Pictures at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mm0fmf
With the UHF contest on last weekend and my radio club operating from our usual perch in IO74WV I decided to do more of The Galloway Hills. The crow fly distance from my QTH is only 65 miles but due the remote and hilly nature of the countryside it’s 120miles by road and the best part of 2 1/2 to 3 hours drive. But as its only 30 miles to the contest site from there it makes sense to roll the activation into the contest calendar. So the plan was for Craignaw and Mullwharchar with an alternative of Craiglee if the Gairland Burn was really high.
The roads were quiet so I arrived at the Bruce’s Stone car park NX418803 at 10.00am and was booted up ready by 10:15. 9 more cars arrived whilst I was getting ready, typical for this popular area. There’s space for at least 30 cars and the last time I was here it was already overflowing. The WX forecast was for great weather but as I drove through Girvan I hit really dense fog. It was misty and foggy till I was past Barrhill NX232822 when I drove out into splendid sunshine.
The path drops down towards the loch and is clearly signposted Loch Valley/Gairland Burn. Through a couple gates (dodgy style at 1st gate) and then the path climbs quickly through dense bracken. This was dying off and I was in a T-shirt so it scratched my arms. Yuck! The path continues climbing and at a drystane dyke the bracken ends. The path is quite good here but rapidly deteriorates. There’s lots of tussock grass (yikes!) either side of the track and by the time you get to NX 430811 or so the path is very, very soft underfoot. It gets worse, oh much, much worse.
The path closes in on the Gairland Burn. The noise this makes as tumbles down the rocks is impressive. This is a serious obstacle to progress and I had to cross it. I had a plan B that involved going around the loch but luckily I didn’t need it. The path was awful and got worse. Wet, with huge mudholes that swallowed my legs up to my knees. It was also narrow with waist high tussock grass either side. Like all wet paths at times it spread out as others had looked for better routes. There are none! Some bits close to the burn were quite dodgy and this slowed my down as I had to pick my way testing the ground. So by the time I reached Loch Valley I was quite knackered.
Great, knackered after half the route to the 1st hill. Jack GM4COX had sent me info on his routes when he did these. He said he was totally knackered after doing both. I should have spotted that. Jack has been walking hills for a long time and if he was tired then I was probably looking at too much for me. Gerald G4OIG was impressed when I told him of my plans. He’d contacted me as he was up in the same part of Scotland picking off unactivated 1 pointers. More on Gerald later.
I met a couple of fishermen who knew the area well and pointed out a place to cross the burn near NX441823. There was a good set of rocks that made crossing the burn quite straightforwards. I’m not sure if they are covered when the burn is in spate but I was cautious in crossing. The path on the other side made the other path seem like a desert. Squelch… squelch… almost like walking on the skin on custard. I stopped for some fruit and water near NX443825. It was hot and sunny and I was wet and sticky. There’s no path to the summit. Just long tussock grass and heather. The effort needed to cross this is unbelievable till you try it. Of course every 10th step or so you find a big hole and sink up to the top of your leg. Most holes were dry but some were very stinky and wet.
The climb is an interminable slog up. I headed for the rocks and summit ridge and just pressed on. The hill is very rocky with boulders and outcrops and crags. The lower slops flatten out and I tried to keep to more sloping ground in an effort to avoid any bogs. I almost succeeded! I seemed to be drawn to the obvious gully you can see in the photos on my Flickr site and I ended climbing up here. Possibly not the best route but I came out right on top of the memorial to F1-11E crew who died when they crashed here. There’s never a good time to die but to do so on December 19th, right on top of Christmas seems even worse.
At this point I was done totally. I stopped to eat and was thinking of giving in. I’ve never had to abandon a climb because I was tired. I cut some multi-summit activations short but always done at least 1 summit. After having some lunch and resting for 20 minutes. I decided that as I was almost at the top I would climb to the summit and then see about radio. I heard a woman’s voice and realised that I was about 50ft below the top. With some gritted teeth I popped out behind her much to her surprise. We chatted and she and her husband said that they thought the Loch Valley path was won of the worst walks they’d ever done. “There’s no good route up here”, she said. She was right but the views were a bit of all right. By now my endorphins had kicked in, I was euphoric and got the dipole in double quick time. You can see the weather to the North was closing in and I wanted to be out and down at the contest site drinking beer and being all QRO.
I’ve never done a smash and grab before. But I did want out quickly. So this was 60m only, no VHF, no 80m. I’m sorry if I was quick and didn’t chat. I hope you’ll allow this one quick one in 55+ activations. Conditions on 60m were splendid though and I wished I could have stayed longer. As it was Anquet said 2hrs 10mins for the walk in and it took me 3hrs 45mins due entirely to the awful terrain. Worse I knew I had to get back out.
I had intended to activate Mullwharchar. Anquet said 1hr 10mins to get there from Craignaw. But looking at the ground I guestimated 2hrs minimum. With a predicted 2hr walk out time which would have been at least 3hrs it would have been dark for over an hour before I got out. So no Mullwharcher this time. However, it will be done in the future. A work colleague was suprised at how hard I’d found it. Still he did it, Mullwharchar, Craiglee and Merrick one day in February when everything was frozen solid. It was probably a stroll in the park that day!
I was going to walk the ridge out but it took some effort to get down through the crags to the cairn at NX454843. The top of Craignaw is amazing. Huge areas of flat granite scattered with rocks and boulders. Some boulders are the size of large trucks. I can’t believe I didn’t photograph The Devil’s Bowling Green but I just sped up on an easy flat bit. ( http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/456502 )
From the cairn I looked up at the climb to the ridge, looked at my watch and decided that whilst the ridge would be dryer, I could see muddy paths right the way back to the Loch Valley path. I didn’t have the sufficient head of steam to get up to the ridge. So down it was. Again from here following my route out Anquet says 5 miles and 1hr 50mins. It took me 3 hours! It was a pure and simple slog. I bumped into the couple I met on the summit. They set a cracking pace on the way out and I went for it and tried to keep up. At least I could see everytime they disappeared into a hole and be a bit careful at that bit. There’s always a price to pay though. I lost my 1993 Tour de France baseball hat. If you find it on the Loch Valley path can I have it back? It’s a bit minging though!
All of a sudden I was back at the car. I’d finished off all my water with the effort and the heat. The sun was blisteringly hot for October all day long and there was hardly a breath of wind. I know I drank 2L of water at the car over 20mins. Anyway, a quick change of clothes and I was off down to the contest site where Gerald G4OIG was meeting me. I got my tent pitched in record time with Gerald’s help while the contest guys reeled in some good DX on 70&23cms. Then down to the pub for the most enjoyed pint of Lager I’ve ever had and good chat with Gerald and the other guys whilst we feasted on the nosh on offer. They also have a sink with a plug so I was able to have a decent wash! Gerald left us about 4.00am to head for N. Yorks on his journey home.
Distance walked:8.6miles, ascent: 687m/2253ft, distance driven: 289miles
All that for 2points. This was simply the hardest hill I’ve ever done. I got 14 points last weekend for what feels like zero effort compared to this. In fact I said to Gerald it would be a long time before I came back to do anymore of these hills. Now having studied the few photos I did take I feel the pain and effort was worth it for those views alone and I need to get back and conquer Mullwharchar just to prove I can do it. They say Galloway walking is hard walking and they’re not joking.
Was it really worth it? Yes! I must be mad