Showing posts with label Hiking UK. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hiking UK. Show all posts

Monday, April 15, 2019

A return to Snowdonia

I have been doing a fair bit of running, my usual hiking and I've even tried to fit in a  few visits to Awesome Walls in Cork so I had hoped to be in better shape for a bit of rock climbing. With that in mind I answered a shout from a guy on UK Climbing for a partner on "easy stuff" in North Wales for Saturday and Sunday April 6th and 7th.

I had a long weekend off work so I decided on the easier option of travel this time and caught the afternoon ferry from Dublin to Holyhead. I had intended to camp at the excellent Platts Farm in Llanfeirfechan so it was with some disappointment I discovered en-route that it was booked out. I opted instead to stay at a cheap hotel in Bangor and it was still nearly dark when I checked in. I think the overnight ferry is probably just as easy.

Saturday April 6th;

Craig Condie met me on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning and he had decided to do Amphitheatre Buttress. I have done this a few times before and I was delighted at the choice and reasonably confident I would be able to do it. I didn't have a map and neither did Craig so our first problem was to find the right road to the car park near Llyn Eigiau. Now I know I have been there before but I have a less than perfect memory and using mobile phone maps and my dodgy recollections we went wrong and found ourselves going up from Trfriw, turning around and finally heading up the correct lane from Tal y Bont. Alas we took a left turn higher up and ended up at the small reservoir at Coedty. Oh dear it wasn't the most auspicious start but on the plus side it was a gorgeous morning and the snowy mountains looked wonderful. I had been a bit taken aback by the amount of snow that was still on the mountains and I wondered if rock climbing would be possible but I reckoned that a buttress like the one we were heading towards should be snow free and provide a good adventure.

Parking where we did added a couple of kilometres to the walk in and we made another mistake in crossing the bog to reach the correct car park rather than stay on the track we were on. Lets just say that this was energy sapping and was more akin to post-holing  through crusty snow than anything else. Finally we were on the correct route and we gladly hot footed it into the spectacular valley. Around into Cwm Eigiau and past the old disused mine and the route looms dead ahead. Snow now lay on the ground and after the steep climb to the base of the route we geared up and readied for the fray.
I started up the first pitch. Starting at the very bottom the first few moves are fingery and slabby and the wet snowy soles of my boots didn't inspire confidence but it isn't difficult and I was off. I soon reached the corner where you have to move left onto the continuing slab. I have always found this difficult and stepping off snow onto the slab I found too daunting so I asked Craig to have a look instead...oh dear. He climbed up to the corner and found the hand hold that is higher up above the corner (which I cannot reach) and he was up. He finished off the pitch and I followed up. I wasn't climbing well but I was okay. Craig continued up to the base of the slab pitch but he couldn't figure out the start so I joined him to have a look. I found the start (on the right side) and I was off. This is a superb pitch with continuous interesting top quality climbing and while I was not really comfortable I got up to the top and brought Craig up. Next comes the crux pitch and I led this as well. I was less than stylish but I got up it and again Craig followed me. We moved together until we reached the "pinnacle" pitch and again I went first across this short but interesting little arret. Again we moved together until we reached the next awkward step which I just couldn't figure out. I knew there was a stretchy step but I wasn't spotting it so Craig again took over. He was just out of sight when he made the moves and climbed up but once I followed it was again a struggle for me and it was a disgraceful shuffling desperate couple of metres for me. Bollocks. Just below the top there was another step and once again I struggled there but once Craig went up I found the bomber hand hold that made it easy..another bollocks moment. I need to make a final decision soon on my climbing future.

Topping out to an alpine landscape

Back near the car in the evening light

 Anyway all that aside it felt great to top out into an alpine landscape and we were in great spirits as we enjoyed a late and well deserved bite to eat. We descended back to the valley via Bwlch y Marchog and hot footed it back to the car. It was nearly 7pm by the time we were back and Craig then dropped me around to the campsite at Capel Curig. Craig had been a real gent throughout the day and is excellent company and a fine climber and while there was a half hearted agreement to see each other the following day, I wasn't expecting much after my poor performance and frankly it would be a relief if things ended there. Besides I was too tired to be too bothered as it was 8.30pm by the time I was cooking dinner and I went straight to bed when done. A long excellent sleep followed.

Sunday April 7th;

After a fine sleep I emerged into another promising weather morning. While it was cloudy on the tops there were patches of blue sky about. I was full of aches and pains from having used muscles yesterday that were obviously sorely underused and feeling a bit sorry for myself as well, as once again I had to deal with my increasing lack of climbing skills. I hadn't heard from Craig so I decided to walk from the campsite to the Glyderau plateau. The cloud hung at around 700 metres but I was hopeful that things would clear. Leaving the village past the new Joe Browne shop ( the old Pinnacle Stores shop is gone) I crossed the stile at the farm and headed up the craggy ground towards Cefn y Capel. The next couple of kilometres are very boggy and then you climb steeply for nearly 300 metres towards the twin topped Gallt yr Ogof. Now I was in the cloud and visibility was absent and once again I was bemoaning the fact that I hadn't brought any maps. I followed the trail over Y Foel Goch and here there was some snow cover that made following the trail more difficult. I was on the point of turning back when the cloud lifted and like Saul on the road to Damascus I was shown the way.
A cloudy start


The view towards Snowdon


On the 200 metre pull to the summit plateau I tried to avoid the slushy snow patches where possible and progress was steady. The other good thing was the weather. Clearances became frequent and by the time I was at the top of the rocky almost alien landscape of Glyder Fach it was mostly clear most of the time. I decided to continue on to the summit of Glyder Fawr and by then I was mostly in sunshine. What a treat it was, with this gorgeous otherworldly landscape looking great and now expanding views to the other mountains nearby coming into view. The views across to Snowdon from the top were a delight. As it was now so nice and having missed out on the views as I ascended I decided to return the same way to the campsite. Back near YFoel Goch the vista of Tryfan (clearly very busy) and Bristly Ridge rising to Glyder Fach was a real treat and of course the glory of the Snowdon Horseshoe also drew the eye. It was warm and sunny all the way back and another senior moment was the fact that I also had left the sunscreen back in my tent. I got a good scalding. Back down and a good shower and change of clothes went some way to restoring me and after a refreshing cuppa I hitched into Betws for some provisions (Pinnacle Stores is missed). A very pleasant evening ensued and my spirit was restored.

Monday April 8th;

I wasn't sure what I was going to do today, whether to head home early doors or go for a hike. The weather forecast was uncertain and promised cloud and rain in the afternoon but when I emerged from my tent it was pretty good with some high cloud but plenty of clear skies as well. I decided to head for the Pen y Pass and do the Snowdon Horseshoe. I was too early for the bus so I walked into the village and hitched a lift towards the pass. I quickly got a lift as far as the junction near the hotel. I walked from there up the path as far as the pass and then joined the hoards. It was cool and a little breezy but the cloud seemed to be lifting and Crib Goch was in full view. I enjoyed the scramble to the summit but it was disappointing that the cloud arrived as I neared the crest of the ridge. The wind was quite strong up here as well but it wasn't buffeting so crossing the ridge was fine. I enjoyed the pinnacles as usual and some of the best climbing is reserved for the final slopes before you reach Garnedd Ugain. With only the very occasional breaks in the cloud there was no reason to stop and I turned and rejoined the masses once I reached the track that comes up from Llanberis. The summit of Snowdon was the usual massing of hikers of all ages and abilities and I quickly passed beyond it so as to find relative peace for an early lunch. I was very conscious of my lack of a map and in the clag and with some snow laying about I decided not to try and find the correct continuation path and instead returned to the pass via the Pyg track. I walked back down the path to the Roman Camp and once again tried my hand at hitching back to Capel Curig. No joy this time but I was able to catch the bus anyway. It was a little disappointing not to complete the horseshoe but Crib Goch is always a pleasure and is ample compensation for missing the rest. The only pity is that Snowdon itself is so so busy. Don't go there expecting solitude.

I enjoyed a relaxing couple of hours back at the tent before beginning the long journey home. Three days in one of my favourite rain...some excellent rock climbing (at least an excellent route) and getting sunburned on the is good.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Nine Days on the Cape Wrath Trail...A Variation.

With Winter having suddenly disappeared from the Scottish mountains and the much looked forward to chance to climb with Craig and Patrick no longer possible I found myself with a quandary...what to do??.
Well it wasn't too much of a brain buster and ultimately the decision was easy..I would return to the Cape Wrath Trail.
It was in April 2017 that I started in Strathcarron and hiked for five days
... . It was a superb experience and I was keen to explore further this fabulous trail.This time I was heading north.

Saturday February 23rd;
I did my usual train..ferry...train×4 and finally reached Strathcarron at 19.55 Saturday evening. The weather all the way had been excellent until I passed Garve when rain started to hit the windows of the train. My plan was to reach the bothy at Coire Fionnaraich that night so it was disappointing to have to face a two hour trek in the rain as well as the dark. Ah well it couldn't be helped. I was a little apprehensive about reaching the bothy but there seemed to be a good track all the way so I was hopeful my penchant for losing trails wouldn't surface tonight. It was pitch dark, windy and raining lightly as I left the train so I fully suited up and after a final check on the map I was off. Several hundred metres on the road before I crossed over the river and found the trail. It was a delight as it ran alongside the river and was nice easy going. The rain had stopped and I could see stars above. It felt great to be finally on the move. My torch caught two deer as they bounded across the path just ahead. I think just emphasised the fact that I was entering wilder country.
The track was supposed to go directly to a place called Coulags where I would cross a road and climbed to the bothy. Instead I  reached the road about a kilometre before there but again after checking the map I found the correct place okay. The trail rose gently along an estate road initially before becoming a well made mountain path that was easy to follow. I reached the footbridge and crossed the river and I knew I was nearing the bothy. Shortly after that I saw candlelight in two windows up ahead and it beckoned me on. I entered the room right of the front door at 22.00 It had been a two hour walk and I felt I was after making the most of the limited options for today. There was a couple already there and more asleep upstairs and in the other downstairs room. The couple were heading to bed themselves so I had the room to myself almost immediately. The place was clean and in fine condition and the multi fuel stove was glowing with a fine coal fire. What a treat. I slept very well.
 8 kilometres--200 metres ascent--2 hours

Sunday February 24th;

People started stirring at 7 am so I started packing up my stuff so as to allow room for the others. I could have done with some more sleep but I had a big day in front of me so it was best to be off early. It was a glorious morning and clear skies and little breeze greeting me when I left the bothy. I got a bit of a shock when I tried to use my camera and fount it was dead. I changed the battery but to no effect. Damm and bugger. It seemed that it would be down to the phone to capture any pictures. I tried again a few minutes into the hike and after a few "gentle" taps with my hand the camera sprung to life 馃槉. The walking is easy on a good track at it rises towards Bealach Ban. Sgorr Ruadh (962 metres) rose on the right hand side but my eye was drawn more and more to Maol Chean-Dearg (933 metres) whose northern flanks were an elegant delight. After passing the mirror like Loch Coire Fionnaraich the trail turns right (east) and a rising traverse sees you reach the bealach. Up here at 550 metres there was a distinct chill and a stiff breeze so I didn't linger as I was anxious anyway to see the glories of Liathach and Beinn Eighe which lay ahead. Cresting the pass didn't disappoint and the fine wall of mountain architecture was suddenly revealed. At first glance it looks like one impenetrable wall but but closer inspection shows the gap that rises into Coire Dubh Mor. First off though I had to reach the road that crosses through Glen Torridon some six kilometres ahead.

The descent went well on an ever improving path until shortly after passing the Ling Hut you reach the road. Straight across and I joined the well constructed path up to the coire. Wow, where does the time go?. After climbing up to the 300 metre contour or so I had a dose of the munchies and stopped for lunch. I had been on the move for nearly five hours. As I climbed up I was reminiscing about the wonderful trip I had with Patrick Price all of six years before
Then we enjoyed pristine winter conditions and that trip confirmed my love for this most stunning of places. Today things were snow free and the temperatures were in double digits. Despite this the cliffs and coums of Liathach were still a spectacular delight and I paused often to look and soak it all in. Not that that was the only attraction. As I got in further into the coire the glories of Beinn Dearg, Beinn Alligin, Beinn a'Chearchaill and others rose like solitary Titans from the vast wasteland of Wester Ross that stretches for miles and miles to Poolewe. An eagle soared by Beinn Dearg and it just completed the picture of wonderful wildness. I followed the trail as it rose around the flanks of S谩il Mh贸r and climbed all the way to the lake where I could get a view of the Triple Buttress of Beinn Eighe. This added a couple of hundred metres to the climb but I reckoned it was worth it and I thought I could traverse from there around the flanks of Ruadh-stac M贸r and so rejoin my route. I was wrong. After traversing for almost a kilometre it became quite clear that I was heading into steep ground so I traversed back and down to about the 400 metre contour from where I was able to more easily progress. Not that progress was easy after that. Now the recommended wisdom is to stay up at the 400 metre contour while travelling here but this would mean a longer journey into the valley between Ruadh stac M贸r and Ruadh stac Beag. I tried but I guess I was sucked down too low and several torturous kilometres followed as I went up and down little ridges, around and back peat hags and crossed and re-crossed drains and rivers. It was exhausting, especially on the first full day while I was hauling nearly five days of food. Eventually I reached the pass between Creag Dubh and Meall a'Ghuithais and I found the track (yes a track, yippee) that led to Kinlochewe. The descent was long on tired legs but eventually I reached the little village and it's hotel and bunkhouse at 17.20. Nearly 9.5 hours out on the first full day. 30 odd kilometres and 1000 metres of climbing meant I was a tired boy. I'm not sure I needed the few pints in the hotel bar to help me to sleep but they didn't hurt 馃槒.

Monday February 25th;

A good nights sleep did wonders for my recovery and I was eager to be off this morning. It was a real luxury to have had the bunkhouse to myself last night and I was able to relax a little in the morning so I didn't leave the village until 08.15. The dry weather of yesterday had changed and clouds leadened the sky. It was dry for the moment but rain was forecast to arrive early doors and last until around noon.

The destination for today was the Sheneval Bothy near An Teallach which was said to be an easier day than yesterday but was still about 28 kilometres long and had 700 metres of ascent. An estate road led towards the Heights of Kinlochewe which is something of a misnomer as the height gain is minimal until after five or so kilometres you reach some estate homes and you turn left (north) and start climbing into the steeper glen "Gleann na Muice". The rain had long since arrived but I had donned the rain gear and as it was so mild I was quite comfortable and enjoying myself. The view back to the northern abutment of Beinn Eighe while on the walk in was stunning even in this weather, but I was looking forward to vistas new. Eventually the road reached a small hydro development and thereafter a good trail left the confines of the glen and the landscape opened out and levelled off. Slioch made for a great sight to the left and ahead some of the Fisherfield munros soared but everything else paled in my eyes when compared to the beauty of Lochan Fada. Even in the grey misty weather (or because of it) I found the scene simply delightful and my spirits soared as I stood and soaked it all in.

Now the trail is left behind and there is a 250 metre climb up across bog to the flatter ground above the rocky buttresses of Creag Ghlas Bheag. The weather was starting to play ball and the rain had stopped and patches of light (if not blue) sky were appearing. Up here at over 550 metres it had a real feel of being in the mountains and it was tempting to drop the bag and just keep going up. Sense prevailed and instead I made the easy descending traverse towards Bealach na Croise, A rough track appeared here and traversed around the slopes of Sgurr B谩n well above the glen floor before eventually reaching the river near Loch an Nid. I had been hoping that a footbridge might emerge here but the river was low and easily crossed. The trail continued for a fair while on the right side of the river after passing the lake until you reached the wooded valley floor where some old ruins are found. Good camping spots  are to be found here and if you have the energy you could take the estate road to Dundonnell. I turned and followed the trail alongside the river for a further few kilometres and eventually reached the famous bothy Sheneval. I reached it at 15.45 and I was delighted to find I had it to myself. It is beautifully situated under the southern slopes of An Teallach and not far from Loch na Sealga, The munro Beinn a Chlaidheimh (914 mtrs) rose across the valley but for me it was the Corbett called Beinn Dearg M贸r (906 mtrs) that was the eye candy and it looked to have the potential for some great winter climbs in its north facing coum. I watched an eagle glide across the valley and disappear behind the nearby crag and it was then I spotted some new arrivals. A triumvirate from Leeds had come to climb Beinn a Chlaidheimh the following morning. A very nice convivial evening followed and I went upstairs to bed at 21.30.
28 kilometres...700 metres...7.5 hours

Tuesday February 26th;

I emerged into a dry mild breezy morning with clouds shrouding the tops. Today promised to be an easier and shorter day if I didn't walk the road to Ullapool. The route starts climbing right from the door and rises beside the stream before traversing the flanks of S谩il Liath. Around 300 metres are gained before you reach the crest of the expansive shoulder. I had  been and perhaps stil was, toying with the idea of pitching my tent up here and travelling light do a traverse of the massif. It is without doubt one of the best outings in the UK, but I had always hoped that my first time on it would be in winter conditions and to be honest this morning, in the stiff breeze and with cloud shrouded summits it wasn't really that appealing so I decided to save it for better times. Decision made, I now looked forward to the rest of the day. I would now head as far as Inverael and from there make my way to Ullapool where a B&B would supply some welcome comforts. I met a guy coming towards me and he told me he was heading to join up with four of his mates who had spent last night in Sheneval as well. I must have slept better than I thought 馃槉. Anyway,  the trail became a track and a very pleasant descent followed town to Dundonnell. A short walk on the road and then I turned onto the lane to join the trail that headed for Inverael. I wasn't able to immediately find it so I just climbed directly up through the birch wood until I was out on open ground. Once there I was able to have a good look at the lie of the land and get my bearings and I was able to join the easy trail.

This was lovely gentle open undulating ground that offered expansive views in all directions. The day was actually after clearing up very nicely and all the mountains were now in the clear. This was a superb place to stop and look back at the glory of An Teallach. I must confess to having pangs of regret that I hadn't been a bit bolder and gong for the climb. Anyway the dye was cast now and I was determined to enjoy the rest of the day. And that was an easy task as I crossed the rolling moorland with the impressive Beinn Dearg (yes there are quite a few of them around here 馃槒) framing the skyline ahead. The trail became a little wetter as it crossed the ground near Loch an Tiomp谩n but then the descent arrived soon after and this was very pleasant in the sunshine. One thing that always strikes me is how little green is to be seen in the highlands. It has such a complete blanket of bog that when you do see some green farmland it stands out like a jewel. The farmland in the valley floor was a lovely and welcoming sight and I enjoyed my jaunt down a good track to reach it.While up high I had booked myself into the Riverside B&B in Ullapool ( and I had told them I would arrive between 3 and 4 pm...well when I reached the road at 13.15 it really didn't appeal to walk the 8 miles on busy tarmac so I stuck out my thumb and I had a drive from a young lady about 30 seconds later. She deposited be outside the B&B just after half past. The owner was great and allowed me to check in straight away and the superb shower was put to very good use. This left me plenty of time to relax and later explore Ullapool (lets face it it didn't take long. As the woman who gave me the lift said "it's all laid out in a grid, so it's a bit like New York but a bit less High Rise" 馃槂). She had also told me that the best fish and chips in town was at the small chippy nearer the ferry port and I can heartily recommend it. Excellent!.During the evening I was in contact with Patrick and we had formulated a plan to meet up at Loch an Doire Dhuibh on Thursday.

Wednesday February 27th;

The excesses of food and alcohol mustn't have been too bad as I felt quite good this morning. The good weather was set to continue for another few days and my bag was now loaded with six days food. The plan for the rest of the trip was to follow a route I came across online that went from Ullapool to Inchnadamph via Acheninver, Stac Pollaidh and Suilvan. Thereafter I would return to Ullapool via Oykel Bridge. I was booked onto the sleeper train to Crewe on Monday night so hopefully I had plenty of time. I was really looking forward to getting immersed in the wildest of Assynth and visiting up close some of Scotlands most iconic mountains.
Map 1

Map 2

Map 3

 It was a beautiful crisp clear morning as I left the busy little town and my spirits were high as I looked forward to the challenge/adventure ahead. The bag felt heavy but there was no big climb in the offing today. First up was the task of finding the trail that led to the open country. After crossing over the bridge the map suggests a trail just beyond the industrial estate and there was indeed a gate but things looked quite overgrown so I went further up the road to the bend and an entrance to the right led to a rough forest track that rose through the woods and eventually easily exited onto open ground. From there I went up to the shoulder of Beinn Guithais and just beyond that I reached a good track that led to the series of Hydro schemes and lakes. I then followed the road back down to the A835 and when it crossed the river I turned onto the little lane that headed west towards the coast. I should say a bit more about the last section.It had been a delight. Once onto the open hillside the ground had been rough and trackless until I joined the track to the lakes. The weather was quite warm (or maybe it was the weight of the bag) and I travelled in just a baselayer. The views were great, a little hazy maybe.. but warmth, little breeze and sun while hiking in February ??, I wasn't going to complain 馃槂. And when those views include An Teallach,,Suilvan and C贸igich..well, whats not to like.

Anyway, once on the lane that headed for the coastal path I was expecting all the difficulties were behind and I could look forward to easy ground for the remainder of the day...I was in error. The lane was lovely and I really enjoyed the couple of kilometres or so until after a parking area I joined the "Posties Path" I had never heard of this path but an excellent info board informed me that in the 1860's this route was used by a local man to deliver a postal service twice a week. Initially the trail is well defined as it makes it's way across the bog towards the bay and D煤n Canna. Before you reach the water my route turned right and a steep 100 metre climb followed by a rising traverse of nearly another 100 metres saw you rise into wild rough ground high above the sea. There are many twists and turns, some steep sections and exposed sections and there is much to keep the mind engaged besides the stunning views all about. After a couple of kilometres the trail drops to about 50 metres above the sea and in places you find yourself using heather for holds as you cross sloping slabby rock and on a wet weather day it could prove a bit treacherous. Sometimes the route is difficult to keep track of and when I spotted a cairn on a rock outcrop above the sea I descended towards that. As it turned out it wasn't on the trail but instead marked I guess a viewing point but it was a gorgeous spot so I decided to have lunch there.

Being by the sea is always something of a novelty for me and I was enjoying myself immensely. Here the breeze was quite stiff but what a place to let the legs dangle over the edge, eat my sandwich and revel in my surroundings. And what surroundings they were. The sea was blue, the land was wild and soaring above it all was Ben More Coigich which rose to nearly 750 metres and presented a wall of promising looking rock towards the sea. Mind you it wasn't exactly balmy, and as I had a fair old way to go yet I didn't delay too long before setting off again. Ahead lay what looked like the steepest, most exposed section of the trail and I was wondering just what was to come. I climbed up about thirty or so metres until I crossed a trail and I followed this around to a stony bay. Here I was delighted to see quite a few seals on the shore but they weren't long retreating into the water as I neared. I had dropped right down to the shore so another steep climb followed until the trail started to level off. Now, suddenly the trail became a well constructed track and provided safe and straightforward passage across the exposed section. Soon I was beyond any difficulties and after crossing a small river in a narrow rocky cleft (I believe this is difficult during rain) I was on more open ground at Culnacraig.
It was easy walking from there to Achduart where the trail reached the road. This I followed and enjoyed beautiful (if a little hazy) views towards the Summer Isles. It was clear a change was coming in the weather and cloud had started to shroud the tops. I had started to turn my mind to finding somewhere to camp when I saw a sign for a hostel. With nothing to lose I decided to investigate. It was with some surprise and delight I found it to be open. No one was at home but I rang the number provided and after speaking to Ruth I was booked in for the night. The Acheninver Hostel was beautifully situated over a footbridge, by a stream with views out to sea. It was an old crofters cottage (once owned by the SYHA) and was packed full of charm and character with great facilities. I settled in and enjoyed the warmth and facilities and whiled the evening away. I met Ruth later on and was delighted to discover she was originally from Cork.

About 26 kilometres and God knows how much climbing was involved all in 8 hours. Safe to say  that the Posties Path is not that difficult but not a route to be taken too lightly either. Wild and wonderful it certainly is馃槉

Thursday February 28th;

This morning I was leaving the coast and heading for Stac Pollaidh and later a rendezvous with Patrick Price. I was looking forward to today for many reasons but one was it would great to get up close and personal with one of the most iconic peaks in the UK and two it would be superb to spend some time again with Patrick. First up though was the long drag up to the crest of the shoulder of Ben More Coigaich nature reserve. I must say it is something of a surprise to find a large wind turbine hereabouts. I know green energy is the way of the future but in the middle of one of the most beautiful of landscapes is no place for one of these. Once I was over the crest it was out of sight and wild rough ground lay ahead. Using small lochs to navigate I eventually dropped down through some birch woods and after crossing some really wet ground I reached the first obstacle of the day the Abhainn Osgaig which connected Loch Bad a'Ghaill to Loch Osgaig. There was nothing in the way of a ford or bridge marked on the map so there was no option but to roll up the trousers, take off my boots and socks and after donning my Crocs I set off across. I had reached the river at a wide section where a few small islands broke the flow. Even though it was wide, it was shallow and on the three sections of water I crossed the water never came above the knees. It didn't stop it from being bloody cold though and after I finally emerged onto the far bank it was a huge relief to dry off and but on my warm socks and boots. Another short boggy crossing and I reached another road. I turned right and then left and climbed to the point when I reached the crest of the spur coming from Stac Pollaidh.

What can you say about Stac Pollaidh ?. If Ireland had the last refuge of The Jedi (The Skelligs 馃槒) then Scotland has Mordor 馃槉. Reaching the modest height of 612 metres it nevertheless presents a fantastical rocky outcrop of Torridonian sandstone and doesn't appear to offer any easy way to the summit. It wasn't the best day for photography being hazy and monochrome but the peak was a constant attraction. Now as I started up the wide spur it loomed ever larger straight ahead. I reached the end of the easy ground and then had a 150 metre climb to the shoulder. This went well and soon I reached broad flattish area. and once there I could see a path that rose steeply up a gully to the summit ridge. I debated dropping the big bag but decided against it and just set off up. It went surprisingly well and before long I exited the gully and arrived on the ridge. It was clear that there was an awkward step to be negotiated before the true summit could be reached so I dropped the bag and set off. It is only a couple of moves but I was glad to have the weight of the bag removed for them. It was chilly and a wispy cloud threatened to take away the limited views so I didn't delay and returned to my bag and dropped down a different gully back to the shoulder. It was then easy to drop from the shoulder to the glen in the east. I enjoyed a bite of lunch and set off for Loch an Doire Dubh and hopefully a rendezvous with Patrick.

We had first climbed together six years before in Torridon and it had been a great success. Three years ago we met again and that time I was struggling with a knee injury and climbing poorly but it had been great to see him. This time we had great plans to get some quality winter climbing done but the weather had other ideas. I had resigned myself to solo hiking so it was wonderful, surreal and quite humbling to discover that he was willing to drive the width of the country to spend an evening together.
I dropped down to near the lake and in the distance I could see a solitary figure making his way towards me. We greeted as old friends and set off to the campsite at the lakes end. He was after canoeing the length of Loch Sionasgaig and into Loch an Doire Dubh and set up camp on a little beach at the southern end. We chatted, caught up, made plans, ate and drank well into darkness and beyond. He had brought some beer and cooked some venison and generally pampered me. I was spoilt. An insidious cold crept into me though and eventually I retired to bed. I slept very well.

Friday March 1st;

After breakfast the time came for farewells and I set off once again on my little odyssey. Some cloud clung to the mountain tops. And what mountains they were. C煤l M贸r and C煤l Beag rose fortress like from the waters edge and each one would make for a good day out but it was my next peak, Suilvan which I was looking forward to the most. I felt uplifted by last evening and I was really looking forward to today. The crossing of the river between the lakes was a blessedly easy affair and then there followed a rough undulating crossing on rough ground to reach the bay at Sionasgaig. Patrick had suggested a possibility of meeting me here but there was no sign of him on the lake so I guess he was relaxing and enjoying the comforts of the campsite a while longer. There are some fine spots to camp hereabouts and it would make a natural stopping point in the route. Next up came a short climb to the rough pass that led on towards Gleannan a' Mhadaidh,under Suilvan. The next river, Uidh Fe谩rna looked pretty big on the map and it was clear as soon as I saw it that it would be another boots off job. It wasn't too bad today after the dry weather but I suspect it would be a real challenge in spate. Again there are some superb camping spots here.

After mostly pathless ground yesterday and so far today it was nice to join a trail that rose steadily towards Bealach M贸r in the middle of the formidable flanks of Suilvan. From a distance the route looks very steep but as you near it things lay back considerably, but it is still a stiff climb. Slow and steady does the job and I eventually reached the pass. I dropped my bag here and set off immediately for the summit. It felt soooo easy without the load and I swiftly progressed towards the top. A good path and the odd little scrambly bit kept it entertaining and I was soon on the top. To make things even better the cloud had lifted and I had views. And what views. To the southwest Stac Pollaidh, C煤l M贸r and others formed an almost otherworldly scene. Wild waters and bog stretched away to the sea to the west and north. Quinag and more stood to the north and northeast and nearby Canisp stood between me and Inchnadamph. But all this was eclipsed by the sheer "wow factor" of the view back along the ridge to the other summit of the mountain Meall Meadhonach. This is the view that rightly makes this mountain so famous. Of modest height it may be but the elegant sculpted lines of the summit ridge are a joy to behold and I felt privileged to be able to be here. As I returned to the bag I spotted a small white bird land on a rock a ways below me and I didn't immediately place what it was until I heard it grouse. The poor Ptarmigan must be wondering what has happened to all the white stuff.

A better path descends to the valley before Canisp and once down I joined a rough estate track as it crossed the river and climbed up the hillside on the far side of Loch na Gainimh. This made progress up to the shoulder of Canisp at the 500 metre contour a little easier and once I reached here I enjoyed a well deserved bite to eat. I briefly toyed with the idea of dropping the bag and climbing the 300 metres to the summit but sense prevailed and after lunch I traversed around the mountain's northern flanks on pretty good ground, passing Loch na Faoileige before finally reaching the descent at Meallan Liath Beag. Now I could finally see Inchnadamph below and the end of this leg of the journey beckoned. It is an easy, if slightly longer than it looks descent and before too long I reached the river that runs along the valley. I had hoped to see something like a footbridge or stepping stones but there were none. Thankfully it was running quite low and I made it across dry without having to take off the boots. A short walk up the road and I reached the carpark by the hotel (closed) and I turned and followed the road east for about 500 metres until I was well beyond the few houses. Here I found a good spot for my tent above the river. I wasted no time setting up my home and whiled away a pleasant evening. I did discover a couple of ticks crawling around in the tent and I was careful to look for more thereafter but found none. Some heavy rain arrived after dark and I enjoyed the sound of it pattering my tent as I drifted off to sleep.
8.5 hours and 1300 metres of ascent over about 24 kilometres.

Saturday March 2nd;

The rain had cleared by the morning and I emerged into a very pleasant day. My sleeping mat had sprung a slow leak in the night and I had spent a less than completely comfortable night. I'm at a loss as to what to do with these mats. Whenever I opt for the lightweight blow up option I always seem to end up on the ground regardless of how careful I am 馃槙. Anyway to better things. It was a clear dry bright morning which was a bonus as the weather was set to deteriorate throughout the day. I packed up and was on the move at 08.10. It is easy walking into Gleann Dubh and height is gained gradually on a good track that runs alongside the river. One notable aside is that the rock here is limestone and the river actually disappears underground in places. Clouds clung to the summit of Ben More Assynth and it looked a formidable beastie as I entered further into the glen. Eventually the trail diverged from the summit path and I climbed up across the open bog towards the narrow gap ahead..Am Bealach, which was at around 550 metres. I rejoined a faint trail that rose above a rocky section on the left and then the pass narrows nicely and things have a nice wild feel. An osprey gliding by as I exited the pass was a lovely bonus.

The weather was picking up if anything and as I traversed the ground down to the eastern side of Glen Oykel the summits that radiated from Ben More made a spectacular sight. I could see the glen stretch away into the distance and as this leg was over 30 kilometres I still had a long way to go. A long traverse under the crags of Cambridge a Mheadair was tiring as in places it went across gully after gully but there was never any real difficulties. After five kilometres I finally reached the river and a good track made for easier going. Just as I reached here the first of the rain started and it stayed raining as varying degrees of severity for the next few hours. I reached Loch Aylsham with its lodge and staff houses and at the end there was a diversion sign for the trail with the instruction to follow the blue markers. It sent me onto a higher forest road which dropped down to near the river after five further kilometres. Mind you, of the blue markers there was no sign. Back by the river the walk continued pleasantly until I could see a roadway rising on the other side of the valley. I didn't have the map for this short section of trail but I was hopeful that I was nearly there. The rain stopped and some glorious rainbows appeared and the trail continued on for a fair while. I was hoping that the hotel might be open but once again things were all closed up when I got there. I continued on down the lane, past the row of little houses and once I reached the bridge the crosses the river Einig I decided to camp in the adjacent field. It stayed dry until I had fed myself and then the wind started to pick up and rain returned in earnest. I didn't mind though as I was pleased with the days effort and settled and dry for the night...that mat was a bummer tho馃槪.
 32 kilometres 550 metres ascent in 8.25 hours.

Sunday March 3rd;

Today I hoped to reach Ullapool. To be honest I wasn't certain of bus times to Inverness on Sundays so I decided to err on the side of caution and make an early start. I woke up at 06.15 and set about breakfast and packing straight away. Well that's not strictly true as it took ages to reach a sitting position such was the pain in my lower back after the rather uncomfortable night (I had given it a turn about a week before the trip). Once I loosened out it was okay and I managed quite well. The heavy rain had stopped for now and I was able to complete my packing in the dry and I was on the move at 07.10. The nearby river was a good two feet higher this morning and I hoped that I wouldn't have any problems at river crossings today.
It didn't stay dry for long and I hadn't gone two hundred metres before the first squall hit. Once I left the relatively sheltered position of my campsite the fury of the wind matched the fury of the rivers and it promised to be a bracing day. Not that I could complain as to hike in Scotland (on indeed Ireland) at this time of year and not encounter bad weather would be the stuff of fantasy and I had had it pretty great up to now. I had the full "Berghaus Packlite" raingear on and I was nice insulated from the weather. Initially things weren't too bad as I was reasonably sheltered by the forest but once I entered open ground it was at times difficult to just keep walking into the worst of the gales, it was great 馃槉. Today's route didn't have anything in the way of big climbs and indeed no big mountains framed the views but it was all the more interesting for that. Low sweeping moorland tops stretched seemingly endlessly as far as I could see and this openness and expansiveness, coupled with the weather today, made it feel wild and wonderful.

After 6 kilometres I reached the delightful "Schoolhouse Bothy". This bright, airy, quaint and clean bothy looked wonderful and provided a brief shelter from the weather. I was in no doubt it would make a great place to stop for a night. I had given the map another perusal and saw that that only possibly difficult river crossing that was on the route was the river Abhainn Poiblith which flowed from the substantial lake Loch an Daimh. With the weather like it was I just hoped it wouldn't provide an impassable obstruction. The trail continued on a rough estate track and after crossing a few minor streams I reached a shallow glen that promised to hold a more substantial body of water. When I reached it it wasn't too bad, being about twenty or twenty five feet wide but clearly over two feet deep. I debated taking off the boots etc but it seemed like too much hassle and I had hopes that with the gaiters and rain pants covering the boots I might have a chance of staying dry for the few steps across...Well you don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out that that didn't happen and I sploshed out the far side thoroughly soaked. Ah and learn..or perhaps not..doh.
On the plus side the weather was starting to show some signs of improvement and patches of blue sky appeared and the squalls became less frequent. The track climbed gently up from the river and headed further up the glen. Now I know I said that I had looked at the map in the bothy, and I did, but it wasn't until I spotted the large lake ahead that it finally dawned on me that the river I had just crossed was the one I had been worried about and I was filled with a sense of relief. I was also a bit cross with myself as, if I had realised, I would have taken the time to remove my footwear and my tootsies would now be nice and dry.

Next up came another bothy overlooking the end/start of the lake at Knockdamh. This was a more traditional bothy and looked to be in very good condition as well. What a wonderful resource these bothys are and a huge thank you is deserved to everybody involved in their maintenance and upkeep.
I had a bite to eat here and even stripped off the rain gear as it was blue skies outside. I had the rain gear back on before I left at another blast of horizontal rain was that kind of day. Another gradual climb and I reached the point where the trails diverged. Mine continued straight on to the west while the one for Inverael headed south and looked to be entering wilder, more hilly country. Shortly thereafter I dropped down to a wide valley where some estate buildings were. This valley was serviced by a good track and progress from here was gentle and civilised. Above on the right a long series of cliffs looked to offer a multitude of rock climbs and the substantial Rhiddoroch river was a constant companion on my left. This was sheep farming country and lots of them dotted the rough pastures all around. It was a long valley and it took a fair while to reach Loch Achall that was overlooked by Rhidderoch House. The track became a tarred lane that clung to the lakes edge right to its end. The suggested trail sticks to the lake shore and is supposed to cross the river via a bridge, but that is no longer in existence so a rough trail follows the river until it again reaches the road. This crosses the river and after several kilometres takes you down to Ullapool. It was wonderful to see a White Tailed Sea Eagle soar on the hills near the end of the lake. What a sight this bird is with its huge barn door wings. A wonderful bonus to see it so near the end.

So I entered Ullapool just as the rain recommenced and made my way down to the ferry terminal. I arrived at 14.45 and discovered that the bus departed at 17.20. I also booked myself onto the sleeper train that night so I was all set for the long journey home.
32 kilometres..400 metres ascent and 7.5 hours..a fitting finale to the trip.

To say I was tired as I travelled home would be an understatement and to be honest it took a day or two to feel human after I got back. I had packed in a fair old bit over the nine days and had covered not far off 230 kilometres..well over 6000 metres had been climbed and a fair bit of it on trackless rough ground. Wild, wonderful and exciting are just a few of the adjectives I could use but none would capture what I feel about hiking in Scotland. It is definitely true to say that it has the edge on continental Europe for least until I next stand on the Gr 10 or some other Gr and glory at the wonders there...but I did really enjoy this trip.
A huge thank you to Patrick for his support and kindness. What a stunning gesture he made and hopefully we will have a longer adventure soon. Now that would be something馃槉