Friday 22 September 2017

Misty Munros: Care Needed!

A brief glimpse through the mist on Beinn a'Chaorainn

Beinn a’Chaorainn and Beinn Teallach are not the most renowned Munros though both have their attractions, like all hills. In other areas they would be better known but with Creag Meagaidh on one side and the Grey Corries not far away they are often neglected for these grander hills, as can be seen by the rather sketchy and intermittent paths over the summits. No well-trodden walkers’ highways here. I admit to often passing by these hills myself and I hadn’t climbed them for many years until last weekend. It wasn’t my idea either. Fellow outdoor writer David Lintern suggested them, initially because he was interested in looking at the East Ridge of Beinn a’Chaorainn, a summer scramble and winter climb. The weather forecast looked better west of the Cairngorms so I was happy to agree. I wanted a night out though, which David couldn’t manage, and so didn’t fancy an unknown scramble with a big pack. We’d stick to the walking routes we decided.

The promised fine weather – 90% likelihood of cloud-free skies – hadn’t materialised when we set off through soggy woods under a soft grey sky. The tops were in cloud and soon we were too as we approached the southernmost of Beinn a’Chaorainn’s three summits. The ascent up featureless heather, bog and grass slopes was enlivened by conversation about conservation, photography, gear and more. Although David had recently moved to Strathspey we hadn’t seen each other in quite a while. Occasional views back under the clouds to shining Loch Treig gave excuses to pause and catch breath.

Loch Treig
A brief stop at the first cairn and we set off for the central and highest summit. Or at least we thought we did. Despite the minimal visibility we were certain we knew which way we’d come up and therefore the direction in which we should go. The compass said otherwise but the direction it indicated was surely the way we’d come. Check with the GPS as we walked. Yes, the compass was right. We were heading completely the wrong way. Turning we followed the compass. It still felt wrong but we knew now it wasn’t. How easily we’d been turned through 180 degrees in the dense mist. Pay attention! Between the three tops big cliff-rimmed corries bite into the long summit ridge so care was needed not to stray on these slopes. In winter when cornices build up a few people have gone through them and fallen into the depths below. 

David Lintern contemplating the clouds
All we saw were occasionally glimpses of rocky slopes dropping into nothingness as the clouds swirled and rose and fell in a cold northerly wind. Rain began. So much for clear skies. We came out of the cloud on the descent to the col with Beinn Teallach then climbed back into again. Teallach is a smaller, lower hill though and the visibility quickly improved as we began to descend. 

A peaceful camp
David departed and I cast around for a camp site. Not too high as I wanted to stay out of the cloud and the strongest wind. Everywhere was sodden. My map showed peat hags on the southern slopes of Teallach and it was indeed very boggy. Every flattish area oozed water. I continued down. If I wasn’t to have the brilliant night skies and colourful sunset and dawn from a high camp Id been hoping for I might at least find somewhere comfortable. I ended up in the glen between the two Munros, pitched on dryish ground by the Allt a’Chaoruinn with good views south to the Loch Treig hills. The skies never cleared and the next day I just had a couple of hours walk back down the glen.

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