2010 – A Scottish Odyssey: Part 4 – White Outs, Sunshine and Local Ales

At the end of Part 3 I had a fantastic stay in the Forest Way Bunkhouse as a guest of Iain.  I woke up the next morning and enjoyed a fantastic breakfast cooked by Iain.  My feet felt good, I felt good.  I packed my rucksack with some additional provisions which I’d purchased from Tesco’s in Ullapool the previous evening, but it still felt a little lighter this morning.  The sun was out, a few clouds scudded about but it looked promising for my last day.  So I said my farewells and with a little local knowledge gleaned from Iain, I went up a steep flight of steps through a stand of pine trees opposite the Bunkhouse to get the route for the day started.  I went as far as a path would allow then headed straight up the hill, clambered over a fence and found myself  on the lower slopes of Beinn Enaiglair.  My target for the day was Beinn Dearg (pronounced Ben Jarrak) and you can see my route for the day on the map.  It’s fairly remote but a straightforward hike.  I opted to get as high as I could as quickly as I could which meant going on a direct route to the peak of Beinn Enaiglair.

The wind was blowing a a steady pace from the North West, and I kept a weather eye out.  The air was so clear as I climbed I could see what the weather would be doing in the next hour or so.  I could see bands of clouds interspersed with bands of sunshine and they were all heading my way.  So I stepped up the pace and found that at last I had my ‘match fitness’ back.  I was bounding up the slope, hopping from tussocky mound to mound.  I found a track followed that for a bit then headed  straight up again.  Glancing behind me I could see a particularly heavy band of rain heading my way… or was it snow …?  Anyway the top of Beinn Enaiglair seemed close enough so I put in an extra effort and pounded up the slope until I felt the first specks of rain/snow on my head.  Checking again I could see the snow was right behind me. Glancing ahead I saw a cairn on what I thought was the summit of the mountain so I literally ran for it.  I got there just as the snow piled in and in seconds it had gone from a sunny day with wonderful views to less than 10 yards visibility with driving sleet and snow.  If ever I needed a reminder of the rapidity of change in mountain weather, I’d just been reminded! It wasn’t quite a complete whiteout, but it was no use really trying to go any further at present.  Also I had seen that the snow would not last long. I estimated about 20 mins max, it was a little longer in the end, but hey, I had a drink, a chunky kitkat and a bit of a rest.  It was a good job there was only me, as the cairn just about kept the wind off of me.  I put on my sunglasses and attempted to look to see if the weather was clearing but the snow was so driving and the wind so harsh that I could see nothing.  In the end however it passed and I headed off again and saw that despite what I thought was good navigation, I wasn’t quite at the top of Beinn Enaiglair.  I was just at a little secondary peak just to the West NorthWest of the main peak.  I was at the proper summit in another 10 mins. The sun had come out briefly, but then the weather closed in again for about 5 minutes.  This time visibility wasn’t so bad, and I could see my route, heading out along a ridge of small peaks curving away up to the main summit of Beinn Dearg.  The summit the mountain at this point was still shrouded in clouds but looking at the North West I could see the cloud base rising and I was confident that the top would clear in the afternoon.  So I went on looking for a path that would take me up onto the main summit dome.  I found it after about another 30 mins and set off up the ridge proper.  The walk was fantastic.  The clouds started to rise.  The sun peaked from behind them and I felt strong and good and really started to up the pace to the point where for about 30 mins I was nearly running.

After about a good hour I came to, unbelievably, a dry stone wall which stretched up the side of the mountain.  It was great for keeping the wind off and offering great hand holds to climb straight up the steepening slope.  I eventually reached the top of a steep rise after skirting around the head of a steep gully which dropped rather worryingly deep into the corrie on the North West of Beinn Dearg.  A pretty spectacular drop I might say.  I paused to take a picture of that wall, then cut across the peak and headed towards the summit which was now completely clear of clouds.  I came across some large fields of snow and enjoyed crunching through the stuff.  It was quite old , end of year stuff, but still wonderful to step across, in the sunshine at the top of a beautiful mountain.

I reached the summit a little later than I anticipated but what an awesome view it was.  However, with mountaineering, getting down is actually more than half the battle and I had a way to go.  It was 2.00pm and I’d set off at 8.30am, nearly 5 and a half hours. I could almost see my final destination for the day which was the Aultguish Hotel at the South Eastern end of Loch Glascarnoch, but it was a long long way away, a good 10 miles I estimated.  I found I had a signal on my phone so I rang the hotel and let them know I might be a little late.  I estimated I would not get there until after 7.00pm, unless I could make it down to the A835 and hitch a lift. I wasn’t too hopeful after the previous day’s experience though.  I really fancied a steak, but it looked like a heated Lasagne was in the offing, as you can’t keep a steak warm for hours!

So I set off own the Southern slope of Beinn Dearg straight down a smooth snow field.  I got out my slip on crampons, even though I didn’t really need too, but I’d carried them all this way, so I felt I should wear them even for a short period.  Coming off the summit was brilliant, I was crunching again through glorious snow, in sunshine almost effortlessly, loosing height speedily and heading out towards the A835 at the head of a small lake called Loch Droma.  Navigation was easy, the visibility absolutely perfect.  I made one mistake in that I went too far out onto a bluff and felt unable to wind my way down some rather slippery looking rocks.  So I backtracked a bit and found a shallower slope then headed down into the floor of the valley at a goodly pace aiming for a place I thought looked like it offered an easy river crossing.  This prove the case so I rested for 10 mins and refilled my water bottle.  I then head out towards the road which entailed trying to locate a path I originally had crossed that same morning when descending from Beinn Enaiglair.

After about 30 mins I found the path and pounded down it until I reached the road again in about another 30 mins. The weather now was gorgeous, it was sunny and warm and the mountains looked idyllic, the peaks rising around me, snow capped and inviting.  But it was the end of the trip for me.  I was at my final destination. Almost.  The Aultguish Hotel was about 7 miles down the road.  I was tired and it was just about 5 pm.  Getting to the hotel by 7.00pm would be tough, but nothing for it but to start.  I set out but immediately stuck out my thumb  in the vain hope that somebody might stop.  The gods must have been smiling on me because after only about 3 minutes a car pulled in just ahead of me and out popped 3 women who started rearranging their car.  I ran up the road as fast as I could asking if the had stopped for me.  “You do want a lift?” one of them asked. “Absolutely” I replied. “Just to the end of the next Loch”. “No problem” she said. 

So I had a very enjoyable ride with 3 lovely ladies from Manchester and Scotland.  The lady from Manchester joked saying that she wouldn’t have stopped if she’d been on her own, the other two told her “That’s not how we do things up here!”  It was great fun, we had a great laugh and within 10 mins I was at the hotel!  I gratefully thanked them and went inside the hotel.  The owner Dario showed me my room which was small but really comfortable and brand new. I was the first customer to stop in it.  I used the really awesome shower then I went back to the bar, ordered a great meal including that beautiful steak!  I highly recommend the An Teallach local ale, it was brilliant.  I found a couple of guys to chat to and I enjoyed a thoroughly nice evening there.  I met Dario’s wife Lesley later when she got back from Perth where their daughter goes to school – one heck of a drive! 

Next morning was cloudy and after an excellent breakfast Dario kindly offered to take me to Inverness as he was heading that way anyhow.  He dropped me at the station and we bid our farewells.  I promised to give his hotel a nice write-up on Trip Advisor, which I did, and it’s thoroughly deserved. It’s really hard running a hotel and Dario and Lesley have worked so hard to really try to improve it and make it a special place to stay.  Drop by them if you’re in the area, you won’t be disappointed I can tell you!  Unfortunately I just missed a train to Edinburgh, but I caught the next one and had a great trip home.  I started writing this series of blogs on the train, but it’s been nearly a month now since I made the trip.  I won’t forget the friendliness of all the people I met at Strathcarron, Torridon, Kinlochewe, Forestway Bunkhouse and the Aultguish Hotel.  It was a memorable trip, and even as I write, I’m deciding that I’ll probably be back there next year …


Dave Mc

About davemcmahon81
Software Developer & Architect, User Group Leader, Speaker, Writer, Blogger, Occasional Guitarist, Man-made Global Warming Sceptic, Climate Change Believer, General Optimist but most of all proud Husband and Dad ...

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