Gulvain South Top - 961m
Gulvain - 987m

Monday 7th April 2014

Weather/Conditions: Winter finally released - brown spring hills, extensive snow patches, some full-depth debris here and there. Cloud base just covering the hills but well broken up. A very pretty day.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 21.4km / 1300m / 5h 50m
Accompanying: Alone

At long last, the "greatest winter that never was" released it's grip. Let me explain that title. The preceding winter, the freezing level hovered half-way around the hillsides. It never seemed to thaw, or go so cold that the snow met sea level. At the same time, fronts arrived from the west, one after the other, dumping snow all the time, but never melting, leaving the high hills smothered under ever-greater volumes of snow. The avalanche risk was always high and conditions were often dangerous. It had all the recipes for a superb winter, but the weather never seemed to lighten up and as thus we had nothing but weeks, then months of grey, frontal weather and bad snow conditions.

But by April, things had changed and a thaw put the hills firmly back into spring condition. What was left were monstrously deep snow patches left everywhere, of a kind I'm not used to in Scotland. I was to drop Steve and Jen in Oban and so took the opportunity to find a Munro to count toward my second round. Gulvain wasn't so far from Oban, so I set off north for Fort William. I enjoyed driving the Connel Bridge - Ballachulish, road but I didn't especially recognise much. I didn't feel wholly familiar with this corner of the country. But further north I was on home territory. In the Fort William Morrisons' I met Keith, whose comment to Gulvain was "not a bit late?". He paused a moment, then "ah, you know what your doing". Funny he should mention that, I'd calculated it all out in my head and knew that if I moved well, I should have no issues getting to the summit in back in time for nightfall. I only began walking just after 3pm, which is of course somewhat late!

I always thought I'd take a bike next time I came as the track in is just so cycleable, but faced with a flat tyre at home and the opportunity to climb Gulvain, the bike stayed in the shed and I braced myself for the walk in. In reality it was quite nice, and I didn't grudge it much. I could feel the western Highland silence pouring into me and the sun was out. The first and only time I came here, after all, was on my Munro Round on a stinking damp day. It really was horrible weather, and I saw nothing and experienced nothing of the landscape. (The stag leap was quite a sight, though)

Toiling up the long south ridge brought me to the south top and my first view of the summit cone of Gulvain, still some way off. I got my first views north, into a wild and peaceful area that I really had little experience of. Standing on Gulvain and looking north made me imagine I could just keep wandering off into the wilderness and not stop. The light also had an epic quality, a haze giving the hills of Dessarry a wash, a distance, a sense of grandeur. Amazing to think I was one of the sole observers. There really are so few people out here.

As a hill, Gulvain seems maligned but I like it. Sure, it's an effort to get to, but that's what its about. It's in a hell of a position too. I had a shock reminder that winter hadn't quite left: the summit, which would normally sport a tall cairn was completely smothered by a cap of snow. At first I thought this snow would be overhanging a coire, so attuned I am to staying away from possible corniced edges. It almost kept me from reaching the top as I tend not to like walking over snowy summits with no idea what lies on the far side. But a scout around the summit area brought the realisation that it was a simple snow hump, albeit perched on the very summit of the mountain, and with that knowledge I finally stood on top.

I didn't move too quick. I spent a lot of time there, taking in the view, taking in the position, looking out for details in the land. I ended up spending a very long, relaxed time up there.

The way back was long. Down the south ridge by my route of ascent, I headed out the glen, getting progressively more tired, remembering just how long this day was. And to think this was one of my "easier" days on my Munro Round, done in place of (and a day before) the ten Mamores. The glen track seemed to add up far further than the miles on the map and I slogged out the last section, feeling the miles in my body, now pretty spent and amazed that the walk had suddenly become so hard.

I really felt completely spent when I finally reached the road in last light. I couldn't believe it had got so difficult (21km isn't necessarily such high mileage). As was usual, I thought back to the Munro Round. Had it really been that difficult? Actually, yes it probably had, and I'd still had enough of physical exhaustion - enough of the brutality of that round.

I drove to Fort William to meet Nathan and Cameron in the pub for a game of pool and some drinks, then slept in Nathan's damp spare room that night!

The next day: Meall Cumhainn.

360° Panorama

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) c. 3.05pm Layby, A861 junction
(2.35) 5.40pm Gulvain South Top
(3.00) 6.05pm Gulvain summit sans 'snow cap'
(3.10) 6.15pm Gulvain: actual summit
(3.30) 6.35pm Gulvain (left)
(3.50) 6.55pm Gulvain South Top
(5.50) 8.55pm Layby, A861 junction

Written: 2015-11-30