final munro party not mine

Sat, Oct 25, 2008

Hot foot from a blasting on Ben Macdui, myself and Penguin headed through Inverness, down to Drumnadrochit and across to Bearnock Country Centre, where we were due to meet up with Allan’s club, the Blantyre hillwalking and rambling club, one of who’s members was due to complete her final munro on the Saturday. A real posh gaff, Bearnock, she’d booked it out for about 30 people complete with dinner and wine but the pair of us were feckless drifters in a sea of doctorial intelligentsia, without accommodation as Allan had given up his place as I didn’t have one (not being in the club or even met any of them) and we decided to charm our way into some form of doss for a couple of nights. As luck would have it, the proprietor was a real gent and he wouldn’t have any such nonsense as camping in the grounds. Instead, he showed us to the laundry, with its two comfy sofas, heater and tumble dryer. As I stood there in the warm, luxurious and spacious room, something niggled at me. No fire! That was it. I was itching to light the bothy fire but that would have sent us straight to poky!

Luxury doss!

So we spent Friday night in comparative luxury compared to the others, crammed nine to a room but lacking the bothy ambience of creaky chairs and a crackling fire but at least we were out of the weather, which was diabolical. Well, down at Cannich it was fine. Breezy and autumnal and the drive up Strathfarrar was a fantastic procession of white topped lochans and green and ochre forest, with the odd golden yellow thrown in. Simply stunning. Strathfarrar is a fantastic glen but it’s guarded day and night by a lady in a cottage who only opens the gate at 9am and 6pm, to guard against poachers apparently. However, thanks to Scotland’s liberal access laws, you can walk or cycle up the glen any time you feel like it.

Strathfarrar

Our’s (and twenty-odd others’, including an 11 month old baby in a ski suit) goal for the day was Sgurr Fhuar Thuill (peak of the cold hollow) and we all stood in a violent gale in the car park near the head of the glen, while everyone geared up before plodding round the corner into quiet and calm on the landrover track. It’s always a pain that. You’re so cold standing around at the car that you put on everything, then you walk round the hillside into shelter and start sweating profusely and before you know it you’re soaked to the skin and not from the rain. So you peel off a few layers, walk on some more, reach a gap in the hills and get blasted by ice cold rain again! This time of year is the changeover between summer and winter. Too cold and wet to go rock climbing. Not cold enough to go ice climbing and no matter what you wear you end up soaked as it’s either too warm or too cold/windy, all on the same walk.

I wonder if you realise, by the way, that Glen Strathfarrar is a tautology. Strath means a wide valley, so by saying Glen Strathfarrar, one is saying Glen wide glen of the …! Same with Law Hill in Dundee. Law means a hill, so everyone is actually saying Hill Hill! “Hear hear”, is that a shout from the curmudgeons in the back row?

Anyway, we had an interesting crossing of the burn higher up, which was in spate and several metres wide. Not the best place where the path crosses as the rocks are all shoogly and there’s a bit of a drop off immediately downstream but more of that later. There was a chap from Northwest Frontiers there who carried Lindsay’s mother across on his back! This lady had never been up a hill before but had opted to join her daughter on her final munro, in a pair of those see through “approach shoes” that let in everything. But good on her for tackling a 1000m peak in blizzards, heavy rain and gale force winds! Another couple were there who had only every walked in Ireland and Lindsay was keen for them to experience a Scottish day on the hill. Well they certainly got that. Not sure if they’ll ever be back though!

It really was a humdinger of a day. We were blown up the path to the lochans where most of us waited and slowly froze while the others crossed the spate. Then another wee crossing was required, much easier though and I just had to move quicker or freeze into a block of frozen walker. So I plod plodded up the very very boggy path and stopped where it swung across the face to remove sweat sodden clothes before plodding some more up to the summit.

Allan below Sgurr Fhuar Thuill

There I met two others who had forged ahead and were now frozen stiff, so the three of us, along with a fourth who had not long summitted Kilimanjaro (think contrast!) huddled into a bothy shelter for some instant warmth, just as a violent blizzard swept in and the outside world disappeared. We sheltered and joked while the main body of the kirk ascended Moses like up the path and into the gale force winds. The fitter at the front, the less fitter well back and toiling up the steep slopes, all to the sound of a screaming 11 month old baby strapped to the back of its father. Upon arrival at the summit, a shelter was hastily erected and father, mother and baby disappeared inside, while several stalwarts braved the storm to pin the corners to the ground, all the while screams emanating from within. By this time we were stomping around trying to warm up, one person wearing the bothy shelter like a jacket while another had retreated into his bivvy bag. Such are the joys of final munro parties!

Awaiting the final munro entourage on the summit

The Roger Ramjet crew then arrived, having come over the other 3 munros on the ridge, one of whom was rather hungover, so no doubt the appearance of several bottles of champaigne must have been an Ice Cold in Alex moment. I declined as I was starting to resemble a carved ice statue. Corks popped, speeches made, hands shaken and backs slapped, everyone beat a hasty retreat back down the hill.

By now though, the burns had risen even more and as the Northwestern Frontier’s chappie had legged it back early to start making the dinner for 30, I thought, as an ML, I’d better hang around to offer any assistance, especially to her maw. I thought about crossing higher up again but it would have involved a jump onto a large slippy rock and I came to the conclusion that I’d get wet anyway if anyone needed help crossing at the path. So I just waded through and discovered the rocks had become even more shoogly with the passing of so many feet earlier in the day. Anyway, to cut a long (and cold) story short, I helped a load of folk across, pointing out the mega shoogly rock several inches under the racing torrent. This was on the edge of a break in the submerged stepping stones which formed a narrow channel of very fast whitewater that led into a small drop into a foaming pool so I positioned myself just before it, feet in the race and helped folk across, all the while battered by a ferocious wind howling upstream. Unfortunately, one gal went in, completely, disappeared but I managed to grab her rucksac strap and haul her out before she went for an impromptu swm downriver. Luckily her head to toe event (not goretex, she corrected me) gear kept the water out. The only other casualty was Penguin, who slipped and landed on me but I managed to keep him out of the water. Her maw did really well, although one do-gooder had managed to get three of them onto the one shoogly rock midstream and I thought the whole lot were headed loch-side at one point. Already knowing the secret of safe river crossings however, I managed to get them all across and cleared the log jam. The secret? Get wet feet. I learned that long ago. If you’re an ML, with a party and it’s a wild and wet day, you’re going to get wet feet. Rather than mince across from shoogly rock to shoogly rock, just wade in and let the party use you for balance. You get wet feet, they get across intact. Job done.

Back at the cars everyone staggered and wobbled about like reeds in a gale as violent blasts of rain came down the glen, so we jumped in the cars and made for the bunkhouse and our luxurious doss with the very nice pictures of ladies’ bottoms above my sleeping bag. The thought of snuggling down under that titillating triumvirate had kept me going all day!

Allan in the luxury doss

You can see all the pics here.

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