Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ullapool Tall Ships Weekend

Just a few days after our last trip to the North West, Ann, John, Juliette & Stu went back up to Ullapool. The draw was that part of this year’s Tall Ships’ Race was calling in for a weekend of festivities.
Things got off to a bad start on Friday evening when we arrived to find the campsite full. It had apparently filled up by that morning and the usually absent staff were there to keep extras out. We had foreseen this problem weeks ago but the site wouldn’t take bookings, so frustration all around. The rumour that there was still space at Ardmair proved correct so we were soon pitched there and back in Ullapool for a fish supper and that night’s gig of Skerryvore and The Vatersay Boys.
Despite a rubbish forecast, we were woken early the next morning by the tent overheating in the sun. Given the amount to get through in the day we opted for a short day on the Graham of Beinn an Eoin, just S of Stac Pollaidh, an interesting little hill with the potential for great views that I had missed last time due to it clouding over during the ascent.
Stac Pollaidh starting to vanish
 The start of the route is a bit of a flouter through tussocky bog and a minefield of recently-planted trees. It was made even more unpleasant by numerous clegs, a few midges and the sight of cloud starting to roll in from the west. Things improved with height and we just started to get some views when the cloud finally closed in and that was it for the rest of the day.

Last of the clear weather
The higher southern summit provided a good stop for first lunch, just before the rain started. Soon it was lashing and made the ascent of the northern top quite unpleasant, so much so that second lunch was postponed in favour of a quick descent. There is no easy way back from here so it was back to hacking through the bog in a cloud of clegs. At least the rain stopped but I did feel a bit cheated – two ascents and no view.
Soggy descent
Thanks to the difficult ground our short outing had taken much longer than it should so the planned swim was abandoned as we dashed back to Ullapool for the start of a giant strip the willow down the length of Shore Street. It was quite a sight to see the place packed with people, there was a great atmosphere and the boats looked magnificent too. The rain held off long enough for a quick BBQ, but came back with a vengeance later. Luckily the Saw Doctors’ gig that night was in a decent tent.
Strip the Willow on Shore Street
Wylde Swan running up Loch Broom

Gloria, all the way from Columbia, prepares to depart
The Saw Doctors

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Club Meet to Scourie

As often the case for a club meet on the July holiday weekend the venue was the Far North, in this case the village of Scourie and its fine campsite. Despite the 5h drive, most people made it in time to enjoy at least some of the warm evening and an excellent sunset over the island of Handa. The prospects were good.
Friday night's sunset
On Saturday the early team of Ed, Stu, Juliette, Mikey, Ann and John set off for the full N-S traverse of Foinaven, taking advantage of the ability to position transport at each end. Early sea fog was no deterrent as there were patches of sun and only a thin cap of cloud on the summit. The squelch through the bog was very muggy and as we carried on up the lower-level cloud seemed to be merging with the higher level, and there was not a view to be had. A couple of hours saw us on the first top and a slightly early elevenses.

Then off to the summit, making sure we took in each end of the short ridge as our collection of maps of various vintages were somewhat contradictory. This was the scene of some is it/isn’t it a Munro shenanigans a few years ago, which settled the height at 911m. Undeterred, Big Mikey saw fit to elevate the top of the cairn to the magic 3000ft level at least temporarily.

Mikey Munrohand
Harry Potter even put in an appearance
First lunch consumed, the traverse of the rest of the hill was uneventful and reasonably pleasant, but almost totally lacking in views. That was until a short but very sharp shower hit just before a steep descent and turned the quartzite into a slippery nightmare.
Easy scrambling section of the Foinaven traverse
The long walk-out was just that, although we did have something to look at as we finally dropped out of the cloud.
Let's hope this was them only part-finished
The tardy party of Denis, Robert, Jillian, Chris, Naomi and Snowy the Dog (14) tackled the nearby pointy peak of Ben Stack. No report or photos of this so far, but they seemed to have a nice time.
Duncan, Kate and Owen went on an enjoyableexploration of the North Coast, possibly as far as Smoo Cave.

Meanwhile, now back at basecamp, Juliette and John got suited up and held the inaugural outing of the AMC Wild Swimming Section in Scourie Bay. To my knowledge this is the first new AMC Section since the heady years of the mid 1990s saw the creation of the Piracy Section (slogan: Avast Behind) and the mercifully short-lived Naked Caving Section (slogan: A Vast Behind).
Aquanauts are go!
As befits a selection of good days out, the evening brought an extensive BBQ that was remarkable for the lack of midges but in keeping with tradition it did get a bit damp later.

Snowy eyeing up his car-bone-ara
Sunday brought more iffy weather and the departure of much of the meet who didn’t have the Holiday Monday. Duncan, Kate and Owen left for the circuit of Stac Polly, while Mikey, Ed and Ann did the Corbett of Glas Bheinn, just E of Quinag. I’m told it was a good outing, if a little damp.

The AMC WSS got even wetter, this time in the much wilder setting of Loch an Obain. A difficult approach was worth it for the flying over a kelp forest on a strong tide, surrounded by inquisitive seals. Stu diverted himself with a visit to a nearby hill lochan, Denis went botanising at Inchnadamph, while Chris, Naomi and Snowy headed north for a coastal walk. Robert and Jillian were last seen enjoying a lazy breakfast.

Sunday's swim site
Sunday evening brought constant heavy rain, followed on Monday by more rain and low cloud. The remainder of the meet packed up soggy tents and headed home, damp around the edges but happy.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A wander in Carpathia

The 'main drag' of the local village

Village shacks, many have outdoor toilets.
They are well stocked-up for winter!

Greetings one and all from the remote wilds of the Carpathian mountains, Ukraine. I have been working here for the past month and this was the first weekend that clement weather conditions allowed me to venture from the valley up into the hills. Tired of the dusty tracks and lada-dodging, I wandered up into the forests to see what I could see!

Farming landscapes in the valley

I am in the west of the country, close to the Romanian border. The nearest city is Muchachevo and the local services consist of a few shops that serve out of date crisps and, of course, as much vodka as you can drink. Thankfully my wanderings in the hills didn't involve close encounters with the mature Ukranian gentry (like last time...), but allowed me to spend a few quiet hours admiring the alpine views and chasing the local wildlife. Thankfully, I managed to avoid the kind that would chase me...

Lack of maps meant that I was wandering blind and had no idea what the hills were called or how high I was, but tramping up through the forest was a lovely way to spend the afternoon away from camp.

Forestry tracks used by the locals to collect wood to heat
their wooden shacks in the long harsh Ukranian winters

This is where the wood ends up

I followed the ski lifts until they intersected with tracks that took me deep into the forest. Cover was broken by beautiful grassy meadows, filled with wild flowers. Side tracks led me into the woods where paths disappeared into thick bush. Obviously the local foresters weren't as nervous of the lynx and bears as I was! I saw no signs of these wild beasts, although colleagues here have reported lynx sightings and we have been warned about the animals. While I didn't really believe they would be a threat... I did take my walking stick... and a whistle... just in case...

Wild flower meadows

Eventually, cover was broken and I enjoyed views of the surrounds from the top of one of the hills. The forested slopes and farming landscapes looked beautiful from above and I was pleased to have braved the heat to enjoy a quiet moment away from the bustle of camp. So, with a smile on my face, I trudged back to the valley. I was just in time for dinner.. which is not really worth mentioning. If you doubt, just google 'Ukranian delicacies...' YUCK!

Carpathia is beautiful, but I miss bonnie Scotland...

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Bigger Day Out in The Cairngorms

On Sat 2 July, Ann and John headed back into the Cairngorms for another long tramp. This time the targets were Ben Avon and Beinn a Bhuird, starting at the Linn of Quoich. The forecast of clear, warm and sunny weather was spot on, although fairly soon we were wishing it wasn’t as it made for a very muggy approach. Before we had even left the track it had clouded over and for a while looked like it might chuck it down at any moment.

Beinn a Bhuird from the approach

The rain held off and we were soon on the new (to us) path through the fantastic old pine woods. There was a NTS sign informing us not to linger in this area as some rare birdies were nesting, but it didn’t tell us what – would have been nice to know.

In any event, lingering was not part of the game plan for today so we were soon through the woods and joined the path in from the top of Glen an t-Slugain. Like the path through the woods this has been massively improved since our last visit and has the mixed blessing of making access much easier. Soon though it was time to leave the path and go cross-country, up steep hillsides to the top of Carn Eas. Going this way gives a much better appreciation of how just big Ben Avon is compared to the bagging route via The Sneck, and isn’t really any longer. For our efforts we were rewarded with a fine view and a very agitated dotterel with bouncing chick in tow.

My kind of tory - Ben Avon from the SW top

A fine wander of around 3km got us to the summit, where we met the first person we had seen all day, and a belated first lunch (although we had had an emergency second-elevenses stop earlier).

Beinn a Bhurid from the summit of BenAvon

A few more folks appeared so and it was time to turn east and tackle Beinn a Bhuird. This is quite a pleasant and easy section, with just a short steep part up from The Sneck. A short diversion got us to the top of the classic climb “Squareface” where a couple of climbers were just getting to the spectacular final pitch. Long walk for a short route though. Then it was on to the summit, which was a place of very mixed emotions. First, pleasure at a yummy and overdue second lunch, then pain (more mental than physical) at getting my first midge bite of the season. Not bad, making it to July without one, but it could be seen as an indication of how little we have been out.

Refuelled it was time for the long trek back out to the car, which as ever is best not dwelt upon. Overall a day of around 35 km and 1300 m ascent, and we finally beat Naismith. Ha!

No Rain!!

At last, a good weather forecast for the weekend!! Steve and I decided to have a go at a classic VS, the Mousetrap on the Dubh Loch. A great 180m climb with fantastic views.
Approaching the Dubh Loch - The impressive cliff face, very green with the relentless rainfall of the last few months. Spot the other climbers! - The cliff face was busy with multiple parties on all of the classics. We did however witness a massive rockfall down the main slabs. I do not think that anybody was injured.

Steve doing well up through the slabs.

We had a great day out - so pleasant after the last two months of rain...