Monday, April 30, 2012

Brilliant Backpack Bagging

A brief window in what is turning into the wettest drought on record allowed Ann & John to make a bagging trip to the Northwest Highlands last weekend, with a target of tackling what many regard as the most remote Munro. Leaving home early on Saturday morning gave us a much easier drive than the usual Friday night performance and we were in Craig by 10.30, despite a stop for second breakfast on the way.

The track in through the tree farm was at least efficient and soon got us to the “interesting” bridge at the start of a stalker’s track up the first Corbett of the day, Sgurr na Feartaig. The path was excellent, just what we needed with full packs and we were on the spacious summit for a slightly late lunch. As predicted, the views were extensive and we were surprised by both the amount of snow and how much less there was on the more westerly hills.
Summit of Sgurr na Feartaig
A short steep descent got us to Bealach Bearnais and the start of the ascent of our second Corbett, Beinn Tharsuinn. By the summit our legs were feeling the day’s 1200 m of ascent but we didn’t have much more to do as the plan was to camp by a lochan just below the summit. This proved to be a fantastic spot, although not quite as sheltered from the easterly breeze as we had hoped. Although not strong, the windchill was a bit nippy given that the air temp was only just above freezing and the plan to bring our ½ season summer sleeping bags wasn’t looking too clever. We ended up sheltering in the tent for the soup course but only slightly behind cue the wind dropped and the clouds cleared, letting us enjoy the rest of the evening’s food outside with a stunning panorama over the west coast from Kintail to Torridon.
Ascent from Bealach Bearnais

Campsite. Lurg Mhor left, Bidean right
Tea-time view to Skye
It had been a while since we had done any sub-zero camping so I had forgotten one of the key rules about being very careful when moving around in the morning. Result – frozen condensation down the back of the neck. Then within minutes the sun hit the tent and brought some much-needed warmth, until all the condensation thawed and started to drip on us.  
A hearty breakfast got us warmed up and on our way by 8am to climb Bidean a Choire Sheasgaich, a very fine hill. After the unusual start of a 200 m descent we faced the imposing N Ridge. I remembered this as having a fairly obvious way up, not because it was easy to find but because it was the only way through the multiple bands of crags. Backlit by the sun, it certainly wasn’t looking very approachable but the route unravelled as we ascended and was straightforward. The views from the top were even better than those the day before as the very clear and cloudless conditions continued, giving us views east to the Cairngorms and west to Harris. 
NE from the summit of Bidean
Panorama of the Torridon hills

The wander over to Lurg Mhor was uneventful but the summit feels every bit the part of “most remote”, especially as we contemplated the very long walk out. Just below the summit we met the only other people of the whole trip, 4 guys who had taken the bike-in option as far as Ben Droniag lodge. We decided to contour Bidean as although not saving us much ascent we thought the descent would be very slow. This worked reasonably well and an hour later we were back at our tent for a lunchtime feast of cheese & oatcakes – yum. Then the real walk-out began – back over Beinn Tharsuinn, down to the Bealach Bearnais and out to the approach track, all in quite hot sunshine. We were feeling a bit frazzled by the car, part sun and part due to the 2000 m of descent we had clocked up. Ticktastic.
East from Lurg Mhor
Scrambling on the way to the east top

Purple saxifrage

Monday, April 16, 2012

Grin Up North

The Aberdeen Holiday Weekend saw a hardy bunch of AMCers take the long drive north to Achmelvich for a camping meet. Despite the record-breaking high temperatures of March, the weather had remembered it was still supposed to be winter and done something about it, delivering a weekend of biting northerly winds and heavy wintry showers. 
The largest group of John, Ann, Morna, Rae and Austin took advantage of multiple cars to do the traverse of Canisp and Suilven. Starting at the eastern end, the walk started innocuously with a squelch through the bog and an easy angled ascent of Canisp. Not until quite high did the views begin to open up, but that just made them seem all the more stunning. The only shower of the day hit just on the summit and had the group huddled in the huge summit shelter cairn, doing meercat impressions trying to get a view. 
The start of the ascent of Canisp


Descending Canisp, Suilven ahead

Getting between the two hills wasn’t too bad, and even the badly eroded ascent of Suilven was better than I remembered. Popping up onto the ridge was as spectacular as ever, and made better by leaving the shady wind funnel of the ascent for calm warm sunshine on the southern side. The short wander up the ridge to the summit had the same contrast of warm and sunny/cold and windy but we were lucky to have the best weather of the day for a long sit on the top of one of the finest mountains in the country. After that the long descent felt thoroughly worthwhile and the last part, through the birch and flowering gorse to Inverkirkaig, was a gorgeous finish. 
Approaching the summit of Suilven

Suilven from the descent
  A fine day was suitably rounded off with a visit to the justifiably famous Lochinver Pie Shop, where even Austin had only two (rather than the five Tesco pies he had for tea on Friday). A final twist was provided by Rod who, despite leaving home at 5am, managed to miss this team while they were doing the two-car shuffle in the morning and climbed Suilven on his own as a round trip from Lochinver.
Meanwhile, long-standing AMC members The Bartons, who haven’t made an appearance on a meet for many years, did a Corbett duo on Breabeg and Glas Bheinn.
Later on Saturday evening Jillian and Robert finally arrived after bagging a few Fannaichs en route, setting a new record for turning up late to a meet.

Achmelvich beach
Sunday saw a similarly random assortment of outings, especially as most people didn’t get the Monday holiday. Most of the Saturday Suilven team plus Denis, Jillian and Robert did some coastal exploring, Mark and Judith headed for Suilven, The Bartons went for Cul Mor and Beag and Austin was hoping to work off some of his pies and Denis’ port on the Corbett with the second longest name.