cooled off and rehydrated . I refilled all my water carriers to keep me going for the next 24 hours which was re assuring J Coffee was not going to be a problem in the morning!
After my lengthy water break I shouldered the two ton bag and trudged on. The views were really opening up now and the cliffs of the North Face are a sight any hill goer should experience.
1000m, 1100meters – up I went. The terrain felt more like central Spain with the arid conditions and dusty paths, it hadn’t rained in over a month and the ground was showing it! Dust was soon replaced by rock and I was soon cresting the North West ridge of Carn Dearg Meadhonach and the views of the Aonachs came into view. Possibly the best viewpoint on the route, I stopped and eyeballed the landscape from its summit, desperately seeking out some greenery and a possible pitch for my SCARP1!.
The bealach between Carn mor Dearg and Carn Dearg Meadhonach looked a possible site so I headed down to have a look. However about 20 meters from the summit I found a very small area of grass on a slight slope that looked like it could work. I took the backpack off and lay down on the ground. A bit lumpy but it would do. Right on the edge I wouldn’t have pitched here had there been a NW gale flowing but I knew it was to be calm and my exped mat would flatten any lumps and bumps outJ
Tent up and I was knackered. I lay down outside and snoozed for some time in the warm sunshine – not often you can do that at 1200m in Scotland!
Waking up in the early evening and things were looking great, I bumbled about some more and by 9pm the light was starting to turn into a photographers dream. Deep reds came out as the lower sun hit the north face and Carn Mor Dearg and I spent the next two hours snapping away and enjoying myself on the summit of Carn Dearg Meadhonach.The slight breeze that had accompanied me up (and was most welcome) had now died away leaving a breathless evening. This can sometimes be a bad omen for Scotland as the lower the wind, the higher the chance of the midge finding and eating you!! Not tonight though, I was truly blessed to be up here and experiencing this, it was well worthy of its place on my bucket list.
Better was to come though.
After an amazing day above the clouds on Ben Lawers, I decided to leave my gear in the car and head back out on the Sunday. Meeting Gerry in Inverlochlaraig, we moved our kit into his car and promptly set off back along the wee road and round to Ben More Farm.
To change these hills into a novel outing we had decided to traverse the hill from here back to Inverlochlarig. The weather was stunning and as we headed up the relentless slopes of Ben More we were in the shelter of the wind but also in the shade. Blue skies dominated and the views back over Glen Dochart were stunning and we soon found we were above the clouds that lay back over the Glens and inland. The sun greeted us as we reached the summit but so did the winds. It was blowing a hoolie and standing still was fun on the summit and start of the descent. Due to this we decided on a lunch break down at the big boulder at the Bealach. Refuelled we set about Munro number two. Stob Binnein always looks super imposing when you are coming off Ben More, however it’s not too bad and we soon found ourselves on the summit J The wind was not as bad here so we stopped and took some snaps before heading off towards Inverlochlaraig and the highlight of the route. The long sweeping ridge of Stob Binnein is the best part of the day and wit the Trossachs and SW Highlands spread before us, the views were stunning.
A fine day on the mountain and a new way of traversing it!
“The Highest tops will be above the inversion” read he MWIS forecast.
So I packed my bag Friday evening , set the alarm early and looked forward to the following day.
Crack of dawn start (well middle of the night start!) and I arrived in the car park with no other cars being present. Things didn’t look too promising on the way up as I could see the cloud whipping over the top of Beinn Ghlas. I suspected that the force of the wind was moving the cloud lower down , up and over the summits, meaning no wonderful inversion shots!!
Hey hoy, I carried on and up the slopes of Beinn Ghlas and was soon being battered by the gale force winds! However as I ascended I started to get brocken spectres and before long I emerged out of the cloud and on the summit of the first Munro the sun was shining and I could see above the sea of clouds. The only other peaks visible were Ben More and Stob Binnein (my destination the following day).
The winds were lively and I soon descended down and then the short trip up to Ben Lawers. Here the wind was even more ferocious and getting my camera to stay upright on the travel tripod was proving difficult for the filming!! Some more shots and videos and I enjoyed the summit to myself for about 45minutes before descending back down through the clouds and back to the car. A fantastic trip and nice to see so many brockens keeping me company J
After three long demanding days in the mountains, we decided to pick something less demanding for our last day. Our legs were tired and energy levels low so we got the map and books out and started looking for a nice easy hike in the northwest highlands (or so we thought). Beinn Sgritheall was chosen – wasn’t a long walk in and looked like a relatively short outing. Fast forward to the next day and our notion of what “less demanding” meant was changed for ever !! A super steep pull up the screes of the mountain saw us inside a cloud with a knee jarring descent to look forward too!! Absolutely knackered we eventually headed home…. And we nicknamed this hill “The Steepest Hill in Scotland!!” (I have heard other names for this which I cannot print!!)
Ten Years later – two days off work and we had endless adventures options to pick from . This time my companion changed from my brother to Gerry and the plan was to paddle into Barrisdale Bay and head up Ladhar Bheinn. However strong winds made our decision to go with a plan B instead- something around Glen Sheil. As I still had a few Corbetts to do so I suggested Beinn Sgritheall and its neighbouring Corbetts. A long drive saw me meeting Gerry at Arnisdale and we then drove to the road end at Corran to leave my car to save us a couple of Kilometres walk back at the end of the day (more to come on this one!!).
Back at Arnisdale we were soon on our way towards the Bealach Arnisdale. The weather was lovely with the sun shine breaking through and the water of Loch Hourn Shimmering behind us, things were looking good. I was really looking forward to seeing the “magnificent view” from the summit, one which Hugh Munro once said “was the finest viewpoint from any hill in Scotland”.
The pull up to the Bealach wasn’t as bad as last time (legs were fresher!!) however the eastern shoulder was steep and scree filled – much as I remembered !!
Soon we reached the eastern top and the hill looked superb. The top was free of cloud and the sea views were fantastic. However – sods law soon kicked in and about 10 minutes from the summit, the clouds rolled in and on reaching the summit I was treated to the same view as last time – the inside of a cloud!! The wind was picking up a little now too so with a lots of climbing still to do we set off heading back to the bealach for some lunch!
We met a few shepherds here who were rounding up their sheep and we watched the other member high on the mountain side doing their stuff – effortlessly hiking across the rough terrain.
Next up (an I meanN UP!!) was the Cobett Beinn na h-Eaglaise. If we thought the Munro was steep then we were about to find out what steep really was. Virtually a vertical wall of moss and grass for over 200 meters!! I wouldn’t want to descend this! But it was short lived and we were now on summit two of the day with just one more Corbett to go.
It was on the descent of this hill that I realised I had left my car keys in Gerrys car – oops…. So used to doing this, I had just done this on autopilot – so much for having two cars and saving some time at the end of the day!!!
Beinn nan Caorach was the third and final peak and was also the hardest! Not technically but more mentally. I was feeling a little weary and needed some jelly babies. The weather was also deteriorating and we were soon being soaked and blown about as we reached the summit. A short sweetie break and on with the waterproofs and we set about carefully picking our way through the crags on the descent!
The day wasn’t over yet as we still had a fair old romp to get back to Corran – or really Arnisdale as my car was pretty useless in Corran now!!
The rain picked up and the only thing that raised our spirits was that the hundreds of deer that were low down were equally as wet but also intrigued at our soaked appearance!!
Eventually we got back to Arnisdale and the best thing now was that we didn’t have to drive all the way home – we were headed to The Cluanie Inn…..
The White Corries
End of October and the clocks were going back… Bliss , an extra hour in bed…
However the first significant snows had hit Scotland’s Mountains and the forecast for Sunday was looking rather good…. Bags packed the night before and the alarm was set for 5.30am (well 6.30 body clock time!).
Feeling rather good when woken by the alarm (mainly due to the extra hour factor) I sprung out of bed and set about defrosting the car whilst making some porridge and getting set to go.
-3 degrees and the skies were clear as I headed north on the A9 aiming to meet Gerry at Choire Collie at a leisurely 0830 am. Arriving in unison we discovered out first problem of the day – finding a parking spot!! The place was heaving and it seemed a few cars had been there overnight judging by the frost on the windscreens. Subsequently we met a few people coming back down form the bothy after an adventurous evening.
Winter gear on for the first time this season and we were soon saying our hellos to the Wee Minister and not long after started heading up the slopes of Stob Coire Gaibhre. The snow line was reached and the landscape turned white with the monochrome landscape contrasting the bright blue skies. What a day it was turning out to be. After stopping for a small time on Gaibhre, we were soon heading up the 15th highest mountain in Scotland. The snow was laying a few inches deep and the rime was plastering the boulders. From our viewpoint the Grey Corries lay before us with The Aonachs and Ben Nevis providing a suitable back drop.
The slight breeze that had greeted us on Claurigh was now disappearing and the sun was beating down. I had to delayer and was soon striding along the ridge in my base layer, felt more like the Alps than Scotland! Days like these live long in the memory and we just took our time enjoying the views as we made our way along the ridge. To the south the great mountains of The Mamores, Glencoe and beyond were all instantly recognisable. Eventually we reached our final peak of the day – Stob Coire Easein and decided to leave Choinnich Mor for another day, a great excuse to return!
The day wasn’t over yet though as we still had a fair bit of walking to do. We had managed to park at the parking spots nearer the gate so decided to take the old tram line back to the car.
A nice route although one of the burn cross resulted in me slipping and face planting the rocks – I was thirst anyway so took the opportunity to have a wee drink J
What a grand day J
Some thoughts and reports from my outdoors activties...