Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Winters Trip To Scotland February 2014

I have waited a few days before writing my account of my latest trip to Scotland. I had planned on a fairly lengthy stay of 11 days but I'm afraid I only lasted a total  of five. In truth I had been in two minds about going in the first place. Kevin wasn't going and the weather forecast was pants and I couldn't generate any great enthusiasm for the journey. The saving grace was that I was to finally meet Craig Coid, the gentleman who found my camera on Ben Nevis several years ago and get to spend a few days with Patrick Price with whom I had had such a great time in Torridon last year. I hummed and hawed and prevaricated and eventually decided to give it a go. Once I had made up my mind I started to feel better about going and by the Friday morning I was looking forward to the off.

Friday  and Saturday Feb 21st & 22nd;

Once again I was taking the long way there and I left home at 11.15 to catch the 11.40 train to Dublin. Then the ferry to Holyhead followed by another train to Crewe where I caught the Caledonian Sleeper at 23.40 which saw me arrive at Crianlarich at 07.40 on Saturday morning. I was pretty tired to say the least and fighting the effects of a head cold and my mood wasn't greatly improved when I emerged into an overcast wet and windy morning. I was booked into the Inverardran House B&B which was nearly a kilometers walk away but there was nothing for it but to set off. Thankfully the rain eased and I didn't get too wet on the way. I was let into the entrance hall by the very pleasant proprietor and I simply dropped my big wheelie bag and set off with my rucksack and headed for a climb of Ben More. So off I set along the road in the direction of Benmore farm about two kilometers along where the route starts. I could see up to about 900mtrs before the mountains became enveloped in the scudding clouds. The snowline was down to about the 600mtr contour and from what I could see, everything above that was liberally covered. It was fairly mild as well and the nasty blustery showers didn't promise to turn to snow any time soon. Upon reaching the farm the way ahead is pretty obvious. There is a wide track that wends its way up the steep hillside which I duly followed until it contours around into Benmore Glen on the right and here I left it and just put the head down and took a direct line upwards. Ben More rises steeply and majestically skywards right from the shores of Loch Lubhair and soars unbroken to an impressive height of 1174mtrs. After all the travelling and despite the weather it felt good to be out and exercising my stiff limbs. The wind, especially in the showers was quite strong and I didn't have any illusions as to how strong it would get as I gained height. At around the 500 mtr mark I reached the first of the snow and it didn't take long to decide that it was best avoided for now as it was sugary and soft and made upward progress quite difficult. Soon enough this was no longer an option but thankfully once I reached the 700 mtr mark I was no longer sinking deep into the snow yet crampons were not yet necessary. I climbed on and by the time I got above the 800 mtr contour the snow started to firm up nicely and I was at the point of deciding that axe and crampons were a good idea. Unfortunately it was also at this point that the terrain becomes more of a defined ridge and the speed of the wind increased substantially. Where up to now I was merely being buffeted about suddenly I was literally being blown sideways. I would take a few steps up and then be whipped four or five to my left, up a few more and so on. This was just about ok here where there was a broad simple slope on my left and the snow was still fairly soft but soon the snow would be hard and the terrain even more defined and I reasoned that then things would be untenable so I turned about and headed down.
Looking back to the start of the route

Ben More is up there somewhere

I was disappointed but not surprised as that was the forecast and I hoped to be able to give it another go in a few days. The twin peaks of Ben More and Stob Binnean had often caught my eye on previous trips to the area. In winter they form a dramatic backdrop as you look south from Tyndrum and I have heard them referred to as the "Castor and Pollux" of Scotland and I have to say it is an understandable analogy. It was a bit frustrating to be so near and to be repelled but if it was too easy I guess there wouldn't be the same satisfaction in climbing them. I wasn't long making my way down and I was back at the B&B at 11.30 and relieved to find that my room was ready and I could get out of my sodden clothes. A fine big spacious room allowed me to spread out my stuff and the hot bath was a glorious luxury. I wasn't too worried about how I would spend the remainder of the day as I quickly snuggled up under the duvet to catch up on some sleep and at four pm I watched the excellent rugby match (except for the result) between England and Ireland. Craig had arranged for a friend and regular climbing partner of his to meet me the following day for a climb. Mark had contacted me and we were all set and looking forward to a day out except the weather forecast was appalling with torrential rain and gusts of wind up to 90 mph expected at 900 meters so we had to were forced to cancel. So with climbing out as an option I decided that I would go for a run instead.

Sunday February 23rd;

Its fair to say that the forecast wasn't wrong. During the night the rain was indeed torrential and the wind was loud in the nearby woods. Lightning was another addition to the mix but thankfully by morning things had eased -a little bit. I enjoyed an excellent and rather large cooked breakfast and retired back to my room to relax. I had formulated a plan to get the bus from the village as far as The Bridge of Orchy and run back along the West Highland Way. This was a total distance of 13 miles and I felt it would make a worthy outing for this bad weather day. The bus was to leave at 11.40 so I had over two and a half to kill. I decided to have a snooze for myself and next thing I knew was I woke to see that I had only 30 minutes left to catch the bus. Up and a quick sorting out of clothes etc and I was off jogging into the village. Thankfully the weather had eased further and there were some breaks in the rain and the wind had eased down a bit. I arrived at the bus stop but there was no listing of for a bus at the time I hoped. I hung around for ten minutes after the allotted arrival time but there was no sign of a bus. Not wanting to hang around indefinitely I had a quick change of plan and decided to run to Tyndrum and back a total of twelve miles. I found the access trail that would take me to the Way and set off.
From Kirkton towards Ben More

Ben Challom from Cononish

Beautiful woodland under Beinn Dubhcraigh

Beinn Chuirn

Looking towards Cononish

Ben Oss

Eis Aine in full flow

Cononish river flood

Straight away I was enjoying it immensely. The well made trail wound its way up, down and around , sometimes through the woods, sometimes across open ground and was always varied and interesting. Soon there were great views down to the very impressive River Fillan which was in full spate and flooding the valley below. I took it easy and wanted to enjoy the experience.  The wind and rain only added to the wild feel of the day. After crossing several burns ( most of which were thankfully bridged) the trail dropped down under the railway and then crossed the road and the river Fillan and then through Kirkton farm. Now the  rough trail way left behind and the way ahead was on good surfaced tarmac and farm roads. From here on through Auchtertyre farm and then back across the road for a damp run along the semi flooded riverside trail before once again entering the woods and finally arriving in Tyndrum. I like Tyndrum and have stayed here several times before. The By The Way Hostel is great and I would have stayed there this time but they were full. Anyway as I had arrived and was still feeling not too bad I opted to extend my outing and run out as far as the gold mine at Cononish. A gentle pull of seventy meters through forestry roads and after a couple of kilometers I arrived at the banks of the River Cononish. Here you are once again in wide open spaces and in fine clear weather the views in towards Ben Lui are stunning. Today it was a wild and windswept place and I still loved it even though I was now into the teeth of the wind. Soon enough I arrived at the farm and turned right and headed uphill to the mine and the real attraction here the beautiful waterfall called Eas Aine. The long steady pull soon passed and I found myself at the base on the thunderous cascade. At the top the falls drop in two vertical steps of about forty meters each before then tumbling through the gully for another seventy or eighty meters. Today I was seeing it at its most spectacular. It was a loud rushing fury that warned me to take care with every step as I climbed towards its base. I am reliably informed that in cold winters it freezes and forms one of the best ice climbs in the area. Now that would be a day out to remember. I lingered here a while and ate an energy bar before I turned and trundled easily back down and out alongside the river to rejoin the Way near Dalrigh. From here I retraced my steps back to the B&B. The weather was now improving and as I ran towards Kirkton farm I was treated to taunting beautiful views  towards Ben More. I was pretty tired by the time I arrived back and felt every mile of the seventeen or so I had done. There was a surprising amount of ascent?descent on the Way and when you throw in Cononish as well i reckoned I had had a total in excess of 700 meters done. Still once again a long hot bath went a long way to easing the aching legs. All in all I was well pleased with the day.

Monday February 24th;

I was really looking forward to today as I was finally going to meet with Craig Coid who four years previously had incredibly found a camera I had lost on the "Mantrap" high on the North East Buttress on Ben Nevis. I had lost it on the 18th of February and he had found it at the base of the Orion Face in the middle of April and incredibly, despite falling about 1000 ft and being exposed to the vagaries of a Scottish winter the camera still worked and by posting pictures from the memory card on West Coast Mountain Guides website we managed to get in contact and he returned it to me. We have been in contact since online and it was going to be nice to actually meet the man behind the Facebook profile. We had arranged to meet at 8am in the village and he was going to head to Glencoe and see what the conditions would allow us to do. The weather was once again a bit pish but thankfully the wind was relatively light so we should at least be able to venture onto the mountains. I walked into the village and he duly arrived at the allotted hour. A warm greeting ensued and I climbed into his cavernous four wheel drive and we were off. He was accompanied by his longtime work colleague, friend and now business partner Bill and straight away there was an easy chat and banter on the go. I was immediately at ease and enjoying myself and lets just say that humour fun and stories galore filled the day. One thing that was clear as evidenced by the number of avalanche slides and remnants we could see on the way was that our options for any technical routes were very limited and the boys used their considerable experience and opted for the Schoolhouse Ridge and Sgorr Dhearg.



Looking down to Ballachulish

A wee bit wintry on top

Do we go that way??

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Wonderful views on the way down

The bridge is thata way

Schoolhouse Ridge

After eventually finding somewhere that could accommodate Craigs HUGE vehicle ( sorry Craig, well you did say I was small and oh let just say, frequently brought up my penchant for losing cameras :o) ) we set off on our route. reasonable weather and great company ensured that the steep climb up towards the ridge passed easily. At first the ridge is broad but higher up it narrows and has a few steep and exposed steps. These are easily climbed and soon the subsidiary top of Sgorr Bhan 947 mtrs is reached. Here the surface is wind scoured and at times a bit icy but the short descent and steady pull up to Sgorr Dhearg 1022 mtrs is easily done without crampons. Here we overtook a quartet of climbers who were fully suited and booted with ropes, crampons and GoPro camera. We lingered very briefly and retraced our steps back to more sheltered ground above Coire Riabach where we had a well earned lunch. Here as we dropped just below the cloud cover we were treated to lovely views down to Ballachulish and Glencoe. Craigs encyclopedic knowledge of these mountains came once again to the fore as he pointed out where the iconic bridge in Ballachulish North should be as we came under the mist. The rest of the the route flew by and before long we were back at the car and changing into warm dry clothes. A nice coffee and pastry in the excellent cafe in Glencoe and we were on our way back through the incomparable Pass of Glencoe again. We stopped briefly to look into Coire nan Lochan and much evidence was to be seen of many avalanches. It was a good call by Craig and Bill to avoid the area entirely.
The irrepressible Craig Coid 

We drove back to Crianlarich where we enjoyed a nice meal in the well appointed Crianlarich Hotel. Conversation flowed and I learned some more about the two gentlemen. After both having lengthy and successful careers in the Glasgow police force they decided upon retirement to establish an outdoor recreation and adventure company with particular emphasis on working with the youth in the greater Glasgow area. Judging by the apparent full diaries they both had, the company "Simply Epic Adventures" was already a great success. It was a pleasure to meet Bill who had a warmth about him as great as his stature and Craig was a delight whose wit and conversation ensured that I look forward to meeting him more often in the future. So we said our goodbyes and I retired to my room for the evening. I checked the weather forecast for the next four or five days and unfortunately there was no reprieve on the horizon.

Tuesday February 25th;

I awoke to another poor weather day. A strong wind and heavy rain swept across the landscape and my hope of giving Ben More another go were once again dashed. I had absolutely no phone coverage in the area and my only communication with people was via Facebook or email. I was to meet Patrick on Wednesday evening but I wasn't sure where or what time and the emails I had sent hadn't yet received a reply. I also had to leave my B&B this morning and with the weather so poor I was at a loss what to do for the day. I had planned heading to Fort William that evening and perhaps climbing Ben Nevis Wednesday morning but I suppose it may have been the uncertainty or the weather or the fact that I just felt weary but I decided to cut my losses and return home that day. I was booked on the sleeper train out of Inverness on Sunday evening but rather than spend another couple of days tooling about and with such a poor  forecast the very real likelihood of not getting any climbing done in Torridon either, I took the train as far as Oban where I could change my booking and booked myself onto the sleeper train that left that evening from Fort William. I managed to get a text away to Patrick and another email and I returned on the next service to Crianlarich where I got the next service to Fort William. I had a few hours to kill here and as I walked along a rainy highstreet in this dreary place I was relieved that I would soon be leaving it. It was such a relief to finally board the train and I rocked and rolled through the night before alighting in Crewe at 05.30 Wednesday morning. Another train to Holyhead and a three hour ferry trip saw me finally board a train in Dublin at 13.00 and arrive home at 15.30. I had been on trains for a total of 17 hours out of the previous thirty plus a few on a ferry so it was no surprised that I was wrecked. I had also picked up a sinus infection and also, throughout the following 24 hours I felt like I was still on the ferry as I had a slight dose of motion sickness. It was great to relax and now as I write this almost a week later I realise it had taken me a full five days to get back to my usual self. I do have one major regret though and that is that I feel I left Patrick down. After suggesting that we meet in the first place and he being kind enough to agree and be prepared to take a few days out of his busy schedule to climb with me I felt a deep guilt at leaving before we met. I hope he will forgive me and see fit to join me for other adventures in the future. My biggest fear though was that I had lost my love for travel and the mountains. I had been so reticent beforehand and this time I found the journey tiring rather than exciting. Usually I'm also not too bothered by the weather. I will regather my energy and spirits and give myself a few weeks before I think about heading somewhere again. It had been wonderful to meet Craig and our day out was the highlight of the trip. Anyway all is back to normal and I will wait and see what the future brings.

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