The forecast was for a mixture of sunshine and cloud, but with the cloud above Munro level, combined with a perishing cold wind. We headed down the A9 and down the minor road heading to Dalnaspidal Lodge, parking in the small parking area just before the level crossing, being surprised to be the only car there on a nice day.
Sgairneach Mhor & The Sow of Atholl from near the start
The sky was blue and the sun was shining as we carefully crossed the level crossing: this one equipped with flashing light and audible warnings, unlike some others we encountered during the week. A track across the valley bottom took us over water courses, passing a dam and a sluice and briefly following an aqueduct which feeds into Loch Garry. Just before the next bridge we turned right onto a track running alongside the Allt Coire Luidhearnaidh. It is marked as a path on the 1:25000 map but is actually a track which extends beyond what is marked on the map.
We followed the track for almost a mile and could see it was going to descend to the river, so we took a fainter track which looked to be heading roughly in the direction of the col between Sgairneach Mhor and The Sow of Atholl. Unfortunately this faded and eventually disappeared, so we made our way in roughly the right direction across the slope, awkwardly crossing little stream valleys, and occasionally picking up a track which either faded or headed off in the wrong direction. Around the col area we picked up another ATV track: muddy in places and faint in others, we followed it until it joined another track which was coming up from the valley. It looks as though that track joined up with the one in the valley bottom, so might have been a better route, albeit with some loss of height. The track continued muddily upwards until it came to the ridge line and became drier and stonier. The cloud had increased, though still well above the tops, and we were now exposed to a cold wind. We followed the ridge to the trig point, partially surrounded by a low shelter.
Trying to get some shelter from the wind
Since we hadn’t seen anyone else on the hill, we decided to make what use of what little protection the shelter offered. Yet again calls on 2m VHF were met with a resounding silence, and nothing was heard on a scan of the simplex channels. 60m produced 8 contacts for Martyn, and I then had a good run of 21 on 40m. With lunch eaten we roughly retraced out steps back to the col between the two hills, getting better views of the steep valley between them.
The Sow from descent Sgairneach Mhor
The steep valley between them.
From there we picked up a narrow path heading up through the low vegetation on the Sow, which faded as we approached the stonier top. The summit of the Sow is marked by a small cairn with no shelter, though the wind had slightly eased. Despite being the lower hill the views seemed better. Again there was nobody else about so we set up near the cairn, and once again Caroline drew a blank on 2m FM, so took over HF after Martyn had 8 contacts on 60m. Caroline qualified with 15 on 40m including an S2S with FL/VO-003: a summit we had chased just 4 days earlier from Longridge Fell. Martyn grabbed the S2S too. We just had time to try 80m, but it only produced one contact before we had to pack up and descend.
The Sow of Atholl
View to Glen Garry with A9 and railway line
The descent was pathless down the south east ridge of the Sow, where we spotted mountain hares running across the hill. One even stood still for long enough for Martyn to exercise the zoom on his camera and get a decent photo. It’s good to see them. We made our way back down to the path by Allt Coire Luidhearnaidh, joining it a little lower than where we had left it on our outbound route. Soon after crossing back over the railway the lights and sirens sounded and an Intercity train hurtled through on its way to Inverness. That was a really good day on a nice pair of hills, and I don’t recall seeing anyone else on the hill all day.