Saturday, 6 February 2016

Sgurr Dhomhnuill. 2913 feet. Corran Ferry. Ardgour. Snow photos.An epic day out.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN

Alex and John had a plan. Having finished the Munros (3000 foot and over Scottish mountains) and moved onto collecting Corbetts (2500 foot to 3000 foot mountains) they had their collective eye on Sgurr Dhomhuill, at 2913 feet or 873 metres.
As this lay in the wilds of Ardgour, one of the emptiest and least frequented areas of Scotland (due to having zero Munros of course and sitting apart from the usual tourist trails) it required an early start.
4:30 am in my case when my alarm went off in a freezing bedroom.
A full moon was out in Glasgow as I scraped frost off my car windscreen at minus 5 below. No snow in the city but plenty of ice on the pavements. Thankfully, the main roads had been gritted. I motored over to John's house where we picked up Alex as well in the darkness of a suburban street. Alex offered to drive as his car is economical petrol wise.  By the time we arrived at the Corran ferry, seen above, the gateway to Sunart and Ardgour it was just getting light. This area sits on a peninsula just south of Fort William and Britain's highest mountain- Ben Cartwright. (Just as well he lived in the Nevada desert or there would be snow on that cowboy hat year round.)
I was wishing I was on the sun soaked Bonanza ranch as well by this point as the thought of getting out the car and trudging up a remote highland glen for 12 km there and back was now a somewhat unappealing prospect. Although clear starry skies had sparkled back in Glasgow it was grey, dull and claggy over the mountains. Personally, I thought it was a tad ambitious to attempt the highest mountain in Ardgour in late January with the possibility of heavy snow as these remote hills are a tough proposition in good summer conditions.Baggers are always keen and optimistic though.

Once over the ferry we motored across to Strontian then up a minor side road beside the Strontian River where there is a car park. As its dark by 4:00pm at this time of year Alex and John set off at a blistering pace so they would not be benighted on the mountain coming off. I tagged along but when it started to snow heavily and the views got even worse my enthusiasm waned alarmingly. It's always been low in crap weather and soars like an eagle in sunshine. I don't mind bad weather outside at work if I'm getting paid for it but my free time on this earth is too precious to waste wandering around in the mist.
Even Alex looked less keen when we spotted our first glimpse of the mountain, mostly invisible under grey clag. (Gloomy, oppressive damp mountain murk that can soak you without actually raining)
As it continued to snow on and off I bailed out at this point. When it was mentioned as a trip I had a strong feeling I'd climbed this hill in the past but not making a note of my Corbett's on a saved list I couldn't remember who I did it with 20 odd years ago.
I waved goodbye to the plucky pair as they crossed the stream then headed up to the long undulating ridge-line of the Druim Leac a' Sgiathain. Even after negotiating that they had to get past Sgurr na h-ighinn at 2492 feet before reaching the mighty slopes of Sgurr Dhomhnuill. Given the poor conditions it was a ridge too far for me and I picked a nature ramble through the ancient oak woods of Ariundle instead as that was on the way back to the car. I also had a small blister from a previous solo walk  and didn't want to enlarge it without any major reward at the end of it.
This purpose built trail was mainly on wooden board walks through the forest and would be nice in spring or summer. Being winter and snowing steadily by now all I observed was a wren, a raven, a faraway jay then a dipper in the river. The trail followed the banks of the Strontian River for a few miles with the option of entering the village or returning to the car. I opted for the latter as I had the keys and a good book, food and juice on hand to entertain myself. "Itch" by Simon Mayo. Review here. Excellent read.
A modern classic about a Schoolboy element hunter and his adventures. An unusual subject but written with great boy's own adventure breakneck speed and witty dialogue that deserves massive acclaim. A cracker of a page turner that most folk would love and find interesting. Spookily appropriate too given that Stronian was where this particular element in the periodic tables was discovered.
The Strontian River. Lucky for me I had a good book and Alex's car keys  as it continued snowing for the next few hours and as darkness fell I thought about driving up to meet them but worried about getting stuck on the snow covered dead end track as I hadn't seen many suitable passing places to turn around without a slope involved. Being influenced by the gulf stream we don't usually get enough snow at low levels in Scotland to justify snow chains unless you have oodles of money as most years nowadays they would just lie unused in the boot unless you do a lot of highland tracks. The main roads are normally gritted.
Eventually they returned just as I was entertaining the notion of posting them "missing in action."
(This is a photo taken in the morning of the walk in along the minor road)

Oh, I almost forgot to mention Alex and John were defeated in their noble quest, having to turn back through complete exhaustion after miles of knee deep snow, strong winds and occasional drifts. They were only a few hundred feet from the summit but ran out of energy and daylight and were worried about saving enough remaining strength for the return. Here's a zoom of the summit. So glad I turned back earlier as my heart was not in it that day. It never is in rubbish weather :o)
John said it was one of the hardest winter trips he's done. Alex was too knackered to say anything much.This is the prize above. A summer trip methinks to bag it now.
The return on the Corran ferry was in the pitch dark and the young girl collecting our money out on the freezing car deck with a howling wind reminded me once again why I'm glad I don't live and work in the highlands. It's grim up north. She seemed happy though.
Our intention was to visit and stay in the Steall Hut overnight, a mountaineering abode under Ben Nevis  reached by a single track road, then a narrow walking gorge to the hut but we didn't get very far. On the first hill into the hut we slid back down and decided to cut our losses at that point as it was too dangerous to continue. (we heard later from our club that the ones who reached this hut earlier had no hot water, lights or heating  so it was just like a stone freezer for two nights of our stay and they had problems getting out themselves. Despite being young and fit they never got up any summits either due to deep snow and dangerous conditions.Some had to walk the full length of the minor road to get back out again.
After a spot of snow shoveling and a turnabout with the car we decided to return home to Glasgow where the snow had been falling all day.
We arrived back in the city around 11:30pm after an 18 hour round trip. Ironically, I was in my element now energized... so I proceeded to take some city snow photos.
Clyde Tunnel area between Cardonald and Govan. Main roads gritted, side streets covered in icy snow.
The road to sunny Govan. This snow, the first of winter at low levels, didn't last long and it was soon back to rain, grey skies and storms battering the coast. Wildlife can handle heavy snow as they are adapted to it and live under this protective covering. They can't thrive however in recent winters with daily rain and flooding being the new norm.The world population currently grows at over 10,000 people every hour. In Cleopatra's day it was around 300 million and the Romans killed thousands of lions,bears, bulls, buffalo, horses,and anything else that would provide entertainment in the "games."  By the early 1800s it reached one billion but only after seven million years of human development. Now it tops 7 billion a mere 200 years later and is still rising. The truth is there is no room left for animals in the wild at our current rate of growth, only humans.

And I believe in this next article/statement 100 percent. We are all being conned and taken for a ride like the idiots we are.When are we going to wake up?

 On a happier note here's an excellent video of a tour round the Scottish Outer Isles by a German team of rock climbers hiring a sailing boat but it's as much a travel document, wildlife, and sailing trip for those not interested in climbing and well worth a watch full screen. Commentary is in English and features great camera work of amazing places. Years ago we used to do stuff like this on a tight budget ourselves, climbing sea cliff's from Skye to Cornwall in summer when work allowed, albeit at an easier grade than this.
P.S. weather as good as this is a rare occurrence in Scotland.


Linda W. said...

I'll bet you were glad to have turned around. Sounds like you got the best end of that deal! Your snow photos were pretty though.

Kay G. said...

Pretty snowy photos but they make me cold just looking at them!
I have a blogging friend who lives on the Isle of Lewis. Wish I could visit her there, her photos look lovely. I can't watch the video just now, but hope to come back to it later!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Linda,
I'm always glad to turn around if the weather is poor as I don't see the point when you can't see much but especially on this one. I'd rather wait for a good day in spring or summer as it's too good a mountain and area not to get it looking at its best.

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Kay,
Lewis is lovely in spring or summer conditions. I'd love to be up there now as this winter we have had half a dozen major storms with winds from 80 to 100 miles an hour so the waves battering the sea cliffs in the last few months must be spectacular for photography.

Neil said...

I did that hill one summer and found it to be a fair trek. Not to mention a steep climb up the final slopes. Wouldn't dream of going in snow conditions, but that's bagging for you!! I'm sure you'll enjoy it next time, Ardgour has a great remote feeling.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Neil,
Yes, all the Corbetts in that area have been hard, summer or winter, and they don't get any easier pushing sixty. I'll be glad when Alex ticks them all. I prefer Marilyns these days.

Robert Craig said...

It's a cracking hill, and not to be underestimated! Sounds like you made the right decision. I had a bit of a scare on Sgurr Dhomhnuill in the snow about ten years ago.

Carol said...

Definitely NOT a hill I'd have attempted in winter! And the 0430 start would have been the main thing to put me off - followed by the cold bedroom/car etc. Cold just makes me really tired before I start!

I had a horrendous time in the Cairngorms this weekend - no snow at all (disappointing) and dreadful winds. I got up my hill but when I turned into the wind to try to get back down, I spent a long time lying amongst boulders where I'd been thrown wondering how I'd ever get back down. The driving each way was horrendous too - bad flooding around Glasgow on the M80...

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Craig,
It was probably that final steep ascent in knee deep soft snow that scuppered them and they said the return felt just as hard as the climb up, energy wise.

blueskyscotland said...

You must be a glutton for punishment Carol coming up here in the winter. We've had storm after storm and endless rain since November with hardly a dry day in months. Even I'm sun starved this year.

Carol said...

When I booked my Aviemore trip, months back, I thought Feb would be lovely - dry, sunny, cold and with superbly firm snow all over the Cairngorm plateau! Shows how climate change is taking hold - must be the only year (ever?) where the Cairngorms weren't plastered in snow in February. Very disappointing for all the skiiers who were up at Aviemore!

Carol said...

and ouch! Just saw your facts and figures about world population growth - never knew it was as bad as that! :-o

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
I remember around 10 years ago we had a run of mild winters with very little snow on the Munros and all the ski resorts were in danger of going bust. Recent years have been better but the snow never consolidates like it used to and you are usually wading knee or thigh deep up the hill instead of striding on top.
Yeah, numbers keep on growing and we keep on waging wars and buying ever more junk we don't require. Trouble is the entire world economy is powered by selling us stuff we don't really need with each country competing with each other and stripping the planet bare of precious minerals and resources we might actually find more important later on when we really need it most. It can't continue at the present rate but knowing humanity it probably will.

Carol said...

Yeah - I read the link to the George Monbiot article - I haven't been agreeing with him recently but he was spot on with that one and it was very well written (I was quite jealous with the quality of his writing in the article actually). And unfortunately, more people will always mean more war - always has been that way.