Friday, 3 January 2014

Wintery Slioch: February 2012

Like other posts from before March 2014 this is a selection of pictures from an old trip written mainly to remind myself what happened: it's unlikely to be a detailed (or interesting) read.

This is a post in the wrong place. It's from early in 2012 before I started taking a good camera up mountains. But this was a superb time for a trip. Deep in a February cold snap there was a wonderful mixture of fine days and snowy nights forecast. Driving up from Liverpool (where I'd been giving a talk on Herodotus and archaeology) we decided to make the first evening a very gentle one on top of Schiehallion. This was partly to test the conditions - see what the snow was like (we only had one pair of crampons between us) but partly just to make sure we got to somewhere attractive to camp before nightfall. This was a pleasant enough evening but, in the mountain's general tameness, a reminder of why it's best to head north of the great glen.

There weren't many views from the top of Schiehallion (in the cloud), but there were plenty of Ptarmigan.
We picked a nice shoulder to camp on, a few hundred feet from the summit and just below the cloud line. We read Hugh MacDiarmid and Dylan Thomas over the usual flask of Talisker (57 North this time).

In the morning it was time to rush north into the real highlands. Parking at Incheril, with Slioch briefly free of cloud, we set off along the edge of Loch Maree.

We then tried to make the most direct ascent of Slioch possible which, it turned out, was probably not the fastest way up since it involved lots of hands and knees.

 We were too late. By the time we got to the penultimate shoulder the weather had come in. Cloud, snow, and a biting wind made a slightly lower camp desirable and we went for the large corrie inside Slioch's ridges. This turned into a very wet evening the precipitation forecast as snow falling as rain instead...
 Next morning the peaks were in and out of cloud:

We aimed to plunge deep into  Fisherfield, but the wet weather meant that the rivers were in spate and we had to make do with the near side of Lochan Fada. Missing out on the Munros was disappointing, but the region round Lochan Fada feels supremely isolated so is a very fine place to wander.
This was also the night that blizzards were forecast. The ridges of the Corbetts along Lochan Fada were cold but beautiful, with great views across to Beinn Tarsuinn, A'Mhaighdean, a wealth of Lochs, Lochans and even the sea.

We settled down for the night on the side of one of these Corbetts and read Nan Sheppard's classic The Living Mountain.

 As it got dark, the conditions below the peaks were still more damp than frozen.

 But this probably wasn't the best time to read Sheppard's chapter on blizzards, which features lots of tales of people buried alive in snow, their bodies only found the following spring. Just as we finished this chapter the snow arrived and this was a long night of neurotic uncertainty about what the conditions would be like in the morning (and whether we'd be discovered before spring).
     Getting up, we found that the snow had been lighter than our overactive imaginations had feared. In fact, the vast majority of it fell over the next few hours. Nevertheless, the damp terrain of the previous day had become a land of ice, and what snow there had been made for a really unusual dawn. The sky turned from a mixture of deep blue and gun-metal grey into a blood red glow behind the mountains. We headed downhill, taking the odd photo whenever there were breaks in the snow.

I particularly like this picture of Ben heading back into the valley between Slioch and the heights of Kinlochewe:
 The wind had dropped, and the lowest valleys were still green (or rather, brown) but as we got back to the car the snowfall was pursuing us.

We needed to head over some high roads to get back to the A9 so thought we'd best get moving. The drive was excellent: miles and miles of it spent on perfect untouched snow without sight of any other vehicles. If we'd been an hour or two later we might well have found some of this road impassable without winter tyres.In fact, within half an hour of us crossing the bridge at Inverness it was closed. Lucky...

No comments:

Post a Comment