Friday, 15 July 2011

9 MUNROS AND A COUPLE OF RUNS - 9th to 14th July

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.

Friday saw us drive up to Inverlochlarig and up fairly earlyish to head up Ben Tuleachain, Cruach Ardrain, Ben More and Stob Binnein.  The forecast had been for showers coming later in the day so we were keeping the option open to bail after the first 2hills if need be.  I don't think it's normal for most folk to do these 4hills together, more normal to do them in 2 lots of 2 and we were out for 9hrs with 2140 metres of ascent and just a smidgeon short of 12miles in distance.  We didn't need to bail as the weather was fine, with just one small shower as we approached the top of Ben More.  Was a bitty nippy though and the shower was a bit sleety with a bit of hail thrown in which had me worried about thunderstorms, but none materialised.  No more showers but we were clagged in for the rest of the day until we got down lower off Binnein.  And lo and behold was there not bloody cows at the bottom, cows which refused to move even as I approached cautiously and started waving my poles at them.  It took me roaring and a big lunge with the poles to finally get rid of the beasts from my path!  Once down, we drove back down to Lochearnhead and down to Inverarnan and the Drover's Inn where we had a double room with jacuzzi no less.  Sweet way to spend you first anniversery and a lovely day and evening were had by both! 

Sunday's plan had been to nip up Beinn Chabhair but the morning brought some heavy rain and neither of us felt inspired so we decided to make the drive up to Skye instead.  Our original plan had been to make an attempt on a traverse of the ridge but D had forgotten to bring his water bladder (far too heavy carrying bottles I reckon) and I'd actually forgotten to buy one!  So we moved on to plan B which was to go up some Moderate scramble on to Sgurr Mhadaidh, over onto Sgurr Ghreadaidh and possibly Banachdich after.  Follwed by all the munros at the other end that I hadn't done the next day.  We parked up in Fort William to buy a few bits and bobs and checked the weather forecast on the laptop.  The charts didn't look that promising with a big trough across the country over the next few days.  However, the far North was far enough away from the trough and there was a high sitting to the North too.  That was it, decision made to head North after a quick visit to Nevis Sport for a few new OS maps.  Great decision too as though we had a bit of a drizzly day on Monday, both Tuesday and Wednesday were amazing.

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!

Once down, we made our way back down the road with the intention of spending the night in the infamous Crask Inn.  This wasn't to be however as all rooms were booked by several parties of fisherman.  However, the dude who owns the Inn (Mike I believe) was quite happy for us to doss in the carpark in our van.  A few other folk were camping in the garden and someone was sleeping in the summer house in the garden.  So, to the bar.........D ordered a pint which arrived promptly before Mike went off to make me a pot of tea.  He got distracted however, by bringing in some logs and lighting the stove, so it was 20minutes later than I gently reminded him that I'd ordered some tea (it had to be gentle, didn't have the heart to be cross as he was so quirky and charming)  Meals were being served at 7.30 and because it was busy, we were asked to share a table with another couple.  Rats!  Not sure I could be bothered being sociable but it was actually really nice.  The couple were really into triathalon and hill running and had cycled from Inverness and gone up Klibreck.  The girl had had a few drinks and the conversation, mostly about hill running and gear, was quite animated.  The food was amazing!  A home made quiche from eggs from their own hens and the veg was fresh from their garden, simple but quite lovely.  And the lemon cake for afters was divine! Next morning and I was eager for another cooked breakfast!  And for £6, I had bacon, sausage, mushroom and toast (with home made marmalade) and 4 cups of tea.  I could have also had porridge, a half grapefruit and an orange juice included but grapefruit and porridge are evil.

D and I had a leisurely morning and were setting off up Klibreck around 10 ish.  We went along Strath a Chraisg, cut off path and though some really marshy ground, following the Alt Domhain for a short while, before cutting off up the hillside to spot height 528 which was marked by a cairn built by Mike from the Crask. The plan was to head up the spur to Carn an Fheidh, pick up a fence line and then countour round spot height 808 before joining A'Chioch and the spur up to Klibreck summit.  Well, D gave his usual grunt or monosyllable acknowledgment of what I was saying, though in retrospect I think he was off in his own world and hadn't taken in a thing I'd said.  As it was, I picked up the fence line quite easily but D wandered off on his own, so I left him to it.  And though he is much faster than me going up hill as he's so much fitter and stronger legged, I still managed to get ahead of him as he ploughed right up point 808 rather than go round.  I was worried that D would stop and wait on top of 808, thinking that I was still lagging behind him as we were out of view of each other as soon as D wandered off but I decided to keep pushing on regardless and he finally caught up with me on the final pull up to the summit.

We got our view from the top which was gorgeous!  You could see South for miles and miles and miles and the large forms of Ben Hope and Ben Loyal to the North, towering up out of a flat landscape, with Orkney visible in the far distance.  We descended the south spur (taking in an impromptu dip into a rock pool.  Well, D stripped and dipped, I half stripped, tested the water and started hyperventilating from the cold of it and hastily retreated!) This took us down to a track above the Loch a Bhealaich.  It was really pretty down there (apart from holes in the grassy ground with water running underneath which were really spooky as they were hard to spot and I was convinced it was ankle breaking time, so slowed right down.)  I was left wondering if there was any winter climbing on the Creag an Lochain cliffs on the east side of Klibreck.  The walk along the track under the cliffs of Creag na h-lolaire up to the Bealach Easach gave a gorgeous view back along the Loch a Bhealaich and then all that was left was the 5/6km slog back to the Crask where I discovered that they also had J20 juice, which seemed a bit out of place but refreshing all the same.

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.

We parked up in a wee carpark not far south of Inchnadamph and again had a wee lie in, starting out for Conival and Ben More Assynt around 10 ish.  My wee leggies were finding it hard going that morning!  D was off in a shot and I insisted he keep on ahead rather than tail gaiting me.  The track from Inchnadamph up Gleann Dubh seemed to take forever and I didn't really enjoy it until we started going uphill to the col between Conival and Beinn an Fhurain.  The ground was rocky and peaty rather than heathery and the going was much easier than the previous few days and my early morning sluggishness and heavy leggedness seemed to have worn off.  Before long we were up at the col and faced by a steep pull up to the top of Conival where I once again slowed down a fair bit.  The weather was amazing, sports bra and thin trousers on and my hill running shoes was all that was needed.  Getting really in to wearing my trail shoes on the hill for hill walking as they are so much comfier and give the option for running wee bits too if I want to.  I'd worn my new summer hill boots on Saturday going up the Crianlarich hills, carrying my trainers in my bag and switching to them for the downhill as they were hurting my feet.  On Ben Hope I'd worn a new pair of stiff B3 Kayland boots to see how they felt.  They were amazing!  On sale in Tiso and I think they were supposed to be £99 but there was only a £75 sign up that I could see so that's what I got them for, double bargain!  The comfiest winter boots I've ever worn and definitely a keeper.  Going to sell my Nepale Extreme's which are a modern form of torture!

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!

So, we hadn't really planned on being over Drumochter way on our road trip hence we had no map.  However, the sky was clear and there was no low cloud forecast and it was looking like it would stay that way for some while.  D was very hesitant of going up the hill mapless but I was feeling more brash and confident that it would be a doddle and there was probably a path all the way up.  Forget Cameron McPish's munro book suggestion of ploughing up heather slopes as it's bog ridden below and a steep, heather slog above!  I could see a track going up the spur above the North Drumochter Lodge so the plan was to scoot up there, once on the 'top' go SE to the top at point 936 and the directly east to the summit.  I screwed it up completely by changing plan.  Once through the fence across from Balsporran, I came across a track heading up so decided to follow it (never ever get lured off bearing by these stupid tracks which head off to nowhere!)  It didn't take me long to realise that this track was heading off up Creagan Doire Dhonaich and whilst I could have gone this way it was pretty circuitous and silly to go that way, so I dropped down to the Alt Coire Dhubaig where I got wet feet and ploughed straight up the middle spur between the Alt Coire Chuirn and the Alt Coire Dhubaig.  This added a pointless half an hour off faffing onto the journey and I could see my original track going up the spur to the left, mocking my stupidity!  However, this heather bashing was a good leg training exercise and I pushed up this hill in hill runner stylee bent over and using my hands to push down on my legs.  Easy at first, but a steepening at the top left me pushing on for 60 paces and stopping for 10secs for a breather and so on.  By the time I was nearing the top, my quads were protesting and were close to being painful from the exertion but I'm a master at ignoring these little niggles!  Finally the top and I could see that there was no path anywhere to speak of that I could see and that the terrain was really featureless and that the tops I was aiming for were in reality nothing more than featureless humps.  Still, I managed to run my way, leaping across peat hags to the summit where I stopped for a quick bite to eat.  I went to phone D but realised I'd forgotten my phone, went to take some pictures and realised I'd forgotten my camera!

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.

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