Scottish Mountain Holiday, March 2008

Was it a brave decision to holiday in Scotland? In March? potentially…

The options started out as 1) Spain; a bit of bolt clipping and cheese munching on the Costa Brava. 2) Somewhere more exotic for a bit of bolt clipping – Turkey maybe? 3) Scotland, for a spot of winter walking. In the end it was the no fly option that won – goodbye sun, hello weather!

Day 1: The journey North

A promising start to the holiday...
So, a promising start then?

Not the most auspicious of starts to a holiday. We were a day late starting, as Mike had landed tickets to go see England-Scotland at Murryfeild. At least Scotland won! The delay didn’t seem to matter too much though, we certainly wern’t missing the good weather. Strong winds and storms were forcast moving in from the West, so we decided to go East to the Cairngorms.

Accommodation: SYHA Cairngorm Lodge

Day 2: Coire an t’Sneachda in the Wind

It was never going to be a day for doing much, but we wanted to venture out anyway. Winds were going to be strong with gusts over 100mph predicted, and the clag was down. We decided to venture in to Coire an t’Sneachda, practice some skills, and see how it went. At least it wouldn’t be too far home again. So we walked in – nearly got blown over quite alot – reached the end of the Corrie and turned round to go home. We had hoped to practice some ice axe arrests, but the snow was to thin (lots of rocks), and too fluffy. Instead I decided to practice walking on a bearing which was going well, until I went through the snow into the burn and my boot filled up with water. It was actually slooshing about – nice. Two and a half hours later we were back in the car drinking hot chocolate.

The day taught me 2 things – think about the streams, and that my trousers weren’t waterproof. Luckily we were close to Avimore and had the afternoon free to shop for a new pair. You know how they say couples dress alike, well it’s slowly beginning to be true – but honestly the pair the same as Mikes were the pair that fitted best!

Cairngorms
Damp – but still enjoying it

Accommodation: SYHA Cairngorm Lodge

Day 3: Creag Meagaidh

We had thought up lots of ambitious plans in the Cairngorms for the day – but they were all a bit to ambitious, and the alternatives wern’t very exciting, or we had already done them. So why stick in the Cairngorms then – once that constaint was out of the window a option emergerd…

Coire Ardair The Window

Creag Meagaidh was in glorious blue sunshine, and the walk in was picture perfect. Its a long way up Coire Adair, but on days like that you don’t really mind. The buttresses were laden, and it was clear why the avalanche forcast was considerable. We set off up the window – but then I dropped a crampon and my crampon bag (which went for miles!) – so we turned back to retrieve them – then the weather turned, which made the decision less bad.

Accomodation: Achintee Farm Hostel, Glen Nevis

Day 4: The Ice Factor

Rain – so a day indoors and a switch from legs to arms. A few hours at the Ice factor in Kinlochleven, then a drive north to Torridon

Day 5: Beinn Bhan.

Beinn Bhan

Beinn Bhan is one of those corbetts that makes you wonder why people bother with munros – it really makes you stop and wonder. There are some harder ways up, which we’ll leave till summer, and a easy way up – well easy in the way walking uphill never really is. We followed the shoulder up, but headed for the skyline as soon a possible to get views onto the other side. I leave the pictures to do the talking, but mostly just wow!

On the Summit of Beinn Bhan

Day 6: Applecross, and on Exercise on Sgurr a’Chaorachain

A drive round Applecross in the morning, looking at Skye and Rassay out to the West and the very cute wee villages that dot the coast. We went down as far as Toscaig, where we parked on the peir and made soup on our new stove.

Boat Passing Place

We followed the road back over the Belach na Ba (pass of the cattle), Britain’s highest road at 2053ft, stopping at the top to make a strike on Sgurr a’Chaorachain. Its the cheats way as there is only about 150m left to climb from the top of the pass – but I prefer to think of it more as tactical.

The excursion took on a military feel as we radioed in air support to bomb the communications tower, then made for the high ground. Ice axes and deep snow make for great guns and dramatic deaths, and the tit for tat slayings caused us both to die many times.

Day 7: A perfect day on Beinn Eighe

Last day and time for a biggie!

Walk in to Beinn Eighe

Beinn Eighe is part of the steep and more than a bit intimidating Torridon triptych. These mountains rise pretty steeply and feel serious. I haven’t done a load of Winter walking so this could be a challenging day for me. The day starts gently as you walk between Beinn Eighe and it’s neighbour, the mighty Liathach, and round to the rear of the mountain. The views out over the wilds and the prehistoric snow frosted hills of Baosbheinn and Beinn an Eoin were pretty damm good for the soul. THey are also good for the imagination – you really can imagine dinosaurs here. From here you rise into Coire Mhic Fearchair, home to more towering buttresses – Triple buttress being perhaps the most famous. Cameron McNeish rates this as one of the best Corries in Scotland and he’s on the money.

Into the Wild

After a slog across the corrie, through deep snow and boulders – always a fun combination – ending up thigh deep in holes, we headed up the gully onto the ridge. I’m a little bit proud of myself as I haven’t ever walked up a snow gully before. It was pretty easy – but fair hard work, we both had a ‘glow’ at the top. The path to the top of Ruadh-stac Mor was unbroken, but not too hard going. It was then back down to the top of the gully and round to next summit. A tiny bit of scrambling involved, but the fun rather than OMG i’m going to die kind.

Beinn Eighe
On the Ridge

We finished by dropping of the ridge back to the road – cutting the time by bum sliding down about 200m, The day still took 10 hours though, but what a day! One of the best days on the hill ever!

We had soup back at the car (new stove = new toy), then made for a chippy – they were all shut by the time we found one -so it was cold spring rolls from the village shop in ??, and a start to the drive home. By the time we stoped at the Ratagan Hostel the only thing we could do was sleep.

Accomodation : SYHA Ratagan

Day 8: Home.

Not quite direct – Still time for Mike to gear shop in Fort William and for us both to Wonder at the busyness that was Glen Coe; not a parking space to be had and streams of people on the Buchille. The day before we had had Beinn Eighe to ourselves.