1st to 5th June 2012 - Scourie Campsite, Scourie (Spring Holiday)
Summer had arrived in Scotland. Those lucky enough to be away at the time were enjoying hot days under an endless blue sky. The weather was to hold through the Jubilee weekend, then it wouldn’t, then it might. Reassurance arrived with the news that the meet organiser had pulled out of her own trip to go climbing instead! In the end, five of us made the long drive north to Scourie, with a breakaway group of three climbers basing themselves further south at Ardmair for the climbing at Stac Pollaidh and Reiff. Plans for an early getaway were left in tatters after a fatal collision on the A9 kept the road shut for 18 hours but Kenny and Alison braved the long diversion via the Great Glen and discovered a great chippie in Fort Augustus for their efforts. I procrastinated endlessly but managed to time my departure with the reopening of the A9. In the end it was one of those magical summer evening drives and as the sun dipped to the horizon a Nightjar flew across the road at Carrbridge followed shortly after by a roding Woodcock at Moy. As I dropped down to the Moray Firth, the great bulk of Ben Wyvis was silhouetted against a spectacular orange sky. Spirits were high but as I reached the Crask Inn, five hours after leaving Edinburgh, it started spitting with rain! A few miles further north I found a quiet spot by the road to pitch the tent. Meanwhile, Fiona C had found her own roadside camping spot in Strath Conon, after abandoning all hope of reaching Scourie that night.
Pete and Sara wisely delayed their departure until Saturday morning, stopping to climb Ben Wyvis en route to Scourie. After high winds forced them back from the plateau at New Year, they were happy to make it to the summit this time round. They were not the only ones enduring an early start though as Fiona C was awoken bright and early by a steady stream of fisherman driving past her roadside camping spot. She continued on to Scourie, stopping to climb Canisp on the way. My first day started with a walk up Ben Klibreck in the morning. I managed to time my arrival at the summit with a snow shower, but it quickly cleared, giving way to a fine afternoon. Back at the car by lunchtime, the only sensible plan was an ascent of Ben Hope via the North Ridge! Remote, wild and with some committing scrambling, this is a route to savour, and combined with a descent via the voie normale, makes for a fine traverse of the mountain.
By the time I arrived at the campsite in Scourie, Gillian and Fiona C were settled in and beginning their gruelling negotiations to find a common objective for the following day. The object of the exercise was to pick a mountain that was broadly agreeable to both parties and then carefully attempt to shorten/lengthen the day to include extra summits or a different route. One false move could result in the whole plan collapsing, at which point a new target was proposed and the negotiations started afresh. The whole business took most of the evening and involved bribery (‘you look cold, come into my warm tent for a nice cup of tea’) and alcohol (‘lets continue this in the pub’) to weaken resolves and arrive at a consensus.
There was little point getting up early most days with the weather following a pattern of morning showers clearing to warm, sunny afternoons. So after a leisurely start on Sunday, Pete, Sara and I headed down to Inchnadamph to climb Conival and Ben More Assynt. We continued on over the narrow, rocky ridge to the South Top of Ben More Assynt before circling back to Dubh Loch More and heading back through the narrow pass to Inchnadamph. Lower down there was an abundance of wildflowers, including a spectacular display of Mountain Avens. Further north, Gillian and Fiona had a relaxing day on their agreed objective of Ben Stack and enjoyed great views from the summit. When I arrived back at the campsite, negotiations were already in full swing for the next day and it required another visit to the Scourie Hotel before Gillian and Fiona settled on Arkle while Pete and Sara were aiming for Ben Klibreck. My own plans were to break camp in the morning and head south to Oykel Bridge for the remote summit of Seana Bhraigh.
Down in sunny Coigach, Kenny, Alison and Fiona M had kicked off the long weekend with a chilly start at Reiff, where they were exposed to the strong northerly wind. After Fiona got hot aches on an E1, they decided to change venue! The following day was warmer and, climbing at Stac Pollaidh, Fiona dispatched Release the Bats (VS 4b), Vlad the Impaler (HVS 5a) and Jack the Ripper (E1 5b), while Kenny and Alison enjoyed the muscular November Groove (VS 4c). The climbers then decided to move closer to the action, with Fiona heading north for two days of sea cliff climbing at Sheigra while Alison and Kenny discovered a great new campsite close to Reiff. By day three Alison was clearly ‘in the zone’ and despite only just making it into the car park in the morning, a memorable days climbing at Reiff was to follow. After warming up on Sip from the Wine of Youth Again (HVS 5a), she calmly and cleanly (no swearing) lead Westering Home (E1 5b), her first E1 lead. A few more routes followed, including the superb Black Pig (VS 4c). The elation of that first E1 was to be short-lived, however, as ‘normal service’ was resumed on their final day with Alison grunting and swearing her way up the third pitch of Summer Isles Arête Direct (VS 4c) on Stac Pollaidh. Its difficult to know what lasting impression this spectacle made on a group of passing walkers.
After an hour on the bike and still not at the foot of Seana Bhraigh, I once again found myself wishing I had a mountain bike with suspension. Half-an-hour of jarring riding followed and then at last I was on foot and heading steeply up the ridge on the east side of the Luchd Choire. Some enjoyable scrambling led to a spectacular lunch spot on the little pointed peak of An Sgurr and from here, the route continued around the corrie to Seana Bhraigh, a very hard won summit. The views were just amazing in all directions and I was in no rush to leave and descend to the ‘torture machine’ but I still had a long ride out. I decided to try the sachet of energy gel (Decathlon freebie) that had been lurking in my pack for the last 6 months. I’m happy to report that it tasted good (Blackcurrant flavour) and I felt epic on the return journey, making it back to Oykel Bridge within the hour!
Perhaps the thought of negotiating a third day’s walking was too much for Gillian as she left Scourie and took the ferry to Stornoway in the Western Isles. The town was bedecked in Jubilee bunting but her sights were set further south, to the mountain of Clisham in Harris. She was not disappointed and the fabulous views from the summit stretched all the way to St Kilda. Returning to the mainland via Skye, she finished her trip with an ascent of Garbh-bheinn, edging ever closer to a complete round of the Corbetts.
While Gillian was soaking up the views of the Western Isles archipelago from Clisham, I was enjoying a hot, sunny day on a round of Beinn Dearg, Meall nan Ceapraichean and Eididh nan Clach Geala. I had arrived at the summit of Beinn Dearg and was admiring An Teallach when someone appeared from the opposite direction walking slowly but steadily towards the cairn. He’d walked up from Braemore Junction to gain some height on the usual starting point at Inverlael and it had taken him twice as long as me to reach the top. We chatted a while and took photos and he told me he was in his seventies and had retired to Dundonnell. He was one of the the most cheerful and enthusiastic souls I’d met in the hills but he didn’t stay long because he reckoned it would take him the same time to return to his car, a ten hour day in all. After he left I sat wondering whether I’d still have the enthusiasm for big days in the hills when I was his age. I hoped so. Looking around it was hard to imagine anyone resisting the lure of the North West and with that thought I shouldered the pack and headed off for my last two summits.