Sunday, 20 August 2017

Sarek Revisited.

Sarek revisited.

I must be getting something's right, this time I flew Edinburgh to Stockholm direct missing out the hell-hole that is Heathrow. Just enough time for a quick sandwich and on to Luleå. Bus into town, walk around the corner and into the outdoor shop to get some gas. Then on to the Hotel Comfort Arctic for the night. The hotel is opposite the train station, so after a leisurely breakfast I just strolled over and onto the Narvik train, I take this as far as Gällivare. Then four hours on a bus takes me to the fjällstation at Ritsem on the north side of the huge Ahkkajaure lake. This time it all went like clockwork everything was on time and the times on the tickets I had matched the times the train and buses were actually working to, unlike last year.
Next morning the lake was rough, waves breaking over the top of the little ferry that took me across to the tiny settlement of Anonjálmme, in reality just a collection of summer cabins. There were three of us on the ferry one guy in running kit with just a small day pack, he ran off as soon as we landed. Another guy with a very big backpack and myself. It was luck the other backpacker was there as I very nearly slipped between the boat and the quay, he managed to grab me. He was heading down the Padjelanta trail and planned to be in Kvikkjokk in a weeks time. I had twice as long to get there and no fixed route. Between Anonjálmme and the mountain of Ahkká a short but extremely powerful river flows into Ahkkajaure, the Vuojatadno. I often like to watch whitewater river and try and imagine how I could kayak it, trying in my minds eye to pick the best route down. But not this river, the volume of water was so huge the power so intense that I couldn't even see how anyone could survive it, luckily there is a bridge. Once across a little blond haired toddler comes running up to me chattering away for all her worth in Swedish, when I answered - in English – she looked horrified, turned on her heels and fled.

 So far I'd been following the Padjelanta trail but now I was going off piste, that trail went south-west from here but I was going north-east back to the shore of the lake. On the map there is a path marked but there's nothing on the ground. You just have to find your own way between the bogs and the dwarf willows and alders. It's only about three kilometres in a straight line but you can never walk in a straight line. Down by the lake the shore line only very vaguely resembles the map, the lake is dam controlled for hydro so the level goes up and down all the time. High above on this side of Ahkká there are two Corries each with an active glacier in it. The out flows from both come together and flows down through a short gorge before fanning out into a delta on the less steep lake shore. Getting across the various braids of the delta proved much easier than I'd imagined and I managed to get across them all dry footed. Once across I followed the stream up through the forest zigzagging around bogs and impenetrable thickets. Somewhere around the 900m contour just before the top of the treeline I find a nice flat, level and dry clearing. So I pitch up for the night, half an hour later the heavens open, it pours down all night. It was still raining next morning, I dallied over breakfast. The idea of coming this way was to climb Ahkká. From the hut at Ritsem I'd seen the amount of snow still laying high on the mountain so I knew I probably wouldn't get all the way up. I had hoped to at least get up into the upper Corries and get some photo's but now the visibility was around 100m at best. By mid-day I'd finally accepted that things weren't going to improve and pack up. If I couldn't get up the mountain I'd go around it.
I'd read that the moorland to the east of the hills was a good place to see wolves. Last year a pair had past by my tent in the night leaving footprints in the wet sand, but I've never seen them. I was trying to contour across the slope, something easier said than done. Go to low and you get ensnared in the willow thicket, harder to penetrate than a barbed wire entanglement. Get to high and it's all steep scree's and crags much of it snow covered. I spent a lot of time climb up hill only to have to descend again just a few metres further along. All the time the rain continued to fall, sometime in mid-afternoon I stumbled across a flat spot, probably the only flat spot I'd seen all day. A covenant stream flowed just a couple of metres away. In minutes the tent was up, water bladder filled, wet kit draped over the inner and the brew was on the stove. 
Last year I'd used my Tarptent Notch a very light tent which uses trekking poles as it's main supports. Mostly it was fine but there were a couple of nights where the weather was getting near it limit. What would happen if the weather was worse than last year? This year I'd switched at the last moment to my old but much stronger Macpac Ultralite. Being stronger unfortunately meant to was also heavier, a kilo heavier. The groundsheet of the ultra is much wider than on the Notch but because of the way the back of the tent slopes there's less usable headroom, something that with all the sitting out bad weather was beginning to grate. The rain didn't let up at all and it was now getting windy, I went to sleep thinking maybe it was a good decision after all. In the end it never got that bad and the Notch would have been just fine.
A couple of kilometres further on from my campsite I came to the end of the north-east side of Ahkká. A big black cloud sat on the mountain right down to about the 1000m contour. The floor of the valley to the south of Ahkká was at 900m, between the two I could just about make out the way ahead. On the valley floor was a string of shallow lakes and marshes, mostly snow covered and frozen. Dozens of streams were pouring off of the flanks of Ahkká, from tiny trickles to ranging torrents. Somewhere at the other end of the valley away in the gloom was a couple of tarns and a col that lead on to the next section of my route. I trudge on, felling a bit like Titus Oats, rain getting into my waterproofs down the neck and up the sleeves, wet snow soaking and freezing my feet. Eventually I pass the tarns and cross the col, on the other side I can't see much but know there's a wide valley down there somewhere. Again I pitch camp early feeling quite pissed off. Next morning it's still raining, I start to pack but think “Sod it” and un-pack again get out my kindle and spend the day reading about the Flannan Isles lighthouse disaster of Christmas 1901. I went to sleep to the sound of rain falling on the tent fly, I woke to silence. Either I'd gone deaf or it's stopped raining at last.
Now I could see, ahead of me were two big snowy mountains Gisuris, and Niják. From the valley between these two flowed a river, another one flowed down from between Niják and where I was where they joined together they formed a big wide turbulent whitewater river the Sjnjuvtjudisjåhká. Somehow I needed to get across this. Feeling much happier - san Goretex - I stroll down to the river and waisted a couple of hours trying to find the non-existence way across. Eventually I have to bite the bullet and hike the twelve kilometres down stream to the bridge and then twelve kilometres back up stream to get to a point two hundred metres away. It wasn't that bad, the sky was clearing it was getting warmer by the minute and the mosquitoes were still asleep. I'm concentrating on avoiding the boggy bits trying to find the easiest way through. I'm approaching the upper limits of the trees, all stunted, spindly, widely spaced birch trees and some dwarf willows. When I see something moving, something big, an Elk (that's a Moose to the Yanks) with massive antlers and a calf in tow is running towards me. I fumble with the camera, she disappears, then I see her peering out from behind some bushes. I raise the camera and she vanishes. How can that be? How can an animal half as big again as the average farm cow with great big antlers just vanish in such rubbish cove. I'm flabbergasted, I stand there scratching my head for a full five minutes but she long gone. I continue down to the bridge which is back on the Padjelanta trail, I've gone around in a big circle and am now only 15km from where I started. I go a couple of kilometres up the other bank before finding an idyllic camp. I spread all my wet things out to dry, set the solar charger up and for the first time on this trip sit out to cook and eat; bliss.
In the morning there were definitely more mosquitoes around, not enough to really bother, but definitely more than yesterday. When I crossed the river I also crossed from the Stora Sjöfallets national park into Sarek NP. The area between here and the Norwegian border is the Padjelanta NP just why they differentiate between the three I don't know on the ground their all just one big wilderness area. In Sarek there are no maintained paths and the few bridges there are are there for the Reindeer herders not walkers. Having said that the route up the south bank of the Sjnjuvtjudisjåhká is a popular route through the area so there is a faint path which makes the going a fair bit quicker. Soon I'm back opposite where I was trying to ford. There's an old Sammi hut here, made with a round base and a square top. The frame is made of logs with birch bark woven between the logs and then finished off with a covering of turf. Graffiti inside show a date of 1909, back then I think the Sammi were still nomadic. The wind has eroded away much of the turf leaving the frame exposed to the elements. It looked rather sad and forlorn, a monument to a bygone era.
That night I camped between Gisuris and Niják, again sitting outside the tent to eat but there's a few more mosquitoes about as it was getting warmer. There's a big ridge coming down from the summit of Gisuris down to a col just above where I camped then it goes up to a couple of small rocky tops. The big ridge is just a bit too steep and snowy to do alone and without ice axe etc. but the rocky peaks look much more do-able. I left the tent up and all the food and camping gear behind and set off with just a small day pack, oh the joy of not having that great big lump on your back. I quickly get onto the start of the ridge and look back at my little tent. Two people are standing near the tent, one goes up to it and bends down; then they leave. “Funny” I think, I guessed they were maybe checking whether there was anyone in the tent and was ok, but put it out of my mind and climb on. The two tops were just a little bit scrambley had to use my hands every now and then but mostly just a nice ridge walk. Big views to the south and west across Padjelanta all the way to the distant peaks of Norway, lots of snow that way. I Dropped off the summit down to a col between my peak and the main bulk of Gisuris, sidestepped the cornice and was back at the tent by mid-day. There on the grass by the tent door was a pair of binoculars, not mine, mine are Bushnell's these were Sliva. There wasn't much I could about them the couple were long gone. I can only assume they'd found them and thought they might be mine.
Ahead of me was a watershed, the river I'd come up – the Nijákjågasj – flowed back the way I'd come. The one I was approaching flowed away from me. It drain a large glacier bowl to the west (the right as I travelled) on the side of a mountain called Ruohtes. When the many braids of slit laden icy cold water came together they formed the Smájllájåhkå river. But first I had to cross each braid one at a time. None of them was much more than knee deep but the force of water against my leg was enough to keep me concentrating. After each crossing I had to empty the grit out of my shoes as it made walking painful. Just as I started crossing it also started to rain, just a shower, but it turned a lovely warm afternoon into a humid mosquitoefest. I tried camping by a large snow patch but it didn't really do much, I tried my head-net but it was far to hot under that. In the end I eat inside my cramped inner tent balanced on one elbow cursing the mozzies and wishing for a bigger tent. The route down the Ruohtesvágge (Rouhtes valley) following the Smájllájåhkå river is a popular one so the path was well worn and quick. Soon I was down at it's south end at the top of the truly amazing Skárjá falls, I try to video them but I'm no film maker. The falls drop about 200m over a kilometre down an often very narrow gorge, sometimes only 3m or 4m wide. At the bottom the Smájllájåhkå flows across a wide flat boggy valley floor, here it flows into another river – the Guohperjåhkå – together they now become the Ráhpa, the big river that effectively divides the park in two. Last year I'd taken the path down the true left bank of the river, this time I was going over to the pathless right bank, but first I had to get across. I followed the Guohper upstream for about 8km to a point where another river – the Algga – joins it. There's a good ford here I'd used last year. But this year the water was very high maybe a metre higher. Even though it was still early I decided to camp for the night and try early the next morning when water levels would hopefully be lower.
I was away by six and the rivers were much lower, the Guohper can up to mid–thigh, the Algga was only calf deep. The rest of the day was spent wandering up and down the steep hillside between the willow thickets and scree slopes. By six that evening I'd only covered ten kilometres on the map but what felt like three times that over the ground. The mosquitoes were now beginning to get bad and it was hot maybe into the lower thirties Celsius. I camped that night on a rocky promontory over looking the river 300m below, thinking it would get any breeze there was. Only there was no breeze to be had, it was however a great viewpoint. I spent a long time just scanning the valley looking for any sign of the abundant wildlife that is said to live here, didn't see a thing.
Again I was up early, I left the tent up and set off up the hill behind my camp. An hours scrambling saw me up the steepest section and onto an easy angled snow slope. The snow was even at this time of day very soft, but ok to walk on. Higher it gave way to scree, here I was meet by a pair of fat fluffy white birds with black streaks on their wings. They were very defiantly defending their nest site, chirping away at the top of their voices. I took their photo and moved away, later I found out they were Snow Buntings. The hill I'd climbed was “point 1354” it was just the end of a scree ridge that flanked a glacial cirque. At the head of the cirque was a peak called Skårvatjåhkkå, the climb up to this peak looked to technical to solo but I could follow the ridge up to the hill next to it, point 1658. The going was quite easy, alternating scree and easy angled snow patches. I was romping along, taking photo's and just soaking it all up when a movement to my right caught my eye. I only got a glimpse of it but the unmistakable silhouette of an Eagle soared by. I also saw a heard of Reindeer plodding purposely up the middle of the glacier. Just what were they doing up here? Across the glacier a crumbling rock outcrop on the side of Skårvatjåhkkå had laid down a long line of moraine right down the middle of the glacier, the rock was pure Iron ore and the moraine was bright red. From the top of point 1658 I was able to look down to the col before Skårvatjåhkkå and there were the reindeer laying down in the snow cooling off.
Next morning was the eight day in a row that was hot and sunny after the wet start I could hardly believe it. South of where I was camped the river Ráhpa goes through a big meander around the base of a hill called Låddebákte on the other bank. The path on that side shortcuts the meander by crossing a col on the other side of Låddebákte. Another river – the Sarvesjåhkå – flows into the Ráhpa on the apex of the meander. The whole area around the river bend has a very remote feel to it, there are no paths down here. This section would be the crux of the trip, I had a succession of rivers to cross and any one of them could turn out to be my Rubicon. The first couple of hours were idyllic wandering along in the sunshine, keeping just above the willows. I look up and there are not one but two eagles, White tailed Eagles, lighter than Golden eagles almost grey with very distinct white tails. Then I came to the stream that drained the glacier I'd been on the day before. There was an island of river gravel in mid-stream, getting to that was easy. The stream on the other side was something else. I loosened my pack straps and stepped in, leaning heavily on my walking poles I got about five metres across with only three more to go, I couldn't feel bottom with my pole it's too deep, I back off. Try again just down stream, no better. I walk upstream and come to the base of a waterfall that issues fourth out of deep gorge, no chance there. I walk downstream, I try again and again, still no luck. Then I'm down by the main river – the Ráhpa – there's a gravel bar just before the stream flows into the river, the ground is less steep here so the stream should be just a little slower. I inch my way across, there's still power in the stream but it's not threatening to throw me off balance, it comes up over my knees but no further.
On the other side I try to eat but the mosquitoes are out, and not just normal mosquitoes. Here were some super mosquitoes, about 2cm long with yellow stripes. At first I thought they were wasps but they don't sting they bite with a proboscis just like normal mosquitoes. Their bites were really painful like a clegg bite, they actually drew blood. The only escape is to keep moving. An hour later another glacier stream flowing into the Ráhpa, again there's a gravel bar just before it flows into the river. This ones deeper, but less powerful so is easier to cross. Still I'm mobbed by mosquitoes. Now I'm walking along right next to the river on sand and gravel out of the trees, making good time until I come to the confluence with the Sarvesjåhkå, which I followed upstream. The ground here is very boggy and the willows grow right up to the river banks, it feels more like the jungle than the Arctic. I find a ridge of river gravel, an old bank, it's dry and flat topped, I camped on it. The rain started just as I zipped up the tent and it lasted all night. I was therefore quite surprised to open up to sunshine in the morning, however everything was soaking wet, every bush, every leaf. I pushed on upstream looking for somewhere to cross, everything depends on getting over to the other side. On the other side two large streams flowed into the river, upstream of them the flow should have less volume, so should be easier to cross. That was my theory, but it didn't look like that from the bank. Then I came to a section where the river widened out into several braids, this had to be it. Normally I change my boots for trail shoes and roll up or take off my trousers for river crossings but now I was so wet with water audible sloshing about in my boots it didn't seem worth the effort. I just waded in, the first couple of braids went easily then I came to the main flow. About a hundred metres then a small gravel bar and then another forty metres, there was so much silt in the water I couldn't see the bottom so couldn't tell how deep it was. Straight away it was over my knee, then hip deep and finally up to my waist. The pressure against my legs was so strong I was being pushed backwards downstream with each step I took. Then I was being pushed back even when I stood still, the pebbles on the bottom were rolling under my feet. I couldn't stop where I was, I couldn't go back I was over halfway, so I kept going. I paused for breath on the gravel bar before plunging in again for the last stream, this was not quite as bad as the main flow. I was now on a big island mid-river, I couldn't see what was on the other side, luckily there was only a shallow backwater to cross. Despite the mosquitoes I sat on a rock in the sun for over an hour empting my boots, drying out and regaining some equilibrium, now I'd crossed the Rubicon there was no going back.
So, onward and upward. Climbing up through these natural forests is such a joy, seeing the vegetation change as you go up or down, so different from the man made woods in the UK. An hour later I'm at the timberline and making my way up into a long V-shaped valley. I'd crossed the river at about 600m, up at the head of this valley at 1400m there should be a pass into the next valley. There's no path, no sign anyone has ever been this way not even Reindeer tracks in the snow. I'm contouring steep scree slopes maybe 100m above the stream. It's a long straight valley but somehow I just can't quite see very far ahead, there's always a little rise blocking the view. Once you get to that rise there's another one just a short way ahead. Then there's snow bridging the stream, I kick steps up this “soon be there” I think, but each time I think this has to be the top there's another little bit to climb. By now the sun has disappeared and a cold mist descended, all the step kicking in wet boots had cooled my feet. I'm wriggling my toes trying to get some feeling back into them, “just where is the El Paso” I come to the end of the snow and it's all big blocky unstable scree, and then finally I'm there. No time to stop too cold for that. Down the other side, more blocky scree to wobble over. A couple of kilometres further I find a level-ish if not very flat patch of grass between two streams. In minutes I'm in my sleeping bag warming my feet.















More rain in the night and thick mist in the morning but it does start to lift as I pack. On one side the foot of a big glacier, on the other a rocky scree slope disappearing into the clagg. Somewhere down the valley around a corner out of sight a bridge is marked on the map, I head for it. Despite the colder weather there are still loads of mosquitoes the only way to avoid them is to keep moving. The valley floor is covered with moraines, not so long ago that glacier must have come all the way down. I climb over one moraine heap only to be meet with another, up down, up down. Still I can't see any bridge. I'm beginning to wonder whether it's been washed away, not unheard of around here. I climb another heap and there it is right under me. I'd planned to do another climb around here but not in this weather, so I had plenty of time. I camped just after the bridge even though it was still early. Next morning started with the last climb, just a few hundred metres over a saddle on the end of the mountain and then I'm looking down on the Sammi autumn cabins at Pårek. Beyond them the lakes and forest around Kvikkjokk. Once again I get soaked from walking through the wet forests but it doesn't matter now. I camped for the last time just a few kilometres form Kivikkjokk where my route meets the Kungsleden in a small clearing. And then the last walk down to the fjällstation and the end of the adventure.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

What I'm taking to Sarek.

This is not something I'd normally blog about but I was asked by someone on one of the forums what I take on my long walks so I thought I'd do something on my kit. This is what goes in my pack on top of what I'd normally wear. 

 Food, this is 15 main meals and 15 breakfasts I still need to get 15 mid-day snacks, I normally take flap-jacks/granola bars for this.
 My waterproofs,  a gore-tex Firefox jacket by Mountain equipment, 272g has been very waterproof so far. The trousers are Rainfall pants again by Mountain equipment made of Drilite, 300g, they have full length side zips so I can get them on over my boots, something I regard as essential.
 Extra cloths, a Rab Xenon jacket 323g, primaloft filled so it doesn't matter if it get a bit wet. A change of tee-shirt and pants, knee length long-johns could be either underwear or sleep wear. Three pairs of sock, fleece gloves and hat and a Tilly hat for keeping the sun/rain off me.
Some miscellaneous bits, My solar panel for charging my Inreach tracker (the yellow thing) and my phone which isn't on the photo. Map and compass, I have viewranger on the phone which I use as a GPS if required. A headtorch and first aid kit. My camera a Canon Powershot SX420 IS and a couple of spare batteries (their not compatible with the solar panel but only weigh a few grams each) and a very small ultra-pod mini tripod. A canister of Smidge a non deet midge spray and a headnet. A small swiss army knife, sun glasses and a tube of sun cream. a mini sawyer water filter, a two pin electrical adapter (only for Sweden) and a very small repair kit - spinnaker tape, glue and a few patches, needle and thread.    
 Kitchen kit, A gas cooker (minus the gas which I'll need to buy once in Sweden) a 0.5lt mug and a 0.5lt pan, the rolled up thing at the back is a foil windshield, a long handled spoon and a small tea spoon, a lighter and a box of matches in a plastic bag. A llt platypus hoser for drinking water while walking and a 2lt platypus water bladder for use in camp, I should have two of these for use with the sawyer filter, one for unfiltered water and one for filtered.
Wash kit, A folding tooth brush and a small tube of tooth paste, travel towel rolled up at the back. A razor and shave gel (not strictly essential but I really dislike having an itchy chin). The blue round thing is a folding bowl. Not shown is a roll of toilet paper and hand gel and a small block of soap but I think you know what they look like.  
My Rab Ascent 300 sleeping bag, good down to just under freezing and at 912g not too heavy. A Tarptent Notch single person tent very light at 915g uses trekking poles (not shown) as it's main support. A Therm-a-rest Neo Air lite sleeping mat 225g  
My Lightwave Ultra hike 60 pack, not too heavy at 1200g but more comfortable when carrying a heavy load than some of the ultralite frameless packs. A clip on mesh Exped "Flash pocket" useful for stuffing wet kit into and the blue thing is a pack rain cover - not strictly necessary but I like them. One item I've mist out is my pair of inov8 trail shoes that I'll be taking for changing into at the end of the day and when crossing Sarek's many rivers.  That's about it.

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.