Sunday 12th December 2010
Weather/Conditions: Cold and clear - the sunrise was immense. There was some wind at the top making it too cold to stop for long. Beautiful weather all day though, dawn until dusk.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 9.8km / 900m / 3h 50m
Accompanying: Alone (Kev and Davy on the walk out)
Ascent and Dawn
So the previous day Kev McKeown and I almost made the summit of Sgurr nan Coireachan. I hated not to get a summit, and decided that an early start this Sunday morning would be needed. The weather was forecast to be superb and I settled on an early morning walk to Sgurr Thuilm. Sometimes getting out of bed is the problem, but I woke in the bothy somewhere around 6.30am.
Darkness. Too sleepy to get up, I could have slept but for the groin's complaints. I unzipped from the sleeping bag, tiptoed over Kev McK's occupied sleeping bag and went outside to relieve myself in front of the bothy.
Out to a scene of darkness. A starry expanse above, Streap, the blackest silhouette, edged up against the atmospheric glow. Stars glowed and bubbled in the sky, all jewels. Venus glowed a sun in itself and promised a new, bright day ahead. Now I wasn't that tired. I wasn't particularly cold so it would be a crime not to go.
I went back into the darkness and chill of the bothy, to pack my stuff while padding around Kev who was sleeping in front of the fire. Davy woke up, I located the map as a result and said I was heading for Sgurr Thuilm. "Be back around 11" I said and headed out of the bothy.
It was darkness at first as I walked the track to the foot of the hill. A cold wind blew through breaks in my warm clothing but I marched on anyway and headed up to spur that led the long way to the summit.
Ready for the long slog and for dawn, I crunched over the frozen ground - grasses and soil were frozen stiff. Dawn broke in increments; a glimmer here, a glow there. There was no wind as I climbed the spur of Druim a' Choire Bheithe and above the western horizon, the Band of Venus swung towards the ground, bringing mountains into illumination. Numerous mountains I could only guess the names of. Names bounced around my head to the shapes on the horizon: Sgorr Dhomhnuill, Rois-bheinn, maybe? Mountains were everywhere, sometimes framed by the sky, caught in a jumble among other obscure summits, or floating above a grey haze that carpeted the land beyond the distance of a couple of glens.
As the summit pulled around into view I knew I was making progress, drawing up parallel to Sgurr nan Coireachan which lies of opposite on the Horseshoe. The pink glow had reached it's summit cap, bringing this most Torridonian of summits into dawn. I climbed high enough to at last be among the light rays. The sun had risen above the shoulder of Streap, but a mid-December sun offers little warmth and a breeze was blowing. It was warm if I moved but too cold really to stop.
I followed snow fields, walked between the thinning grasses, and over rock steps. One bank of frozen snow had to be negotiated and although it would usually require the use of crampons, I'd heard about step cutting from a previous mountaineering era. I hacked some out of the snow to save the unnecessary effort of crampons. It's harder than it looks, but I got up eventually and trod the rest of the way to Sgurr Thuilm's summit cairn.
Views opened out to the north, all the way to Glen Shiel. I took my panorama, soaked up the scene and used the remaining feeling in my fingers to text home, because for some reason they needed to know about this magical moment.
Having spent fifteen minutes at the summit, I turned around and went down. I'd seen the Cuillin's of Rum, Skye, Munros of Knoydart, Sgurr na Ciche, Ben Cruachan (Southern Highlands) and Ben Nevis poking it's dome above the kilometre-high haze. There's nothing quite comparable to being up somewhere like this during sunrise, but I had to get down. I'd said 11am to Davy and I reckoned I might make it back for that time, but I'd need to go fast. A quick descent followed, although sometimes steep and tedious. I got a foot very wet and arrived back at the glen with perhaps fifteen minutes to go until 11am. I got back at five minute past to the sight of Davy and Kev standing by the bothy door.
Just in time for breakfast, I thought.
After a breakfast of tomato soup and bread we packed up, cleaned the bothy then walked the kilometres down Glen Finnan. We didn't have that far to go and arrived underneath the Glenfinnan Viaduct - a beautiful piece of architecture although sparse in design seen up close. We arrived at the car a few minutes later, in the car park and coated in frost.
We headed up to Glenfinnan village first. There were no shops so we headed onto Fort William. I demanded we stop by the immense Jacobite Monument first, then went on our way. Since we'd arrived here in darkness two nights ago, I was getting my first glimpses of the mountains and dead ahead on the road, Ben Nevis' whaleback rose from sea level to a snow capped summit very high up. It's two subsidiary Carn Dearg's give it bulk and even if this is it's benign side, it's sheer size is probably unparalleled in these islands.
With mouth-watering views across Loch Linnhe to the Ben, Kev and I stopped the car at Corpach and got pictures from the shore - see below. Then we headed south again and stopped in at Tyndrum on the way back to Glasgow.
Later I heard the news a 19 year old guy was killed at Tower Gap on Ben Nevis. It poignant to be in the same area at the time, to know that another person that ages with you can get killed, and sobering to think he and his mates probably woke up to a beautiful morning too in anticipation of the day ahead. Be very careful!
Anyway, Kev kindly dropped me at my front door. I should get him to drop me in the centre of Glasgow because my house is a hell of a diversion!
Sgurr Thuilm 180° North
Sgurr Thuilm 180° South
(0.00) 7.15am Corryhully bothy
(2.20) 9.35am Sgurr Thuilm
(2.35) 9.50am Sgurr Thuilm (left)
(3.50) 11.05am Corryhully bothy