Archive for the ‘Western Highlands’ Category

Homeward Bound – Rum, Easter 2012 Part 4   10 comments

It was time to head home after a cracking few days. We had an idea on the previous evening to set off early and climb some hills but we stayed in character and got up late. After packing up we intended to walk back along the track to Kinloch. GM suggested heading back over the Bealach Bairc Mheall but I wasn’t convinced about hauling the pack over the wild ground. However the weather looked to be improving so pretty much on a whim we changed direction and started heading up into Glen Harris towards Atlantic Corrie.

Return to Kinloch via Coire Dubh, 8 miles, 2,000 feet of ascent

It was a master-stroke of an idea. The going while a little squelchy was pretty easy with numerous sheep and deer tracks to follow.

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Glen Harris

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Trollaval

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Barkeval

Normally when hiking with GM all I get to see is him disappearing into the distance while I tag along at the back. Today the roles were reversed and I managed to get a burst of energy from god knows where and set a blistering pace, granola power perhaps. More likely it was the joy of the wild, dark and brooding corrie that lifted me. Atlantic Corrie is quite magnificent with Trollaval rising to the south, Barkeval to the north, summits still shrouded in cloud but with a hint of possibility of clearing to drive me on.

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Atlantic Corrie, Hallival, Askival

GM finally overtook me when I left one of my poles behind and had to go back for it. As we hit the bealach we were greeted with a sunny view across north Rum towards the Isle of Skye.

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Harris Bay

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Skye from the Bealach

We both grinned our satisfaction to the Sky(e) having made it to the Col in less than 2 hours. We now had plenty of time to climb one of summits and went for Barkeval as it would give us a view over Harris Bay if it cleared. We dumped the sacks and headed up. Always amazing the spring in your step you get when dropping a backpack to climb a summit. Almost feels like you could run up and we made short work to the top. We hung around in the mist waiting for it to clear. Just when we’d given up we were treated to a few glimpses of sunny coast and islands before it closed in again.

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GM on Barkeval summit

Satisfied with that we started to head down – we had a ferry to catch. As we descended the summit cleared properly and the views were breathtaking.

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Harris Bay

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Hallival, Askival

Shafts of sunlight lighting up some of dark summits of the ridge, framing the Isle of Muck, and clear sunny views across to Skye, Canna, the mainland and the Outer Hebrides. Again we felt extremely lucky that in such an unsettled spell of weather we’d been treated to such classic coastal views. Rum was laid out beneath us and a mighty fine island it is. The lower northern hills and bays need a visit and the shapely little peak of Fionchra caught the eye. We toyed with the idea of running up Hallival but thought we might be pushing our luck with the time. Instead we settled for a short descent into Coire Dubh for extended lunch stop in the sunshine.

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Skye and Loch Scresort

As we ate we watched the ferry on its first visit of the day before heading off to Canna and back to pick us up. With blue sky and sunshine lighting up the small isles it was just a fantastic way to be ending the trip. Coire Dubh itself is pretty special with an alpine style meadow just below the ridge.

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Coire Dubh

It’s very wet and boggy but if you could find a place to throw a tent up it would be an epic site to spend the night. The walk along the stream and down into the forest back to Kinloch was just a pleasure and despite my soggy feet I enjoyed every step.

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GM on the walk home

As we walked down it became clear that the mountains of Knoydart back on the mainland had a cap of snow which seemed surprising as it didn’t seem especially cold.

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Across to distant Knoydart

In fact as I waited for GM to catch up at Kinloch, I sat on the picnic table by the castle in shirtsleeves and sunhat such was the warmth. Reluctantly we headed off to catch the ferry in bright sunshine and it looked like we would escape from Rum without the need for a helicopter.

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Kinloch Castle

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Loch Scresort

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Waiting for my ship to come in

The ferry journey itself was pretty amazing with some stunning views back to Rum and across to Eigg that was hiding under a massive black cloud and the boat was drenched as it passed though the shower en-route to pick up the day-trippers on the island.

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Askival and Hallival

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Eigg

The views of An Sgurr as we headed on the final leg back to Mallaig were as good as I remembered from the last trip and as we steamed into port the views back to Rum, itself now thunderously dark were just magnificent.

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An Sgurr, Eigg

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Eigg and Rum

After an adventure like this the only fitting finale was fish and chips from the station chippy eaten on the wall of the car park overlooking the small isles we’d just come rom.

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Fish and Chips with a view

I’m not sure if it was the quality of the food, the view, or the fact I’d been living on dried food and pigeon loft scrapings for 3 days, but they were best fish and chips I’ve eaten in many a year. The perfect end to another Easter adventure.

The Unfogettable Fire – Rum, Easter 2012 Part 3   10 comments

A brief little postette. On our final evening we decided to head down to the goat latrine that is the small square path of grass down by the beach and have ourselves a little bonfire.

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Playing with fire

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View south from the beach

We thought about moving the tent down here but as our stuff was dry and we are a couple of lazy gits we decided not to bother. There was already a fire pit with a collection of wood plus a lifetimes supply on the beach so with a judicious input of firelighters and meths we soon had a roaring blaze going.

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"Needs more wood"

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Can you feel the warmth?

Must be encoded in our DNA strands but I’m yet to meet a bloke who doesn’t love playing with fire in one form or another be it a beach fire, a BBQ or in EDs case setting fire to someone’s newspaper while they are still reading it!

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Dying embers

No better way to finish off the day than messing about on the beach picking up driftwood and then sitting in front of the fire while it burns down and watching the stars appear. I was as happy as a pig (or goat more appropriately) in muck and was even able to dry out my socks and boots a bit so they were ready for a fresh supply of water the next day.

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Warm dry feet for the first time in 2 days

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This is real living

Wood doesn’t burn for long so once we’d burnt of what we’d collected and completely incinerated our rubbish we headed back up to the tent for the usual late warming brew to prepare for the walk out the next day.

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Sunset over the mausoleum

Lovely final evening at Harris Bay celebrated with a little video of the event – I’ve edited out my attempt to sing for the sake of everyone who appreciates good music

Posted April 29, 2012 by surfnslide in Backpacking, Scotland, Walking, Western Highlands

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Coastal Plonking – Rum, Easter 2012 Part 2   12 comments

After the excitement of the previous day the weather took pity on us and gave us a grey and dreary day so we could have a lie in. After the usual routine of breakfast (I’m still struggling with the best backpacking breakfast – I hate muesli and now I’ve decided I hate granola as well) and a couple of brews eventually the inevitable calls of nature force you out of the tent.

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Looking west

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I know these as zawns (Cornish)

It wasn’t half bad so we went for a pre-lunch stroll along the coast to the north, taking in the Bullough family Mausoleum. It really is a very odd thing to find in a such a remote site but it’s quite atmospheric in a macabre sort of way.

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Down among the dead men, women and children

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Things you don't expect to find

The cliffs are superb but I was surprised not to see any nesting seabirds. Rum does have a large colony of Manx Shearwaters but they nest up on the slopes of Askival and Hallaval on the main ridge. As we walked the views opened out and we kept climbing enjoying vistas up the coast and back across Harris Bay.

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Looking north

We thought we’d head up to find the little Loch Monica but it proved elusive until we realised we hadn’t climbed anything like as high ad we’d thought. We eventually found it nestling under some nice little crags and took a stroll along their edge before we decided to head down as the rain returned. We had at one time thought we could take a walk over Orval and down over Bloodstone Hill to camp near the bothy at Guirdil but as the weather was so unsettled and we had lovely pitch (with dry stuff in it!) we decided to stay put, but it would be a cracking stroll even if you just walked the coast as the terrain didn’t look too punishing.

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Loch Monica

It proved to be the start of the worst spell of the weather of the weekend as it tipped it down for 4-5 hours so we had lunch and a little afternoon snooze.

Around 5ish the weather changed dramatically and the sun came out while the mountains were still swathed in streaming clouds.

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The weather improves

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Our home from home

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Barkeval

We took in a long stroll in the other direction just enjoying the superb clear views and clambering around on the coastal rocks and multiple small headlands. This is an activity we’ve come to perfect over the years and termed “coastal plonking”. It normally involves scrambling very close to the water’s edge until someone gets wet (or in my case until someone steps on a rock that wasn’t there and falls on his hand resulting in a trip to casualty to have his hand stitched up but that’s another story)

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Looking south

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Ruinsival and the cliffs to the south

The light was just superb and I reeled off huge numbers of photos but it’s hard to catch the mood. In essence we were on a remote Scottish island with the whole bay (in fact what felt like the whole island) to ourselves.

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Down by the waters edge

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Harris Bay, Canna in the distance

Amazing how life’s little problems just melt away when you find yourself at one with the hills and you get a real perspective. I’ve been pretty busy at work the last couple of months and I often find it hard to leave it behind and unwind at home. Here it suddenly occurred to me I hadn’t thought about work since I landed in Glasgow. This is proper relaxation. One of my work colleagues is also a keen walker and he mentioned that he often “communes with the mountains” when he needs to think. I think we can all empathise with that view

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Barkeval and the Abhainn Rangail

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GM does the chores

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Moody mountains

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Ruinsival from the tent door

Time for tea (chilli and rice if you’re interested) before we decided we needed to light a fire on the beach which I’d been looking forward to all weekend. That’s for another post to come so for now here’s a little video slide show of the day’s coastal wanderings.

Unfinished Business – Rum, Easter 2012 Part 1   19 comments

So why “Unfinished Business”? Before I dive into the post let me tell you a little story from a previous visit to this island.

Back in 2008 me and GM took an impromptu trip to Scotland one October. After messing about on Bidean in Glencoe for a day and stroll to Peanmenach bothy on the coast of Moidart, we decided on a few days in Rum to capture the main ridge. We had a great walk around the coast to Dibidil bothy (a storming spot) and set out for the ridge the next day. A few hundred feet short of the summit of Askival on it’s scrambly south ridge, GM decided a hand-jam was in order. A sizeable chunk of Askival came loose and sliced open his hand in an expansive manner and re-arranged several of the bones. The rock bounced down, missing my head by a foot or so and GM and fell on me, nearly taking us both off. With calm understatement GM told me he thought he’d bust his hand. Remarkably we managed to get back down to the bothy with relative ease, pack up, walk most of the way back to Kinloch before getting a handy lift from a brand new Coastguard helicopter. So ended, abruptly our first visit to Rum with none of the peaks of the main ridge climbed. So Rum was classified as unfinished business. Now it was time to go back….

(My original photoset on Flickr is here)

We were originally planning to go Jura with several of the boys, but all of them apart from me and GM cried off with some poor excuses. We decided to keep Jura ready for next year and return to Rum. I decided to fly up from Bristol (not much more expensive than driving) with GM picking me up at Glasgow and taking us up to Suie Lodge for a brief overnight stop. The weather the next day was cold, wet and windy and we almost bailed out but thought we may as well go for it. Almost all the heavy snow that fell couple of days previously had gone, killing the debate about whether we should have taken axe and crampons. We reached Mallaig in the rain (made packing at the car a nightmare), bought the tickets and waited for the ferry.

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Small Isles Ferry

The rain stopped and things looked a little less grim, although the cloud was still down to a few hundred feet above sea level. Surprisingly there was a dogfish swimming quite nonchalantly about in the harbour which was quite something.

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Dogfish in Mallaig Harbour

There were several people waiting for the ferry although most had enough stuff to set up a small settlement so we assumed they were hostel bound

The ferry journey even on a day as grey as this was still enjoyable and I passed the time looking for dolphins without success. The views across to Eigg were still great although Rum was barely visible under a heavy blanket of cloud.

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Eigg

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Loch Scresort and Kinloch

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Jumping ship

Walk in, 7.7 miles, 1,200 feet of ascent

On reaching Loch Scresort we left the hostellers behind and started the long walk in to Harris on the far side of the island, chosen for its ideal start point for a circuit of the main ridge.

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Struggling with the weight of flapjacks

Despite the dreary low cloud the walk was still enjoyable with a sense of adventure in heading off to a remote corner of an equally remote island. It’s easy-going along a wide 4WD track and we made good time. As we passed a few highland cattle and deer Harris came into view and it became clear this was a special spot. The cloud lifted to an encouraging degree and we could see the full sweep of bay from the mausoleum to the cliffs and the large raised beach clearly visible.

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Harris

We set about finding a decent campsite for the weekend. Pete over at Writesofway had told me of spot by the beach with a fire-pit and plenty of wood to burn but we noticed another couple had pitched up just across the river so we thought it a little impolite to intrude on their privacy. We eventually decided on one of the smaller enclosures up near the raised beach which didn’t have the beach fire potential but did have better views. It was a pretty cracking spot, with the sea in front and the mountains behind and a real sense of wilderness. I loved it, nothing is better than getting your tent set up in a wild location and then just soak up the atmosphere with brew.

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Our pitch amongst the stones

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GM, raised beach and Ruinsival

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Looking south along the coast

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GM enjoys a brew

We spent the rest of the evening pottering on the beach and collecting water and various bits of driftwood to sit on and provide improvised laminate flooring in the tent porch. We dined on stir-fry and noodles and watched as the skies cleared, the stars came out and the main ridge slowly revealed itself. It was magical, if a little chilly and the late evening light was truly magnificent.

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Yours truly admiring the sunset

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Sunset

Life seems pretty simple at such times as you settle down to simple pleasures, a hot brew, a homemade flapjack and a view not many people get to see. We kept our fingers crossed the weather forecast for the next day might be wrong.

Main Ridge, 7.4 miles, 3,250 feet of ascent

It wasn’t. The next morning we woke to dull leaden skies and despite the sense that it was only going to get worse we decided to give the ridge a try.

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Enjoy the view while you can

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Calm before the storm

It started drizzling within an hour and the climb up to Ruinsival was a little unrewarding. Once on the top my mood improved as we crossed the strangely eroded gabbro rocks on the summit, almost like a gabbro pavement.

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Ruinsival summit

We were in the cloud but it wasn’t too cold and things could be worse so we pressed on, exploring the cliff edges of Leac a Chasteil as we went.

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Standing on the edge

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Don't do it

Only as we hit the nameless summit at 759m did the weather suddenly turn wetter, windier and colder. Onwards to Ainshval you get a first taste of the real flavour as the ridge suddenly narrows and changes to basalt which was astonishingly slippery and pretty un-nerving. We managed to get down an onto Ainshval without any incident.

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Ainshval, cold wet and windy

Then the fun really started. We tried to follow the ridge down towards Trollaval but lost the route. We ended up on some of the scariest terrain I’ve been on for many a year, a series of small ledges of slippery basalt that just seemed willing us to a nasty fall. We slithered and picked our way slowly down, GM calmly, me in an increasingly agitated state. As we descended we were acutely aware of the risk of not being able to continue down or return the way we had come. You often read in guide-books “no place be in bad weather and poor visibility” and treat it glibly. However Rum has mountains that are not to be trifled with and all the way down I kept thinking “not again”.

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Forced smile

As we neared what we hoped was the bottom of the worst I slipped and nearly came off a very short down-climb, I’d have done myself a nasty if I had fallen. Fortunately my bone-head saved me from slipping as I jammed it into the rock as a makeshift point of contact and after recovering what was left of my composure and checking to see if I needed a change of underwear we seemed clear of the difficulties and the col was in sight below us.

I’d had enough. I was wet, cold and my nerves were shredded so I wanted to head down. GM decided to plough on alone. I didn’t say it at the time but I really didn’t want him to carry on. He’s an extremely experienced mountaineer and climber so the ridge was well within his compass but the previous hour and the last visit to Rum was messing with my head. He headed off to Trollaval and I started the long and lonely trudge back to camp in the drizzle. I stopped at Loch Fiachanis and there were some wafts of blue sky which cheered me up a bit. Short-lived though and the rain was soon back. I was relieved to get back to the tent, get changed and warm up with several brews. GM showed up a couple of hours later and I was mightily pleased he’d managed to do the main summits (and mightily relieved he’d done it without incident). The rain was pretty much set in for the day so after a well-earned meal of anchovy carbonara we settled in for a wet and windy night. Second attempt at the main ridge, second epic, albeit with a happier outcome. As I said, Rum is not to be trifled with.

Enjoy the slideshow, a little longer than normal but I thought the music seemed to fit. Sorry for the lack of photos of the ridge. Not really a day for the camera in more ways than one. More Rum adventures to follow

Easter in Glen Kingie   14 comments

I don’t get up to Scotland as often as I’d like to since I moved to Herefordshire and the kids arrived. However for the last couple of years I’ve been able to use the Easter weekend as an opportunity to head north for some backpacking. This year it was just me and GM and after the usual debate about where to go we settled on Glen Kingie. There were a couple of new Munros for me and several new Corbetts for GM. The forecast sounded excellent so we headed up on the Thursday night and stopped off at the Roybridge Bunkhouse for a cheap bed and a few preparatory beers.

Day 1 – The walk in and Sgurr Mhurlagain

Gairich from the Dam on Loch Quoich

The weather was glorious, sunny and hazy and after a hearty Little Chef breakfast in Spean Bridge we drove up to the Dam at the end of Loch Quoich. We had considered starting from the far end of Loch Arkaig as the walk in was much shorter but anyone who has driven it can tell you the road along the side of the Loch is a rollercoaster of bumps and sharp bends for 20 miles and no fun (especially as passenger when I’m driving).

As we packed the dawning reality of a heavy rucksack with far too much food in it was lightened by the spectacular views unfolding. The early mist was clearing to leave wonderful smoky views of Gairich across Loch Quoich.

Gairich from the Loch Quoich dam

As we set off it was turning into a perfect day for walking, warm and sunny but not hot enough to be a problem. I had thought about walking in over Gairich but as soon as the pack was on my shoulders I ditched that idea. I’m way past such foolishness.

GM crossing the Loch Quoich dam

Apart from the first mile where the path is submerged under the loch the way into Glen Kingie was easy going.

GM crossing the trackless bog towards Glen Kingie

The views across the Loch were replaced with equally fine ones along Glen Kingie. We followed the river towards Kinbreack bothy rather than the stalkers path. The valley floor is nearly flat so the river is broad and extremely deep and would represent a real challenge to cross it other than a few isolated shallow spots.

Me alongside the river Kingie, Fraoch Bheinn behind

Once we had passed the point where the river that flows past the bothy enters the Kingie we found a quality campsite next to a shallow crossing point. Just as well as we’d both had enough of carrying the packs by then. Time scatter our gear over an acre of riverbank and start to consume the large quantities of food I’d lugged in.

GM at Base Camp, Fraoch Bheinn behind

Someone has to make the tea!

After a leisurely lunch, brew and tent set up it was still early afternoon so plenty of time to get a summit in. We chose Sgurr Mhurlagain behind the bothy that involved 350m of really steep grass that I found really hard work, probably a result of carrying my extravagant supplies for 8 miles. GM too pity on me and helped reduce my load scrounging most of my leftovers. Scotch Pies aren’t so appetising when cold and stale but GM will eat any old crap. I prefer them the traditional Scottish way – deep fried.

Once we reached the NE ridge the going was much easier and we reached the summit by 5pm

Approaching the summit of Sgurr Mhurlagain

A picture of weariness...

It’s a really interesting mountain with a line of broken cliffs below the summit and expansive views across to Knoydart although it was hazy. Looking east along the length of Loch Arkaig made me feel vindicated in my decision not drive along it again. Proof that smaller hills are often better than the big ones

GM on the summit of Sgurr Mhurlagain

Me on the summit of Sgurr Mhurlagain!

We headed down the SW ridge and then turned down the W slopes to reach the stalkers path down past the bothy and back to the tent.

Gairich and Kinbreack bothy

Crossing the Kingie back to base camp

It was still a warm evening so GM convinced me a swim was in order. It was as cold as you’d expect but really refreshing, first time I’ve swum in Scottish river for over 20 years

A refreshing dip at the end of a long day

We dined in relative luxury on stir fry with noodles and watched the sun set after a day of 12.3 miles and 2,300 feet of ascent. As we climbed into the tent for the night our thoughts were around how we were going to cope with another full day in the hot sun tomorrow. 30 minutes later it was raining.

Shorts over thermals - straight off the catwalk

Sunset over Glen Kingie

Day 2 – Sgurr Mor

We woke to a typical Scottish day, wet and windy, but after a lie-in and leisurely breakfast the weather looked better so we headed for the main ridge to the north so I could bag Sgurr Mor. There is an excellent stalkers path that heads up the valley and then turns to head up to, and along the ridge. As the local terrain is rough and grassy it’s a real bonus to follow a well-made path especially with weary legs after the previous day’s efforts. The weather was still damp but with occasional bright spots and only a couple of really heavy showers.

Normal Scottish weather service resumed

Local wildlife

Looking back down Glen Kingie

With the path leading us up, we made steady progress over Sgurr Beag and on to Sgurr Mor (Munro 213 for me).

GM heading for Sgurr Mor

Sgurr an Fhuarain

On the stalkers path up Sgurr Mor

The weather was still promising so we decided to carry on to the Corbett at the end of the ridge Sgurr an Fhuarain. On the way down the East Ridge we had the best spell of weather with some pleasant sunny spells and much clearer views across to the Corbetts to the south and over Loch Quoich to South Kintail.

Fraoch Bheinn

Sgurr Mhurlagain and Fraoch Bheinn

Loch Quoich and South Kintail

The weather out west still looked threatening so we headed back to the tent after another pretty long day of 8.5 miles and 4,000 feet of ascent. No swimming tonight but the evening was lightened by the discovery that Anchovy Carbonara, despite looking pretty awful is a high quality backpacking meal – big thanks to EWO for the Anchovy tip! We also heard a very unusual sound like a small helicopter. Was it a bird? Was it a bat? We needed ED with his vastly superior nature knowledge as me and GM are pretty hopeless with such things. It drove us nuts every night trying to wok out what it was. It wasn’t until we got back that we discovered it’s likely to be a member of the Snipe family. As we turned in, you guessed, it started to rain

Rainbow over the glen

Day 3 – Fraoch Bheinn

Heavy rain through the morning kept us in the tent, eating granola, drinking tea and playing lateral thinking puzzles, but by lunchtime it stopped and patches of blue sky appeared (I’m turning into the EWO these days). We headed off up Fraoch Bheinn the prominent pyramid directly across the river. First obstacle are the huge tussocks that proliferate the valley. GM calls them babies heads – I thought they looked more like Critters from that crap 1980’s movie.

Attack of the killer tussocks...

It’s another steep climb but with plenty of rocky patches to keep the interest going.

Fraoch Bheinn NE ridge

Sgurr Beag & Sgurr Mor

Once over 600m the NE ridge narrows into an excellent, broad, rocky crest with excellent views in all directions. I doubt the ridge gets many ascent and we certainly saw no-one today.

GM admires the NE ridge of Fraoch Bheinn

It’s another quality small mountain and possibly the best in the area (Sgurr Mor by comparison is a little bland). The summit is broad flat and stony and after a brief lunch on the summit we headed back down, following the extremely steep N ridge before heading right into Coire a Chaorainn picking up shallow rocky ridge which broke up the steep descent and gave some interest on the way back to the tent

GM on the summit of Fraoch Bheinn

After a chilli and a fun session trying to burn the rubbish we turned in and planned an early start the next day to head home with another 4.4. miles and 2,300 feet of ascent completed

A well earned chilli

Glow in the dark

Day 4 – Gairich and home

We breakfasted early, packed and were away from the campsite by 7:30am. We picked up the stalkers path towards Gairich where it climbs steeply up the W flank. I wasn’t looking forward to hauling my sorry ass and pack over a Munro. However the Victorian estate workers had done us proud again with a quality stalkers path that took us most of the way to 700m and from there it was a lovely high level walk under improving weather and clearing skies to the top.

On the stalkers path on the west slopes of Gairich

GM approaching Gairich from the west

GM approaching Gairich summit

We were on the summit by 10am and I don’t mind admitting I was pretty pleased with myself. We celebrated our achievement (Munro 214 for me) with a pretty squalid 4 day old rhubarb pie but 4 days into a backpacking trip you have to take what small pleasures you can.

The summit reward - a 4 day old Morrisons rhubarb pie!

Gairich is a high quality summit, its isolated position giving fine views across Knoydart and across Loch Quoich to Kintail and South towards Glenfinnan and Moidart.

Me gazing out to the east

It was too cold to linger so we headed down the surprisingly steep and rocky E flank and then across the broad eastern flanks to pick up our route in and back across the dam to the car. Another 9 miles and 2500 feet of ascent completed

Heading home

The home straight

"Can I take this bloody pack off now"

A top quality trip even though the weather wasn’t quite as good as we’d been led to believe (the rest of the UK including J, D, and L at my parents caravan in Wales was still basking in an April heat-wave). I’d recommend Glen Kingie for a weekend trip as classic, remote and little trodden glen. We only met two people at the bothy and passed a few day walkers on their way up Gairich while we were coming down. In total, 34 miles and 11,000 feet of ascent and I was especially pleased that my knee stood up to challenge without any real problems.

Both me and GM have put together a compilation slideshow so they are both below. As usual my full set of photos can be found here on Flickr

Roll on Easter 2012!

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