above the clouds on the lundie horseshoe

Sat, Feb 16, 2008

The forecast was for low cloud and clag on the west coast, with increasingly better weather forecast the further east you travelled. So I packed the ‘sac and headed for Cluanie, listening to the radio on the way with Lord Cameron of Neish giving the advice to head east to avoid the weather and good advice it was too as the base rose higher and higher the nearer I drew to Cluanie. I parked at Lundie and headed up the old military road past the mast and on up the frozen hillside, heading for Carn Ghluasaid.

Stalkers path on Carn Ghluasaid

With the mud frozen I made good progress, especially as I was still fit as a fiddle after the winter ML training and I had some sport where the path reached the ridge and hit banks of iron hard snow. A couple of ptarmigan flew off into the hazy sunshine, their wings starting to turn brown and I had a spot of grub at the top of the slabs, just below the summit plateau, basking in warm sunshine amid large patches of snow. The summit of Carn Ghluasaid was scoured clean and the wind was biting and very cold indeed although the temperature was above freezing, so on with the Rab and a quick compass bearing to reach the bealach, as the clouds parted to reveal remote northern mountains, their snowy north faces peering out of the fast moving fluffy cloud banks.

Looking north from the summit of Carn Ghluasaid

It was great to just be out on the hill, on my own, no training or assessment, just stravaiging about and dawdling in “ish” mode. By that I mean I wasn’t too bothered about precise navigation. The cloud was down but the visibility was enough to make out corniced edges and when I headed off from the summit cairn on Carn Ghluasaid, it obviously wasn’t the highest part, marked on the map, as I started to head towards the cliff edge. A quick 50m right angle bearing and continue on the original and I reached the bealach as the cloud scudded away to reveal the wind blasted scree and ice.

A well worn path headed off round the south side of Creag a’Chaorainn but I stuck to the ridge and headed back up into the cloud, a stiff breeze blowing but nowhere near the 50mph gusts that were forecast. It was more 15mph steady with the odd 20mph gust thrown in. Just right. At Pt. 998 I turned left and made my way to my most favourite of mountain features. The high, wind scoured bealach. This time it was Glas Bhealach, with the remains of collapsed cornices and avalanche debris disappearing into the remote corries above Ceannacroc. I really do like these high and wild bealachs, pauses between high summits. Places of constant weather, always windy and moving. Superb.

Cornices on Sgurr nan Conbhairean

There was one bit on the final pull up to Sgurr nan Conbhairean where I stopped to put on crampons as the route crossed very hard and icy snow and slipping here would have meant a very fast and steep descent into a wild and remote corrie. However, the cloud cleared for a moment and I noticed the ice and snow was short lived before the next clear area, which led all the way to the summit. So I kicked steps instead. Hard work in the hard snow. As I neared the summit, the cloud thinned and skimmed above me, wraith like and fast moving and suddenly I was above it. I whooped with joy and ran the last bit to the top! Great banks of cumulus were trundling in across the South Glen Shiel ridge and rising up over Creag a’Chaorainn, smothering it in cotton wool but on Sgurr nan Conbhairean I was to the side of this steady stream of crevassed vapours and only the outriders, ghost like slivers of thin cloud swooshed over the snow round about me. Now and then the ghosts gathered in the Glas Bhealach instead and I was free and sailing high above the clouds. It was as if the ghostly slivers were guiding the main mass of cloud, breaking off here and there to gather up errant banks of fluff and channel them back to the main ridge. It was absolutely stunning. Blue sky, dazzlingly white snow and invigorating wind. What a day!

Cloud inversion on Sgurr nan Conbhairean

Half an hour of clicking and festering on the summit and I took a quick bearing and headed down the south west ridge, toward Drochaid an Tuill Easaich. I was quickly enveloped in the grey clag but I knew I was descending the fall line so as long as the ground on both sides was level, I was heading in the right direction. Crossing a few snow fields gave a partial whiteout and I had to look uphill to get the slope angle to kick the right angle of step into the hard snow. Drochaid means bridge in Gaelic, so I knew I was heading for a narrow feature and I had the axe out for the first time of the day. With the orientation of the drochaid, I was expecting partial cornices on my route but when I reached the feature I was right on the bridge aspect but wrong on the cornices. They had long since been scoured away. An easy snow ridge led me across the narrow drochaid, high above remote, misty and snow bound corries.

Drochaid an Tuill Easaich on the south ridge of Sgurr nan Conbhairean

I was expecting to nip up to the 1001m top and take a quick bearing down the south ridge but to my surprise I hit a balcony path bypassing the top and well worn. I was obviously on a popular route. A bimble out of the cloud and down the south ridge in warm sunshine, a bite to eat at the top of the final descent, next to a marker cairn and I made for the Allt Coire Lair, down very slippy and boggy slopes, thawed out by the bright sun. Crossing the burn was interesting, just before the fence and across some slippy slabs. Then a very nice bimble back along the old military road back to Lundie in warm sun and a following breeze. A wonderful end to a fantastic day.

You can see all the pics here.

Gaelic on the route

Drochaid an Tuill Easain. Drochaid is a bridge, an means of the, Tuill is the genitive of Toll, a hole and Easaich is the gentive of Easach, a rocky stream. So it means The Bridge of the Hole of the Rocky Stream. Interestingly, drochaid is a feminine word and so would have had feminine qualities in the eyes of the person who named the feature, i.e. safety, a safe way across hazardous ground, a sense of being looked after.

Carn Ghluasaid. Carn is a cairn or rocky hill and Gluasad means “to move”, so it means the rocky hill of moving. Not sure why though.

Creag a’Chaorainn. Rock of the rowan, or mountain ash.

Coire nan clach. Corrie of the stones.

Glas Bhealach. The grey pass.

Sgurr nan Conbhairean. A conbhair is the man who looks after the dogs. It also means a dog kennel.

Gorm lochan. Small blue loch.

Coire Làir. Corrie of the mare.

Allt coire làir. Burn of the corrie of the mare.

Meall Breac. The speckled rounded hill.

Cruachan Coile a’Chait. The rock of the wood of the cat. Coile is a wood and cat is a cat, chait being the genitive of cat.

An Cruachan. The rock.

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