Chno Dearg - 1046m
Stob Coire Sgriodain - 979m
Tuesday 27th December 2011
Weather/Conditions: Cold and clear at first with flat light and strange grey skies. IN the afternoon a front moved through and we got pretty soaked. Darkness fell on Munro #2 and used head torches to the end. Only snow banks on the hills but still very cold looking. Bleak!
Distance/Ascent/Time: 20.2km / 1230m / 10h
Accompanying: Dougie, Struan, Craig, Ian
As it happened, nobody did the second day - the rain fell incessantly and winds (apparently) hit 100mph on the summits.
I took the train up in the morning of the 27th. The rest of the guys - Ian, Craig, Struan and Dougie - would meet me at Bridge of Orchy station. I hadn't taken the train in a while. It's expensive but I enjoy it. Outside, the sky had the look of expectancy - the skies were streaked in grey cloud, the mountains were witness to the silent coming of a front. The air was edgy. Full blown Highland bleakness.
On the train I sensed nervousness, not in myself; instead the air was tense and loaded. We expected to be hit by a front on the hills, and it would finally arrive while we were on the summits as night fell, hours from civilisation.
The train pulled into Bridge of Orchy station, and the guys piled on. I met Ian for the first time and otherwise it was the usual suspects, all away for another adventure. At Corrour I hauled my heavy rucksack onto my back - made heavier when I put on sandals and tied my boots to the back. A track took us to Loch Ossian and we started up the southern flank of Beinn na Lap.
Beinn na Lap
I changed into boots when we reached the grasses. Today was all desolation and silence, and if you were on your own in the wrong frame of mind it was the kind of place that might overwhelm you. The skies were streaked grey, still and metallic. An incessant wind told of changes to come. Struan and I pressed ahead to the summit ridge - I couldn't really stop because a fierce cold wind bit deep and forced movement. So soon after, we arrived at the cairn at the top of one of the easiest Munros.
We descended toward Chno Dearg, first down the north ridge then deep into the valley. If we'd been high on the hills, we'd have seen the oncoming front swallow successive mountain ranges. But low down we saw nothing. Approaching the river, Allt Feith Thuill, the weather was rapidly changing. We crossed the river without issue (it was a lot easier than we'd thought it would be) and began the long, slow slog to Chno Dearg. 550 long vertical metres to the top.
Navigate by Night: Chno and Sgriodain
It also started to get dark. Cloud clamped down on the hills and the breeze got up once we'd gained altitude. The freezing wind from earlier had turned warm, but rain began to spit. I could tell everyone was tired on the way up Chno Dearg. With no way out but ahead, I was quietly thrilled by our commitment. Sron Ruadh is the small south spur of Chno Dearg and we climbed onto this, following it to the top. A large cairn told us the summit of Chno Dearg and after the big slog, I could finally feel as if we were making solid progress.
It was also nearly dark, misty, wet and windy. Everyone was pretty soaked and somehow I took up the navigation reins: I actually discovered that I enjoyed the subtleties of navigation. All I remember from the night was traversing along great snow banks as we carefully wound our way toward our last Munro, Stob Coire Sgriodain. The team enjoyed the hilarity when I pulled out a pair of socks in place for forgotten mitts. The downside was that I kept fighting numb hands and hot aches while trying to use a map and compass.
GPS helped a lot - no doubt - but as we drew closer in on Stob Coire Sgriodain, I had the sensation of being trapped. We'd done so much navigation work to get to this point, but I was so uncomfortable (and getting cold) that I just wanted to be warm again. We'd be rewarded by stoic patience: keep close attention to the compass, GPS and terrain, and we would get out.
I should mention that I believe we came within metres of the summit of Stob Coire Sgriodain's South Top, which is of Munro height. I know we were there because it was one of our checkpoints. But I never found a cairn. And our cold, windswept night was not the time to be pottering around in search of a wee cairn but one day I'll go back and maybe shed light on how close we might have come.
In due time, we picked up an indistinct path and arrived at Stob Coire Sgriodain. The cairn was unmistakably big. The relief to be here was enormous, and finally we were near the end. Only a descent to go and we'll be down at Tulloch.
If only it were that simple.
There's something about descending in the dark. You can't tell where you are. There are sometimes no markers, no views, no interest. You lose sense of where you really are and how high you are in relation to other mountains. As a result, our descent went on and on. And on. And on... Craig slipped and fell a considerable distance, luck saved him injury.
Distances multiplied and tiredness heralded frustration. Some time later, the ground flattened out and I wondered if we'd finally reached the bottom. Are we near the end yet? No way to tell... Walking through bogs and over hillocks, the end just wouldn't arrive. We found a small forestry track which led into Fersit, then got lost in Fersit (one street. Figure that one out) From there we headed back up the road to Tulloch station, a never-ending walk in the dark.
I was shattered. Sore, hungry, cold, wet and ultimately exhausted. This trip took it out of me so much so, that I got a virus that took a couple of weeks to clear. (Made the New Year period a bit less fun)
The bunkhouse made us all soup and chicken - much, much appreciated and then I clocked off to bed.
It had been an interesting day: oppressive at first, entirely due to the weather. Then cold and wet. When night fell, a test of endurance, patience, and stoicism. It was a hard shift, and the insane weight of my rucksack couldn't have helped. I don't want to work my body that hard too often, but hey, it was fun otherwise. One of the greatest pleasures was in the night navigation across the plateau to Stob Coire Sgriodain.
The next morning, Dave picked me up and we went to Pitlochry. The New Year's fun involved a lot of alcohol, Mario Kart, ice axes and hospital - but that's another story!
Beinn na Lap
(0.00) 11.45am Corrour
(1.40) 1.25pm Beinn na Lap
(2.55) 2.40pm Allt Feith Thuill
(4.35) 4.20pm Chno Dearg
(6.30) 6.15pm Stob Coire Sgriodain
(10.00) 9.45pm Tulloch