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.