Gualann Sheileach - 612m
Thursday 29th December 2016
Weather/Conditions: Flat morning light and overcast on Creag a' Mhadaidh. The sun broke through a bit on Gualann Sheileach which was lovely, then more overcast conditions back to the road. Pretty non-descript!
Distance/Ascent/Time: 7.6km / 350m / 2h // 8.3km / 70m / 2h 55m
Accompanying: Kev and Daniel
Creag a' Mhadaidh and Gualann Sheileach are two hills of identical height that rise above either side of the track to Loch Rannoch. With Duinish at nearly 450m, and their summits are just over 600m, they appear as mere swells in the moorland. To that end, it would seem that Creag a' Mhadaidh is one of the easier Grahams to climb. I was up and out at daybreak, walking the track southward in purple morning light.
Coming between the two summits, I cut off the track and headed across moorland to the hill. Deer were scampering away, just about the only life I saw in this part of the world. Creag a' Mhadaidh presented a flat pudding-like summit area, with a cairn at one end. The light was dull and flat, a real wild part of the country.
But it's wild in a strange way. There didn't seem to be any life here. Sure, there were a few deer, but in the entire area the ambience was one of desolation, a place that feels as though everything has been hunted to extinction. No trees grow, barely a bird sings. It's a hinterland caught in limbo between the green fertility of Rannoch and the bustle of traffic in Drumochter. An odd place indeed.
I crossed the track once again and made off up snow slopes for the second top, Gualann Sheileach, whose summit presents a diminuitive ridge. Some sun broke out, and the hills of Glen Lyon seemed caught static, exploding with light and mist. For a while the place seemed less of a moonscape, I think it was almost as much sun as I saw in three days: December is a dark time in the Highlands.
From Gualann Sheileach I headed north. I was surprised to come across a fenced off area, where they are regenerating trees. It seems odd to me that they do it this way; why not just cut deer numbers altogether? Why go to the trouble of fencing an area off that will, in time, look like an unnatural square-cut block of lush forest? Perhaps there is something I don't know, but in any case it is nice to see regeneration efforts from time to time.
On arrival back at the bothy, and having only been out for two hours, Kev and Daniel were up and packing. Soon we would have bags packed, the bothy and fire cleaned out, and on our way north to Drumochter. On our way, we met some folk going south; a couple folk on bikes (going to Ben Alder Cottage via. Rannoch!) and another group who were just about to get settled into the bothy.
Under overcast skies we followed the track by Loch Garry to eventually end up back at Dalnaspidal with sore feet. A weather front was on it's way in. I'd thought about staying up to climb the Carn Mairg Munros, but with a washout forecast for the 30th, I headed home to Glasgow.
A final word on this trip is that I went to Duinish partly with the intention of thinking about, and getting my mind straight, on certain matters relating to my life. I discovered that when I got home from Duinish I had more doubts, not less, and it took a few more chats with folk to get my thoughts straight again.
At New Year I made some pretty radical changes, informed people of my plans. A week later I made the move from Glasgow to the Highlands, a move that has probably only changed me for the better, and something that has needed to be done for a long time now. In my mid-20s I am getting no younger, and if I am to uproot it must be now rather than later. This means some sacrifices that I wouldn't have especially made otherwise, but for the benefit of my overall life, they were worth making. I'm glad to say I think I was right, and for the moment stay in Ballachulish. I'm very glad I did it.
Creag a' Mhadaidh
(0.00) 8.30am Duinish
(0.50) 9.20am Creag a' Mhadaidh
(1.30) 10.00am Gualann Sheileach
(2.00) 10.30am Duinish
(0.00) 11.50am Duinish
(2.55) 2.45pm Dalnaspidal