Tuesday 31 October 2017

Beinn A' Chearcaill 725 metres, 2378 feet. The Torridon Giants.

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The second day of our trip up north was supposed to be our best shot at a higher mountain. Alex had picked Beinn a' Chearcaill lying in the remote and seldom trod wilderness between Loch Maree and the three Torridon giants of Beinn Alligin, 985 metres, (The Jewelled Hill) Liathach, 1023 metres (The Grey One) and Beinn Eighe 1010 metres. (The File Hill)  Luckily, we had a stalkers path on the way in ( thank you great estate :o) but after we reached the bealach (mountain pass) we were on our own. Any hill Alex goes up he always says " It's a fantastic viewpoint." even if its not... but on this occasion it certainly was.
A view of Slioch, 980 metres across the hidden depths of Loch Maree. Slioch is another great isolated mountain in a remote area known as The Great Wilderness' but its probably not so wild now as it used to be 30 years ago, visitor wise, with six coveted Munros in its depths. Our peak by contrast was not a Munro and only of interest to lesser hill baggers but it turned out to be a magnificent hill nonetheless. A Graham. We never spotted a soul the entire day, even on the surrounding higher peaks.
Looking in past the cliffs on Slioch into the Fisherfield area beyond.
The summit cliffs of A' Mhaighdean 967 metres, (The Maiden) well named as one of the UK's remotest and hard to reach high peaks.
Alex with Meall a Ghiuthais, 887 metres, a Corbett, behind. We were up this adjacent hill last year I think. I also remembered I've been up it a couple of times now but its a cracking hill with a good path up it.
I can't say the same for Beinn a' Chearcaill, a lowly Graham which was very hard going. No signs of any path up the ridge at all just bog and boulder hopping to the top, up what felt like a never ending slope with excellent water retaining qualities. We attempted to keep to the rock as much as possible to avoid the pools and frequent puddles. Views were outstanding though. This is part of the Horns of Alligin, a fine easy scramble summer or winter on the way to the summit or on the way down as an exciting addition to the ridge.
With all the summer rain this year the ground was saturated to bursting point and very slippy. Red and green moss gave some colour to a mostly grey or white stark landscape of boulders and bare rock.
The triple buttress on Beinn Eighe looked impressive from this angle. A few remote rock climbs snake up these vertical cliffs but although low grades around Severe - VS level they are not for the fainthearted with complex route finding close up and an ability to climb harder grades if you happen to stray off line. One of the largest mountain walls in the British Isles.
A more distant view of the same area with Coire Mhic Fhearchair a stunning walk for the more adventurous tourist to visit and explore this hidden basin after a hike from the road.
The weird rock band on Meall a Ghiuthais. Probably Lewisian gneiss or quartz  as its a very distinctive feature of these mountains with different coloured rock scraped clean by glaciers in the distant past. Even today not much vegetation grows on this type of surface.
The wild wild west. Beinn Eighe in all its rugged glory. Although it had taken us a lot of effort to reach this point, and we were shattered, the surrounding hills were much higher again.
"How did we manage to do that ridge in a day?" Alex asked, looking up at Beinn Eighe's mighty bulk, summits still in the clouds. A long high ridge line of eight separate grand peaks.
We both knew the answer. The boundless energy of lost youth. Wah!!!
The summit of Beinn a' Chearcaill came as a bit of a shock. A real table mountain you could easily play five a side football on...and some of the best views in Scotland. A big difference to the knee destroying slopes below but maybe we didn't pick the best route up... or down.  Although it remained steadily dull and overcast where we were it didn't rain once, which was a bonus. You can just see Alex in this photo at the far end.
Loch Maree and its chain of magnificent islands. A well guarded sanctuary these days. The sun was over Fisherfield most of the day.
A satellite peak on Beinn Eighe, briefly in the sun.

Coming back down was even harder and very slippy indeed over waterlogged ground. A smashing day out though we both enjoyed.
Beinn Alligin summit ridge.
A closer view of Loch Maree.

And a great video to end with. Anyone that remembers Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry might see comparisons with this interesting age old tale of sin and salvation. Good song, unique singer and visual splendour as epic as the photos above, hopefully. A genuine modern classic five minute film from the USA.

Saturday 28 October 2017

Tom Bailgeann. Loch Duntelchaig. Inverness Loch District. Part Two.

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A few photos from Friday's drive up towards Inverness. Thankfully Alex was driving so I could capture these. Perthshire is known for its rolling ridges and mixed forests of pine and deciduous trees- well seen here.
Passing the climbers crag of Polney near Dunkeld. Three cliffs known as Craig a Barns reside here offering a range of graded routes in the forest and we have both rock climbed here during our classic rock days. Sometimes together... sometimes with others in the club.
A house in rural Perthshire. While it was bright and sunny lower down the higher hills held onto mist and drizzle for most of the day.
Ben Vrackie above the town of Pitlochry was just low enough at 841 metres high (2759 feet) to be clear of the mist when we passed. Nice autumn colours around the prominent hotel.
I think this is either Kingussie or Newtonmore. Didn't have a map handy at the time.
The more austere Ruthven Barracks near Aviemore. One of a number of forts built by the government across the Scottish Highlands to crush the Jacobite cause in the early 1700s and finally impose law and order over the ancient clan system. Destroyed to their present ruined state by the defeated remaining Jacobite forces themselves after they escaped the decisive massacre at Culloden in 1746 after 30 odd years of sporadic unrest. This marked the start of the end of the old highland way of life and the re-branding much later of the 'romantic highlander' image we know today - largely an invention of Sir Walter Scot through his popular novels, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's imagination who restructured highland life to their own liking- a lot of it based on Germanic folk history as much as true Scottish reality to create the Disney like version of Scotland we see today. The Scottish Highlands were probably, arguably, the first real 'theme park'... cleared of original unruly tenants and restocked with rich landowners sitting on vast empty estates- a situation that continues to this day. For example-around half of Scotland remains owned by around 500 people, many from abroad. Not stirring it up because it doesn't bother me in any way as a city dweller, just repeating some info many might not know but be moderately interested in as food for thought. Even most Scots take the bright Highland short kilts and huge range of different tartans, the Victorian traditions and all the other tourist tat so popular around the world as genuine history when much of it was manufactured by royal patronage and Edinburgh or English tailors in the not too distant past. i.e.the Victorian era. The original highlanders apparently dressed in much same cloth designs, in  dull muted colours, and could only tell rival clans apart sometimes by their war cries, facial recognition up close, body language of intent to charge, or some other givaway- even in broad daylight.

Interesting link and map here showing just how much of Scotland the Scottish people actually own. It's not in my imagination or a crackpot conspiracy theory- the richest in society do get richer every year through the tilted table effect and the ordinary taxpayer's outlay while the poorest are deliberately made poorer year on year- and its happened for centuries. You could argue it was an early land grab and with the old aristocrats fading away many of the big estates are now owned by overseas developers with no links to Scotland at all- and we pay them money for it every year it seems. Worth a look. On the plus side in 40 years of hill-walking I've never been denied access to any hills I fancied going up, on private land- I've also used the extensive network of open bothies spread across the highlands during that time, free of charge yet over in Ireland and down in England, on several farms, presumably owned by the farmer, I have been turned back and all access to the hills cut off from that direction.
Anyway, I digress again, bad, bad me! Slap my own wrists for being an agitator-must be in the blood. This is Tom Bailgeann the second hill we ascended that same day (the one with the mast on top.) A convenient land-rover track runs up it to the summit.
A wise decision to pick a smaller hill under 1000 feet as all the larger mountains around were covered in cloud. A sunny break here and a glimpse of something.
And another... and that was it.
Lower down we did have good views out east over Loch Duntelchaig, seen here.
A zoom of the climbing cliffs above the loch where I went rock climbing all those years ago. Didn't realise just how many routes are situated here. Link and photo gallery. Over 100 recorded climbs now.
Rock art. Nature's palette.
Still Loch Duntelchaig.
Nearby Loch Ruthven.
And our home for the trip.
The exciting boardwalk into the hut... a wooden walkway placed over a swamp, which has been known to flood from time to time and completely submerge- the walkway that is- not the hut.

Friday 27 October 2017

Stac Gorm. Loch Ruthven. Inverness Loch District. Day One.

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A three day weekend trip with the climbing club saw us heading for the 'capital of the north', Inverness, around a four hour drive from Glasgow. Although Loch Ness is world famous with tourists to my mind its not a particularly interesting loch- scenery wise. A deep, dark water filled trench lying between Fort Augustus and Inverness with the main A82 running up the western bank. Unlike Loch Lomond, Loch Awe, Loch Morar, or Loch Maree it does not boast any islands, any spectacular mountains or indeed great scenery, interesting hidden corners, or sandy beaches. Usually, the main interest for us on the drive past is to watch the tourists milling about aimlessly looking for the monster or the occasional small boat sailing up it as part of the Caledonian Canal network which uses this natural 'Great Glen' trench of three straight lochs splitting Scotland almost in half as a watery shortcut from west coast to eastern seaboard. Inverness itself is a scenic place with bags of interest for visitors but Loch Ness itself doesn't tick many boxes for me. Maybe I've just not explored it properly though when so many other Scottish lochs and districts appeal to me more.So much still to see- so little time left.
Above is the rocky little peak of Stac Gorm... and this area is special.
Reflections in Loch Ruthven. Stac Gorm lies immediately above this in the heart of what I'll refer to in this blog as the Inverness Loch District. Between the eastern shore of Loch Ness and the high folds of the bulky Monadhliath Mountains is the green and pleasant Strath Nairn. Taking the minor road  from Fort Augustus and heading slightly inland you pass through a much less frequented landscape but one of rare beauty on a nice windless day- like the one we experienced.
Even the animals know this area is special. Nine average sized lochs are scattered along the route and at least ten smaller lochans, some mere ponds and puddles but still beautiful. A variety of rocky hills under 1000 foot high and a handful of cliffs give the undulating terrain bags of character and my heart lifted as soon as we discovered how good this place was. By chance we had also picked a perfect day to see it at its very best.
I had only been along this road once before, many years ago, on a rock climbing trip and my main concern then was staying alive on a new intimidating cliff as I struggled up a VS crack line on a cold overcast day. I remember the climb and the company well enough but the surrounding scenery didn't leave much of an impact.
This time was very different. A beautiful sunny day, dazzling reflections everywhere and jaggy little hills to climb on Alex's list of small mountains. Sometimes I'm underwhelmed with his choices if it's a boring bulky doorknob with not much to entice me up it other than a trig tick at the summit but on this trip his hill picks were all excellent five star classics I was really keen to do.
We started from a small car park/ nature reserve beside Loch Ruthven. Although I'm comparing this area to the English Lake District visually it has none of the buildings or infrastructure found there just some scattered farms, very few parking places and no hotels or tourist facilities at all, except in nearby Inverness, half an hours drive away. What it does have is a similar mix of woodlands, cliffs, lochs and craggy small peaks.
We were soon making our way up the hillside through knee high heather on a muddy narrow trail. Views were extensive over a wide area and contained different types of terrain.
Higher hills and remote farms encircled this semi lowland oasis and made a nice contrast.
A landscape dotted with small attractive lochs and craggy summit ridges.
Beautiful and fairly empty apart from a few cars. Mainly birdwatchers or fishermen.
Geese on a lochan. Probably greylags arriving down from Iceland to over winter here.
A summit view of Loch Ruthven from Stac Gorm.
One of Alex and another small hill- smooth on this side but a vertical wall of rock on the hidden other face. Really pleasant area and we were both highly impressed.
Autumn woodlands in afternoon sunshine. The morning had been spent on the drive up.
Huge flocks of geese on the drive up made it an interesting trip. When you go to a fixed event like this one, booked months in advance, its just the luck of the draw, weather wise, but we certainly won a prize with this trip.
Summit view from the cairn. A rare selfie.
Smoke on the water. Duh duh duh... duh duh.. duh  da.....
One of the few houses in this area. Incidentally, Black magician and Victorian mountaineer extraordinaire Aleister Crowley owned a property in this vicinity on the eastern shores of Loch Ness- a house later owned by rock  star Jimmy Page for around 20 years. A.C. is one of the many famous/infamous faces on the Beatles Sgt Peppers album.
A great little hill... and it wasn't over yet... we still had a few hours left before darkness.... to be continued.

Some of the best films I've seen recently have been the ones without any fanfare made by small companies and shown on film 4. This is one. Never heard of it but a real family delight anyone should enjoy. Young boy with autism but special fixation with numbers wins a trip abroad with his school for a prestigious international maths competition for gifted youngsters. Picked this particular trailer (not really representative of the general context or tone of the film as a whole)  as it doesn't give too much away- a very annoying habit with some clips that insist on revealing the entire plot of the film in one go. Liked the transition between English then Far Eastern cultures which added an extra dimension of interest. Well worth seeing if its on again.