Well, it’s been a long time coming… but for anyone who’s still interested here it is! Brief notes on last September’s expedition.
We had booked a lodge near Glen Affric for a family holiday, so with the idea of working SOTA out of my system for a while so that she’d get to spend at least some of it with me my XYL proposed the cunning plan of sending me on ahead to do a few hills. I got to set out on September 1st, and had free rein to do what I wanted so long as I picked my XYL and daughter up at Inverness station at 7pm on Saturday 5th. Given such a golden opportunity, I decided to make the most of it and planned a trip to my beloved far North.
Most of the 10 hour journey from the West Midlands to the northwest corner of Scotland was made in rain varying between heavy and torrential, but by the time I arrived at the parking spot for my first summit the skies had temporarily at least emptied themselves and I set off up NS-145 Meall nan Clach Ruadha - chosen as an easy “travel day” hill - in good spirits and dry weather.
Gate onto hillside with Meall na Clach Ruadha GM/NS-145 behind
The long car journey made the 1.2km walk with 200m of ascent feel a lot harder work than it was, but half an hour after setting out I arrived at the summit and after taking a few photos of the clag was soon set up and ready to go. 60m was a struggle, but I eventually made contacts with G0RQL, GI4ONL GM4AXY and GM4YMM to qualify on the band. A change to 40m brought in another dozen of the usual suspects, ending the run with Pedro, EA2CKX to make a reasonable total for the summit. The rain started again as I packed up, and by the time I reached my accommodation for the night at Durness Youth Hostel it was larrupping down. I treated myself to a microwaved curry thanks to Anne, the wonderful warden then set about arranging the next day’s exploits.
My plan had been to activate NS-146 Ghlas-bheinn, then take the Cape Wrath ferry across the Kyle of Durness and activate NS-139 Sgribhis-bheinn followed by NS-124 Fashven before walking out of the firing range danger area and camping overnight near NS-149 Beinn Akie, which I would activate the following morning then descend in time to get the ferry back to Keoldale. Unfortunately a quick discussion with the ferryman elicited the unwelcome news that due to the weather and a forthcoming family funeral there would be no trips across before Friday at the earliest - scuppering at a blow my plans to bag the Parph summits. Even if the MoD would agree to a revised itinerary, this would not allow me to achieve the deadline for collecting the family on Saturday. These three were thus consigned back to the wish list, and Plan B embarked upon. Both plans A and B started with Ghlas-bheinn, NS-146…
Wednesday dawned dull and wet, but with the promise of abatement to sun and showers by mid morning. By the time I’d made the short journey to the parking spot for Ghlas-bheinn the latter had set in…
Rainbow at the parking spot for Ghlas-bheinn, Farrmheall NS-108 in the distance
The other end of the rainbow - Ghlas-bheinn NS-146 behind
As I ascended Ghlas-bheinn the weather improved by the minute, and by the time I summited conditions were almost pleasant. The sky was playing ball too, with radio conditions somewhat better on 60m than the previous evening. By amazing coincidence, the first four contacts were the same as yesterday, though achieved in a quarter of the time; and a total of 8 were made on the band. 40m again produced a dozen, though with very mixed reports and considerable QSB.
Summit cairn on Ghlas-bheinn, tomorrow’s target Creag Riabhach NS-115 behind and slightly to the left
After a quick descent, another short drive took me to the disconcertingly named village of Badcall and the parking spot for the second summit of the day, An Socach NS-141. By now the sky had cleared and the warm sunshine warranted donning a teeshirt for the ascent. The first km or so of the route is along a reasonable track apparently locally known as the “Peat Road” but true to the reports I’d read after this comes a stretch of bog and squidge with a lot of standing water that required a degree of circumnavigation to cross. Once over this though the going is quite good, and I made the summit in just under the planned time of 1hr 45 despite walking 5km rather than the estimated 4.
Diminutive summit cairn on An Socach, NS-141. Creag Riabhach and An Grianan in the far distance
Sadly whilst the weather had improved, radio conditions had deteriorated since the morning, and twenty minute’s calling on 60m produced no reponse. A change to 40m though produced the standard dozen contacts, and when these dried up Don 'RQL suggested another try on 60m he having missed me on that band as he was out. I was happy to oblige, and the experiment produced a very welcome contact on the band, a fitting conclusion to what was my 500th unique activation.
On the descent I kept to the higher ground as much as possible, and arrived back at the car in good time and with dry feet I stocked up with goodies at the village store in Badcall then drove further up the B801 to Oldshore, where I parked opposite a new bungalow just above the track leading to the path to Strathan Bothy. This was to be my accommodation for the night, and a first for me. I added sleeping bag, stove, food and overnight kit to my pack and after checking with the builder working on the bungalow (turned out to be a local builder self-building in quiet times, common ground there so we had a good chat!) set off on the 5km walk to tea and bed. The walk was quite pleasant despite the heavier pack, winding it’s way between lakes and eventually dropping down into Strath Shinary where a washed-away bridge necessitated fording the river to access the bothy - fortunately accomplished again with dry feet. The bothy was a very welcome sight by this time :-s
Strathan Bothy, Strath Shinary
The bothy was pretty well as expected, very basic but reasonably clean and dry. I was glad to find I was the sole occupant that night, and soon set up my bed on the planked platform provided then boiled a kettle and fed myself on pot noodle and cereal bars. As there was no phone coverage at the bothy, I had arranged with Gerald G4OIG and Don G0RQL to have a sked on 40m that evening, so as it started to get dark set up my antenna just outside the front door and the radio on the table just inside…
GM4MD/P’s Shack at Strathan Bothy
40m was quite busy, but I soon found Gerald and Don chatting away and joined in. The half-hour’s relief to the solitude was much appreciated, as were the calls to my XYL to assure her that I was fine. After signing I dismantled the station and packed up ready for the morning, then crawled into my sleeping bag to get what rest I could on the thin sleeping mat between me and the solid planks beneath :-s
More to follow…