Well after a slow start to 2009 due to naff weather I managed to polish off one of my favourites last week, Minch Moor SS-133. At the same time, a work colleague did the Beinn Stacach/Creag Mhor double and delighted in telling me of the waist deep snow and whiteout conditions. Gulp!
So the wx was to be mainly dry but with a cold wind, snow flurries developing later. Having studied the maps and then Geograph I made the discovery others have made since the mid-70s. There’s about a zillion hecatres of Sitka forest not shown on the 1:50000 map. My colleague suggested a route which seemed reasonable for lardy legs like mine.
So there’s room for one car to park at NN529182 on the track that leads into the deer farm. My route was up past the small wood shown on the 1:50000 to NN523182 and then sort of zig zag up the slope, through the crags and Bob’s your uncle, job done. Except… there’s deer fences to cross at NN526182 and NN523182. This can be done without damaging the fence and you don’t need to climb over all 8ft of it! The ground was very wet and boggy from the recent snow melt but the surface was frozen from 300m upwards which made crossing the tussock grass easier.
At the top of the wood I saw another walker so I followed him as it was obvious where he was going and there are no paths. So I followed him when I could spy him 500m in front. I lost him kept on going up and arrived at NN517187 and thought this can’t be it, I’m too early! It wasn’t the top but one of the many knobbly peaks. Now then class if you study the map you’ll see multiple gullies and cols. This is one wet mountain except it was well frozen with about 25% snow covering in the gullies. Peak hags! Loads of them. I hate them but everything was frozen so they were easy enough to cross. But the snow patches were another thing. Some were hard and I could jump on them, others resulted in knee deep snow holes. Luckily no water in the bottom!
I bashed on and reached the summit in about 30 minutes. What 700m covered and 60m climbed in 30 minutes? Well the ground was bad and some of the snow banks covered who knows what so I gingerly progressed over them. Listen, me with gear/bag comes to nearly 125kg and that makes walking on any snow an experience you take with caution!
The wind was fierce at the top, extremely cold and all the time I’d been climbing it had been snowing, tiny ice crystals really. Finding somewhere to setup out of the wind was impossible, it was either sit in the wind or sit on a huge snow bank. I had no problems with the antenna in the wind and operating was easy apart from loosing all sensation in my ears and finger tips. This was with my double wool Peruvian hat (alpaca on the inside and another layer of heavy wool outside and it covers my ears). 60m dried up and a voice said 80m please. The problem was I was shivering by now and the cloud base was lowering. Sorry, but that’s the signal to upsticks sharpish. If it had been a bright winter day 80m was on, but in snow, wind and seeing the sky getting filthier and lower, no chance.
I packed up, swapped Goretex for more fleece layers. Goretex may breath but it can’t cope with the Niagara Falls amounts of moisture I produce when working hard. The fleece layers may not be windproof but they breath enough to keep me reasonably dry and warm as long as I keep working. Photo time. One photo and the camera shutdown. Aha it’s cold, so I put the batteries somewhere warm and private. No joy, I had picked up a set of batteries that needed charging and put them in the camera. D’Oh!
Somewhat bitter I set off down and picked a better route. It was 30 minutes later when I found part of an active TV deflector system. Funny I missed it on the way up. Never mind I bimbled on and started to see the forest appear. Lots and lots and lots of trees. That’s not right. Check GPS, transfer to map.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid boy!
Instead of descending SE I’d gone NW. The 1:50000 map doesn’t show it, but the forest covers the entire East side. It looked like there were firebreaks but you can’t rely on them and they are also bogggy, wet nasty things. Now I’m out of condition since hurting my ankle so I was somewhat bushed by now and the thought of going back up 100m+ didn’t appeal. I wasn’t going to try a firebreak. That left following the deer fence around the forest from NN521189 to NN522182. Just over 1km of god-awful steep boggy nonsense under the crags. There was snow, soft boggy ground not well frozen, steep bits, boulders and gullies. It took 50mins to do and of course for added effect the snow came down in abudance. Lovely. Not!
Eventually I made it back to were I should have been and dropped back down to the car. Just as the snow stopped. A quick change and onto the roads home. Now the mixture of some serious exercise meant my endorphin fix was a big one, couple that with the adrenalin from my exciting detour and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers nice and loud and I flew home. 1 1/4 plays of Blood Sugar Sex Magick and I was home and I have no recollection of the drive. I now understand why people do extreme sports, that endorphin/adrenalin mix is rather good. You’d make a fortune if you could bottle it and sell it.
There’s a serious point to all this drivel. I’ve been up 113 summits now, some trivial, some hard work in bad conditions. By now I should know what to do and not going mincing along a ridge because it’s easy. I make no claims to being any kind of expert (other than expert idiot) but I do hope that everyone gains something from my stupidity today and learns to make sure they are going where they expect. Especially on rough ground with no paths.
Total walked: 7.4km, total ascent: 595m, total driven: 136miles