October (248-265)

Beinn a’ Chroin, An Caisteal, Beinn Chabhair – (263-265) – 26th October

The forecast for this weekend was verging on atrocious for most of the country. It’s obviously no bad thing that we’re nearing the end of our challenge, but it means that our options are fewer and fewer. So, no hiding from the weather this weekend, but we chose to do three hills at the end of the road to Balquhidder that we had originally set aside as weeknight goals. Better to get something done than nothing done at all, though, right?

We started from the car park at Inverlochlairig, cycling up the track for 8 km until its end. The first few hours of the day, including the cycle, were mild with only a breeze. We actually spent some time regretting our decision not to travel further afield, thinking that the forecast had been incorrect. Then a switch was flicked and our pleasant weather window came to a wet and windy end. The forecast was painfully correct, with a steady wind of about 50 mph and gusts probably nearing 60 mph. To say it was unpleasant would be a ridiculous understatement.

It was relentless and tough and Jamie, for one, was very glad these hadn’t been saved for one evening as originally planned! Deciding on which was the actual summit of  Beinn a’ Chroin led to some debate, so we took a picture on all three potential peaks and figured we would do the research to find out the truth later in the warmth and dry of home! The many potential summits of Beinn a’ Chroin:

The links between the hills were straightforward enough, when we weren’t getting blown off our feet. Not much chat happening, either, when you can’t even hear yourself scream let alone hear the person directly beside you! The walk back to the bikes from  Beinn Chabhair seemed to go on for quite a long time, but at least the cycle back to the car involved only a handful of pedal cycles and the rest was smooth sailing (until we again reached the aforementioned cow poo swamp!). Considering today’s weather we did well to achieve these three and even made it back in time for dinner at a sensible hour at home; a nice change of pace from the norm this year!

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Beinn Fhada (Ben Attow) & A’Ghlas-Bheinn – (261 & 262) – 20th October

This morning made for a pleasant surprise of seeing blue sky from the car/bed windows. Granted, all of our belongings were still absolutely soaked but at least they now had a slim chance of drying off throughout the day (or, if we were really lucky, the wet layers wouldn’t even be necessary).

The ascent of Ben Attow was up the straightforward track, before we branched off to cut the corner and approach it directly from the gently angled grassy slope. We took some time to admire views from the summit, before jogging off in pursuit of A’Ghlas-Bheinn. We were following what appeared to be a regularly used social path, making for quick cover of the terrain, before grinding to a halt at the top of steep crags that were certainly not part of our plan! A treacherous descent followed, which was quite possibly the most anxious Jamie had been all year. This wasn’t helped by the fact that visibility was superb today; we’ve probably been on terrain equally steep and nasty but without being able to see the extent of the drop below nerves were kept under control every other time. There was no denying just now that a minor slip would have had fairly catastrophic results, and we even commented that having crampons would have been helpful to dig into the ground. Andy managed to negotiate a route on which we were both able to stay upright, though at one point this essentially involved bum-sliding down a muddy gully! We took our time and eventually made it onto ground that didn’t have Fear written all over it! Looking back it seems that we should have continued along the top of the crags for a fair distance, before the angle of slope subsided to make for an easier descent . . . lesson learned for next time!

The ascent up A’Ghlas-Bheinn was straightforward, with a path leading the way. On the summit we were fortunate to meet Ian, a fellow hillwalker who joined us for the descent back to the cars. Unlike the descent of Beinn Fhada, the descent from A’Ghlas-Bheinn involved far more forgiving terrain, marred only by a few new deer fences standing in our way! A bit disappointing to not have the time/energy/knowledge of deer fence locations to visit some of the nearby waterfalls but the views today were rewarding enough. A bit of negotiating to get up, down, and round the new bits of forestry and we successfully made it back onto the main track from which we’d started. We parted ways with Ian, who was keen to get home for beer and chili (though talked A LOT about pies!) while we made the standard evening supernoodle meal. Who needs gourmet when you’re cooking outside?!

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East Etive – Ben Starav, Beinn nan Aighenan, Glas Bheinn Mhor, Stob Coir’an Albannaich, & Meall nan Eun – (256-260) – 19th October

This group of five Munros had jokingly become our nemesis. In May we had spent the night at the foot of it, before Andy realised that his feet were in tatters and attempting it would have been daft; then we started it months later only to be nearly blown away! Third time’s a charm (it helps when you pick a day that your feet aren’t bleeding nor is the wind gusting 90 mph!).After a friend’s birthday dinner the night before, we drove up in the morning. The relatively sociable hour of our planned start time (10:00 a.m.) encouraged Norah and Brendan to join us for the first few Munros of the day.We set off from the cars, back up the same path that we had ventured up earlier in the year, before the wind at that time had sent us hurtling back to the car! It was great to have the company of Norah and Brendan, and not just because Norah brought homemade muffins! Before we knew it we were back to the spot where we’d turned back previously. The wind was far less intense today, but the rain came down steadily as we approached the summit of Ben Starav. Luckily the trail was easy to follow to this first summit, as was the descent path leading us down to the saddle before summit of Beinn nan Aighenan. Below the cloud base, at around 700m, visibility wasn’t too bad and we were able to appreciate our height and the views down to the glen and river below. Above that elevation, though, life was pretty misty! Hence, not many photos from today.

The first three summits flew by with the company of our friends (and muffins!) but after Glas Bheinn Mhor together they made the sensible decision to head back to their car.

We jogged on ahead, aiming to reach the summit of Stob Coir’an Albannaich and be on our way toward Meall nan Eun before headtorches were required. Luckily we were relatively speedy and only needed to bust out the torches as we were about halfway up Meall nan Eun. This was particularly fortunate as the mist had really descended thick and fast; it was actually easier to see at times without the lights on because the water in the air just reflected straight back in our faces. Luckily the summit is broad and grassy so walking in the dark without lights on didn’t seem too treacherous. As we finished this last Munro of the day the heavens opened and we were absolutely poured on for the entirety of our walk out. We returned to the car each looking like we’d decided to swim part of the outing in our clothes! Chances of cooking outside = slim to none! Jamie had random Quorn products while Andy drove, treating himself to the rare Ben Nevis pizza en route to tomorrow’s adventure near Glen Shiel.

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Moruisg – (255) – 13th October

It was a very wise decision to miss this one out last night in order to approach it as a solo hill today. Jamie was feeling a bit better and there was little chance we would have had the energy to do another big day out in another area even if we had tackled Moruisg with the other Monar hills. So, after a lie in and breakfast in bed (read: Frosties in the car) we drove the short distance to the layby for the start of this hill. The stream led us most of the way to the top, though we were on pathless, grassy terrain for the last kilometre or two. While the weather had been mostly kind to us on the walk up, by the time we got to the top the mist had completely descended and visibility was very poor. We assumed we were at the top, but this summit is a large plateau and with no visibility we weren’t 100% sure. So, with that in mind, we proceeded to visit the variety of other cairns that dotted the plateau, eventually confident that we had touched each and every one of them!

Andy suggested turning today’s walk into a loop, continuing in our direction of travel in order to take in a nearby Corbett before returning to the car. Jamie, on the other hand, could barely see said hand in front of her face; still wasn’t feeling great; and was far more tempted to get on the road home as a four-hour drive still awaited us. We did manage to descend a slightly different route than we had gone up. Once out of the cloud we were able to see the car in the distance and the descent was relatively easy; Andy motivated by the pizza in Inverlochy to come!

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Monar Hills – Bidean a’Choire Sheasgaich, Lurg Mhor, Sgurr Choinnich, Sgurr a’Chaorachain, Maoile Lunndaidh – (250-254) – 12th October

We drove up from Glasgow this morning, leading to a later start than was wise given the potential 17+ hour day we had envisioned! The stags were having an absolute field day today. At times sounding distressed; aggressive; and excited but at ALL times loud as anything, with their bellows echoing up and down the valleys throughout the day and night. It’s lucky, really, that we knew what their haunting sound was. For the fellow traveller who had never experienced the male deer calling it can be quite a scary sound! Unfortunately, on our approach of the first hill, along the trail, we saw evidence of what may have been a stag who had been unsuccessful against a hunter’s weapon. Jamie started out the day feeling ill so the sad sight of blood along the trail for a few miles didn’t help matters much!

This was always going to be a big day out, with the original plan of also including Moruisg to complete all six of the Monar hills in one fell swoop but feeling lethargic, achy and a bit nauseous before we even started wasn’t really the key to Jamie’s success!

We used the bikes for the initial approach and ditched them beside the track to be used for some free miles later on in the descent. The approach to Bidean a’Choire Sheasgaich seemed exceptionally long once we left the stalker’s path, covering pathless tussocky ground. The saving grace was looking all around us to see deer absolutely covering the hillsides. No rest for the wicked, though, and we continued to push on in the hopes that we would at least get ‘round the 5.

Having now read the posts of others regarding some of today’s summits we can concur with statements like “relentless trudge,” “tough going,” and references to “bashing” various plant life underfoot! There is a massive elevation loss between Lurg Mhor and Sgurr Choinnich down very steep, grassy, wet terrain, returning to the elevation from which we started the day. If we weren’t under time pressure for the Challenge this is probably where Jamie would have thrown in the towel and headed home!

We were fortunate to have an absolutely stunning sunset, in addition to a dry and bright day. Once it was well and truly dark the navigation got obviously slower, as did Jamie’s pace! Atop the summit of  Maoile Lunndaidh we made the wise decision to save Moruisg for the following day. A grassy descent back to the bikes for a whizz back to the car, where we spent the night in the forestry car park, secure in the knowledge that at least Moruisg would be only a few hours of effort the following day (read: get more than 5 hours of sleep!).

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Mayar & Driesh – (248 & 249) – 10th October

Mom (Donna) and Tore made a relatively last minute decision from the comfort and warmth of California that they couldn’t let this epic year of the Munro Challenge pass without taking an active part in it. And so, not long ago, flights were booked and arrangements made for them to tackle at least one Munro with us. As luck would have it, we had this relatively easy pair remaining on our list, ticking the boxes of their requests to complete a Munro AND not be wrecked during their holiday. Based on previous reports of our international guests this was a taller order than you might imagine! Following a quick look on the Walking Highlands website, Jamie contacted Shona at the Corrie Fee Estate to double check the stalkers’ plans for this weekday walk. We received the “all clear” in Shona’s kind reply, reassured that our American visitors wouldn’t suspect they had arrived to a hostile environment! Our correspondence was also a good reminder of how fortunate we are as hillwalkers to have the outdoor access rights that we do in Scotland; it may have been gusting 50 mph but at least we had the right to roam!After spending the night in Kirriemuir (two of us in a swanky B&B, the other two in the car park in the centre of town – no points for guessing which pair was where!), we drove up in the morning to Glen Clova.

The forecast was for improving weather, giving us good excuse to sleep in a little first!The initial walk through the forest and into the glen, with the waterfall looming ahead of us, was exceptionally pretty.

Snowball coming!

Snowball coming!

Then our little faces popped up over the crest of the hill and the forecast for winds of 30ish mph turned out to be pretty accurate. We bundled up as we walked the grassy slope of Mayar, discovering snow on the ground while the chilly wind gave each of us rosy cheeks. The summit cairn was a pleasant surprise; the gradient of the terrain had been gentle from the start so for a moment we assumed this was a false summit and there was still more to come. Happy days learning that this was it!

Driesh had a bit more in store for us as the wind grew stronger. Being a very tiny human, Donna was especially impressive that she not only managed to stay upright but even smiled occasionally!  The summit cairn of Driesh offered little in the way of protection from the wind so we didn’t linger there long. The descent slope was easy when taken out of context in that it was a gentle angle, grassy, and with good views. Couple that with the unpredictable gusts of wind, though, and it made for a bit of a challenge, especially for the new arrivals. But they held up well and after not too long we were back amongst the shelter of the trees, listening to the stags bellow as they near the end of the rut. Back in the car to warm up and stuff our faces with leftover sandwiches and brownies before heading back down the road to  home.

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