We had a nice sunny start from the convenient Forestry Commission car park situated just off the main road. We crunched our way along the vehicle access roads past monster-machines and an occasional forestry worker.
After a short boggy trek along tree-break paths (forest 'rides'), we exited the plantation over a high stile and emerged onto the ‘bare’ mountainside. We headed up the ridge to the Grey Height (686 m) and took in some beautiful views to the north. However, an ominous bank of cloud created a ceiling above the vista. To the south, our destination was shrouded in a smoky, white mist.
We continued our ascent to our next stop, Meall Dhamh (814 m), passing some precariously balanced ‘erratics’ (boulders deposited by glaciers). Despite the body heat generated by our efforts, there was a noticeable temperature drop as we moved closer to the mist ceiling.
With no invitation, the mist descended. However, we pressed on for a while along the well-trodden path before feeling the need to add an extra layer in order to ward off the chill. Waterproofs were required for our final ascent to the summit, as the wind-driven mist was now depositing a significant layer of moisture upon us.
We passed the ‘false summit’ cairns and, with a degree of satisfaction, reached the cairn on the ‘true’ summit (1046m). Not only were our clothes and hair dampened by the mist but also, slightly, our sense of achievement. There was no view whatsoever. Visibility was 25 - 50m maximum. We were here…but where?!?
A quick lunch and time to move on…but which way? It was decided that, all things considered, Beinn Tulaichean would have to wait for another day. We would take the most direct route to Stob Garbh (the Munro Top). Our first challenge was to negotiate the ‘intimidating’ descent of the north-east face of Cruach Ardrain. In some blogs, the path has been described as a ‘goat track’ and a ‘hard scramble’… in good weather! Nevertheless, after some initial slow (but sure) progress - including some ‘crab’ impressions from Lynne - we reached the bealach between Cruach Ardrain and Stob Garbh.
We knew where we were. We checked the map and also checked Maria’s GPS locator. The problem we were now faced with was the lack of an obvious path and no visible landmarks except the occasional, amorphous, looming shadow in the mist. Thanks to Maria’s navigating skills - using a combination of altitude readings on her watch, GPS data and her trusty Silva compass - we climbed to a point where a path finally presented itself. We won't mention Lynne's imaginary path! Oops! Too late!
The short trek to Stob Garbh was eerie. It was like moving through a science fiction landscape, as weird shapes emerged from the swirling mists and suddenly disappeared. The summit (959 m) was graced with dark pools and a pavement of metamorphic rocks. A quick photo opportunity at the summit cairn and it was time to head off the mountain.
It was a fairly uneventful trek back along the ridge (apart from two sheep which, bizarrely, looked three times bigger through the mist). The path led through occasional boggy patches and rocky rises. Visibility was still limited, until we began our descent of Stob Coire Buidhe (857 m) and passed below the cloud roof. The finish line was not quite in sight but was definitely nearer.
We climbed over the deer fence on the edge of the forestry land, using a partially constructed (?) stile and prepared for the final descent to another forestry track. There was no obvious path and, in spite of checking and re-checking, we could not find the stream that our guidebook suggested we follow as the easiest route. The gradient was steep. The grass was thick and long. The spongy moss hid slippery rocks and deep holes. This was hard going on knees and ankles joints, thighs and back muscles. We reached the edge of the forestry but this was dense and impenetrable. Eventually a stream became apparent and we followed it down to the track with much trepidation..
Thigh muscles quivering, we plodded (yes, plodded) back to the car along the muddy track, which had been churned by the tyres of huge vehicles, until we heard the welcome crunch of compacted gravel. An unforgettable nine and a half hours! For us, an unparalleled achievement.
- We already pack extra socks and trousers, it may also be necessary to consider taking extra underwear...or at least purchase some of the fast-drying, wicking variety! Accidents did not occur...but navigating down a steep descent like a crab meant getting very wet!
- Hill/mountain-walking can be dangerous for the inexperienced and unprepared. Most walking-guide routes add a warning about possible difficulties in adverse conditions. We believe we are not foolhardy, and, if we had been without Maria and her expertise, we would have retraced our steps along the obvious path once the mist descended. However, had we been tempted to push on, we would, in all likelihood, have become lost, in spite of map, compass and route description. It was inspiring and reassuring to witness Maria using her skills to navigate us safely through the mist and unfamiliar terrain. Thank you, Maria!