The weather forecast had been changing by the hour through the previous evening but it all seemed to point towards a less wet day, possibly with some sun, maybe some rain, likely cloudy. Not too bad for Scotland. We all decided on a group walk and after much debate and a fight to death with Beinn Challuim, Beinn DubhChraig won. It ticked all the boxes, easy walk, not too far, easy navigation, plentiful parking at Dalrigh. It wasn’t a bad morning in truth and we set off in high spirits
The walk up through the forest was grand, another of those old natural pine forests that used to cloak Scotland, now sadly overtaken by regimented conifer plantations
The party divided as we trudged a particularly boggy trod through the trees, I struck out solo and decided to cross the river to the path. This gave me an opportunity to test how slippery the rocks were and clean my boots and gaiters!
I did at least arrive clear of the forest a good 20 minutes before the rest of the gang who stayed in the boggy forest. From there the day became a bit of trudge. The cloud came down, the snow underfoot was wet and heavy and then some fresh stuff fell from the sky. The promise of a brighter afternoon seemed a long way off. We stopped for a snack and there was an image of the sun.
I’ve been through this cruel deception in Scotland before. The sun appears as a ghostly image, then promptly buggers off to be replaced by rain. As we approached the ridge it did look genuinely blue directly above us and hope was rekindled. EWO loves his phrase “blueing up” and this time, perhaps…….
As the rest arrived we started to see wisps of distant mountains and proper watery sunshine. It was magical.
The photos don’t really do it justice but the mix of deep blue sky directly overhead and thin sunshine on the fresh snow was wonderful. As impressive as the clear blue skies of two days back, possibly more so. We climbed Beinn Dubhchraig several years ago on a previous trip and had exactly the same experience. A dreary, damp climb in the cloud and a sudden and dramatic weather clearance. My luckiest mountain?
The big problem with walking in a big group in poor conditions is it tends to lead to errors. Most people set off 180 degrees in the wrong direction, essentially back down the ridge we’d just come up. We’d strayed too far west while nattering leading to this major piece of navigational incompetence. I called them back when I saw the summit looming above us through the mist in the opposite direction!
From the summit the views were changing by the second, crystal clear one moment, back into cloud the next. It was cold and windy so we looked for spot for a leisurely lunch
I enjoy these big group gatherings, this one all the better for the ever improving weather. The good humour and frivolity was enlivened by TBF letting her sandwich box slide off down the hill. Being the kind soul I am, I tried to knock it further down the slope by throwing snowballs at it. OFS stepped in to retrieve it giving me an additional and much larger target that I promptly hit square on the head. Result!
The walk down the NE ridge was just superb. The skies were clearing further, revealing superb views across the Southern Highlands and Loch Lomond
There were a couple of steep sections that would have been interesting in icy conditions but easy to plunge down in very deep snow
There was one spot on the end of one of the small buttresses that was bathed in sunlight with majestic views all around. We took it all in and snapped many photos
Ben More and Sob Binnein looked especially wintry
This is Old Grandfather Sheffield. He had a “Cardiac Event” (to give it it’s modern re-branding) a few years ago which gave him a stark lifestyle reality check. All good now but there was a while when he thought climbing summits might be beyond him. He joins us every year and whilst he’s not quite as fast as he once was he’s pretty much back to his best and really seems to relish these weekends almost more than the rest of us.
The light just got better and better as we came down. Even though the snow was horrid and wet and the ground boggy it didn’t matter. Why should it with views like these
Rather than return the same way and cut the corner off through the boggy forest, we took the much longer forestry track. Having already done two longish days my knees weren’t happy to bash down a hard track. I was just starting to think that the shortcut would have been better when I (on my own as everyone else had left me behind) emerged from the forest to this view of Beinn Dorain and Beinn Odhar
It was superb and as the shortcut comes out much lower I’d have missed the scene and the light as I’d been down much earlier. From there, the walk down the through the natural forest was breathtaking
At every bend there was a better view than the last
Beinn Challuim stood proud catching the last of the sunlight and framed often by the Scots Pines
It was after six when we reached the car with everyone waiting for me and TBF. An absolutely cracking finish and well worth the lost sleep from arriving back home at 2am
So our winter gathering over for another year. A new home found and another couple of superb days to live long in the memory all the better shared with loyal friends of long standing.
Normal service resumed. The promised bad weather had arrived and was happily splashing everything with a soaking rain when we roused ourselves for breakfast. Plenty of time for a leisurely feast and long discussions about how best to use a wet and grey day in the middle of nowhere that is the Southern Highlands. The forecast had been evolving and it seemed to promise a ramp-down in the rain in the afternoon. In fact by the time we had re-assembled in the car park to continue the discussion in a colder and less hospitable environment the rain had pretty much stopped. While others went to bag munros and dreary corbetts, a select band chose an altogether more unprepossessing route
A horseshoe around the hills behind the hotel, taking in Ben Inverveigh and Meall Tairbh. We hoped their modest height would keep us out of the cloud and although that didn’t quite work out, it was in the end a pretty enjoyable day – of sorts – and challenging in its own way
The lower slopes, so often a real grind in these parts was overcome by the West Highland Way and a decent path that took us most of the way to the top. The views weren’t all that bad and we took comfort from the fact it was nowhere near as bad as the forecast from the previous day
We reached the snowline and wandered across the wide ridge taking in small outcrops and cairns as we went. When the mist came down we amused ourselves with baiting each other with the political and social issues of the day.
After a brief rest below the first summit we pressed on over a col that on the 1:50k map had no contours over a quite wide area – never a good sign in Scotland. In fact it was drier than expected (for that read, extremely boggy rather than a lake disguised as dry land) and interesting in its own way.
I found a small and very soggy, wet stream to enliven the climb to the second summit and celebrated its ascent with a fruit pie from Tebay services in the snow (they are well worth a stop on the M6 to stock up for a weekend I can tell you).
The summit of Meall Tairbh was bagged in a white out followed by a long plod down a very boggy ridge and back to Inveroran on the shores of Loch Tulla. I have great memories of this spot. You can park up and pitch on the grass where the road crosses the Allt Tolaghan and we did so many times for winter mountain bagging, retreating to the pub a short walk away to eat and drink. They were happy days. Who am I kidding they were cold days and I much prefer a warm B&B to a cold tent and frozen milk on cornflakes for breakfast. I was kidding they were memorable and fun weekends with a huge number of stories from the archive
It was a day that vindicated making the effort. Little in the way of views but good company and a fine walking challenge. I would have drawn you a map to show how far we went but Bing seem to have removed that functionality. Looks like I’ll have to pay for some maps. The cheek of it!
Winter in the mountains this year has been wildy unpredictable. I’ve been skiing at over 2000m in the Alps over rocks and bare patches of grass while my mate UF has just been suffering from no skiing due to too much snow just a month later. Ahead of our annual trip top the Southern Highlands the conditions changed from full winter, to no snow, back to loads of snow, followed by another thaw, all in a period of less than two weeks. I had no idea whether to pack skis, crampons, axes or shorts for this years trip!
Our home for the past few years has been the Suie Lodge Hotel. Sadly the wonderful owners who looked after us so well have sold up and the place was in transition to new owners so we needed a new home. This year we gave the Bridge of Orchy Hotel a go, more upmarket and pricey but after some negotiation by your truly we got a decent rate. It has a location to die for and the place is rather nice. The bar was out of action for a refurbishment but the rooms were great and the staff superb. Food was also top drawer so the place comes highly recommended
The weather forecast looked promising but drawing back the curtains on the Friday revealed a stunner. Cloudless blue sky and wisps of mist over the summits and valleys. One of the huge benefits of the hotel is the possibility of munros from the door so we chose a route over Beinn an Dothaidh and Beinn Achaladair leaving a car at the far end so we could make a circuit
It was a magnificent day, far better than the forecast had led us to believe.
As we ascended Coire an Dothaidh the views just got better and better
We hit the snowline at 700m and it the transformation was dramatic. From odd patches to complete deep cover in a mater of minutes. It was primarily deep unconsolidated snow on very wet ground so no need for metalwork and it was hard going. Luckily we had fit people in the party happy to break trail for me! 🙂
At the col we were in a winter wonderland. There was much exchange of smug grins and talk of people still at work
We pressed on towards the first summit of Beinn an Dothaidh. The snow was in places surprisingly extensive and deep considering there had been a major thaw less than a week ago
This range is one of the best in Scotland on a clear day. They stand proud above the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor giving a reals sense of air and space with a huge spread of mountains to the south and west
This is the next mountain on the route, Beinn Achaladair
We hit the edge somewhere between the the three tops and took a wander back to one of the lower tops on a whim, seeing as it was such a nice day.
It was an inspired idea. Not only were the views majestic but there was a perfect lunch spot tucked under the rocks, out of the wind and with the best of the views
Ben Cruachan looked particularly superb
Nothing better than a blue sky day, winter conditions and a chance to savour it with good friends of long standing
Onwards across the edge to the very shapely north top before plunging down to the col for another climb
The ridge to Beinn Achaladair is a long one, although not steep but you barely notice such things on a perfect day
Lochaber and its vast collection of summits was laid out in front of us
Even Ben Nevis was clear of cloud
As the day progressed it became a view of two halves. Supremely clear to the north and west but with cloud building from the south. The advance of bad weather that was forecast for the rest of the weekend. The cloud created some mesmeric lighting effects that my camera didn’t do justice to
The walk along the last part of of the summit ridge was a delight
It was one of those days that you just don’t want to end. Tired legs and fading light dictated otherwise
The party divided. Some chose the easy and longer option of a return to the col. The rest of us plunged down a quite outrageously steep grassy slope on a more direct route to the car.
The setting sun provided a fitting finale to a memorable day.
I thought we’d used up all our Scottish good weather luck last year but it was still holding