Monday 14 May 2012

Scotland May 2012

A Cracking Little Snow Bunting
Early on Friday night, my wife and I set off for Scotland as planned. The early start was to enable me to play in the Cairngorms for a few hours. We arrived at just after 06:00 and the cloud base was lower than the summits, but I could see plenty of snow, so I packed my rucksack in preparation for full winter conditions.
I took the route that I usually take when I'm looking for a half-day adventure. I followed a track past the two great cories, which was mostly covered by snow and climbed the slope between Lurcher’s Crag and Corie an Lochan. The snow was quite powdery and not very slippery, so I made good time. On the way I found a Red Grouse close to the path, which posed well for me.
Red Grouse
Cairn Toul, Angel's Peak and Braeriach (left to right)
As I climbed higher, the snow developed a crisp shell to it, so I took the precaution of fitting crampons and having my ice axe in hand just in case. Crampons, although not the most comfortable things to wear at first, make walking up hill on ice and snow much easier. There is something satisfying about hearing the sound that crampons make when they bite into snow and ice. Reaching the plateau, I paused to take photos of Angel’s Peak, Cairn Toul and Braeriach – they looked magnificent all covered in snow. Just below me one brave sole was camping, his yellow tent was just about visible under a thin covering of snow. The tent’s owner emerged whilst I was taking my photos and gave me a cheerful wave.
Bag's New Pose
The Walls of Corie an t-Sneachda from Above
A perfect addition to a calm day in the mountains is to hear the delightful song of a Snow Bunting. Somehow the bunting's song completes the final piece of the puzzle that makes an otherwise silent world fautless. I came upon such a bird singing from a rocky pinnacle. I sat and listened and absorbed the whole scene, I was all on my own with this beautiful little songster. Eventually I felt confident enough to attempt to photograph him. I edged out towards his rocky stage with camera and tripod in hand. I was mindful of not disturbing his performance, but luckily he was too engrossed to worry about me. I managed to get some great images and amazingly he actually moved closer. Eventually he grew tired of me and moved to another perch and once again started to sing his striking song.
Snow Bunting
I left the snowy world and made my way to the car park below where I found Dawn wrapped up in her blanket. The temperature outside was a balmy 3 degrees C. We headed up the A9 to Inverness and visited Tesco to stock up on supplies. Our final destination was Little Garve where we had booked a converted barn for our stay. The Drover’s Rest was its name and it was a smart looking place. Inside it was nicely decorated and furnished. 
Drovers Rest
After un-packing and feeding our faces, we lay on the bed and the next thing we new it was 05:00. I checked with MWIS and the weather forecast was favorable for an excursion into the mountains. I decided to go to Beinn Eighe and at least attempt to get Dawn, on her first trip into the mountains for a while, as far as Coire Mhic Fhearchair - one of Scotland’s most impressive mountain scenes. 
Beinn Eighe
We headed between the monstrous flanks of Liathatch and Beinn Eighe and followed the Allt a Coire Dhuibh Mhoir. The views of the north side of Liathatch (Beinn Eighe's near neighbour) confirmed its Leviathan status. 
The views just kept getting better as we progressed, and what happened to the talk about bad weather, as the conditions were great. The footpath branched off and slowly climbed towards Corie Mhic Fhearchair. Before reaching the magnificent corie, a waterfall drains the overflow from the Lochan above. The mountain sculptors  kept their secret  hidden until the last minute, but they certainly didn't disappoint.
Corie Mhic Fhearchair and the Triple Buttress
It is difficult to argue with the claim that this is one of Scotland's finest cories. It has it all, cool blue waters and shear cliffs. To progress, a route has to be found up to the mountain above. To the left of of the main cliff, in the photo above, is a col where a thin white line of snow can be seen descending the cliff. This is one of the chinks in the mountain's armoury, but I chose to climb the rough boulder strewn slope just north of that. At first this seemed a good idea, but snow near the top and some rocky outcrops made it more interesting than I expected. Dawn stayed below in the corie, where she found a sheltered spot and promised me faithfully that she wouldn't  move. The highest point on Beinn Eighe is Ruadh Stac Mor, which is a great place to view the mountain's mighty ridges. I took my favourite photo of the holiday from this point. It a great shame you can't see a larger high res version of the image below. I am most pleased with the focus that goes on forever and the cloud formations above. It was also very fortuitous that a party of walkers happened to be heading in my direction, which helps to give scale to the image. 

Please Vote For 'Close to the Top' in the Countryfile Magazine Photographic Competition (Link Below). Thank-you.

Views from up High

Close to the Top
Fhir Duibhe and Sgurr Ban from Ruadh Stac Mor
All too soon, I started my decent back down into the corie to relocate Dawn. She is terrible for not staying in one place and it worried me slightly that I couldn't spot her bright red hat. I started making my way down the gully, which was very difficult to start with due to the steepness and the snow, but thanks to my lekki poles it wasn't too bad. It wasn't long before I spotted her slowly making her way towards me. We discussed the option of her continuing on up, but decided she needed a bit more time to build up her mountain goat skills. 
After tea we took a walk along the River Blackwater, which as I had mentioned in my previous post is a fast flowing river and ideal for Dippers. A pair of Dippers were present, but they favoured a very inaccessible part of the river and so I could not get any photographs. There were, however, lots of Willow Warblers present and the one below posed long enough for me to get a satisfactory image of it.
Willow Warbler
The following day we were awoken early by bright sunlight , so it was back to the mountains for us. There wasn't a cloud in the sky as we drew up in a small car park in the shadow of mighty Liathatch. Some guide books state that there is but one way up to the ridge of this monster of a mountain for ordinary mortals and so it was by this route that we began our assault on its mighty defences. 
Mighty Liathatch
There is no hiding from the relentless up hill struggle this mountain puts you through. The route we followed takes you to the ridge just below the tallest peak on the right hand end,  as seen in the above photo. There are a number of rock bands to pass over which require basic climbing skills, but the exposure makes it feel more difficult. Dawn did really well, as a couple of times she had to overcome a bit of fear to get past various obstacles. The view from the ridge made it all worthwhile.
The View North From Liathatch
You couldn't script the next bit: as we arrived on the ridge a Golden Eagle was soaring around one of the high points close enough for me to age it as a young bird without the help of binoculars. It was whilst we made our way along the ridge of this sleeping monster that I realised I had started to create my own monster as I could see Dawn's confidence growing. 
Mrs Bag on Liathatch's Ridge
Looking West
The route down was even more exciting than the way up, but with the old sound footwork technique and the aid of a walking pole we made it back down to sea level again. 
A rest of the legs was in order for Tuesday, so we took a drive to the coast. A group of about 30 Dunlins caught my attention close to the road, so I spent quite a while photographing them. They appeared to be of the subspecies alpina and so migrants. The Dunlins were also accompanied by at least six Ringed Plovers.
Ringed Plover
Wednesday was another good day weather wise, so we headed for Kinlochewe and picked up the trail that first heads to the shores of Loch Maree and then climbs up-hill towards  the summit of Slioch. It was on this walk that my mountaineering monster first appeared.
Mountaineering Monster
As you can see on the photo above, my walking partner became very brave very quickly. However, she wasn't quite as nimble as the wild goats we found on our way up the mountain. At first I couldn't quite work out what they were, as all I could see was their horns. I did wonder if they might be goats, but it was the first time I've seen wild goats in Scotland so I wasn't sure. The one in the photograph stood up at which point I was able to get an identification.
Wild Goat Surveying His Estate
The highlight of the last couple of days was a trip to Gairloch where we saw at least ten adult Black-throated Divers and a single Red-throated Diver. We also attempted to search for early returning Dotterel on Ben Wyvis, but abandoned the mission due to deep snow and gale force winds.

If you enjoyed these mountain walking adventures, then you might enjoy this tale from a younger member of my household:

1 comment:

  1. A captivating read, complete with breathtaking images. That Snow Bunting is a beauty. Looking forward to the next instalment. Great to see you guys at the weekend. Darren.