Thursday, 18 August 2016

Strathfarrar Four

The portents were good with the possibility of four days of fine weather after the rains of the last week. It was a chance to finish off my remaining munros in the far north. The only problem was the searing heat and the prospect of camping with the midges when they would be at their most ferocious. I deliberated various itineraries and decided to start by climbing the four munros in Strathfarrar that I had missed in June. I could then complete a loop taking in Ben Klibreck and Ben Hope followed by Conival and Ben More Assynt.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Ascent:        1360 metres
Distance:     18 kilometres
Time:           6 hours 8 minutes

Sgur na Ruaidhe                    993m     1hr   59mins
Carn nan Gobhar                   992m     2hrs 57mins
Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais         1083m     3hrs 45mins
*Creag Ghorm a' Bhealaich 1030m     4hrs 31mins
Sugar Fhuar Thuill              1049m     4hrs 50mins 

* top  

I left home early to try and beat the A9 traffic but 20 minutes at the Broxden roundabout in Perth and then a game of follow my leader up the A9 put paid to my good intentions. It was 11:30am by the time I reached Strathfarrar and was allowed a late entry through the locked gate up this magical but private glen. The gate lady warned me about not arriving back late. I would have seven and a half hours to drive up the glen, climb the four munros, walk back 7 kilometres to the car, drive back down the glen and escape before she locked the gate for the night and reported me missing.

Strathfarrar is like going back in time. The glorious long glen provides a remnant of beautiful birch and scots pine woodland along a clear rippling river. It is a game reserve for men in tweed with fly fishing rods strapped on their land rovers (the real ones, not monstrous urban chic range) and the only incursion to its Edwardian charm are 1950's hydro electricity stations complete with obtrusive pylons. I parked at he east end of the four hills and was warned by a woman in the next car, who had just returned from walking part way up the hill with her husband, that the ascent is very muddy and I should wear boots. I didn't have any with me having long ago relegated boots to winter and wet autumn usage.

She was right and after the first half kilometre I was ankle deep in mud, the clear sunny day was not going to dry out the boggy ground anytime soon. The path is easily followed and takes a good line up to Coire Mhuillidh on the east side of the burn. Then a long steady climb through the grass and heathers towards the never nearing summit of Sgurr na Ruaidhe. A parapenter appeared from Carn nan Gobhar, gliding over the summit then making a large circuit of the summit before continuing his journey east. It reminded me, as do eagles and deer, how slow we move as we climb the hills. It had taken almost two hours to reach the summit. The day was getting better but hotter all the time.

The walk to the next summit, Carn nan Gobhar, is fairly straightforward - a descent down a gentle grassy slope and then a dog leg path to the summit. The final stretch is over a boulder field and the cairn is at the north end of a plateau like summit. I was walking well and set off immediately to curve round onto a flattish ridge before dropping to a bealach and then climbing a long slope to the highest of the four summits. I passed a party of five going in the other direction and arranged a lift back with one of the party who had dumped a bike at the east end so that he could to cycle the 7  kilometres to collect his car, which was parked at the west end where I would finish my walk. If we arrived at roughly the same time it would save me a long walk along the road.

The summit of Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais was a good vantage point and I had a late lunch before descending down a boulder field that I could and should have avoided. I was walking towards the west with the Mullardoch hills, Torridons, Fisherfield and Fannaichs, a tantalising grouping of favourite hills and all in my line of sight. There is an intermediate top, Creag Ghorm a' Bhealach, before the final munro and the walking is easy. The late afternoon sun was beating down and the Highlands had a balmy atmosphere. Where was a cool breeze on a day like this? I continued along the ridge and descended by the splendid stalker's path noting that there was a walker about a mile ahead.

I stopped only for a top up of cool burn water and about 2 kilometres from the road I caught the walker. He was ages with me and trying to finish the munros, 40 to go, despite being based in Middlesborough. He was well organised and had his days meticulously planned. Next day he was off to climb the Loch Quoich munros and then to Bidean nam Bian on his way home. He offered me a lift back to my car and I accepted gratefully, not revealing that I had battered down on the hope that he had a car at the west end.  I had to sit on top of his bike which was filling the back of the hatchback but it was a welcome lift. I had changed and was ready to drive off when the man with the bike arrived at the bottom of the hill to start his bike ride. I explained that I no longer needed a lift back and escaped the glen with an hour and a half to spare. The drive to Lairg in the evening sunshine was memorable although my normal food stops in Evanton and Bonar Bridge had both closed down since my last visits. I found a good hotel for some food in Lairg and camped for the night on a well maintained camp site that looked straight out of the 1960's. Ben Hope tomorrow.

The slog up Sgurr na Ruaidhe was not eased by parapenting cheats

Sgurr a' Choire Ghais and Carn nan Gobhar from Ruaidhe summit

Carn nan Gobhar summit, Fannaichs behind

Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais from Carn nan Gobhar

Sgurr Fhuar Thuill from Choire Ghlais

Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais from Fhuar Thuil 

Looking west to Loch Monar from Sgurr Fuar Thuill, 

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