Mon, Aug 26, 2019

Blaven from the bivi on Slat Bheinn

A day off, what to do? With hot weather and a fair forecast for the Monday, it had to be a bivi up in the hills. I’d always fanced bivying on Slat Bheinn summit where it looks across to the wild east face of Blaven and gives aeriel views of Coire Uaigneich and so it was decided, intending to wander around the top, composing poems and jotting down philosophical gems in my notebook. The forecast mentioned increasing wind overnight, low cloud, then clearing. Turned out a bit wilder than that!

Starting up the Blaven path around 2pm on the Sunday, I met hordes coming down, with a warm wind wafting me higher, tilly hat to keep the heat at bay but with the burns at a healthy level for loading up in Coire Uaigneich. On up past the big boulder, up the scree on the coire headwall and on to the bealach. A quick scout around for sheltered spots in case I had to retreat from Slat Bheinn’s summit, then over to the night’s accommodation across the gully. I had a mind to carry on up the east ridge of Blaven but it was windy, perhaps 25mph, gusting 30mph from the SW so it would have been exposed up there even without the increasing wind that was forecast and anyway, I really did want to bivi on Slat Bheinn, somewhere new for the night.

The Red Hills from the bivi on Slat Bheinn

Steeply down, steeply up and round to the top and I dumped the ‘sack and went looking for a sheltered spot. There was alpine lady’s mantle and tormentil in abundance among the short grass but the plateau was mostly boggy, squelchy and windy. Wind is ok for a short stop but not for prolonged exposure through the night, so I kept looking and eventually spotted a ledge that stuck out lengthwise two ledges below the summit and completely sheltered. I settled down where the ledges parted the gusting wind from the SW and left me in a calm nook with stunning views across the coire to the east face of Blaven and across Loch Slapin to the Red Hills and Beinn na Cro. It was a simply perfect spot. I even had a stone seat directly above the bivi where I jotted musings in my notebook.

Blaven from the bivi on Slat Bheinn

The Red Hills from the bivi on Slat Bheinn

A wander before dinner to look out over Camasunary and the Atlantic brushing the edge of the Black Cuillin although the wind was really picking up and I was glad of my sheltered spot.

Evening sunshine on the Black Cuillin, seen across the SW ridge of Blaven

Back at the bivi, the sun was dipping towards the SW ridge of Blaven and a chill was settling in. I hadn’t heard the ravens up until then but as I was getting the grub on the go I heard one of them call from across the coire. The ragged sound was followed immediately by wisps and tendrils of cloud, grey, hooked fingers grasping at the blue sky, tearing across the bealach and diving into Coire Uaigneich. It was a dramatic sight, watching them coming up the glen from the sea and racing across the boulder-strewn ground from my calm, sheltered bivi site. Then the raven called again and black clouds engulfed the ridge, engulfed Blaven and the coire and stole the sun. The raven had called twice. Once to signal to the outriggers it was time to come in, once to summon the storm to cover the land in a black boiling mass of cold clouds. It was a moment I’ll remember for a long time to come.

An Stac from the bivi on Slat Bheinn. Storm clouds rolling in from the SW

The weather turned out mostly as forecast but on steroids. By 8pm I was ensconced in the bag, listening to the wind on either side, lying in a grey-gloom world of near-zero visibility. It turned cold and moisture laden and around 2am it started blowing a gale. I lay and listened to the roar of the storm coming round the summit on both sides, heard the grass dance wildly in the gloomy grey and felt the occasional blast rock me in my bag as a big gust wrapped round the summit and found me, making sleep impossible. Such is the bivi. I got about 2 hours sleep in total but I was in the midst of the elements, snug in my bag, being buffeted but out of the maelstrom, a bystander to an Atlantic gale. It was a wild night, summoned by the raven.

Morning light in Coire Uaigneich

6am and I was up and munching porridge and berries. Soaking ground surrounded me, grey-gloom enveloped me. It was time I was gone. I staggered down the ridge in near-zero visibility until I felt it was the right spot to turn off and down into the narrow gully between Slat Bheinn and the bealach. I was blasted by the wind, rocked and rolled and almost blown over several times until I popped over the edge of the gully and down into Coire Uaigneich where it was calm on the headwall. It was still almost zero visibility and the familiar landscape looked ghostly and unknown. What had the raven done with my world? Soon however, I came out of the cloud just above the big boulder where I sheltered from the screaming gale tearing up Fionna Coire, across the lochan and straight into me, trying to blow me over with 50mph gusts. Ragged shards of last night’s clouds tore themselves to shreds on Slat Bheinn’s black, dripping crags. The crags I had been perched atop all last night as this storm raced through. It was a magnificent thought. I was completely alive, full of the elements and I wished I was at the bottom of a big rock route, gearing up after a night of wild storm, for a day of vertical adventure. I felt part of the landscape. I felt like I should be a rock, feeling the caress of wind, waiting for the raven to abate the storm it had called up.

But off down the path I went, picking up litter along the way. Across the two burns, down through the heather and bog myrtle to another land. As the sun came out I looked back and a shiver went down my spine at the memory of the storm-call of the black raven.

Morning light on Blaven after a wild night's bivi