We left Glasgow mid-morning, a man down. Sometimes a weather window isn’t the Top Trump when there’s other things that need to be done. The drive was typical A82, but the sky was clear and the Metal was loud. We stopped at Ft Bill for lunch which turned out to be soup and a pie from the Nevis Bakery (where else?). We sat with it on the grass in the park at the end of the High Street and contemplated the next move, which was not lying in the sun wasting time. Brian needed some bits and pieces, Nevisport was rubbish and was looking for £4.50 for a Reiter meal so we went to Blacks. Blacks is universal, ubiquitous? Well, samey and reliable anyway, so Brian got his stuff. But I spotted on a shelf the unexpected, the grail, the ultimate, the prize, a purple Snow Peak Titanium Mug. One only in a pile of blue and silver. I clutched it to me and ran for the checkout.
After fuelling up at Morrisons we enjoyed a newly installed traffic jam heading north. It turned out to be road works inspired, but after fannying about in Ft Bill thinking we had plenty of time we were worried that karma was having a laugh at our expense. However, we were soon away and the next stop was at the wee shop after North Laggan for some Fairy Liquid. As nice as my mug was, the fingerprints on it from a thousand admirers in the shop needed more attention than just a rinse with water from my Camelbak bottle.
We parked up not far from the Cluanie Inn, it’s a long layby that was part of the old road and folk use it when they’re heading into Glen Affric overnight. I was happy with the motor there overnight. Especailly as mine was the oldest and least attractive.
The ascent of A’Chralaig is steep and unrelenting. In blazing sunshine with every breath a lungful of hot air, I suffered. We made slow and steady progress, there was plenty of stopping to “look at the view”, which truth be told was outstanding. I could see the whole of the South Glen Shiel Ridge on which I spent a fantastic night back in February. In fact most of the peaks I could see had a story attached and Brian heard them all, oh yes.
A stop for a sit down was in order before the final pull up to the summit. Still warm, but now with a cool breeze. The sun was getting lower as well, the hills warming in hue, shadows forming and pulling the landscape into sharper focus. The snow patches stark and glowing. The ridge of Am Bathach was now below us and the Five Sisters of Kintail became the horizon to the West. A Jaws grin of a skyline indeed.
A’Chralaig has a fine well made cairn as do several of the hills around here, none of your slapdash piles of stones. We could see the ridge ahead and the camp spot, a drink, a look at the time and we were away. The ridge is twisting, rocky and a delight. The views into the still snow filled Coire na Cràlaig and Glen Affric beyond are fine indeed, this is wonderful, empty land. We made a pair of friends, Mr & Mrs Ptarmigan. There are a lot of Ptarmigan up here, not always visible but definitely audible.
The campsite was Stob Coire na Cràlaig, there’s a flat spot just to the West of the top. Enough for two Lasercomps. We thought about continuing on, but a desire for food and the low sun had us throwing down our packs and unloading.
The temperature was dropping at the same speed as the sun and extra layers were donned. The tents were up and the stoves were on. Time to relax and let the day finish up on its own.
The sunset was lovely, the chill air was fresh. We wandered around taking it all in, dug out some fresh snow to melt and I willed that wee bit of cloud to turn into a proper cloud inversion but it just sat there disinterested in my opinion. We were tired and went to bed quite early, I kept checking outside to see what the cloud was doing, but coziness and drowsiness won out and off I went to sleep.
“Ooh, that’s bright”. A red Lasercomp definitley lets the light in more than a green one. I unzipped and stuck my head out, “It’s only ten to five, what’s happening?”. I was in my shoes and out of the tent in seconds pulling on my Photon Hoody.
I didn’t know where to look first, so just spun in slow circles, grinning. I’m lucky with the weather, but you never ever get used to this stuff. Every time nature pulls out something like this it takes my breath away. I walked around for an hour, made muesli and a hot chocolate, I watched the sun rise. I woke Brian up at ten to six, I couldn’t let him miss it. He was up and out quickly as well. Maximum joy all round.
We were full of energy and enthusiasm, so we broke camp, keen to see the view from the next top. We hit the ridge at ten to seven in bright sunshine and rising temperatures. A Brocken Spectre followed us from here until we hit the clouds on the descent.
The ridge to Mullach Fraoch-choire is narrow, sheer sided, with pinnacles to negotiate, a scramble of great enjoyment that’s over too soon. But, the summit itself is the bullseye.
We sat there at 0800 and were at a loss. Our first thought was that there was just enough room to camp here, but this was the last stop before we were going back down. A sea of cloud, the snow streaked peaks and ridges. Difficult to find the motivation to leave.
We descended the NW ridge which was still rocky but pathless, looking for a slope we liked the look of the night before for our descent into the Coire Odhar. A last look back and we were down this slope. Not our best ever plan, the contour lines are awfully close, as was my arse to the ground due to the angle of the slope. Careful was the approach, but speedy was the height loss and we were soon into the clouds and losing about ten degrees C as the sun disappeared.
A stravaig across the boggy corrie following a burn brought us to the track that leads to Glen Affric. We followed this out and the sun started to burn off the clouds. This is why I spend the night up there. Dusk and dawn, that’s where it’s at. By mid morning you’re waving at the ferry as it’s 100 yards away from the pier.
But all this relaxed time of banter, pointing at deer on the hillside and eating unnecessary Honey Stinger chews means that you don’t spot the really boggy bit on the trail. I went in up to my knee, but came out unscathed. Brian left a Montrail Highlander in there somewhere. After I regained my composure I dug it out and now I will never let him forget it.
We met a German Hiker on the way out who was happy to accept a lift until he saw which motor was ours, there after prefering the bus. And then it was all over. Changed into cotton, we were driving South again. Morrisons was on the agenda again, but the fuel was from the cafe this time.
Two full Scottish breakfasts, thanks.
Brilliant trip. Carpe Diem, always.