Phew! I've survived the first year of marriage intact, crazy considering if you'd told me a few years ago that I'd be settling down and getting all responsible by living in a bought house, studying a professional degree at Uni and being a Mrs, I'd have said you were off yer rocker! But there you have it, one time school drop out (tender age of 15,) habitual runner away from home rather than be grounded after too much under-age drinking, party animal and general wild child is now a non-smoking, pretty much non drinking (bar the 'odd glass of Chardonnay or preferable Sauvignon Blanc'), law abiding (mostly, apart from yesterday evening when we drove away from a campsite without paying after having half used their facilities, but that was in protest at their utterly disgusting price!), aspiring healthy person. What a year it's been! I guess we are an odd couple, a silent and moody Aspie bloke and a foul mouthed and emotive woman make for an interesting combination.
So we've had a fab week this week but I think we're both glad to be home and out of the confined living space of the van where we start doing each other's heads in a bit I think. D, (being a bloke) and being slobby and me nagging at him to have a bit of courtesy (no, I don't like your dirty socks that you've just worn for the past 9hrs (and the previous day!) through heather and bog sitting on the surface where I'm about to cook our evening meal, nor do I like you picking out your nose hairs and pinging them over my shoes, nor do I like your toothpaste spit being left in the sink where I'm about to wash my face, yes I'm a bit precious about these things :oD Our 3 week trip to the Alps is going to be testing and I remember frayed tempers last year, so we're taking a tent this year so one of us can escape for while if need be for our much needed space. It's funny how someone that you can love can equally drive you bonkers.
Driving up North didn't seem to take too long either and before long we were parked at the South end of Loch Hope in readiness to head up the North Ridge of Ben Hope the next morning. Now I just thought it was a wee easy scramble but according to D it was meant to have quite a tricky and exposed bit on it. The day dawned fair enough though looked a bit threatning and I was nervous of coming across anything too hard if it was going to be wet. And wet it was. The rain started not long into the walk in, which we did in a convuluted and strange way, going directly up the hillside from where we parked up, steeply up to Dubh loch na-beinne. By this point the mist had clagged in and it was impossible to see a way to breach the North West cliffs. We decided to contour around to the very start of the North spur and boy was that a slog and a half! Fecking boulders! I HATE BOULDERS!
I mentioned that as punishment for criminals, instead of community service etc, we should get them all filling in random holes in the ground that I always seem to fall in, or go over my ankle in and get covered in bog, and they can fill them in with all the blasted boulders from boulder fields! Job done!
Anyway, the North Ridge was boring until the top and the scramble was far, far too wet and dripping and slippery for my liking. A wee slip and it would be bye bye, lights out time for sure. You have to traverse round onto the face and peering over the edge it's actually overhanging and looking down made me feel quite sick. So we bailed and took the easy option of a wee gully round the back which still needed hands and made my fleece gloves absolutely sodden. I had gloves on after my walking poles gave me a blister on Saturday, which then burst, leaving a stinging hole of rawness. So that was that, Ben Hope bagged but no view on top which was gutting as I bet the view up there is amazing! On the way down we met some dude who had been walking since the 25th March, from Penzance to Land's End, taking in a few hills on the way.
We had a moment of weirdness when we starting dropping out of the mist. The Strathmore River was the first thing we saw and for a short time, it looked like a river of snow, running down a hillside, funny how the mist really distorts things!
That evening, I drove the van back down the road to Lairg and then cut across country on the most hellish single track road ever to the Ledmore junction and up to Assynt. I hate single track roads but I'll never complain about the length of the ones in Glen Lyon or Glen Lochay again! This road seemed to go forever and ever and made me feel queasy even driving it! However, things looked up when you could see the extremely strange form of Suilven rearing it's head up in the distance, not long followed by views of Cul Beg, Cul Mor and Ben More Coigach. Coigach, my favourite area in the whole of Scotland and to my shame I've stopped off and looked longingly at the hills there when off climbing at Reiff or passing by in winter to climb on Quinaig but I've never yet been up either of these hills. My big all time dream winter route is to climb the Fhidhleir nose, but that's not happening anytime soon if ever! I might have to console myself with one of the easier routes.
The connecting ridge between Conival and Ben More Assynt is really short and it didn't take us long to get across to our 2nd munro of the day. The views are superb up there! North to Foinaven, east to Ben Hope, Loyal and Klibreck and Southwards down to Coigach across the Corbett Braebag, which according to SMC Northern Highlands has a few routes on it. As do the cliffs on Beinn an Fhurain. The munro guide had mentioned something about the south ridge along to the south top of Ben More Assynt being somewhat like the Aonach Eagach. D said that was rubbish and it was nothing like the Aonach Eagach, but my curiosity was piqued. D couldn't be bothered going across as he'd been before so I dumped my sack and poles and set off down the hill at a run. And I didn't stop running until one tiny section at the very end where I went over a wee rocky bit rather than round it and had to use my hands. The Aonach Eagach it certainly isn't! But it does look a little like it from a distance. I gave D a wave from the South Top and set off at a run again, though it was more run/walk/run on the way back, being mostly up hill. I was boiling by the time I got back and needed a moment for a drink and recuperation.
Downhill seemed to take no time at all and D gave me the keys for the van as I had set off at my usual fast downhill pace, a bit between a walk and run. My mobile phone went off part way down and I stopped to answer it thinking it might have been RB who was away attending a school trip to visit lots of different Universities. However, it was some woman called Sharon who keeps ringing my number looking for someone called Lucy! I told her she had the wrong number and this was a brand new mobile phone and nobody called Lucy had ever had this phone. She still phoned back 5mins later and left a message on voicemail! The bottom section of Conival before you hit Gleann Dubh again is seriously peaty and spongy and bouncy and I couldn't resist fleeing down this section with my brakes off, so much fun! Though the rucksack on my back was really annoying! I waited at the bottom and let D catch up and we walked along the Glen together for someway, chatting about how Alpine it felt with all the greenery, wild flowers and sunshine. I couldn't resist setting off at a run again though and managed to run all the way back to the van with just a couple of stops to walk briefly. I then collapsed in a sweaty heap with chaffed shoulders from the rucksack rubbing and covered in itchy kleg bites!
We drove down to Ullapool that evening to the aforementioned campsite as we both fancied a shower. £16 fecking pounds for a night in a campsite, disgusting! I grumbled but D said we should just go in. We went out for curry then came back and went for a shower. D had money on him but I didn't. So D got his shower and I didn't! And I refused to pay extra for a shower anyway when the campsite was charging such an extortionate ammount! I was so disgusted that I told D that I wanted to leave and it turned out that we'd both run out of money anyway so wouldn't have been able to pay for our pitch, oooops! So we didn't really do runner as we hadn't stayed there a night, and D had only half used their poxy facilities. So we buggered off and parked up at the side of the road nearby the Braemore Junction where neither of us got a great nights sleep.
Last day of the trip and I wanted to blast up A'Bhuidheanach Bheag from the Drumochter Pass. I'd been up here several years ago to do this munro and it's next door neighbour, but after doing Carn a Caim had taken a bearing to Bheag, but come across a path and started following that instead. Realising it wasn't really going where I thought it would I then re went on to my bearing, stupidly not taking a new bearing! Got a bit disorientated, took a back bearing to the path, followed it back to my original point and then got an attack of doubt in my navigating ability and bailed off the hill.
Today's trip up there was interesting and similar navigational stupidities ensued! I'm thinking about doing some navigation re-practise after our Alps trip as I've rarely had to use my skills of late and I'm getting a bit rusty and forgetfull!
Shot back off down the hill the way I'd come, initially following some fence posts, then felt a bit unsure of the landscape so got my compass out. This is when things went a bit pearshaped and I made stupid blunder. I set the compass to a setting SE and ran off on my merry way. I'd gone downhill gently for a short while and reached a peat hag ridden area which seemed familiar, but then hit a total and utter peat hag and thought, 'hmmmm, this area doesn't feel or seem right at all!' I could see a small top further on, so zoomed off up there, only to be met by a view down some glen which certainly wasn't the A9, arse! I was totally confused as to where the feck I was and realised the only sensible thing to do was to retrace my steps back to the summit. D had lent me his GPS with the summit coordinates in it, but other than that I didn't really know how to use it. Anyway, I could see the trig point off in the distance, but felt hesitant that this was actually the top I'd come from so the GPS had it's use! (though I do feel that D relies on it far too much. He'd got it out on the summit of Cruach Ardrain back in Crianlarich as he didn't believe he was on the summit. However, I could see, even in the mist that we were at the highest point and in glimpses between the mist could see the path to our col below. As D got out the GPS I set off down to the col in disgust.) But yes, the GPS has it's place.
It was on my trot back to the summit that I knew where I'd gone wrong. What an utter, utter idiot! It was a SE bearing that was going to take me from the spur that I'd gone up, to the summit and I'd forgotten to reverse that process for the way back. Numpty! So I'd wasted another half an hour jogging off in completely the wrong direction and then having to nip back to the summit. Correct bearing of NW taken I scooted off in the correct direction, feeling a little miffed at myself for such a stupid mistake and unsure of how long I'd actually been faffing for and getting concerned that I'd maybe been ages and that D would be back at the van worrying. As it was, if I discount all the time I spent faffing on the hill, then it took me just over 2hrs to run up and down which I thought was not bad for nearly 10k and 500m of steep ascent. Not breaking any records, but pretty good for my crappy standards!
I happily found myself back on track and zoomed off down the track I'd originally planned to go up! This was ace fun! A bit stoney at the top which made me too nervous to let off the brakes but a middle section of peaty ground had the brakes almost off (too steep to take them completely off) and I was careening off down the hill. Got to another stony section and found it difficult to actually slow down as I'd gathered so much momentum! But I finally slowed a little which was just as well as there was a boggy section coming up and my shoes weren't up to it. I slowed through the bog and down onto the track, running past the Drumochter Lodge and onto the A9 and back to Balsporran.