Journeys in the hills and mountains
I wrote recently on my ambitions for 2014, and I rather think I have made a good start on this! I spent the last days of 2013 and first days of 2014 tucked away in the western Highlands of Scotland before joining CUHWC for their annual trip to Seathwaite in the Lake District. The weather for both trips was poor: Atlantic low after Atlantic low pummelled the UK throughout the festive season causing widespread flooding and power cuts. Despite this, I managed nine days of walking (seven of which were ‘hillwalking’), including a number of significant peaks.
The first day was the best for weather. Having arrived late to Borrodale House, near Arisaig, we awoke to a reasonable forecast and set off to climb Sgurr an Utha. Although a short walk, this Corbett is thoroughly pleasant, involving a gentle climb up a track and an undulating ridge; the ridge proper then leads to the summit. The summit ridge was under a blanket of snow – sufficiently soft not to require crampons – and we enjoyed blue skies as we progressed to the top. This was my first walk in some time and it was great to be back into the swing of things.
From this point on the weather deteriorated – particularly on higher peaks – but I was keen to tick off the three Munros in this part of the Highlands. Alex and I thus set off early the next morning to walk the Glenfinnan horseshoe. We sped along the track under the viaduct – which is best appreciated from a distance and not close up – before slogging up the ridge in soft snow and slush. All of this was rather unpleasant though the wind was mercifully light and we reached the summit of Sgurr nan Coireachan shorty after lunch. The ridge between the two Munros passes over four small tops which, in fairly deep snow, proved quite taxing on the legs. Still, we made good time and eventually – with very limited visibility – reached the top of Sgurr Thuilm. The descent was initially pleasant and rapid, involving stomping down a snow slope, though once below the snow line this became more unpleasant with the ground very wet and slippy underfoot. The hour’s walk to retrace our steps on the track rather sapped the soul, but we made good time and arrived back at the car as the rain began to set in.
The next two days – New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day – promised less in terms of the weather and were spent on low-level (though thoroughly pleasant) walks around the coast. Two days of rambling had, however, set me up for something more adventurous, and so I set off with Alex, Alex and David to climb Gulvain. I had previously attempted this in 2011, getting blown off the ridge, and this time the weather was less windy, though the conditions underfoot were still challenging on the ridge. After a rather unpleasant ascent we reached the trig point and set out on the summit ridge to the Munro. This was a fantastic ridge though we did it in whiteout conditions with a cornice just beginning to form. We nevertheless made good time before retracing our steps all of the way back.
This was the end of my Scottish walking, but I now headed south to the Lake District to meet up with CUHWC. The weather during the journey was awful, though I did stop at the wonderful Real Food Cafe as I passed throughout Tyndrum. The forecast was once again poor though the first day promised light winds and so I walked with Andy, Sophie, Paul and Matt up Scafell Pike via the Corridor Route before proceeding along the ridge to Great End. We reached Esk Hause in good time and so extended our walk over Allen Crags and Glaramara, helping CUHWC’s collective attempt to put a member or old member on every Wainwright in its 25th year. We descended down Hinds Gill – a rather difficult undertaking – reaching Seathwaite as the sun began to set.
The rest of the trip consisted off poor weather days, but we nevertheless made the most of it. On the first I walked with Dave, Jo, Mark, Anne and Laurent up Eagle Crag and Sergeant Crag – I left my boots behind and so ended up doing these in approach shoes which, though soaked by the end, held up rather well. The next day I walked with Mark, Paul and Chris in awful weather up Sour Milk Gill to the top of Base Brown. Our plan to continue to Brandreth was quickly shelved and we returned back down the path, itself now a new stream. Lightning began striking the area soon after we returned. Despite these conditions, we were beginning to tick off some of the lower Wainwrights and continued this on my last day of walking. Parking at Rosthwaite, we headed up over Great Fell and Grange Fell (useful ticks for me on my second round of the Wainwrights) before driving up Latrigg and walking to the top.
In many ways this two-week trip was the perfect response to my 2014 resolutions. On not one day did I put on crampons, a rope or even go scrambling – activities which had dominated 2013 to such an extent – and it felt indeed to be back doing so much traditional hillwalking, even if the weather was frequently poor. With just three weeks until my next trip (to Snowdonia) the coming year is already looking promising!