Monday 26th June 2017 GM/NS-014 Ben Klibreck - Meall nan Con: Ptarmigan and a scare
The forecast was for a reasonable day with the clouds mostly above the tops and mainly dry, but breezy. It looked as though it was going to be as good a day as we would get for the higher hills, so our target was Ben Klibreck, the second most northerly Munro. We headed north on the road through Lairg: a good road until the junction with the A838 where the A836 became single track with passing places. This slowed progress, though there were stretches with good visibility where we could pick up speed. We parked at NC543288, where there’s space for 2 or 3 cars behind a passing place.
It was cloudy but dry as we set off, initially downhill down the small spur from the parking area, where the first problem was an awkward river crossing, with stepping stones at awkward angles: we were in danger of getting wet at the start, but somehow managed to get over without falling in or getting wet feet. We headed straight up the ridge opposite (mostly rough grass) and turned left when we met a fence as the gradient eased. We followed the fence to a point where it was broken down, crossing it to head over the ridge and then down the other side, gently descending towards the southern end of Loch na Glas choille: an attractive little lake with a wooded island. Views started to open up to the north towards Ben Loyal and neighbours. Past the slightly boggy area round the lake we ascended by a fence to the north of Meall nan Uan with ever improving views, including Ben Hope though Ben Klibreck itself was still in the clouds. We had to briefly stop to apply waterproofs as a shower passed over, but thankfully it didn’t last long. At Loch nan Uan we crossed the fence to make our way round the north edge of the lake: awkward with several stream crossings and peat hags. We carried on round the lake looking for a route up to the next ridge which was to be the most challenging part of the walk.
Loch na Glas choille
The route to the ridge involves ascending over 300m in about 0.6km, so it’s steep. We spotted a section where there looked as though there might be a path at higher level and started to ascend what looked to be a spur between two streams. So far, the route had been pathless but as we started the ascent there were signs that feet had been that way before, but just disturbed ground rather than anything resembling a path. It was horrible terrain: steep, heathery, peaty, wet and unstable: we weaved our way upwards trying to find safe ground, and apologising to the numerous frogs that we disturbed along the way. After a while the ground became slightly better, but we still had a long way to climb and there looked to be another steeper section ahead, but a path was forming. It was still steep, wet, heathery and awkward, but it provided more stability as it zigzagged upwards. A faster walker caught us up and we managed to find a place he could pass us on the narrow steep path. Eventually the gradient eased, the terrain became grassier and the path disappeared: we headed up towards the ridge, coming to a path running along the ridge by a rock which had stones on top of it pointing back the way we had come: clearly a marker for the return route to help us find the top of the path down the steep bit.
What now followed was the best bit of the walk: a superb gently ascending ridge walk heading north along A Chioch with views to either side. The clouds had now also lifted off the summit of Ben Klibreck itself. As we bent eastwards onto the stony path that zigzags upwards for the final ascent to Meall nan Con, Caroline spotted movement ahead by the side of the stony path – Ptarmigan! There were three at first, but then we realized there were far more, almost perfectly camouflaged with their grey and white plumage against the stony summit.
We carried on to the summit, finding the remains of a trig point within a rough shelter at the top. But then there seemed to be the remains of another trig point, which puzzled us at the time. Research later revealed that the summit had had two trig points: the second being a replacement for the fallen first, and there was a suggestion that the second trig point was intact until a couple of years ago when it was believed to have been struck by lightning.
Remains of two dead trig points
Caroline set up the VHF station bungeeing the antenna to the broken trig point base, getting the 4 contacts within 15 minutes, but only managing one more half an hour later. Meanwhile Martyn had qualified with 6 5MHz contacts in under 10 minutes, then nothing more. It had been fine when we arrived but a wave of cloud and rain swept requiring some quick covering up of rigs. Martyn let Caroline use the HF rig to have a try on 7MHz which proved to be the best band of the day with 22 contacts. Given that the ascent had taken longer than expected and we knew we had to get down the nasty steep section, we didn’t have time for other bands.
We retraced our steps getting more views of the ptarmigan, including when a flock of them took off with massed flashes of white wings, but they disappeared into the terrain once they landed. The views from the ridge were even better on the return. When we got to the rock which pointed the way to the descent path we stopped to sit on it and eat an apple to fortify us for the hazards to come. Carefully making sure that we left the stone arrow pointing in the right direction we headed down. The initial steep path was successfully negotiated but the lower steep peaty pathless unstable area was more of a problem: at one point the ground gave way under Caroline and she tumbled a short distance down the hill, coming to rest in damp heather much to both of our consternation. What was the damage? Caroline was surprised to find that she seemed to have sustained no injury at all, though her rucksack antenna had lost its top, and it wasn’t clear how she was going to safely get from prone to vertical on the steep unstable ground. Martyn carefully made his way down to her, and we managed to somehow get Caroline back vertical and the broken antenna jammed back together. After that scare we continued carefully down to the gentler gradients around Loch nan Uan retracing our steps back to the car.
As we descended back towards the river we noticed what looked like another possible river crossing a little to the north of and round the corner from our outbound crossing: this proved better – some of the stones were under the water, but they were flatter and more stable. It was almost 9pm by the time we were back at the car after a hard but good day – amazingly Caroline didn’t even suffer any bruises from her fall.