Shee of Ardtalnaig GM/SS-047
This is another of the hills South of Loch Tay that tend to be overlooked when compared to the ‘big-stuff’ available across the Loch. I decided it was well worth a bash having seen it looking stunning when on the summit of Ben Chonzie on a glorious Winter’s day just before Christmas 2007.
The wx was for occasional snow showers during the day. The big worry was that quite heavy and widespread snow was predicted for the night before. I though I’d see how things looked Sunday morning. Well there must have been almost 5mm of snow in the night (my QTH is 170m ASL) so I reckoned the roads would be OK.
The access to this hill is from the village of Ardtalnaig. You have two roads to Ardtalnaig, the South Loch Tay road from Killin or the South Loch Tay road from near Kenmore. There are several ways to describe this road but none suitable for a family oriented website! It’s horrible from Killin, the surface is badly potholed, it’s narrow, there are some nasty drops into Loch Tay, it doesn’t get any Sun in Winter, there are few passing places and all the locals drive like loonies on it. It’s 10 miles of hell! Only 3 minibuses, 2 Range Rovers and a suicidal transit van this time! However, I arrived in one piece and parked by the tennis courts. Strange for Easter Sunday, I expected lots of walkers but the wx forecast must have put them off.
The walk is up the tarmac road to Claggan Farm, then along the estate road/track to NN719369. That’s the easy bit as the walking is straightforward. Well it’s a fair pull climbing about 450m in 3.3km. After that you’re on your own, no more paths, just walk across the ground to the summit. Now the photos on the Geograph website suggest it’s like a bowling green on the ridge. Oh no it isn’t, it’s my favourite mix of tussock grass and heather. Grrr! Worse the path ended at the snow line. So it was tussock grass and heather about 20cms deep with snow, just the tops of the heather sticking through. Something moved out of the corner of my eye. That’s a funny looking sheep and sheep aren’t brown. Aha, a deer about 500m away. Immediately followed by another 50+ including at least one stag with magnificent antlers. They’d smelt me and were off. Amazing sight but too fast for me to get the camera on them.
On with the gaitors, out with the walking poles and up. I went up-ish with a slight contour to the summit but the path I took was more to do with the ground rather than any sense of direction. Luckily the sun, which was in and out of the clouds, hadn’t softened the snow much so it was quite firm. The ridge is about 60m above. Once on the ridge the scale of the hill becomes apparent, it looks a long walk to the top. But the 150m ascent in 2km doesn’t sound bad till you consider it’s across 20cm deep heather, snow and enormous great peat hags.
I did a reality check at this point… in the good visibilty I wasn’t concerned making my way across what could be exceedingly boggy ground but what if it misted up. Looking North into the biting wind you could see the snow showers coming in but Ben Lawers nearly 500m taller was only just in the cloud and the cloudbase looked fairly constant. If the weather closed in I had the GPS trackback to take me back or I could just contour off into the valley. Onwards then. In fact it wasn’t that bad as the boggy bits were frozen solid though I did have to do considerable weaving around the bigger hags, some which were as deep as me.
Now I didn’t want to fall into Bual a’ Claidheimh. This is a huge gash in the ground about 200m long and at least 30m deep where the side of the mountain has fallen away. But it didn’t slip down to the valley but stopped and it’s impressive. The pictures I took don’t do it justice. But it’s reason enough to climb this hill never mind the views. Not much blue sky for any contrast in the photos but in reality the views to the local bigger hills were lovely.
Having finally reached Bual a’ Claidheimh the climb starts again. But now the heather was very short and the ground was frozen hard, nice and easy. To make up for that it snowed hard. Well it wasn’t snow or hail but little ice crystals like sugar driven by the wind. Up the final climb and there was the wee cairn. A nearby peat hag was deep enough to provide shelter from the wind. The snow was deep enough to support the pole without guying and the dipole held in the now 20mph+ wind. The wind was from the North and was, how can I say, dia-bleedin-bolically cold! 5MHz was OK but I think signals would have been better with the antenna running E-W not N-S but the wind wasn’t blowing that way and no fence was available. Still the hill was qualified despite the QSB. I was going to try my new VX-170 on 2m FM but I couldn’t do up the SMA connector on the patch lead with cold fingers.
A few photos and back down. I didn’t fancy walking along the ridge again and I know that the estate track now completely surrounds the hill, it doesn’t show this on the 1:50000 maps. The choice was down the gentlest part of the slope down the track and back to NN714366 where it meets a path leading to the track back to the farm or along the ridge. I don’t know what the ground is like near the bottom of the hill, probably very boggy and certainly not frozen at that height or the 20cm of snow and heather. In the end I stayed high but gradually contoured down until I could see the track I’d come up. Once at the track I could shed a few layers, remove the gaiters and meander back to the car.
For once my Goretex gaiters worked well. They kept the snow out of my boots and unlike sometimes, my socks didn’t get wet with sweat. Perhaps it was the cold because my laces where still frozen solid back at the car which is 35mins walk from the snow line. Back at the car and out of the wind it was warm enough to sit in a T-shirt underneath the watery sun and high cloud. I had 10mins of endorphin fix and tranquility before getting changed and setting off.
Even though I was nicely mellowed out I went East up the shorter section of road towards Kenmore. This section of road is significantly better than the other section. I went back towards Edinburgh via Aberfeldy, through the 'Sma Glen, the views left me breathless, Crieff and onto the A9 which was replete with holiday traffic and lots of tin-tents slowing people down.
Distance walked: 12.5km, total ascent: 610m, distance driven: 175miles
Pictures on both SOTA Flickr groups.