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A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !

Strathfarrar

7 November 2015
Our group We like to host our trip up the Strathfarrar 4 Munros and nearby Maoile Lunndaidh in early November as we know it will be quiet with the limited access up the glen. This year was no exception and was being led by Richard Kermode and John Walker.

Here's John's tale of the weekend, hopefully we'll get Richard's insights later .....

The forecast for Saturday was for rain and strengthening WSW winds, possibly up to 50mph, and Sunday was even less favourable, so we had our fingers well and truly crossed, as all agencies were low in confidence about the details and timings.

Icicles Saturday dawned bright and cold, and we met at the locked gate at Struy to limit the amount of cars to take along the glen. The estates are very proscriptive about the amount of access allowed, and in winter months only members of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland are given permission to drive along the private road. After some organisation to get a car to the end of the walk, I set off up the track with Rolf, Pascal, Gail, Dougie, Karen, Paul E, Paul S, Debbie, Victoria and Diane, whilst Richard followed with Johnston, having done the car shuffle.

Our group The initial walk is straightforward, and takes you up a track, then on a rough path past a loch and into the delightful coire Toll a'Mhuic. The stalker's path then traverses over some old landslip debris and then pretty much onto the summit of the first Munro of Sgurr Fhuar-thuill. It was only there that we got some breeze, the walk in being quite warm for November. The cloud came and went, and as we made our way to the second Munro of Sgurr a'Coire Ghlais, we had good views down into the remote and rarely visited Glen Orrin. On the top, we played 'Which is the Summit'?, as there are two substantial cairns and a trig point that all share the same contour line on the map, but each appear higher than the other as the group moved from one to another - It kept us occupied anyway ;)

Icicles The descent in the momentary clag felt counter-intuitive, and various group members felt we were going the wrong way - a good illustration of how important it is to take a bearing off a summit. Carn nan Gobhar didn't have any goats on it, despite its name, but it did have a splendid view of the ridge so far completed, as well as further to the West Monar hills. Our final summit of Sgurr na Rhuidhe was where the good terrain stopped, as well as the view - the descent is very boggy. And the rain set in.

It didn't dampen our spirits though, and as we got to the glen and the waiting cars in the failing light, there was a deserved feeling of accomplishment in having done the route in good style and in 7.5 hours.

Sunday we met at the same place, in similar dry weather, but knowing things were going to change - The Metoffice were unequivocal on 100% chance of rain, it was just a case of whether the wind would hit sooner or later? Victoria, Paul S and Diane had only come for the Saturday, but we were joined by George and Sam, both in the closing stages of their Munro campaigns, and both keen to get the tick despite the conditions !

Our group Back along Glen Strathfarrar as yesterday, we parked by the Monar dam at the end of the glen, this time not having the hassle of shuffling cars. The walk from the Monar dam to the foot of Maoile Lundaidh was a first for me (I had only done the hill from Craig previously) and I thoroughly enjoyed it, with the great views up wild Loch Monar. The estate had some new and interesting stalking infrastructure - there were even two quite obstinate stalker's ponies who resolutely would not move off the narrow path, much to the consternation of a couple of our party!

Icicles Once at the bridge over the Allt a'Coire Fionnarach, the rain came on in earnest, the cloud lowered, and we battened down the Goretex hatches and settled into the ascent. I perversely enjoy that twilight world where you hunker down inside your kit and just get on with the job in hand. It's not glamorous effort, but it's good for the soul I think! We crossed a few smaller burns, and made our way onto the SE ridge of our Munro, before taking a rest in some shelter and pulling on a layer or two.

Richard and I had decided that the route lent itself to progressive decision making, ie we could assess the conditions as we went, retreat was straightforward, and at this point, we only had 1k to go, and about 180m of ascent. The wind was around 40mph max., and we knew we only needed to be on the summit plateau for a short while. Game on ! In no time at all, we were at the cairn and high-fiving and sharing jelly babies.

We quickly turned and set off down on the compass, only having 1.5k, or approximately 20 minutes, and we'd be on easy ground in the coire. We descended quickly, and the clouds even cleared to give us a view of Monar...our spirits were high. We had a few stronger gusts as we approached the slightly narrower, rocky section before the ground got easier, and I light-heartedly supported a few of the slighter-built guys by sheltering them.

Then wham!

With less than a few hundred metres to go to easy, grassy ground, we were hit by a freight train. I have never experienced wind so sudden and so ferocious, and from nowhere. No-one could stagger, let alone walk, and we all had to crab-crawl. The shock of the initial blast knocked a few guys over, and it took a minute or so to gain composure and decide a course of action. Richard picked out a steep but easy grassy slope to make an emergency bum crawl down into the coire and relative shelter of maybe 60mph, and the group followed one by one.

Once in the safety of the coire, we were able to gather our senses, assess the ripped waterproofs and a few minor scrapes and jarred limbs, and then scuttle off downwards, seeking at least some shelter in the gullies. We then had some swollen burns to negotiate, but they were not as problematic as we expected.

Before too long it was head torches out and the long plod back to Monar Lodge along the undulating path. The roaring of the burns was quite spectacular as we crossed the many estate bridges in the dark. We made the cars in 9.5 hours, which was really not too shabby given the conditions. Everyone was tired but exhilarated, and it's fair to say we had a few wide-eyes after the battering on the ridge! We had a joke about the Fun Scale, (see this : http://kellycordes.com/2009/11/02/the-fun-scale/), and whether out of the Type I to III, this had been III? Or had it been IV said one with their tongue in their cheek? It was II for most I feel, character building stuff, and one hell of a Munro tick! Very well done to a great group.

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