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Kintail Bookends

3-4 March 2016
It's the beginning of March and winter is well and truly staying put ! We'd planned two days hiking over the Munros either side of the main Kintail group - Beinn Fhada, A'Ghlas Bheinn and the eastern Cluanie peaks. John Walker was leading, here's his tale ...

photo 1 The relatively settled conditions continued this weekend for our attempt on the two mountain groups at either end of the North side of Kintail - Carn Ghluasaid, Sgurr nan Conbhairean and Sail Chaorain on Saturday, and then A'Ghlas-bheinn and Beinn Fhada on Sunday. It would be fair to say that both days would be demanding where there was deeper snow, but with the light winds and clear spells forecast, our hopes were high.

Kate, Duncan, Victoria and I met at Lundie on Saturday, and struck out up the track for our first summit of Carn Ghluasaid. We followed the icy track as far as we could, and then resigned ourselves to some tiring trail-breaking in the deep snow, made more frustrating by the hidden boulders. The views were fabulous however, and as we rested, we saw a large group profiting from our efforts by using our tracks - 'Excellent' we thought, 'they can take their turn as they are catching us up rapidly as a result'.

photo 2 They did indeed catch up, and we exchanged pleasantries in the sunshine, catching our breath. Then they sat down! I am sure they were then waiting for us to press on, cheek! This we did however, and the neve on the plateau wasn't bad, so we soon dispatched the summit and set off for Sgurr nan Conbhairean, the other group in our wake. We realised they had a couple of very quick members, and the rest were just plodding along.

At the summit, we discussed just leaving it at two munros due to the effort involved in getting Sail Chaorain, but the sudden view enticed us into a final push, and despite heavy legs, we made the there-and-back journey slowly but steadily. It is hard to have to re-trace your steps over the very top again, but the snow did not allow a traverse for fear of avalanche. After a short break at the summit for the second time, it was down and along the splendidly corniced Drochaid an Tuill Easaich before taking the ridge back to the old military road and the car.

A hard but rewarding day, with three well-earned ticks, and a special mention to Kate who really gave her all and never gave in, despite months off the hill!

photo 3 Sunday's forecast was even better, and dawned promisingly.....but then went downhill. The snow showers merged into one long one which lasted all day, with poor visibility over 600m. Add this to the deep snow already there, and A'Ghlas-bheinn was a proper traipse. It is a hill of many false summits and knoll after knoll, all magnified by the mist, snow and atmosphere. It seemed to go on forever! Of course the summit did come, and it was a triumphant Scott and Kaye that posed for the photo.

To avoid the steep direct ascent onto Beinn Fhada, we elected to descend to the stalker's path, and make a call there. There were some tired legs and a consciousness that time was moving on, and we had one of those 'shall we, shan't we' conversations. I was concerned about the final steep slope onto the coire top, and the fact we had cross-loaded aspects all over, which could avalanche. We therefore agreed to make the attempt, but ONLY if we could see the exit point was safe and cornice-free.

photo 4 Once we got there, it was still clagged-in, but we got a sufficient glimpse to realise it was safe, and without further ado we swept up it, and onwards on the calm but snowy plateau to the top in less than two hours. In fact, we were back at the burn in three, a sterling effort, given we were on the compass for most of it.

Back down at the cars at 7pm, we agreed that it had been a challenging but very satisfying day, with all objectives achieved, and some good group decision making allowing for a safe day to boot.

By heavens I slept Sunday night after those two days!

John's photos are up on Flickr.

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