Journeys in the hills and mountains
With an looming expedition to Kyrgyzstan just a few days away, I knew I needed to build up a bit of fitness before departure. I was also told, long ago, that a teacher needs to take a few days to wind down after the end of term, and my school gives me the opportunity to do that by spending a week in the Lake District with pupils for the last week before the holidays begin. I did, therefore, spend a pleasant week in the Lake District, staying at YHA Keswick. The weather was not great, but we nevertheless had some good days. After completing the traditional walk up Catbells on Monday afternoon, I took a group up Place Fell on Tuesday, catching the steamer back from Howtown to Glenridding on the return. The Wednesday proved the worst for weather with rain and wind forecast, so I took a small group of keen pupils up Knott Rigg before heading down to Buttermere for a spot of geo-caching and ice cream, followed by the usual visit to Wainwright’s window at Buttermere Chapel. We had much better weather on the Thursday, and so headed up to Seathwaite from where we climbed Scafell Pike via Esk Hause, descending by the corridor route. The day was the best for weather with excellent views over the southern lakes from the summit.
When the pupils returned to East Anglia on Friday, I headed in the other direction, aiming to reach the northern highlands for a few days of solo walking. The traffic heading north was quite bad, with the motorway closed on the way to Glasgow, so I was treated to a pretty, if rather slow, journey over the Southern Uplands and Pentlands to get to Edinburgh, from where I headed to Pitlochry where I planned to stay the night. Having checked in at 1930, I wanted to get out for a walk in the evening. The hostel closed its doors at 2330, so the race was on to get up a hill and back down before then. My aim was to get up Schiehallion, which frankly deserved to be climbed before many of the previous 142 munros I had done. It is not a long walk up Schiehallion, and I decided that this would make a nice evening walk, particularly as it had a good path in case I needed to descend in the dark. It did not take long to walk up on to the summit ridge, where I was treated to spectacular views as the sun set over the western highlands. I stayed on top for around half an hour, having made it up in good time, before descending back down, making it back to the hostel by 2300.
The plan for the following three days was to do a backpacking route around Loch Mullardoch, beginning north of the loch and then heading over into Glen Affric. Unfortunately the weather forecast was not looking great, with 95mph winds forecast for the second day, and so I decided to do the four munros north of the loch as a day walk. I started the walk quite late in the morning, having driven up from Pitlochry with breakfast in Aviemore. It was a hot day as I climbed up to Carn nan Gobhar, making the ascent quite punishing. Once I had reached the ridge, however, the going became a lot easier, and it was not long until I had crossed the summit and reached the col before the ascent of Sgurr na Lapaich. This is a very interesting ascent, still holding some snow despite it being late in July, with a complex route up to the summit weaving its way between crags and little gullies. The summit was, however, an excellent one, with fantastic views and a feeling of being perched high in the mountains. From here the ridge continued west, descending to another fairly low col before ascending An Riabhachan, which consists of a number of tops along a pleasant ridge. The final ascent, up An Socach, was nice enough, with excellent views down the surrounding valleys, and out over to what (I think) was Loch Carron.
The return route was less pleasant. A track is marked on the map along the north shore of Loch Mullardoch, and indeed I found this with little difficulty. In the middle of summer, however, the track is overgrown with ferns which made it difficult to stick to the path. I decided to walk along the edge of the loch for some stretches which, although hard on the feet due to the boulders, was nevertheless preferable to hacking through tick-infested foliage. It took me over two hours to walk the eight kilometres back to my car, by which time it was getting dark. Despite a rather tedious end to the walk, it was nevertheless a good day out in the northern highlands. Those two days provided me with six ticks: five munros ticked off on my list, and one nasty arachnid that attached itself to my waist at some point; fortunately I’d just purchased a tick remover a few days before!