Sunday, 12 July 2015

A walk in the Rain. Part 1.

The bus ride up to Sheil bridge was very boring and the campsite very full and noisy. I pitched up drank tea, cooked, then went for a walk. I checked out the start of tomorrows route then back to the tent and to bed. I was away by 07.00 next morning, around by the shore of Loch Duich, at sea level, around to the turn off for Morvich. Following the faint path beside the first cottage on the left. It lead onto a more prominent track, zigzagging steeply up. This lead on to a long “V” shaped valley, the path ran up the valley but the first sister was up to the left, no path just steep heathery slopes. Up I go, as I reach the top of Sgurr na Moraich (1st sister) the clagg descends, I push on to the bealach, the path coming up the valley comes to here. Would it have been easier to come up this way, dump the pack and shoot up to the first sister unencumbered? Who knows. The second sister, Sgurr nan Saighead, comes and goes. Then the first big one Sgurr Fharan (1067m), I needed to use my hands here just for the odd move walking poles left hanging by their straps. On top check the map, check the compass. On the way down I meet my first other walkers going the other way. Sgurr na Carach, meet two young women on top both very fit, both beautiful I found myself wishing I was young and fit again. Voices in the mist on the way up the last of the sister Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, three people appear. French, a man and two women they too are looking for somewhere to camp. It was getting late, I'd been in the mist all day, my eyes were getting tired the pack heavy. I crossed Spaniards peak (Sgurr nan Spainteach) to tired to notice, certainly to tired to think of the events of 1719.
I checked the GPS a mile to go. Bealach an Lapan at last (Bealach = col) the blue SMC guide says that this is a good place to camp, doesn't look good to me. It's a ridge if it don't slope to the left it slopes to the right. I dump the pack and head off down the Glen Sheil side hunting for water, and straight away find myself on vertical sphagnam mosse, I had to go a long way down to find the faintest of trickles. I pitch up on the sloping Bealach, tea and food only I can't eat, I forced down three spoonful's and throw the rest away. It was a cold windy wet night, I kept rolling downhill pushing the inner tent onto the fly, my sleeping bag was getting wet.

Without my glasses on I looked to my watch, I'm sure it said 07.00 so I got up, dressed and started making porridge, next time I look at my watch it's 04.10? It's light so I get up anyway, as I pack it starts snowing (two days off mid summers eve) by the time I set off it's settling. I stomp over Saileag seeing nothing wrapped head to toe in waterproofs, hat and gloves. As I approach the middle brother Sgurr a Bhealaich Dheirg there's a lightening in the mist then puff it's gone, it's wall to wall sunshine. “Wow what happened”? On top I shed unneeded layers, life suddenly feels so much better. Over the last brother Aonach Meadhoin and its little side peak Sgurr an Fhuarail then down 500m down to the Bealach a Choinich. There's a spot it's flat, it's level, it's well drained it lays between glacier worn slabs. There's a breeze so no midges. I dry my bag as I brew tea, this is better. Clear sky's during the day lead to cold nights and it was cold. Twice I got up in the night to put on more cloths, I had all my spare cloths on but was still cold. It was mid-summer and I'm wishing I'd brought my winter sleeping bag.
Day three, another day another peak, Ciste Dhubh. Steep zigzags up wet boggy slopes level out and lead onto a sharp airy ridge that in turn leads to the summit about a mile away. As I take off my pack at the summit I turn and see someone behind me “Oh, where did you spring from” we both say in unison, neither of us had seen the other and we were only 100m apart. He returned the way he came, I descended to the north, first down a ridge going north-east then I dropped off this into a wild Coire na h-Eiridh. There was a head of deer in the coire I was anxious not to spook them. I try to hug the right wall of the coire, they move off to the left of the coire. I move, they move, gradually we circle each other until I'm below them then they run back into the coire. Below me a fenced off enclosure, the contrast between inside and out is striking. Inside is so much greener, so much fresher looking. There are similar enclosures dotted around the Glen an attempt to return the glen to something like it once was. I skirt around the enclosure and cross the River Affric dry-footed. Camban Bothy lays at the watershed between Glen Affric and Glen Lichd, a posh two roomed affair with nice dry sleeping benches.

The rain returned in the night, hammering on the tin roof. It eased around 05.00 to a light drissel. The plan had been to climb Ben Fhada which was somewhere above me in the clagg but what to do in this weather? When I left the bothy it had more or less stopped raining, so I decided to push on, the track towards Glen Affric is a good one so I followed it to the foot of Ben Fhada's east ridge. This ridge faces the youth hostel at Alltbeithe so I was hoping there would be a path up it but if there was one I couldn't see it. The going on the lower slopes was very boggy and hard going up to around 800m where it levels off and becomes much more of a sharp ridge with a big drop of to the north (right) and a gentle slope to the south (left). At this point I meet a chap from Glasgow coming down from the summit, he'd climbed it from the other side and was heading for Camban. We decided we were both mad to be out in this weather as by this time it was raining hard again. He was the only person I meet in four days. I followed the edge around to the trig point the only thing to tell me I was at the top. How to get down from the top? There was a slight ridge going off to the north-east with what looked like a path going down it. Thing is it's not marked on the map and there are some big crags on the north side of Ben Fhada so the path could have lead to the top of a climb for all I knew. The map shows a path going down to the north-west so I set off to find it and straight away came to the edge of a big drop. I followed this first west then north-west and slowly it began going downward. I came to a bealach, I was only about a mile from Loch a Bhealaich where I planned to camp but there was no direct route down to it. I had to head in the opposite direction down off the ridge I was on into a coire on the west side, and then back over another bealach lower down; in all a detour of about 4 miles. Seeing a herd of Feral Goats at the bealach went some way to making up for the effort. It had been raining on and off all day so there was no chance of finding anywhere dry to pitch up, so I found the least squidgy bit of ground I could and it had to do.
Once I had my water bottle filled and was inside my little nest the weather wasn't really that important. I was dry and warm-ish and I could relax. The routine was pretty much the same each night, pull everything you need out of the rucksack. Blow up the mat and lay on it, things I don't need stay in the sack, that goes under the fly down by my feet out the way of the door. Dripping waterproofs go on top of the sack, boots next to the sack. Put the stove together and boil a pan of water for a brew. While that's heating check your feet, if your socks are wet (although at this stage of my trip they were still dry) hang them over the top of the inner tent and put dry ones on. I carry two plastic carrier type bags with me, if I need to get up in the night I put these on over my dry socks before I put my wet boots back on, that way my dry socks stay dry. In the morning the wet socks go back on. Once the water is boiled make tea then boil another pan full to “cook” the freeze-dry meal. The only way to carry fifteen days food is to use freeze-dry. They come in foil bags, you just add boiling water and eat it straight out the bag, so no washing up and your left with just the bag to carry out. It also means that I only need a small (0.5lt) pan thus saving a little bit more weight. After I've eaten I study the map for the next day, read, make notes etc. (When the weathers nice I can sit outside and take photo's, not that I did that much on this trip).

On the north side of Glen Affric is a long chain of hills from Toll Creagach in the east to Sgurr nan Ceathreamnhnan (please don't ask me how to pronounce that) in the west. I was camped below Sgurr nan Ceathreamnhnan. The great plan, dreamed up months before, was to climb up onto this ridge and follow it all the way to Toll Creagach. Then drop down to the north, cross over the dam at the end of Loch Mullardoch before exploring the hills on the north side of this Loch. Unfortunately the weather was just not sticking to the script, I had to switch to plan B. 

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