The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Thursday 7 May 2015

Carn a'Ghobhair and Sgurr Bhuidhe


Having told Mick that today's walk was 10.5 miles over potentially hard-going terrain, he opted out. Understandable that he would want to keep his legs fresh, as his first day of the TGO Challenge, which starts tomorrow, is no stroll in the park. He did, however, get up to drive me a mile down the road, saving me both distance and tarmac-pounding.

It wasn't actually as hard an outing as I had anticipated. A good (engineered) path took me to Loch an Nostarie, then a perfectly obvious, albeit sometimes waterlogged, path took me to Loch Eireagoraidh. With blue skies and excellent air clarity (a good job; I'd not have liked to have done this walk in poor visibility) not only did I have excellent views, but I had the opportunity to study my hills and see if my paper-based plan looked like a good one.

I did nearly go against the plan and go straight up the very steep and craggy S side of Carn a'Ghobhair, but common sense prevailed (helped along by yesterday's ridiculous route decision being so fresh in my mind) causing me to opt for a longer route so as to avoid the worst of the crags.

On nice firm grass I started the real ascent and soon had myself thinking that I was going to be too tired to do both of my planned tops today. It wasn't until I tackled the same slope in descent that I realised that the issue hadn't been one of tiredness, but simply of a severe gradient.

Even more severe was my final pull up to the top. When I first caught sight of the rocky outcrop which houses the summit, I had wondered how I was going to get up it, but on closer inspection there was a line through the crags. Only the tiniest amount of scrambling was required, but I did hope I could find an easier way down.

After a quick chat with Mick to let him know I had made it to the first top, I sought out the easier way off and found nice grassiness which looped me around the top-most crag, back to my ascent route.

Keeping about 50m above the loch, as I made my way to its east end, kept me on firm terrain and it was only when I dropped down to cross the inflow that I hit the type of rough squelchiness I had been expecting for the entirety of this outing. As I was now over half way through, I saw that as a bonus, even though the going remained wet all the way over my next top (and with that special type of top layer which parts company with the subsoil as soon as you step foot on it; it's a miracle I didn't slip over at any point).

From the vantage point of my ascent route up Sgurr Bhuidhe, my first top looked like a big craggy monster of a hill (it was only actually 548m) with unfeasibly steep sides. I'm glad I climbed it before I saw it from that direction!

The top of Sgurr Bhuidhe also looks like a huge lump of rock from some angles, but from my approach there was nice grassy slope to the top. I didn't linger too long there; the wind had picked up bringing with it a wind-chill that numbed my fingers as soon as I removed my mitts.

A slightly circuitous route was taken off the NW side of the hill. Whilst the view from my walk in had suggested some good lines through the crags there, I though the easiest option would be to walk further so as to avoid the bulk of the cragginess and the worst of the steepness. I ended up rejoining the path on which I had walked in about half way between the two lochs.

The easy thing then to do would have been simply to retrace my steps, followed by a road-walk back to Mallaig (where Mick had returned after dropping me off), but I was seduced by a fingerpost reading "Mallaig Circular Walk" and opted for a bit more uphill and lots of mud and squelch, rather than a cruise down a made-path and tarmac. Good decision! It was a nice path which brought me down above the harbour, which looked fine with the blue skies and the Isle of Skye as a back-drop.

It hadn't been sunny the whole time I was out. In fact, when I spoke to Mick from the first hill he forewarned me that rain was heading my way. I could also see the shower he was watching and I thought it was just going to skirt me. To make extra sure it missed, I donned my jacket, and it did the trick. The next shower just missed too, and thus I had a very enjoyable rain-free day.

(10.5 miles, 3000')

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