It’s been a busy start to the New Year – I’m working on three websites at the minute (including one for myself, watch this space!) and I’m also doing teaching assistant work alongside my PhD – which explains the lack of posts recently. The week after New Year’s, from 4-11 January, a group of 19 of us from Lancaster University Hiking Club headed up to Glenshiel for the annual club “Winter Trip”. Two years ago, we went to Badrallach, near Ullapool, and got blighted with all manor of bad weather, culminating in some of the worst storms Scotland had seen. The year after, we spent the week in a couple of cottages in Roy Bridge. The weather was better (marginally), but I was injured and hence out of action. Hence, fingers and toes were crossed for some better luck this year!
The week started relatively well, and with a 7am start on the Sunday we almost managed to beat a band of bad weather heading in at midday. Our walk, the three Munros of Carn Ghluasaid, Sgurr nan Conbhairean and Carn na Coire Mheadhoin, was picked strategically to be as east as possible (within reason) to again minimise the chance of the weather, which was coming in from the west, hitting us. The early start paid off as we got a few good views from the first summit, though things deteriorated from then onward. By the time we were returning from the third Munro the conditions were “full-on Scottish winter” – i.e. white-out and blowing a gale – which meant that as we descended below the freezing level the snow turned to rain and by the time we reached the road for the 3km walk back to the car, we were already soaked. I left my bag with Lorna and ran on ahead to pick up the car. Some of the others had been less willing to leave their beds earlier and by all accounts got the brunt of the weather on the third Munro (good navigation practice at least!).
Monday had already been written off to a 110-mile tour taking in some of the highlights of the ruggedly beautiful western coast of Scotland, including Sheildaig and Applecross. The sandy bay of An Cruinn-leum offered some fantastic sand dune running and impossible bouldering, whilst the pub in Applecross provided a very welcome coffee.
Tuesday wasn’t any better, but with the amount of water that had fell out of the sky over the past few days, we decided the Falls of Glomach were at least worth a visit. This also had the advantage of giving the opportunity to ascend the Munro A Ghlas-bheinn should the weather improve: It didn’t, but a few of us went for it anyway! The Falls were mightily impressive, both in their height and also in the amount of water plummeting over them. A Ghlas-bheinn was surprisingly good fun, and although it didn’t stop raining the entire day, a steep snow slope up to the summit and a devious route down just about made it worthwhile. I always think it feels more rewarding when you’ve been out and done something relatively big even though it’s awful weather.
Wednesday; more of the same! Lorna, Imogen and myself drove to the start of the Five Sisters, sat in the car hiding from the rain for a while, and then drove back. Some of the others got halfway to the start of the Forcan Ridge and then decided to head back. It did mean that I got the chance to go for a long run: Up Coire Uaine, over its western col to the Ratagan Forest, around the Ratagan Forest for god-knows-how-long trying to find my way out (the map lied!), over the hill and subsidiary tops of Sgurr a Bhraonain and then back down the road to Sheil Bridge.
Thursday now seemed like our only hope, with the forecast bad again for the following day. It was hence time to make a second attempt at the Five Sisters, and so whilst Jim, Ben and Stephen retraced their steps from the previous day up to the start of the Forcan Ridge, and as Richard et al. were enjoying the South Shiel ridge, Lorna, Imogen, Darren and myself were tackling the relentlessly steep slope running at an average angle of 35 degress from the A87 to the summit of Sgurr nan Spainteach. The snow was frustrating at best; at first it appeared solid on top, but every couple of steps you’d sink right through to knee-depth (or deeper!). That being said, I do love a good snow slope and I definitely enjoyed the 900m of ascent we polished off in under two hours.
Unsurprisingly, the views were nearly non-existent, except for a few breaks in the cloud here and there. The complexities of the ridge made up for this however; complexities not because of technicality, but rather because of the devious route it took, embracing everything from super-steep snow slopes (usually in descent) to twisting rocky passages. The descent from the third of the three Munros it passes over – Sgurr Fhuaran – was particularly steep and devious, and looking back at the summit from Shiel Bridge on a clear day, you can see why!
Fortunately, the cloud level was high enough so we got a great view out over Loch Duich on the descent, a view which we couldn’t help thinking reminded us of the view of the Pap and Loch Leven from Sgurr nam Fiannaidh.
The final day was again spent avoiding the bad weather, though in the end the bad weather didn’t turn out to be so bad! We visited Glenelg, the Brochs of Glenn Bheag and Arnisdale, and got some fantastic views of Rum and Eigg on our drive back from Arnisdale. Ironically, the best weather of the week by far was on the drive home on Saturday, with crystal-clear skies and beautiful snow-covered summits!