Saturday, 20 August 2016

Ben Hope and Ben Klibreck


Ben Hope from Hope

Ben Klibreck, Tuesday, 16 August 2016
Ascent:       980 metres
Distance:    13 kilometres
Time:          4 hours 38 minutes


Ben Klibreck              961m      2hrs 24mins   

The early morning was shrouded in mist but it did not stop the midges as I packed the tent and began to roll north up the single track A836 road from Lairg to Altnaharra. It was a scary drive with cattle trucks and van drivers heading south at speed and visibility less than 100 metres. The afforestation here is amongst the ugliest around, oddly shaped spruce plantations with no respect for the lonely landscape. It has been funded by tax dodging celebrities who have exploited forestry grants to degrade the vast voids of the flow country. Ben Klibreck emerged from the mists as I approached the Crask Inn. I thought briefly about starting the walk from here but there were a couple of motorhomes parked in the limited parking so I continued down Strath Vagastie until the footbridge over the river that was still in full flow with the recent rainwater. There is a lay-by for 4 or 5 cars here and I was the first customer for the interminable slog across 4 kilometres of bogland.

Ben Klibreck certainly challenges the spirit of the walker, there are a few narrow and boggy paths that fade and re-emerge as deer paths higher up but there is little respite from the steady climb with feet operating like suction pads. As you gain height the lochans to the north provide some visual foreground for the stunning distant profiles of Ben Hope and Ben Loyal that pop up above the ever sinking horizon. As on previous visits I elected to take the steep route from Loch nan Uan up to the ridge that runs from Creag an Lochan to A'Chioch. It is a brutal 300 metres of ascent through deep heather but facing west the slope was in the shade. The midges were feasting on me as I stopped for blaeberries to sustain me on the climb. Only towards the top did I stumble onto a path that had become a man-made gulley for draining the slopes. This is why most people elect to walk the hill from the Crask. It saves 100 metres of ascent and captures the breeze that keeps the midges at bay but it does add 3 kilometres of distance.

Reaching the ridge is entering another domain, short grass, and gentle incline towards A'Chioch with splendid views to the flow country and the distant dramatic hills. There were three walkers behind me coming up from the Crask and another walker was ahead almost at the summit. There are another 250 metres of ascent up a 30° slope that is well defined as it twists upwards through quartzite and other rocks. Ben Klibreck is a fine summit and as I arrived the other walker was still enjoying the vistas. He was a young civil engineer who had recently returned from Nepal and before that he had worked on a wind farm that we could see to the north. My comments about the damage caused by the plantations were replicated by his experience of building the wind farm on the site of a plantation that had been felled but not cleared. One set of government plantation subsidies for the landowners had been substituted by a rental stream for the wind turbines.

We spent 15 minutes in an animated discussion at the summit and then began the descent together. We passed the other walkers as they were sweating up the final slope and then for 3 kilometres we shared experiences and he explained his hopes for the future. His ambition was to find work constructing sustainable buildings instead of erecting cheap premises that would be cash cows for shady investors intent on abstracting subsidies and tax concessions. In the meantime, he was going to help a friend renovate a traditional bothy. I wished him well in his career as I veered off to make my way down to the bogland that was decorated with cotton grass all the way back to the footbridge.

A large dog gave me a rousing reception as I came across a young German family enjoying a picnic alongside the river Vagastie. They were the sort of visitors who seemed at one with the raw beauty of the highlands. Maybe Ben Klibreck is not high on my list of favourite hills but like every other hill walk, it had provided a reminder of how challenging bogs, heather, and steep slopes can be on hot days. It also gave me hope about how the younger generation is acquiring good values through travel in developing countries and observing the unethical business practices of landowners and their financial advisers.


Ben Klibreck from the Crask

Ben Loyal over Loch nan Uan

Midge remembered heather slopes
The view north west from the A'Chioch ridge
Ben Hope and Ben Loyal from Ben Klibeck

Ben Hope, Tuesday 16 August 2016
        
Ascent:           940 metres 
Distance:        7 kilometres
Time:              3 hours 26 minutes

Ben Hope       927m      1 hr 57mins

The drive from Ben Klibreck to Ben Hope is a long 20 miles on a single track road that is becoming more like a dirt track with a couple of bridges having been washed out and the tarmac is so old it is weathering. The days of Highland roads being well maintained are no longer with us as Council budgets have been savagely cut since the recession and ex-Chancellor Osborne's experiment in enforcing austerity. There is a large parking area at the foot of the climb and it was full of cars and motorhomes. The early walkers were returning so I was able to find a space and to load some fruit into my rucksack. The heat was Mediterranean like although it was almost 3pm. I thought about wearing shorts but the prospect of abstracting the ticks on getting home made me stick with trousers.

Once again I was staggered how muddy the path was as I climbed the steep path alongside the waterfall and into the rocky quagmire that continues for a good kilometre as the braided path seeks to penetrate the rock-girt ramparts of Ben Hope. I am fond of the hill so it may have been the heat or the effect of the morning walk but it was a hard slog. Even the walkers on the descent seemed to be struggling over the unyielding ground. Once on the higher ground at 450 metres the walk becomes easier, not that the gradient relents, the ground is rockier and drier and there is a reasonable semblance of a path. All of the descending walkers made similar comments about rather you than me as I dug into the task of fighting the heat and the slopes. I met a young couple struggling down, the girl had spent three days celebrating a wedding in Inverness and was fully spent. A South African told me there was still ten minutes to go as he staggered down the hill when the summit was only a couple of minutes away. 

The summit is at the top of an airy ridge and although the day was bright, a heat haze meant that the views were less clear than I had hoped. I retrieved an apple, gulped down another litre of burn water and began the descent. It was a lot easier although my feet were suffering in a pair of old hill running shoes that were too tight. The final section of the descent down the muddy path was tricky, I had caught up with walkers who were nervously slipping and sliding down the wet rock and mud. A German couple was bathing in the pool above the waterfall. I briefly thought about joining them but I had no towel and I realised that they were skinny dipping. Besides it was 6:30pm and I had an hours drive to Durness where I intended to stop for food and an overnight camp.

I reached Durness and the campsite was besieged by motorhomes, they had to open a new field for me and I was shortly joined by a French couple on their first-night of camping with hired equipment. I erected the tent for them before retiring to the nearby pub for a good evening meal and a pint. I walked along the coast before turning in early so that I could avoid the midges and make an early start tomorrow.

Start of the ascent of ben Hope
Final climb to summit of Ben Hope
Looking east from summit of Ben Hope

Ben Hope summit

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