Friday, 14 August 2015

Gairich and Sgurr a' Mhaoraich

At last a reasonable day was forecast for the western highlands. I packed a tent and gear for a trip to Glen Quoich, a remote glen on the longest dead end road in Britain. I drove up in the evening stopping at Spean Bridge for some food and pitching the tent as the light finally faded at 9:30pm. The ground was soggy but at least there was no rain and there was sufficient wind to keep the midges at bay.

Sgurr a' Mhaoraich from Sgurr Coire nan Eiricheallach
Looking into Knoydart from the start of Sgurr a' Mhaoraich path

The bealach wall with the Five Sisters in distance
Sgurr a' Mhaoraich summit
Sgurr Mor and Knoydart from Sgurr Coire nan Eiricheallach
Gairich from Sgurr nan Eiricheallach
Loch Quoich and Knoydart
Thursday, 13 August 2015
Ascent:          965 metres
Distance:       10 kilometres  
Time:             3 hours 7 minutes

     Sgurr nan Eiricheallach     891m    1hr 10mins
m  Sgurr a' Mhaoraich          1027m    1hr 46mins

I broke camp speedily at 6:30am as the midges were in attack mode and my midge net still left my hands and neck exposed. Breakfast in the car was a sandwich, banana and carton of orange juice. I journeyed back up the road for a mile and parked at the foot of the excellent but steep path up Sgurr a' Mhaoraich. The thin cloud cover promised a better day and it was reasonably warm although quite humid after recent rains. I was surprised at the speed of my ascent, which was 6 minutes quicker than my last visit in 2007 despite quite a few photo stops.

The first 100 metres of ascent take you to below the massive pylons and power lines that abound amidst the hydro schemes in this area. Then the climb continues steeply on a well executed stalkers path until you are above 550 metres when there is a a longer flattish section. The steeper climb to Sgurr nan Eiricheallach is over stony ground and then grass and mosses to the 891metre cairn. From here there are tremendous views to the south cluanie ridge and five sisters in the north and to Gairich, Sgur Mor to the south with the Knoydart peaks providing an enticing backdrop in the west.

There is then a delightful walk of 2 kilometres dropping about 70 metres to a bealach marked by a robust wall and then climbing steadily towards the summit by way of a twisting path and a traverse under some crags, which is tricky in winter conditions. I reached the summit by 9:15am and spent 10 minutes or so admiring the vistas.  The route up is so good that there was no point trying to find a different way down, I would leave that for my next hill. I was back at the car by 10:45 and began the short car journey to the dam at the end of the loch from where Gairich was accessed. The sun was beginning to burn off the cloud cover and the views down Loch Quoich were inspiring.

Unfortunately my front tyre punctured after going over one too many pot hole. I emptied the boot to retrieve the tool kit and spacesaver wheel and began to figure out how to take off all the paraphernalia that has replaced the honest hub cap in modern cars. All went well until I tried to remove the wheel and it seemed welded onto the hub. A passing farmer came to my assistance and after finding a piece of wood and heavy stone we removed it by quite a bit of brute force. The alloy wheel had formed a bond with the steel hub. It had taken over an hour by the time I had repacked the tool kit and reloaded the boot. It made me realise that a formula one wheel change in 7 seconds is pretty quick.

I arrived at the dam and parked just before noon. My plans for the day that had started so well were now in tatters. I decided that I would make do with Gairich and not try and do Beinn Sgritheall as well as it requires a journey of almost two hours even without a space saver tyre. I had combined Gairich and Beinn Sgrtheall during my last two rounds of munros and wanted to repeat the feat if only to prove my insanity. A couple of SSE contractors were parked next to me and we spent twenty minutes in conversation about everything and nothing. The sun was out and I no longer felt in any rush.

Outing 2
Gairich from Druim na Geid Salaich

Thursday,  13 August 2015
Ascent:       890 metres
Distance:    15 kilometres
Time:         4 hours 38 minutes

Gairich          919m     2hrs 29mins

Looking into Knoydart (Sgurr na Ciche just peeping out) from Gairich summit 

Loch Quoich and Sgurr a' Mhaoraich from Gairich
Loch Quoich and Sgurr na Mhaoraich from the dreadful shoreline

Gairich is a splendid hill but it is thwarted by a 3 kilometre slog from the dam over a path disguised as a bog for much of the way. The climb begins as you reach the plantation and thereafter there is a good path along the broad ridge of Druim na Geid Salaich and then a final stiff climb of 330 metres up the east face of Gairich. My walking friends have refused to accompany me up Gairich on account of the bog and the fact that I like to pair it with Beinn Sgritheall.

I stopped for a chat with a family from Chester who had slogged their way across the bog and intended to climb Gairich. The two young boys looked like the adventure had paled during the paddle through the bog. Time was getting on so I decided to have lunch before the final climb. There are a couple of scrambling sections that make for an interesting climb. It was 3pm by the time I topped out on a near perfect afternoon. I relaxed sitting on the short grass and enjoyed the panorama of peaks in all directions. Despite the hassle of the bog I really like the summit of Gairich although I was glad that I had ruled out Beinn Sgritheall nor was I continuing on over Sgurr Mor to Sgurr na Ciche as I have done on previous occasions.

The descent was enjoyable although I was sorry to see that the family had got to 755 metres but had decided to call it a day, wisely I think. It would be well after 6pm before they got back to the dam from here and it would have taken another hour and a half to the summit and back. I decided after losing the faint path on Bac nam Foid to descend directly to the loch and aimed for the south eastern corner that would leave me with about 3 kilometres along the shore. It is not a route well used and I disturbed a dozen or so meadow pipits as I charged down the boggy grassland.

The shoreline was a terrible jumble of boulders, loose rock, sinking sand, tree roots and much worse than the boggy path. I badly banged my ankle on the uneven carpet of rocks and then pulled a muscle in my left quadricep when a boulder gave way under my weight. It was so infuriating that I traversed across the bog to find the path through the bog. The dam was a relief and I limped back with shoes and trousers covered in mud but still feeling lively. I topped up on water and began the long drive home.

A space saver wheel is not suited to single track roads festooned with pot holes and ramps. I had two narrow escapes when the thin space saver tyre slipped off the asphalt and knifed into the soft ground. Reaching the main road was an achievement but the start of another problem. The speed limit for the wheel was 45mph and I was soon holding up traffic like the average motor home. I stopped a couple of times to allow following cars to pass. I was soon leading another train of vehicles and I realised that i had the same power as a motor home driver. Moreover the traffic behind thought because I had a reasonable car that I would not continue at a snail's pace and make them do likewise. I only wish that there had been a few motor homes stuck in the train so that I could exercise some retribution for their routine blockading. Little did the traffic behind realise that I was consciously leading a collective effort to slow down climate change and saving them gallons of fuel. I arrived home having achieved 72mpg although my patience was stretched by a 4 hour drive. The journey had been even worse than climbing Gairich.

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