I woke at 6.00am to hear the rain lashing the hotel window. Oi! That’s not in the script. Back to the land of nod! Awake at 7.45 and check WX, 50% blue sky, result! Into the shower then down for more healthy breakfast of egg, sausage, bacon, hash browns and 2 gallons of tea. I picked up my packed lunch and had a leisurely start at 9.15am.
I got the travelling time wrong and arrived at the Ben Hope car park 45mins late. Not bad when you consider it’s 40miles of single track road and 5 miles of single carriageway. The WX improved all the way and the views were wonderful. I drove through Durness but didn’t have time to check it out. It’s bigger than you think. Lots and lots of B&B etc. Here’s the but… many of these places don’t have a web site, so to me they don’t exist. In this day and age I can’t believe places which rely on passing trade don’t hawk their wares harder. Still I guess they know what they are doing.
As I approached the hill it became mountain then a colossus! Funny I was up Cruach Ardrain yesterday and that is bigger but looks smaller. It’s probably because Ben Hope stands on it’s own and rises from just about sea level. Oh boy it’s impressive. I mean IMPRESSIVE
10 cars at the car park, well it was Easter Sunday and the WX was OK. It started to drizzle as I booted up but by the time I was ready it had stopped. After about 100 paces I had to remove a layer as it was much warmer than on Ben Stack, mainly because there was hardly any breeze. The path leads out of the car park and follows the path of the stream closely. It’s not bad, a bit boggy and eroded but easy to follow. Just one problem, someone has turned the steepness up to 11. You climb 250m in 800m forward. Ouch! The path travels through some crags. The guides say you can miss this if it’s misty. Duh, your feet are in a trench 1ft deep. A blind man could follow the path, seriously.
After these crags the path steepness eases off for about 200m then it’s up again to the next set of crags. The view is not that impressive yet. Partly because I was breathing so hard I couldn’t focus! As you breach these crags you see more of the climb. Gordon Bennett! There is the most enormous rock covered slope in front. And you can’t see the top. At this point I admitted defeat and stopped.
It took me a while to understand why I was stumped, I was lacking carbohydrates. I had been eating lardy food, fat and protein but not many carbs instead of my usual cereals for breakfast. I was now paying the price. As a diabetic, we have problems with energy release compared to “normal” people. Worse we should try to maintain gradual blood sugar levels. That means no sudden sugary foods. Sod it, my pack lunched contain a Mars Bar. I was going to swap it for some fruit but forgot. I had half of it (that’s very bad for me) and a banana. Within 5 minutes it was as if someone had lit the blue touch paper. Usain Bolt, I went screaming past him Now if I have half a Mars Bar without being low on sugar I get a stinking headache. Nothing! I started the endless trudge up the stone path. Like a fool I didn’t photograph it. But the view up is a real wow. Like, “Wow I’ll never get up that!”
But I did. Just tiny mincing, trudging steps. What you don’t realise is the path edges closer and closer to the cliffs. Till suddenly you’re 10m if that from the 800m drop. Scary but exhilarating looking down, especially if you’re a big wuss like me with heights. Around NC476498 it levels out and I took a few photos and had a breather. Then the final pull which is half way in steepness between the silly extremes of further down. Of course the view behind me had been expanding and was rather good if hazy. The view out to Cape Wrath was heaven, the sea was such a deep blue. Magic.
Then all of sudden you can see the trig…and the crowds! Must have been 10 people there when I arrived. I touched the trig and drank in the splendour of the isolation and the countryside. As I looked about you could see from Cape Wrath to Hoy in The Orkneys. Ben Loyal… now I know why Brian G8ADD asked me if I was considering it. I know for next time Brian. It was too much to comprehend. So time to get on the air.
I set up much to the amusement of the walkers. They thought getting up was hard enough with radios and stuff. Onto 60m and I was surprised by how naff it all was. Luckily there was Phil GM4OBK/p on Green Hill and Steve G7AAV/p on TW-001. A few more made a total of 5. Here I was, top of the world and I’d worked 5. 40m SSB worked OK from Ben Stack the day before but 10mins got me nowhere. This is where low blood sugar kicked in. Having had 2 random CW QSOs on 60m in recent weeks I tuned to the bedlam which is 7.032 and hit the paddle. I’ve already recounted this but OK1KT is a call I’ll never forget. Lovely sending at a speed and spacing I could copy in the cacophony. Thank you. A walker coming past heard the CW and said “I didn’t know anyone used Morse anymore!”
After a few more contacts he wandered over intrigued. I explained what was happening and he was stunned. His XYL was a Coastguard watch commander for the Northern Sector. He wanted to know the common SOTA frequencies so his XYL can monitor the fun. Seriously! He was amazed people were daft enough to lug radios up hills like this. But impressed all the same. He said he’d never seen or heard of anything like it but I gave him the URL so he’s probably seen just how many daft people there are now.
All good things must end. The WX had been good. I’d got to about 750m without needing a hat or gloves but sat att the top it was a little cool, not surprising with how much snow was on the Northern coires. So I needed both fleeces on top. I disrobed partly, finished the Mars bar, took more photos and set off. I was expecting some severe front thigh complaints but going down was quite easy. It was amazing watching the showers come straight for the hill and then veer away when they got near that cliff face. No rain fell on me till I got back to the car.
It took a long time to get down. It was very tiring to be honest and just as relentless as the ascent. I think it took me 2hr45 elapsed to the top and 2hr back down. I do seem to go slow on the descents. Ho hum. Back at the car I didn’t have time to relax. It was Sunday and I had to get back to get my dinner. It took just under 1hr30 to drive back, stopping several times for photos. The rain stopped by the end of the narrow road from Hope. With the Sun lower in the sky the colours were fabulous. In particular Beinn Spionnaidh NS-046 and Cranstackie NS-038 are two hills that are on the list for my next trip North.
Then it was back to the hotel, dinner and a chat with my friends Stella and Artois. A glorious sunset finished off the evening.
Total walked: 7.2km, total ascent: 912m, distance driven: 90 miles (hotel)
I got a bargain 3 night deal at the Kinlochbervie Hotel: 3 course dinner, B&B, 2 packed lunches, beer for £135. I know what a steal! The hotel is comfortable, the food is great, the lager was cold and fizzy, the staff were helpful, I had a huge room with TV that was ensuite. And, there were enough plugs so I could watch the telly plus run the laptop and charge up all the batteries!
My drive back on Monday was in beautiful WX. It took forever to drive through Sutherland as I had to stop every 10 minutes for a photo break. In total I drove 690miles. The 90 mile return trip to Ben Hope and back was on single track roads. I saw 17 cars on the whole section. The traffic was light on all the roads from Inverness on. Driving in the far North is no longer the challenge it was 30 years ago.
If you get the chance, you must visit Sutherland. You’ll find nowhere else on Earth like it. If you like hill walking you’ll be in heaven. Of course I had fab WX, it’s rougher if it’s blowing a hoolie and wet. Of course, there’s lots of unactivated summits to pick aswell. Or do the popular ones, most people are desperate for any NS summits in the log.
Would I do it again? I’m already planning it!