Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Far North-West.

The Far North-West.
Two years ago I left off my walk north at the inland (south-eastern) end of Loch Broom, by the farm and car park at Inverlael. Then I'd hitched in the pouring rain up to Ullapool. This year I returned back to Ullapool and then tried to hitch back to Inverlael, this time I was not successful. I had to march the 7 or 8 miles along the main road, getting to the car park around six in the evening.
So there I was hot and sweaty but back on my own version of the Cape Wrath trail, To mark the occasion on my great walk north I headed off to the south- east. Up through forestry and past a micro-hydro scheme, I past an old walled enclosure, looked at it and thought “No, I'll go a bit further” two hours later I'm back at the enclosure even hotter and very tired having found nothing but sloping boggy ground for miles ahead.  
 Beinn Dearg (Red hill) is a biggie at 1084m you can see it from all around but not on the route up it. All the way up the Glen (Gleann na Sguaib) all you can see are the crags on the side of the Glen and once at the bealach you still can't quite see the summit. From the top, great views all the way to An Teallach and Ullapool but not of the route up. From the summit I dropped back down to the bealach and up the peak on the other side Meall nan Ceapraichean (hill of the stumps) and it's outlier Ceann Garbh. I was planning on doing another Munro Eididh nan Clach Geala (web of white stones) before camping, but decided to call it a day at the bealach. It had been a lovely sunny day and I was able to sit outside the tent cooking and brewing tea, but high above cirrus clouds were starting to show. Sure enough in the early hours the heavens opened and it poured it down for a couple of hours. 
 It was still raining when I packed up and I started out in full body armour, ten minutes later it stopped. The clagg was still down and I need a compass bearing to reach the top of Eididh nan Clach Geala (928m) only to find there were two tops? Which one to use? I chose the second one mainly because I couldn't be bothered to go back to the first one. Another bearing to the next top unnamed on the map just 872m, a kilometre away. Four hundred metres later I'm looking over the top of a crag, should have used the first top. I follow the edge of the crags and find the col just as the clagg starts to clear. From 872m I can see the next two days walk laid out before me like a giant map. Below me are a line of lochans in Coire an Lochain Sgeirich feeding a stream which flow away north cutting a steep sided gorge across the moor. I follow this for three kilometres to where it flows into the River Douchary. When I'd walked the Sheil Bridge to Ullapool section of my walk I'd had five days of constant heavy rain and every river had been in spate. I had all sorts of problems crossing these rivers so I was a little concerned approaching the Douchary, I needn't have worried I hopped across dry footed. Further down stream the river entered a gorge, not well marked on the map, although there are three waterfalls marked. I was blown away by it when I peered in from high above. I decided there and then to camp in the gorge that night. 

 There were falls big and small each with it's own resident Dipper, a dry, flat and level grass area high enough above the water not to be worried about get a soaking in the night and trees for shade. I was just contemplating going for a swim when it began to rain, slowly at first but very quickly turned into a deluge. I dived into the tent and remained there all night.
Next day I spent far too long taking photographs of the gorge downstream of where I'd camped, it really is a hidden gem. Another stream joins the river via a spectacular waterfall at a point where the river turns sharp left and becomes the Rhidorroch. Here I left the river and cut across the moor for a kilometre to the western end of Loch an Daimh. My route crosses the guidebook version of the Cape Wrath trail at this point. It follows the north shore of the Loch eastward for three kilometres to the bothy at Knockdamph. I went westward for a kilometre, a small wooden post marked the start of a stalker's path north across the next section of moor.
 For the rest of the day I wandered along lost in my own thoughts weaving a trail around, over and through a maze of peat hags and stream beds. I crossed the Rappach Water, now only a shallow dribble at a ruined farm called Lubachoire. All day the weather was going from hot and sunny to dark and ominous the day ended sunny but high in the air cirrus clouds were once more building. I camped in Strath nan Lòn on the south side of the Cromalt hills. I had to cross these to get to Elphin and the next section of my walk. It was also at this point that I discovered a three inch split in one of my boots just above the sole. Would I be able to continue? Would the boot hold out? I decided there was nothing I could do about them except carry on and hope for the best. 
 According to the map I was camped on a path, there was no sign of it on the ground but a couple of kilometres further another ruin marked where my route turned north once more. As I started to climb up the rain started to fall down and the wind began to blow. From walking in a T-shirt the day before I was now in full head to toe gore-tex, fleece hat and gloves. My route went into zigzag mode, north then west then north again then north-west all the time weaving around endless peat hags. By mid-afternoon it finally stopped raining, I'd only covered ten kilometres but had walked many more and was very knackered. I dropped down to a couple of small Lochans and followed their outlet stream downhill. Somewhere on this section I managed to step into a bog right up to mid-thigh. As my boots were now full of bog I just waded into the stream and washed off the stinking black muck. Further downstream the stream just disappeared, one minute there was a babbling flow of water the next nothing. A quick investigation revealed a limestone pot hole, “limestone what's that doing here”? The track took me to Elphin - all six houses and a community hall - according to the hand painted signs all life in Elphin revolves around the community hall, when I got there it was closed. That night I camped on the shore of Cam Loch with spectacular views of Suilven. 
 I had planned on climbing some of the hills hereabouts but the walk up from Beinn Dearg had taken longer than I'd hope plus I had to get the bus from Durness the following Saturday, so time was limited. Also big black clouds were building. I decided to skip forward a bit and hitched a lift up to the Inchnadamph Hotel at the south-eastern end of Loch Assynt the next morning. The Hotel is now a walkers hostel and is on the guidebook trail, the implications of this hadn't dawned on me until a couple of kilometres beyond the Hotel I heard a shout from behind me. “Oh thank god I've caught you” he said “I saw you passing the hostel, you are doing “The Trail” aren't you”. It seemed I'd acquired a limpet. 
 The path takes a meandering route around some small lochans before crossing a low col the Bealach na h-Uidhe. It started to rain at the Bealach, only lightly at first so I just put my jacket on and didn't bother with the over trousers. Ten minutes latter I knew I'd made a big mistake but it was too late I was soaked already. Visibility closed down to a few metres as we stumbled on down eventually we found a cairn that marked the start of a zigzag going down into the next valley. Half way down the zigzags just stopped so we scrambled down the side of a small stream. From the valley bottom we could look up at the Eas a Chùal Aluinn which is apparently the tallest waterfall in mainland Britain. It fell over some crags next to our decent route, it wasn't very impressive. The route from here down to the sea at Loch Glencoul and around the beach to the Bothy was very hard going in the wind and rain. The bothy was packed when we arrived, luckily four people were preparing to leave and two more left half an hour later. That left just three an Austrian walker the Limpet and me. When the Austrian said he was heading on the Glendhu bothy seven kilometres further around the Loch the Limpet decided to go with him, I decided to stay where I was.
The wind continued to howl and the rain poured down half the night but by morning it was calm and the sky clearing. Loch Glencoul is divided into two arms by the peninsular of Aird da Loch the path from Glencoul bothy to Glendhu bothy goes out almost to the end of the Aird before going right around the other arm of the Loch. On the north side there is a remnant of the old coastal oak wood that would have once dominated the whole west coast. Overhead an Eagle flew, I couldn't work where it's Eyre was but it must have been close. Across the Loch the Moine Thrust was clearly visible. Down by the shore a young seal dozed on a rock tail held high to keep it out of the water. As I approached the bothy I saw a familiar figure sitting by the door. “I saw you coming across the Loch so I waited for you” he said. Deep joy!
From the Glendhu bothy and for the rest of the day I would be walking on hard packed estate roads, one of the worst surfaces for walking on I know. Fortunately after five kilometres we came to a fork in the road. The Limpet was going into Kylesku to buy food, I was going in the opposite direction, inland across the ridge to Achfary and Foinaven. I waved him goodbye and set off into my own solitude. It was hot and there wasn't that much to look at so I plodded on and on. By the time I descended down through the recently cleared forestry around the village of Achfary my feet were killing me, they were so hot. I then had a couple of kilometres along the road followed by more estate roads before I came to the bothy of Lone, only it wasn't a bothy it was locked. Luckily half a kilometre beyond the bothy was a small copse that made a wonderful campsite.


 I was up at 05.30, there didn't seem to be too much damage to my feet which was good because if I was going to get to the Cape and make the bus I'd need to get a wiggle on for the next two days. I was walking before seven. The climb up beside the Ailt Horn was a steady gradual gradient and I was quickly at the Bealach Horn. Here the path descended down into Srath Dionard but the way ahead was obvious. Just keep going uphill to the summit of An t-sàil Mhor due north from the Bealach, again an easy gradient. In contrast the north side is a sheer drop down to the coire floor. Follow the cliff top west to the next top, just marked 808m on the OS map. A grassy col topped by quartzite scree, fossilized limpets and mussels still preserved in the quartzite. Then the summit and wow what a viewpoint. The Loch bejewelled moorland, Handa Island, Loch Laxford, Loch Inchard and Eilean an Ròin. On the horizon Lewis and further out could that be St Kilda?
Over the moor another squall was coming my way, I move on. Down horrid steep loose scree to the col of Cadha na Beucaich, then up again, up the side of a rock buttress. Stash poles, hands coming into play scrambling up the rock, great fun. On top of the buttress I see a bypass path but why spoil the fun. Up along a sharp ridge, real walking in the clouds, another unnamed top 869m. Down to another col and up again, the main summit of Foinaven, Ganu Mor 911m (3m short of a Munro). The top covered in cloud, no view from here. I head west, straight down the scree slope then follow a stream into Coire Dùail and on to Srath Dionard and more estate road seven more kilometres to the road (A838). I come out onto the road by a farm Gualin House, What to do now? I'd already covered twenty kilometres and climbed several high hills but wanted to get nearer to Sandwood bay for the next day. I thought about camping at Feur Loch another four kilometres further, but that turned out to be more of a muddy puddle and no where to pitch. Five kilometres from Feur Loch is Strathan bothy, I bite the bullet and plod on, on and on it just never seems to come into view. It's getting dark by the time I get there at 22.30, after a 29 kilometres day. 
 Once again I'm away early, I've a long way to go and I'm not sure when the last bus from the lighthouse goes. The three kilometres from the bothy to Sandwood Loch are a nightmare, some of the worst bog of the whole trip. I'm very aware of how much time I'm loosing trying to get out of this mess. Just as I get to the fresh water Loch I see a fox raiding birds nests, I try but fail to get a photograph. Once on the side of the Loch the going gets better but it's such a beautiful place I just want to keep on taking pictures. From the beach I climb up a steep hill only to drop down again almost to sea level before climbing up once more, followed by yet another river gorge. In all there are six gorges to cross in the twelve kilometres from Sandwood bay to the lighthouse.

A fence guards the MOD range with big signs warning people to keep out when the red flags are flying, they also made an easy style for climbing over the fence. I got a good view of the lighthouse a few kilometres from the bay. “Not long now” I thought, but as the up's and down's kept coming there just never seemed to be anymore signs of the elusive light. As I climbed up the final hill I caught sight of a mini-bus on the road above me. “Hope that's not the last one.” At 15.30 I finally arrived hot and thirsty at the lighthouse. Just as I did so a man emerged from the cafe. He said. “ If you want the bus you'd better get on, this is the last one”. I didn't even get time for a cup of tea. I stayed the night on the campsite in Durness. Next morning it was pouring with rain, it rained all the way to home.    

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Spring time in the Cairngorms.

This winter has been a washout skiing wise, I've managed some good walks but only had three days on skis. So it was with some surprise when I set out at the weekend to find so much new snow. I parked at the end of the Glen Feshie at Achlean farm and headed up onto the Moine Mhor.

 Loch nan Cnapan, a nice place to camp in better weather. This was snow free a week before. 

 On the summit of Bod an Deamhain (The Devil's Point).
 Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir from The Devil's Point.
 Braeriach from Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir.
Old cornice on Cairn Toul.

I walked as far as The Devil's Point and back again 37.5km altogether.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Waiting for the snow.

A slow start to the season, it's just been far too mild so far.

 This was on New Years Day at Badaguish but the snow only lasted a few hours.
 Two weekends ago we had a bit of a dump, most of the snow was blown off the summits and landed down in the valley. I had a good day XC skiing in Glenmore forest with friends, the next day it poured with rain and washed all the snow away but it was good while it lasted.  

 Another photo from New Year Pam on Meall a Bhuachaille.
I had tentative plans to walk to Ben Avon and camp this weekend but it's blowing a gale, hopefully the start of something good. If conditions become good enough I'd like to do this trip as a ski tour, maybe even bivi in a snow hole. That would be good.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Sarek, Europe's last Wilderness.

 In truth there isn't much to Kvikkjokk, a campsite, a heliport, a church, a few houses and the Fjällstation that's about all. Hard to imaging I'd just taken two days, three flights, a two hour train and a four hour bus journey just to get here. I stayed all of five minutes just long enough to send a quick text home adjust my pack, get my bearings and go.
 I started off on the Kungsleden a marked trail that threaded a way through thick forest, well used and misused campsites just off the path. From the thick forest into an open wooded area of bogs and lakes, wide views of the hills ahead. The first river crossing, over twenty in all, boots off running shoes on trousers rolled up. Still higher a moorland zone dwarf willow and alder colourful flowers and reindeer lots of reindeer. Another river this one a wild raging torrent, a huge snow patch had bridged it but that had collapsed a few day before. Took me all morning to walk to the tarn at it's head here at last I could cross, evidence of recent glacial retreat all around.
 Back on the trail, over a ridge and down into the next valley, Njoatsosvágge – more river crossings. Up again into the Alpine zone this time, ridges and glaciers and moraine and bare rock. Jaw dropping Sáitaris and Ryggåsberget rise about a desolate plateau devoid of vegetation and nowhere to camp. Snow in the night and a blizzard by morning.
 Retreat to the valley and soaked crossing another river, lost my footing and fell in. The sun came out and I dried off walking along past the Njoatsos lakes. Another day and another river to cross, this one slow but deep. Feeling somewhat self concious, stark naked with a rucksack balanced on my head, I slowly waded in, the water came up to my chest. The next one was wild wide and fast white water, thigh deep and frightening. This took me to the Álggajávrre (jávrre = lake), I needed to be on the other side this meant crossing the out-flowing Miellädno river. On the map there's a bridge but it's not there on the ground, it's another 2.5km downstream. The sign on the bridge, in Swedish naturally, is quite clear even if you don't read Swedish. It says something like “DO NOT USE, BRIDGE UNSAFE”. I crossed it anyway, it's not safe.

 It finally stopped raining and the sky cleared next day as I romped along the lovely wide flat bottom Álggavágge into the heart of Sarek. And then the stream no longer flowed towards me but away from me, down into the next valley. Another river, the Guoperjåhkå, on my left flowed into the valley and further along I could see yet another, the Smájllájåhkå, where they all meet marks the start of the Rahpaädno river. The Smájllájåhkå enters the valley through the spectacular 2 – 300m deep Skárjá gouge.

 You hear the roar of the waterfalls long before you can see down into the gouge. It looked like a huge curtain of rock was hiding the river from view except for a tiny gap in the curtain where thousands of tons of water spewed out in a massive horizontal spray. Further upstream a waterfall had bored a hole through the rock leaving a great Gothic arch above and a boiling foaming cauldron of whitewater below. Still further upstream the whole river is forced through a narrow slot in the ground barely 5m wide, over this slot is the foot bridge.

 From Skárjá the path such as it is contours high above the river, above the treeline in the moorland zone. There are no made up or marked paths in the park, only the passage of others leaving a trail to show where they went. Ahead the view was of the wild river meandering around the foot of Låddebákte mountain. Behind of the sparkly white snow covered peaks. At Låddebákte the trail leaves the river and short cuts the big meander. Winding a way over and under huge rocky crags and zigzagging across steep scree slopes before climbing up to the beautiful Snávvájávvre set in a high Alpine meadow. Looking back at Skårvatjåhkkå a peak across the valley, a glacier spirals down it flanks. Running down the middle of the glacier is a ridge of lateral moraine, a moraine of bright red Iron ore.

Descending back to the river next morning a moose wades across a small lake on the far side. As I enter the woods the temperature soars well into the mid 30°C, not what you'd expect in the Arctic. Once in the woods the path became something far more abstract, you'd be following it all nice and dandy one minutes only for to disappear under a thicket or into a bottomless bog the next. This was a real wildwood it grew or didn't grow as it pleased no regimented lines of uniform trees here. When trees died they just fell, dead wood lay in heaps everywhere covered in the biggest most colourful fungi I think I've ever see. The river had obviously changed course many many time over the years as old dried up channels and ox-bow lake were all over the valley floor. The contrast between the serene pools and the thundering rapid of the river was stark.

I camped that night beneath an old nunatak called Lulep Spádnek right on the bank of the river. As the river was quite low at the time I was able to walk out near to the the middle of the channel and sit watching the flow until the mosquitoes drove me back behind the mesh of the tent. Next morning the path again did it's disappearing act so I returned to the river to walk down it dry banks. Only this time I found tracks. Two animals, one large and one smaller had wandered down the river turning over stones and digging in the sand. They were members of the dog family but domestic dogs aren't allowed in the park, and I didn't see anyone for the three day I was in the valley, but there are wolves. Not many, they're very shy and wary of people, they're as often as not shot at.

Further downstream is another nunatak called Nammasj at it's foot on a sandspit in the river sits a post with a plastic bucket on it, in the bucket a radio. I call Sonja-Ann for a pick up but she says she can't get up to Nammasj as the river is too low, so I'll have to walk. Below Nammasj the river enters the delta before flowing into Lájtávrre. On the north side of the delta is Skierffe who's south face rises in a spectacular 600m shear rock face. A mornings bushwhacking and I was standing on top of Skierffe. Peering over the edge the delta spread out before me, it looked like some abstract painting all blues and greens and other worldly quite fantastical. East of Skierffe is the Lappish village of Aktse on the shore of Lájtávrre, and it was here that I picked up the Kungsleden once again. This meant bridges over the rivers, board-walks over the bogs but also other people. Somehow after the solitude and wildness of Sarek I really resented having to share with others. Although once across Lájtávrre we were soon spread out and I didn't really see anyone again. I could have made Kvikkjokk in one long day but my bus/train wasn't for another two day so why rush. Mostly the walking was in thick forest and heavy rain but I was used to that by now.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Getting ready for Sweden.

Less than two weeks to go now getting very excited, I've more or less sorted out what's going in my pack and it weighs just under 18kg. Only thing to add to that is gas once I get to Lulea as you can't take it on aircraft. I'm taking a few things that I wouldn't normally carry, the most important being a Delorme inReach SE tracker so I can let people know where I am and that I'm alright. To charge this I've a small solar panel and a backup battery powered charger, these can also charge my phone. There's no phone signal out in Sarek but I can connect my phone to my inReach which makes writing/reading text messages much easier than using the tiny screen on the inReach. I'll also be using my phone as a GPS this time. I'd normally use a Garmin but the Garmin maps for Sweden cover the northern half of the country and cost £180, a bit overkill for what I want. Viewranger do a free map of the main Sarek Peak and £5 worth of tiles covered the rest of my route, quite a saving. On course I'll be taking paper maps as well, these are at 1:100 000 scale and printed on some very flimsy paper so I'm taking two. 
There are only a couple of bridges in an area about half the size of Scotland so I'm expecting to have to wade quite a lot. To help with this I'm taking a pair of fell running shoes, the idea is to take my boots, socks and possibly trousers off wade across wearing the running shoes and putting the dry stuff back on once across. The fell shoes will dry out much quicker than boots. My sleeping bag is now 25 years old and not as good as it once was, so I've got a new one which is slightly warmer than the old one. Actually the weather and temperature over there has been better than here in Scotland over the last couple of weeks. 
As I'll be solo there's not much point in taking rope and harness and I'm not going to carry an ice axe or crampons. Which means I'll have to keep off the glaciers and stick to the ridges but I think I'll have plenty to climb even without them. I'm still in a bit of a quandary as to which camera to take, I've a DSLR but it weighs a whooping 1.5kg, or I've a small waterproof compact, very light but doesn't have a very good lens. I did think about getting a small bridge camera but decided I couldn't afford it. So I think it will be the compact and accept that I won't get many stunning photo's.    

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

A bit of a road trip.

It's been a busy couple of weeks, first I went down to North Wales to visit my oldest sister Jenny. I spent three day with her and her partner Martin. Then I went over to the Bowline climbing club hut at Brynrefail near to the north end of Llyn Padarn. I had a nice walk around the lake, brought myself some new rock shoes and then managed to hit my head on a rock whilst bouldering on Lion Rock. I ended up with a nice red cut on my scalp, silly old fool. Next day I drove up to the Pen y Gwryd hotel and set off around the Snowdon houseshoe. Once-upon-a-time I'd have run it but this time it took me all my energy to walk it - it was an incredibly hot and humid day - well that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. 
After that I drove on, down to Devon in the deep south to my youngest brother Pete and his wife Ro. We walked up Ridders hill saw a very recently born Dartmoor foal and went climbing on the Dewerstone. Only the heavens opened just as we started pitch two of Colonel's Arete, lucky it was an easy climb.
Next day it was back on the road again, all the way back up to Scotland. A day at home and on up to Dundonnell for a friends birthday party at the Smiddy. Only I didn't quite make it, my car broke it's cam belt about five miles short of the hut. I won't bore you with the details but eventually the car went home and I did get to go to the ball. Three of us had a lovely walk and swim in the Fannich before the rest of the guests arrived. Then seven climbed An Teallach on a glorious day, the third time I've done it but the first time I've had any kind of a view from the top. Some of us found it easy, some found it hard someone thought they were about to die, but we all made it all the way around and had a lovely evening back at the hut.