Stob Coire Sgriodain & Chno DeargIt's funny isn't it, how sometimes I can travel far and wide and have nothing much to tell you, and on other times I go nowhere and produce a thousand words or more (that might be a slight exaggeration). If I was still 8, I would have written the following for my teacher:
What I did todayToday I climbed two mountains. I started at a place called Fersit, and walked across a big bog. Then as I got to the top of the first mountain the cloud came down and I couldn't see much. It wasn't until I started coming down the second mountain that I could see the view again.
Of course, if I were still 8 those 'I's' would be 'We's' (I hope!!), but if you take a moment or two to read on there is a lot more to tell!
FersitThe path starts, as my 8-year-old alter-ego mentioned above, at Fersit. This is a tiny little settlement a couple of miles off the main road through Glen Spean, and about 10 miles from Spean Bridge. After passing between the half dozen or so houses, the track emerges onto the open hillside and soon a rough path turns off to cross the bog towards the bottom of the hills. Before long, an even rougher track needs to be taken - literally no more than a quad bike trail of crushed grass winding its way across the landscape. The foothills of these two Munros are surprisingly gentle in gradient, and before long I found I had climbed some considerable height above Fersit without really noticing. It was quite a pleasant surprise really. On almost any other Munro my legs would have been seriously knackered after climbing 350m!
Stob Coire SgriodainAll too soon, however, the real ascent began. The quad-bike trail had already given way to a rough path and the gradient was occasionally a lot steeper. The path then seemed to sweep off to the left, while I could see the route up the mountain off to the left, so after a moment or two consulting the map I left the path behind me and I... I'm trying to think of the right word here, and neither 'lollopped' or 'gambolled' really give the right idea but my brain is too tired to come up with anything better... So, I _____ed across the heather, still feeling quite fresh at this point, and at the bottom of the steep ascent I found a very rough path. What I really mean is that those who had gone before had, over the decades, created a series of steps in the grass, left, right, left right, that sort of thing.
The ascent, which I had intended to describe in the previous paragraph, but failed, was steep. I think I've already said that. Anyway, as I weaved between the rocks I finally confirmed to myself that the summit of Chno Dearg was hidden by cloud. I couldn't see the first summit, as I was at the end of the ridge, and about 200m down a rough cliff! Slowly but surely I hauled my way up the rocks, and suddenly reached the end of the ridge, although with the cloud not far away it was difficult to know for sure. I usually reckon on ascending 7m in a minute when climbing, but I had just risen from 600 to 840 at a rate of 11m a minute - I told you it was steep!
Of course, that wasn't the summit. That was just Sron na Garbh-bheinne at the end of the ridge. Fortunately, however, the ridge was pretty easy. It took about 20 minutes to climb up to the first Munro summit of the day, the biggest problem being that most of it was in the cloud. From the summit I had a fantastic view of H2O vapour in a thousand shades of grey hanging in the air in every direction. I didn't stop.
Chno DeargA little to the south of the summit of Stob Coire Sgriodain, I found a sheltered spot for lunch (I'd forgotten to mention the freezing cold breeze hadn't I!). Then, after some debate with the map (I often find myself talking to inanimate objects), and catching the occasional glimpse of the wider landscape as the cloud swirled around me, I backtracked a little and found the right path to proceed along the ridge. The visibility never dropped below 50m, and the path was clear, but it was still strange walking along a grassy ridge without a view. From time to time strange aromas floated by - Roasting Pork, Cigarette smoke, a Peat fire, peppermints, but there was never any sign of anyone else on the hill, or indeedany real possibility of these smells having been carried 3 or 4 miles from the nearest houses (Fersit was Upwind).
The other strange thing about walking in the cloud was that I didn't seem to notice the gradient. I can remember getting to the top of a particularly stiff climb, although I only realised how steep it was when I looked back down. My legs didn't feel any of the pain that they had earlier. Is it therefore possible that the pain is not caused by the climbing, but by the fact that my brain knows its higher than it was before, but in the cloud the reference points are few and far between? Ok, maybe not!
At the bottom of one of the dips on the ridge, I caught a glimpse of Loch Treig far below, and after a short jog to the edge of the saddle, the cloud parted again to allow me to see the landscape stretched out to the south. Ten minutes later, the same thing happened again, but for longer and I was able to check the map and work out that I could see a patch of the Blackwater Reservoir gleaming in the distant sunshine. I also located Loch Ossian and Corrour, or at least the hill that sat in front of them! But then it was on, ever onwards to find the summit and the long easy grass slopes back to the car.
I started climbing the hill ahead after my second deviation from the path, expecting to pick up the path again at any minute, but the path didn't appear. Then, to my horror, a dark shape loomed out of the cloud off to my left. It was at this point that I remembered there was another hill set to one side of the main ridge, and only a Munro Top rather than a summit. It was this hill I was climbing. A sharp left turn and five minutes later I had relocated the path. Phew!
Despite having half a mile to cover, and 150m of ascent, it didn't take too long, and soon I found myself approaching the summit plateau. I could see what looked like a cairn looming up ahead and that felt good, I was nearly there, but as the cairn turned from a grey shadow into a sharper object I realised that it was just a rock. It was on the edge of the plateau however, and so I started wandering across to try and locate the cairn. Everything looked to be the same level, with no obvious cairn, but after a minute or two, and on the verge of giving up, the cloud parted just long enough to show me a substantial cairn off to the right. It only took a minute to get there, even though it had been invisible! Above me, the sky was blue, but I was still walled in by the cloud. Then, it cleared and I had a fantastic view across Glen Spean. I quickly turned to look behind, but it was still just grey, and as I turned back the onward view had gone too.
The DescentAfter a minute or so waiting for the view to return, I decided to head down. After all, I wasn't about to freeze my bits off simply trying to get a photo! I think I had descended about 20m when the view returned, a stunning landscape spread out ahead, but as i turned back to look at the cairn, all I could see was its dull grey shape looming menacingly out of the cloud. Another dozen paces and it had vanished completely!
The walk back to the car, whilst pathless for much of the distance, was easy. The gradient gentle most of the way, and the cloud never returned. Off to the west I could see that Stob Coire Sgriodain was clear of the cloud too, and remained so. Ahead of me, the peat hags, knotted turf and heather clumps kept me on my toes, jumping the boggy streams, dancing round the lumps and bumps (not intentionally, you understand, it was just how it happened), and finally regaining a quad bike track back to the road. I was shattered, exhausted, knackered, but against my wildest dreams (up until a few days earlier), I had added another 2 Munros to my completed list. And in October too!