(Long post alert; I probably should have broken it into two)
1) Beinn a’Bhacaidh
The road closure that was scheduled to scupper my day was avoided by an early start and a modification to significantly shorten my route up this hill. Having waved Mick off at 0630, I wasn’t too far behind him and at 0730 off I set up this hill, figuring that I needed to be back at Colin by 0930 in order to beat the closure. I didn’t trot, but certainly went at a faster pace than I would otherwise have chosen, helped for the first few minutes by an engineered path (South Loch Ness Trail?), then a bit later picking up a track which proved useful to me. That track deposited me at a fence and from there I was on my own, yomping through heather and bog, with a section of peat hags thrown in for good measure.
A slightly different route was taken down (still managed to hit the fence at the exact same point, mind), and I was back at Colin before the clock struck 9, giving me such a comfortable margin that I took the time to remove my sodden shoes and socks before I moved on (my boots have some pretence of waterproofness, but for this one I opted to wear mesh trail-runners).
(3.5 miles, 950’)
2 & 3) Creag nan Clag and Tom Bailgeann
Taking in both of these hills in a single circuit, I started by wading through bog along the end of Loch Ceo Glas before heading uphill. It was as I stood on the top, bracing against the wind, that I thought “Well, that was straightforward”, which was swiftly followed by a reality check. If I wasn’t as fit as I am right now then I likely would have bitched and whined and hated my way up that hill, as I became a full member of the Ministry of Silly Walks, so as to negotiate the soft, deep vegetation, without a single animal trod to help me on my way. Happily, with my current fitness, it qualified as good fun.
Arguably, my way down was even worse, with the combination of steepness and knee-deep heather hiding tussocks and holes. That wasn’t quite as fun, as part way down it started to rain, but I did reckon I’d done well to avoid all showers (and, in fact, have lots of sunshine) to that point.
A little lane allowed me to stride out, and I knew that my next hill was going to be simplicity by any hill-bagger’s standards: there’s a track which runs from the road right to the mast at the top.
I reached the top at the exact same time as a big chunk of particularly violent weather. The wind desperately wanted to make me horizontal and the rain hurt as it hit my face. Even so (and despite having a precise grid reference for this one and knowing that the trig point was the summit feature) I still felt the need to go and visit the other two prominent points. However, I lingered at none of them, not even to take a photo or to dig out my gloves. Instead, I made haste to take the most direct route back down to Colin.
My direct line worked well, helped by all of this hillside having suffered a burn (which, by its size, didn’t appear intentional or controlled) which had reduced what would have been deep heather to just charred stalks.
It was noon as I got back to Colin, with all of the day’s hills walked, and as I sat there looking at the rain lash outside I thought of all the Challengers.
(4.3 miles, 1400’)
4) Stac a Cathaig
With a whole afternoon stretching out before me, I thought I may as well relocate to where I intended to spend the night, with the thought of maybe climbing tomorrow morning’s hill this afternoon. What I didn’t expect was to find a car park that was almost brimming. Thanks to some kind hand gestures from a chap in another motorhome, I managed to squeeze into the last remaining space (I’m sure I would have squeezed into it anyway, it just would have involved me jumping out a few times to check I wasn’t about to hit anything).
Over lunch, rain hurled down with violence again, Colin rocked back and forth and I looked at the map, which is when it came to my attention that there were two Marilyns that could be tackled from where I was parked. So, I decided that rather than bringing tomorrow’s hill forward, I would do this one as a bonus one.
The only potential issue with this one, particularly when approached from this side, is that there’s a forest in the way, without tracks usefully leading to its top edge.
“Hold on Gayle”, I hear you say, “Only five days ago you swore you would never again try to get pathlessly through a commercial forest.” How short a time that resolution lasted…
In my defence, I did set out with the mindset of ‘if it gets difficult, I’ll abandon’.
After nothing worse than a lot of crouching (and one incident of plunging my foot into a pool of water up to my knee), I was about 550m through a 700m deep swathe of forest when I ran out of luck. So, did I sensibly turn back? Or did I think ‘but I’m so close’, take my pack off and crawl towards daylight I could see in an adjacent clearing?
Happily, once I made it through to that clearing, things became more straightforward again and with only a bit more crouching I was delighted to see a clear way out of the forest ahead of me.
With the weather being rather more hospitable on this one, I got to spend some time appreciating the top and the views, before I headed back into the forest, hoping I would be able to find my way back through.
With only one moment of near panic, when I had to give myself a talking to, reassuring myself that I wasn’t hopelessly lost as I went back and forth through dense trees, unable to see where to go next, I did make it back down into the open, whereupon the heavens opened again. However, that was followed by more sunshine (there has been much clear sky in between the violent showers) such that when I got back to Colin I was pretty dry.
(4 miles, 900’)
5) Stac Gorm
The car park had emptied whilst I had been out, and that’s how my plan to spend the night, and visit Stac Gorm in the morning, unravelled. With the car opposite gone, I could now see the ‘no overnight parking’ sign, which although probably not enforceable, did invite other people to question my presence. I didn’t want to go somewhere else for the night only to spend time and diesel returning in the morning, which meant I needed to do one final hill today.
Sitting out another violent squall, I leapt out just as soon as the next patch of blue sky hit, hoping (with this last one being such a short outing) that I would be up and back before the next batch of rain came.
It would have helped, in that respect, if I’d headed out of the car park on the right path. I’d read that there was a path right up this hill from the car park, and I could see a line through the heather part way up, but the only path I could see from the car park was the one leading to the nearby bird hide. So, I figured it probably branched off from that path at some point, so I went all the way to the hide. Then I came all the way back, jumped over the fence at the back of the car park and immediately before me was a trodden line. Sure enough, it’s a well-trodden hill, and I can see why, as it’s not only attractive to look at, sitting as a pointy, craggy thing next to Loch Ruthven, but it’s also a superb viewpoint. I even got the added spectacle of a perfect rainbow, although that did, of course, mean that my detour to the bird hide caused me not to miss the next shower.
Thanks to the initial detour, I walked 1.5 miles to get up to the top of this hill, but only 0.75 to get back down. The ascent was around 700’.
It’s potentially another rest day (from the hills at least) tomorrow, as Stac Gorm was the only one I had on the agenda.