The Sound of Silence, Diary of a Munro Bagger 28-25. March 2016
I switched off the light in the back of my van and a big black bat unfurled its velvet wings, clutched me to its chest and enfolded me in impenetrable darkness. It was utterly dark, I could not see anything, nothing, for a few seconds it was actually quite alarming but it was not really an issue I put down my head, calmed my mind and slept.
I was parked a couple of miles away from the nearest road in a forestry commission carpark in strath croe, just north of Kintail, a mist had condensed in the valley and blotted out the stars, wrapping me in utter silence as well as total darkness. Quite a sensation. I awoke at some point during the night and was assured by the soft flashing light of the vans security system, which had come to life after I locked the doors, rolled over in the warmth of my down bag and went back to sleep.
The dawn light and chorus roused me from my sensory deprivation, I pushed the bag, still warm from my nights slumbers into its staff sack, dressed and drove the van down the road to a more strategic point in line with my intended route for the day.
As I walked back up the road towards my sleeping place the early sun was flexing its muscles and burning off the remnants of the mist, my intended hills were appearing first as soft outlines against the pale blue of the morning sky then coming into increasing detail as the sun sent the last of the mist packing and started picking out the grounds surface detail with its obliquely angled light.
The trees dripped the condensed mist as I walked through the forest in the valley floor, the only sounds came from a few birds that dared to break the muffled soundscape. I came out of the trees and started the ascent of A’Ghlas-bheinn on its unpathed western ridge, steep at first it levelled out at around 600m. I had been here some six weeks previously and been beaten back by deep snow, this time the ascent to this point had taken about 90mins, last time it had taken me 4 hours !
The smell of warm grass surrounded me, the smell of spring in mid March, a heat haze shimmered on the near horizon, I removed my fleece and wished I had packed my shorts. The summit came all to easily, I crossed over and started the decent to the Bealach an Sgairne by the south ridge.
On the Summit of Beinn Fhada looking over the wide plateau of the Plaide Mhor
Stopping for lunch in the sun above the bealach I watched Loch a’Bhealaich shimmering in the midday sun and contemplated my ascent of Meall a’Bhealaich which lay before and in front of my next summit. I couldn’t see the higher north east facing slopes from my vantage point and I knew that these choire’s would still be holding the snow. It was either drop some 200m down the glen to pick up the stalkers path and a certain trouble free ascent or pick my way up the fairly precipitous hill and deal with any snow filled gullies I might find on the way, I took the chance and went for the direct approach. It was steep and rough ground but only the last 50m or so was snow covered and the warmth of the day had already softened it enough to make progress straightforward. I gained the summit of Beinn Fhada easily and stopped to catch my breath.
Feeling good and having plenty of sun filled time to kill I decided to complete the real traverse and head along the Hunters ridge to Sgurr a’Choire Ghairbh rather than drop down the easy descent of Choire an Sgairne on the stalkers path. After crossing the wide open plateau of the Plaide Mhor and traversing the summit of Meall an Fhuarain Mhoir I started down to the narrow and craggy ridge. Surprisingly there was little or no path even on the narrow sections, I stopped to check my compass, simply in order to convince myself that I was on the right ridge, everything added up so on I went. I cruised along taking the hunters pass, a steep scramble, in my stride.
What a delight, lovely ridge with very little sign of human impact, clearly the majority of baggers simply go for the straight up and down ascent of these two hills via the stalkers paths from the Gleann Choinneachain. They miss out on a brilliant traverse which gives a bit of excitement and excellent open views for the majority of the walk.
I passed the final summit and dropped down onto Beinn Bhuide above Morvich, the warm smell of red deer came to me on the afternoon breeze a few seconds before my eyes caught sight of the movement of three hinds on the hill below me. There was no path on the steep decent which tired legs did not really appreciate, neither did I appreciate the fact that someone had built three houses at the bottom of the ridge and enclosed them with a 2m deer fence which stood between me and any easy access to the track. I was forced through the sphagnum bogs to find my way over a small fence. Not impressed !!! if you are going to build a fence like this you need to put a stile or a gate in the bloody thing.
Squelching down the track towards the van the setting sun turned the mountain sides ochre and the sky a multitude of almost unmentionable shades. A full day out covering two fairly accessible hills yet most of the time I had been on untracked ground. A still and cloudless day and I had not seen or heard another soul. Such a fantastic experience.