Saturday, 12 December 2015

A Hard Day's Night in the Monaliadhs

Tramping across from Geal Charn to Carn Dearg
Sunday, 2 December 2007

Ascent:     1285 metres
Distance:  31 kilometres
Time:        10 hours 43 minutes

Geal Charn             926m     2hrs  5mins
Carn Dearg             945m     5hrs  30mins  
Carn Sgulain          920m      7hrs 31mins
A' Chailleach         930m       8hrs 19mins  

As big walks go this wasn't one of the longest for distance or time but for sheer determination in strenuous conditions it ranks amongst the hardest of days. Nearing the end of the fourth round of Munros, I was exploiting every opportunity to fit in walks and hills when it would be easy to find an excuse for staying at home. The Monalaidhs are not the most exciting hills and they are a good distance away requiring a long winter trip up the A9.  If you attempt to climb all four with daylight hours at their minimum in December, they have to be an A to B walk. How I persuaded John and Mark to join me, an unrepentant Munro basher, on this folly I don't know. They both described it as one of the daftest walks yet in a year of strong competition but their sense of adventure prevented them from refusing.

We needed two cars so I persuaded John to drive up from the Borders and I drove Mark up. We were to meet at the car park at the end of Glen Road above Newtonmore at 8:00am, which meant leaving home at 5:30am to pick up Mark and drive up a near empty A9.  John was late, unusual for him, so he
transferred his gear into my car and I drove the 20 miles to Garva Bridge for the start of the Geal Charn climb. We started shortly after 9:00am and walked west to east. John's car was left at the foot of the A' Chailleach path so he would be able to drive us back to collect my car at Garva Bridge once we had completed the walk.

Conditions were quite benign at the start of the walk, there was little wind but visibility was not good and the tops were clad in cloud. I was struggling on the early part of the ascent with a heavy cold. John and Mark were forcing the pace up the two feet wide bog that doubles as a path. There was little sympathy for me, after all I had dreamt up the crazy walk. Mark told John to let me suffer because I would probably be pushing the pace in 5 or 6 hours once I had got into my stride. It was warm work with poor views and the prospect of a very long cold day.

By 700 metres we had reached the fresh snow level and walking became even more difficult. As we reached the large cairn of Geal Charn we were treated to some shafts of sunlight but it was only fleeting. As we began the ever so long traverse across to the next hill, Carn Dearg, we realised that this was going to be quite a difficult walk. We had to make tracks in the snow that was over a foot deep with deeper pockets from wind-blown snow. I used my cold as an excuse to follow the tracks that Mark made over the next 3 hours. We had some food at the top of Carn Dearg but wasted little time as the winter light was already fading. We knew that we would be descending in the dark and, ideally, wanted to reach A’ Chailleach before the last light of the day.

We didn’t even stop to put on head torches for the long undulating leg to the inconspicuous summit of Carn Sgulain. The snow was less deep on the south flank of the ridge and we made more rapid progress than during the leg to Carn Dearg. It was almost 5pm and dark as we reached Carn Sgulain and again we stopped only briefly to drink and eat before the descent down a steep snow bank and then a tramp back up more deep snow to reach the cairn at A' Chailleach. I was beginning to feel frisky and took the lead in the dark as John and Mark both found it hard to distinguish features whilst wearing glasses. The double jeopardy of night and snow concealing the ground conditions.

I found some earlier footprints that helped as they confirmed my compass readings leading to A’ Chailleach. At the summit, it was pitch dark but the cloud cover had vanished and we could see lights in the glen below. I found a reasonable route down the snow slopes and then through the heather clad muddy slopes to the river. Surprisingly we managed to cross without too much difficulty using our walking poles. They are always worth taking for river crossings in the dark, but they had also been useful in keeping our balance through the deep snow all day. The sense of achievement as we eased our way down the track for the last mile was evident and the jocular remarks about my stupidity in devising the walk began to lighten our mood. We made a quick getaway in John’s car to Garva bridge where we picked up my car. The drive home was equally quiet on the A9 and I made it home by 10pm. 

I had now completed 260 Munros in just over three years and it left me with just 24 to complete a fourth Munro round. I could begin to believe that a finish was possible in the spring and that I could, with a few more unusual combination of hills, achieve the round in 80 days. 2007 had been a splendid year on the hills although my running mileage had plummeted as work was now regularly taking 70 hours a week with the Council struggling to come to terms with coalition working and multi-member wards

At the summit of Geal Charn
Where are the Huskies when you need them
'Cold and crisp but not very even' ground conditions

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