Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Fara 911 Metres. Dalwhinnie. Ben Alder Big Six.

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Another bagging trip with Alex and the boys. This time it was the turn of The Fara, a Corbett situated on a long ridge line above the remote and lofty village of Dalwhinnie. Dalwhinnie sits in the centre of Scotland as far away from the coast as you can get in this country and away from the warming influence of the gulf stream which keeps the UK in a hot spot. This part of Scotland sits at the same latitude as the middle of Hudson Bay in Canada, the southern arm of Alaska, and further north than the frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia. Dalwhinnie sits at an altitude of around 350 metres or 1148 feet, which might not seem much by world mountain standards but sitting on a high empty plain, exposed to any wind and surrounded by sizable bulky mountains it is one of the highest and coldest villages in the British Isles and also holds records for the lack of sunshine year round. As you can see our path up The Fara started via an old right of way, a rough mountain pass for cattle drovers between  Kinloch Laggan and Dalwhinnie on the A889 where there is a small lay-by beside the Allt an t -Sluic river. This was followed for just under a mile then we crossed the river via a ford to reach a track leading up our hill of choice.
The team consisted of Alex, Graeme, David, Bob R and myself. At this point we split up, the back three heading off to bag Meall Nan Eagan and us two The Fara. Easy but long slopes followed and any snow could be avoided on the ridge. No exposure whatsoever and grassy walking underfoot without any path once on the main ridge-line.
A large skein of geese passed overhead, probably heading for Greenland, Canada or Alaska to start another breeding season in the far north as many of them only overwinter here in our milder climes.
It didn't feel like that to us however and we were well wrapped up against a biting wind and general chill in the air.
A view of our hill above Dalwhinnie, although the summit is out of sight. When I was collecting Munros I spent a full week camping here, climbing the surrounding hills, and I can honestly report there's not a lot to do in Dalwhinnie apart from outdoor sports. A spartan railway station, a strung out collection of houses in small clusters scattered far apart, a transport style cafe, a reasonable pub and a local distillery were all visited in due course back then.
Due to the climate up here not much grows even in summer and the main colour palette is shades of grey, black, white, faded yellow and dark green year round. Being spring the rabbits were dancing and courting among the sheep on the meadow, the snipe were drumming and a couple of raised flower boxes held a few daffodils and spring blooms, carefully tended and nourished to give a splash of multi colour energy inside small wooden rectangles.. Even then Dalwhinnie looks bleak and barren to my eyes, like similar villages in Russia, Canada or the tundra regions. A frontier town situated in a barely habitable place. It's got that same feel about it although the locals seem cheery enough to outsiders but you definitely have to possess a love for remote and austere landscape to live here for any length of time.
I would find it hard mentally as I've always relished bright primary colours, lush vegetation appearing every spring and the vivid contrasts between distinctive seasons. I'd also miss natural deciduous woodlands growing on my doorstep but I suppose if you enjoy living here it's under an hour by train, bus or car into Inverness or Perth for a taste of city life. 
We were soon up above the snow line but this could be avoided to reach the summit if desired. Unlike the larger hills around we stayed mainly in the sunshine while they were buried in cloud most of the time we were on the ridge.
Alex soon reached the summit and was a happy man as The Fara had been on his tick list for some time.
As luck would have it the sun arrived just as we were having lunch and the neighbouring 1000 metre plus peaks cleared at last from under the grey blanket of cloud, long enough for us to take photos.
We could now look across at Ben Alder, 1146 metres or 3759 feet,  Beinn Bheoil, 1019 metres, Carn Dearg, 1034 metres, Geal Charn, 1132 metres Aonach Beag, 1114 metres and Beinn Eibhinn, 1100, sometimes known as the 'Big Six.'
Many years ago, in my 30s, I met a girl who had a catalyst effect on my nature. Normally, I'm not that keen on long distance hill marathons but she was and for a while we clocked up large walking distances across multiple Munros together.  I think we were staying at Loch Ossian Youth Hostel and we set off around dawn on one of the longest daylight periods of the year, probably early May, to climb these six hills and tops in one day. She only had a weekend free so wanted to make the most of it and I tagged along, inspired by her enthusiasm. It was a step up from the average pace of one or two Munros in a day outing.
Luckily, there was not as much snow on the hills as this but it was still around 19 hours of solid walking, god knows how many miles and metres of ascent and descent and we were both staggering at the end of it on the track back. For a while I was captivated by her drive, good looks, and relentless energy but going out with a nymphomaniac munro bagger  proved very draining after a while as I didn't really share her sustained appetite for the Skye Ridge in one go, Arran Ridge in a day, The Mamore Circuit, various 14 hour multi munro epics, and getting zero views or soaked frequently at height. It was a purely platonic relationship of course so after a while my enthusiasm for her undoubted sparkle on the hills dimmed somewhat and I went back to being a less driven but happier and much drier individual. Like a personality vampire I still get attracted to driven individuals with seemingly endless amounts of energy but I've learned over time how to control the invisible magnets snapping us together. Sadly, I haven't yet learned how to transfer some of that abundant energy into me for the future without suffering the blow torch personality directly attached to it so I have to be there in person to get any energy boost by proxy. A situation and an annoying chemical puzzle I'm still working on. 
Plenty of snow over the high summits. I still remember the train journey back the next day and the intense pain in my legs for several days afterwards, going up inclines or stairs, as we were ignorant then of ice baths and cold water dips to get rid of lactic acid build up or the folly of not exercising properly to wind down gradually. Luckily, I'm too old for that nonsense now but it all came back to me watching Eddie Izzard's incredible 27 marathons in 27 days across South Africa in punishing heat. Having an outdoor background myself I watch some of these charity fund raisers and think I could do it successfully no bother with a bit of training beforehand but that's one endurance epic I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy having had a tiny taste of it. The levels of pain and the determination to keep on running through it must have required enormous mental reserves well beyond most individuals.
Lancet Edge, a narrow sharp ridge that drops from the top of Sgor Iutharn, seen here. Ben Alder bothy rather than Culra was our usual destination for these hills as it's a more interesting walk in than the long march down the shores of Loch Ericht. We had a small taste of this tedious track on the return as we dropped straight off the summit of The Fara to a gap between forestry plantations rather than go back the same way as both of us prefer circular outings and new views.
Alex passing a shooting lodge on the walk down Loch Ericht. Mountain bikes make this remote set of mountains much easier to reach these days but back then we never thought of any other means of doing the Munros other than walking into them.
Both of these buildings look brand new and in good condition. A lot of money seems to have been poured into this estate since my last visit. We arrived back in Dalwhinnie and spent a fruitful hour watching the rabbits humping in the meadows next to the plastic bus shelter as this was the only place to get a seat out of the biting wind.  The others eventually arrived from a successful bag of Meall Nan Eagan and we motored back to Glasgow happy men.

Can't believe some of the stupid comments attached to these marathon videos along the lines of  " I could do that if I had his support team and people watching me on telly."
There are far easier ways to get attention or money than a 54 year old running hundreds of miles across South Africa in 40 degree heat. No wonder I avoid Twit-er or Self- book with folk like these on it. Normally, I'm not a fan of corporate charity events which encourage mass hikes or cycles into wilderness areas, as they can trash paths completely if it's wet underfoot but this is exceptional for his age and as a non professional ultra runner. I'm sure most of the dafter comments are from people with no experience of multiple marathon events or long distance walking whatsoever yet they are still happy to give disheartening, very negative opinions on a subject they know nothing about. Only putting this on because I watched the full hour long documentary recently and personally I at least was impressed by it.




He's a comedian in his normal day job.  Both videos are short. Some swearing in second one but
very funny.









15 comments:

Ian Johnston said...

Great stuff Bob, the Fara gave me a cracking day with super views too; an underrated hill I'd say

Kind regards

Linda W. said...

Another adventure I thoroughly enjoyed reading (and looking through your photos). I love learning about the outdoor adventures in your country.

Carol said...

I just see the Dalwhinnie area as brown - nothing else... It would be grim to live there. That's exactly the route I want to do when I do The Fara - possibly in winter. Any idea how many miles it was?

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Ian,
We were lucky to get a twenty minute window clear over the Ben Alder group as it closed in again shortly after with a passing hail storm. More snow forecast over the mountains this week so skiing might well be back on the menu again for the higher resorts.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Linda,
Same here with your blog. Finding out more about Oregon every post.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Counting it up on my map just for you. Around 12km total as we didn't bother with the Dirc Mhor gorge (I'd done it before and Alex wasn't fussed.) 10km if you retrace your steps back down the ridge. Around 4 hours total walk. We left early in the morning because we had to be back in Glasgow late afternoon. Not a hard ascent either up a broad grassy ridge. Still easy under snow and no cliffs.

Carol said...

About 7 miles then ;-) I'd like to see the Dirc Mhor though as I've heard a lot about it. I definitely wouldn't be coming back the same way no matter what as I hate doing that!

Douglas Wilcox said...

What a great route Bob, thanks for sharing it. :o)

Kay G. said...

Oh, I will have to come back later to watch the documentary and clip you have here. Eddie Izzard seems very interesting to me. (I think he went to school in Eastbourne!) Anyway, I also love the phrase "inspired by her enthusiasm"!
Great photos, as always! It makes me want to climb a mountain.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Douglas.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
The hour long documentary on You Tube about the run across South Africa is worth a watch and I think you would enjoy it. I bought Unbroken today but haven't watched it yet.

Linda said...

Beautiful photos.

Neil said...

A frontier town indeed, Bob. And it gets all the weather that's going, in my experience. Still, the Fara's a nice hill. Been up it a few times.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Linda.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Neil,
I remember the week I stayed in Dalwhinnie coincided with a singer billed as "Barney Shamrock and his amazing talking guitar" on at the pub which provided our entertainment. He wasn't bad actually and got even better after a few pints...