all of life on blaven

Fri, Aug 30, 2013

On the Blaven path
At the start of last week, the forecast for the weekend was awful. Torrential rain and gale force winds. As usual these days it was wrong and by Friday it was up to 80% chance of cloud free summits, light winds and sunshine! So Saturday around 10:30am I left the car park and bimbled up the path towards my most favourite of hills, Blà Bheinn. What’s that? Gaelic? I normally call it Blaven but a most redoutable lady reminded me of its proper name. More of which anon.

It was a bit too humid for my liking as I stopped for a chat with Annie, whom I met at the burn crossing, before I sprayed like a garden sprinkler up into the corrie, past the big stone and up the scree on the coire headwall, where recent winds had taken their toll on the foxgloves clinging to the steep choss. Pink bells lay strewn across the slope with surprised looking stalks wondering what had happened. Life up here can be harsh at times. Most of the time in fact.

From the bealach I took the rocky route to the south summit, linking up the little crags and buttresses for some great scrambling, although I was forced far to the right on the final block as the chimney was still a bit too wet for an ascent. It’s always a tricky move off the ground with one foot on a nodule behind and the other smeared on the block in the chimney. Exciting stuff! But the steep slab next door is a wonderful alternative and I popped out into that incomparable view of the entire Cuillin ridge. A view that makes Blà Bheinn such a special place for me.

The Cuillin from Blaven

A nodded hello to a departing walker heading back down the ridge and I took up residence next to the low cairn, beside a pool of recent rain water that rippled in the cool breeze while a hot sun burned off the cloud remnants that drifted around the east face.

Half an hour later, still ensconced in the warmth by the cairn, a ‘cronk’ came from the main summit and I saw the raven on top of the big cairn. It stayed there for ages until its mate appeared and they both tumbled and rolled in the blue sky before landing effortlessly about 20 metres from me on the south summit. As I munched on a roll a wheatear landed on the rock a few feet away.

Wheatear on Blaven

I tossed a lump of olive oily fishy roll in its direction but before it had time to check it out, one of the ravens began waddling towards me. It walked, heaving and clumping from side to side the full 20 metres over the rough ground then jumped up on the rock the wheatear had vacated and eyed the tasty morsel.

Raven on Blaven

I threw another lump nearer and it came down from its perch and tentatively gobbled it up before flapping raggedly back to its rock. I threw another lump of fishy roll on the ground a few feet in front of me. It shuffled around on its rock then jumped down, walked the long way round some boulders, grabbed the grub and retreated a few steps to eat. Another lump and this time it was getting used to me lying there. It ate its meal less than six feet from me.

Wonderful blue, black, purple, iridescence of its feathers. It jumped back to its rock. ‘Kwaaa kwaaa’ went its mate from the other end of the summit. ‘Krok krok’ it replied. I translated this as ‘hurry up, we’ve stuff to do’, ‘haud oan, there’s free grub here!’.

Raven on the south summit of Blaven

It came back to me for more fishy goodness and ended up only a few feet away, its silky feathers gleaming in the sun, ruffling slightly in the breeze. It was a beautiful bird. Eventually its mate came over. Its raggedy wings spread wide, its spindly black claws dangling limply as it crash landed on the rock and bounced up and down in that wonderfully comic, lithe way ravens have. I grabbed the camera.

Ravens on Blaven

With the roll finished they grew restless and flapped across to another rock, flying off as a couple of walkers came up the ridge. A young fellow and his girl.

‘yeah, you have to walk in the night before and camp to do it’, he said, glancing over towards the main ridge. They wandered off towards the main summit.

I returned to Cuillin watching.

Sgurr nan Gillean and the Cuillin from Blaven

Next an older chap and partner appeared. Old school. Big boots, gaiters and Ron Hills.

‘That was hard.’. his partner stated.
‘Aye, hard. That was hard.’, he agreed.
‘That’s the Pinn over there. See it?’
‘Is that it? Like a letter box? Can’t see it’, his partner screwed her eyes up as the sun came out.
‘Aye, that’s it. Over there. Sticking right up’.
‘Oh aye’. The ‘aye’ was long and drawn out. ‘I hope they’re alright up there’.
‘That was ma second last Munro’.
‘Aye?’
‘Aye’

I was alone once more as they drifted off to the descent chimney and the main summit. The raven came back to its rock. Its mate stayed at the far end of the ridge. A puff of wind came round the cairn and rippled the receding water of the pool.

The Red Cuillin from Blaven

Two hours I’d been relaxing. Bird and people watching. I noticed the pool next to me had almost dried up. More scree noises as another couple breasted the summit ridge.

‘Bloody great crow!’. The young chap exclaimed.
‘Ooh, what a view.’, his partner replied. As the two partners before her, she was without rucsack. ‘Is this the top?’.
‘Yes. No. Maybe. Think so’.

They wandered off towards the descent chimney and disappeared for a bit. The raven came back and watched me, hopeful of more crumbs. Eventually it turned to face the Cuillin, noisily banged its beak shut a few times while making noises and movement that suggested it was going to be sick, then refused to look at me again. It flapped across to its original and continued ignoring me.

‘There’s that crow again’. The young chap reappeared followed by his partner. They wandered back to the cairn and contemplated the view.
‘This is a Munro isn’t it?’, his partner asked.
‘Yes, that’s right. Munro. A Munro is a mountain in Scotland over 3000 metres high’.
‘Metres?’.
‘Yes, can’t be feet. That would be too small. 3000 metres’.

And they were off again, this time making a successful descent to the gully and heading for the main summit.

The other raven had had enough. ‘Kraaa kraaa’ it said and my silky raggedy friend replied ‘kraw kraw’ and they were off. In seconds they were beyond the main summit and heading for the Red Cuillin. The pool had just about gone. It was time to head off.

Looking down the chimney on the south summit to the main summit of Blaven

I nipped down the chimney, across the gully and up to the top where I met the remarkable Annie from Applecross. Apparently they’d been having a party over on this summit! She was keen to see more of the mountain, it being her first munro so I offered to accompany her back to the south summit and down the ridge, which she enjoyed immensely. As did I. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy guiding, having had a bit of a break from it recently. It’s great to see people gain confidence and learn new skills, especially when scrambling. Things you take for granted like walking down scree with your hands in your pockets are entire pub discussions for people new to the big hills.

Dun Caan from the Blaven path

Eventually we parted ways back in the coire and I bimbled back down the path in the evening light with a wonderful view of Dun Caan on Raasay rising between Beinn na Cro and Glas Bheinn Mhor. Another wonderful day on my favourite hill.

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