Sunday, December 21, 2008

81-83. The Cairnwell (245), Carn a'Gheoidh (180), Carn Aosda (278) 20/12/08

Having had a bit of an ordeal the previous day, our enthusiasm for traipsing out into the wilderness had waned slightly and we decided to try and find some accessible hills. This took us to Glen Shee, where the road rises to nearly 600m (cheating really, but our legs were grateful). Here is probably the only place in scotland where 3 munros can be climbed in little over 4 hours. The weather was uncharacteristically beautiful, the only difficulty being a bit of wind (though this could only really be called a stiff breeze in comparison to the howling tornado experienced on the previous day) and possibly a bit too much sun, since it began to turn the snow into ice in some places. Fortunately most of the walk was flat, so the ice wasn't an issue. We set off from the ski slopes at a leisurely 11.30 and shinned up the side of the Cairnwell. This was possibly slightly steeper than we had thought and we had to resort to kicking each step and climbing the snow like a ladder, but we made it and although the slopes were slightly spoilt by all the ski development, the summit did afford spectacular views. We walked around the edge of a corrie and then over the snowy plateau to Carn a'Gheoidh, where the views were better and the slopes were untouched by the hand of man. Some Munro writers complain heatedly about the ski slopes in Glen Shee and on Cairngorm, but i think one has to appreciate that some people like to ski and so there is a business for it and that it has to happen somewhere. If not on the Cairnwell, then on some other hill - at least it is getting people into the mountains. Anyway, we made our way across to Carn Aosda and ran down the ski-runs back to the car. This was another walk that greatly benefitted from being done in winter.

Looking east across Glen Shee.

Looking west from CaG

Approaching the summit of CaG.

CaG from the Cairnwell.

80. Carn a'Chlamain (192) 18/12/08

In the winter one has to think about the weather a lot because if it turns bad, then it can be quite unpleasant. Therefore to plan to stay in a bothy for two nights is quite an undertaking and one has to at least have some confidence in the forecast. We probably had more confidence than we should have had, but nevertheless it was an adventure. As we set off from Blair Atholl, the clouds gradually gave way to blue sky and our spirits were high. Even with full packs the going was fairly easy for the 8 or so miles up the road in Glen Tilt. We picked up a large amount of firewood on the way to make the bothy a bit cosier. On the way to the bothy we decided to climb Carn a'Chlamain. Above the forest lodge, there was an efficient path that zigzagged up the side and we were soon approaching the gentler slopes near the top. Unfortuantely by this point clouds had rolled in and snow was beginning to fall. Before we knew it, we were fighting our way into the wind and driving snow as we finished the climb. We managed, though, since at least with snow one doesn't get wet and therefore the exertion of the climb kept us warm. The snow eased as we descended north into an eerily monochromatic Glen Tarf towards the bothy. However, the two miles to get there took a lot longer than we thought, since it was over very difficult terrain and we were thoroughly exhausted by the time we arrived. The auspiciously named 'Tarf Hotel' was quite a substantial bothy, but unfortunately there was no dry firewood left there. Despite our best efforts, most of the wood I had brought was wet and after some attempts it was clear the fire wasn't going to be lit. So we ate our baked tatties cold. Still, our sleeping bags were warm and the bothy was well insulated, so it wasn't an unpleasant night. Unfortunately, one look at the sky in the morning and at the river we were going to have to ford was enough to send us walking back out as quickly as possible. A couple of miles from the bothy a storm started and we spent the next ten miles walking into the wind and sleet, which was character building. In future, I think bothies in winter should be a little closer to civilisation.

The Tarf Hotel

79. A'Bhuidheanach Bheag (240) 17/12/08

This walk was designed to fit into a morning before the clouds and rain came in. The guide books described it as a rather mundane hill and perhaps in summer it would have been, but winter transformed it into something more interesting. The cold air and wind add vitality and the snow provides not only a firmer footing than the usual bog, but also such a wide variety of different shapes and effects. We had powdered snow in the sheltered spots, hard packed crunchy stuff with a few blades of grass poking through along the plateau near the summit and sheets of near ice on the ascent, which had to be skirted round on the way up and slid down on the descent. We set off at first light and having eventually found the right track up, we made good progress onto the plateau. Once there, with great views all around and despite the increase in wind, it was fairly easy to walk the mile or so across the flat to the summit which was just a gentle rise above the surrounding land and only the trig point told use we were actually there. The round trip from Balsporran cottages only took 3 hours, but we were justified in our short choice of walk when the clouds descended behind us and having remained dry for the whole walk we were caught in the rain for literally the last five minutes before getting to the car.

A western corrie of the plateau.

Looking back on our ascent, with Dalwhinnie in the distance on the far right.

Jo approaching the trig point at the summit.

76-78. Carn Dearg (225), Carn Sgulain (271), A'Chailleach (251) 16/12/08

Given a good day with clouds at around the 900m mark, we looked for some lower hills in the hope of gaining some clarity. This search took us to the Monadliath, NW of Kingussie and we were rewarded towards the end of our walk with some clarity. This ring of three hills took us most of the daylight hours due to the long plateau-like ridge between the first two peaks. Carn Dearg was the steepest and its ascent was the only part of the day in which which we were going into the wind. Of course, this turned out to be the only part of the day with precipitation. We gritted our teeth through the sleet and raging winds and were soon at the top. The sleet subsided as we turned onto the ridge and walked north with the wind behind us. Navigation was also made easier by the fence running all the way to the next peak marking the edge of the Cairngorms NP. Whilst I don't always notice such things, it was very obvious that there was a huge amount of wildlife up here. Apart from the usual grouse, there were lots of mountain hares as well as ptarmigan and possibly dotterel. The coverage of snow was not nearly as complete as in the cairngorms, so there were rocks and some vegetation around, making the scenery more varied and probably helping to encourage the wildlife. By the time we were at the second peak, the mist was beginning to lift off the hills and we reached the third, A'Chailleach in sunshine. The hills had developed a pinkish tinge in the fading light and we descended with clear views of all but the highest of the Cairngorms.

Looking back at the top of A'Chailleach in the clearing skies

Ben at the top of A'Chailleach, with Carn Dearg in the distance.

Ascending Carn Dearg neaxt to the roaring Allt Ballach

74-75. Mullach Clach a'Bhlair (114), Sgor Gaoith (36) 15/12/08

Setting off at dawn, we had a pleasant trot going south down the track in Glen Feshie. Eventually we struck out east up the ever whiter slopes of Mullach Clach a'Bhlair (MCaB). Before we were a mile from the top, all our surroundings were white, without a hint of vegetation or colour of any sort sticking out of the snow. The wind had also picked up markedly and our decision to cross the plateau from south to north was proving shrewd. We caught up with another walker at the top and discussed the stunning panoramic views across this ocean of white that seemed a completely different world to the valley below. This western plateau is about 100m lower than the main Cairngorm plateau and this meant it was out of the mist. Distances can be very deceptive in the snow - we could clearly see Sgor Gaoith, our next objective, and it looked like a short walk. However, despite the reasonably good terrain, this would be a two hour walk and was nearly 5 miles away as the crow flies (see first photo below). Unfortunately this meant that by the time we got there the mist had descended and we were robbed of the supposedly stunning view from this lofty perch (where the cliffs plunge 600m from the summit). It gained an eerie nature in the mists though. Before descending, we had to walk back a mile along the plateau into the wind, which proved a bit of a struggle. We then found the path back to the glen in the fading light, making full use of the 8 hours of daylight and finishing an excellent winter walk.

North across the snowy plateau to Sgor Gaoith, almost 5 miles away.

Three intrepids at the top of MCaB

Half a mile from the summit of MCaB. We were following a walker
whom you can make out approaching the top

Setting out at dawn

72-73. Beinn a'Bheithir (Sgorr Dhearg (107), Sgorr Dhonuill (137)) 14/12/08

Making our way north through scotland, we had the choice of going east or west. The weather suggested west, so we chose the Hill of the Thunderbolt at the west end of Glen Coe. Needless to say, the weather didn't play ball and whilst it wasn't terrible, we were enshrouded in mist for the duration. There were slight issues with having enough fuel to cross Rannoch Moor before the petrol stations opened, but despite this we were walking shortly after 9am. We began on forestry tracks, but naturally forestry track became forest paths, which in turn became just forest and we soon found ourselves hemmed in on all sides by felled trees. It took us a good half an hour to climb out and rediscover the track about 100m further on. Eventually we were out of the trees and kicking steps up the snowy slopes. The eastern peak was achieved by 1pm, where we met a fellow walker struggling slightly with navigation in the mist. It can be very easy to get disorientated in the mist, when every direction looks white and he was about to descend without attempting the second top before we met him. Here my new GPS proved very handy, since we were able to locate our position and that of the next peak without wasting time. It was a slightly steeper climb of the west peak, with some good snowy (though fortunately not icy) scrambling at the top. On the way down, we did manage to find the correct track and there were no more tree-ish problems. We were back in the car not long after 4 without having to use our headtorches.

Looking down the bowl shaped corrie before descending.

Rab and Ben in the snow at the top.