Journeys in the hills and mountains
For the fifth year running, I joined a number of friends in the Scottish Highlands for the New Year. This year we rented two cottages in Roybridge. Having returned from Germany to host my family for Christmas, I set off on a coach on Boxing Day for the Highlands. I arrived early in Glasgow on the morning of 27th December, and caught the train as it followed its stunning route over Rannoch Moor. The weather forecast was about as bad as it can be: rain, snow, hail, winds gusting over 100mph and a risk of lightning. With the weather forecast in mind, we set off to attempt a small peak called Beinn a’ Mhonicag in Glen Roy. Despite being low, the hill proved challenging in the conditions and we were blown across the small summit plateau before descending. We were back in time for lunch and, not for the last time this week, I hung up my wet waterproofs and stuffed my boots full of paper in preparation for glorious weather the following day.
But no glorious weather ensued. The next day we had similar conditions, with a bit less wind, but we nevertheless set off to attempt Gulvain. Despite being an ‘easy’ Munro, we realised as we ascended the ridge that the wind and dangerous conditions underfoot would make the top unassailable. Having walked several kilometres along a partly-flooded track in the rain, we turned back half-way up the ridge to face another hour of track-slogging. We were again back at our cottage for early afternoon tea.
The forecast for the next day was slightly better and so, with Dave, Jo, Alison and Ruth, I planned to climb the three Munros on Creag Meagaidh. We set off in the dark along the path that took us below the looming cliffs above Lochan a’Choire. The ascent to the window became more interesting as we crossed the snow line, and it was not long before the snow was sufficiently compact for us to need our crampons. With these duly attached we made good time up the slop to the col, as Dave practised his avalanche test pits.
The col, it turned out, is rather complex with a ‘false summit’. In the near whiteout conditions we failed to see the very top, and so set off on a slightly unorthodox route to the top of Creag Meagaidh. The summit plateau is large and complex with dangerous cornices on some edges, and so we took some care with navigation. Dave, building up his experience for his Winter ML assessment, carefully navigated us across the plateau, though we initially mistook Mad Meg’s Cairn for the summit. Having found the summit we returned by the more usual route to the col, meeting another group also foolish enough to be out in the hills that day. The next Munro was rapidly achieved, but the wind was now up and I put on my snow goggles for the first time this winter. We took only the briefest of stops as we fought our way along the ridge in a blizzard before eventually reaching the summit of Carn Liath. To return to the car we had to slog through deep snow in descent, reaching the car as the last of the daylight passed away. Despite the challenging conditions, this had been an excellent day; these were certainly my three hardest-won Munros!
The weather was due to be poor again the following day, and so we set off to climb Cruach Innse and Sgurr Innse, two Corbetts to the south of Roybridge. The ridge between the two peaks was very pleasant, though again the conditions proved challenging, particularly when walking into the wind. We returned, tired and wet once again, to our cottage to prepare for the New Year’s Eve celebrations. After a thoroughly pleasant meal we saw in the New Year, hoping for some decent weather for New Year’s Day. This wasn’t to be. The weather was as bad as the first day and all I managed was a short walk through the village to the (closed) local store.
With a new term looming I needed to return home the next day, though from what I can gather the conditions did not improve much for the next few days. This was easily the worst trip in terms of weather for some time, though the pleasant company and ascent of Creag Meagaidh proved a more than ample silver-lining to a very dark cloud.