Sunday 23 March 2014

Not - Geal-charn

There had been a not insignificant fall of snow over the Scottish Highlands during the night, so we set off from the balmy Moray Coast with high hopes of plenty of the white stuff for us to get our crampons into...

A'Mharconaich and Geal-charn from Balsprorran Cottages

We weren't disappointed.

Just north of Drumochter pass, we parked up at the car park at Balsporran Cottages, stepping out of the car into a wintery world.

Rafe and Jim - Track into Coire Fhar and Geal-charn

The hills hereabouts have a reputation for being boring grassy lumps (according to several guide books we had been reading anyway!) - not today. Ranks of shining white mountains crowded around, seemingly bigger and mightier in the winter conditions...

Drumochter Pass from near Balsporran Cottages

We set off in bright sunshine - an excellent forecast gave us confidence that the day ahead would be one to remember.

An Torc (Boar of Badenoch), A'Mharconaich and Geal-charn

The path was good, and we headed off west, briefly into Coire Fhar, before heading off up the wide eastern slopes of Geal-charn. Rafe was trotting on ahead, flicking the snow up in the air and trying to catch it again.

Jim and Rafe on Geal-charn

The views west were wonderful - our route for today laid out ahead of us against the blue, 2 Munros, Geal-charn and A'Mharconaich. The views behind, the Pass of Dumochter with the Perthshire Hills to the south and the Cairngorms to the north and east - marvellous.

Looking east from ascent of Geal-charn over the A9

Drumochter Pass from ascent of Geal-charn

It was hard work. The further we ascended the deeper the snow became, new, soft and powdery, we were floundering up to our knees.

An Torc (Boar of Badenoch) and A'Mharconaich from the ascent of Geal-charn

We slogged on, Jim doing most of the trail breaking as I took up the rear, stopping to take photographs. Rafe was still having fun, leaping about.

Drumochter Pass and Meal Chuaich (distant) from ascent of Geal-charn

As we continued to ascend slowly, the views opened up further. Soon we could see Meal Chuaich, the Munro we had walked two weeks before - it had had considerably less snow then!

Meal Chuaich from ascent of Geal-charn

The wind was starting to get up a bit, and the snow was being blown about - Rafe thought this was great fun, but Jim seemed to be struggling.

Snow on Geal-charn

When we reached the cairns at NN606785 and the summit still looked a long way off, Jim admitted he wasn't well.

For Jim to say that he isn't feeling well, means he really isn't feeling well. Initially he had put his chest pains down to indigestion and over exertion. We started to descend immediately, but realised at about 750m that Jim wouldn't be getting off the mountain without help.

Rafe and Jim - ascent of Geal-charn

The emergency shelter was deployed and I rang 999 and gave all our details - the Search and Rescue Sea King Helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth was requested and Mountain Rescue alerted. They don't mess about when a heart attack is suspected!

Rafe looks east from descent from Geal-charn

Being old fuddy duddies we don't have a GPS - I feel confident that my map and navigation skills are pretty good, I know what to do with a compass and I've had to use one in anger on many an occasion - so we don't have a GPS!

But I had to get the paper map out of its waterproof case to give an accurate 8 figure grid reference - it was blowing at about 45mph at the time and it wasn't easy!! I managed to get the grid ref and give it to the very lovely Dougie on the other end of the 999 call, but then the map decided to answer the call of the wild and took itself off, at speed, across the snow fields...

Right about then we were joined by another walker, he had decided to descend without summiting due to the difficult conditions, and had seen that something was going on. This was the wonderful Fraser MacGillivary, who did have a GPS - how easy it was to get a 10 figure grid reference and update Dougie!

Polly and Rafe (Jim in emergency shelter) as the RAF S&R helicopter arrives at Geal-charn (photo Fraser MacGillivary)

Jim was still in the emergency shelter, really not at his best. Fraser waited with us. It's amazing how much better it feels to have someone else there...

There wasn't much we could do except wait - and make sure that Jim was as warm as he could be.

The helicopter was with us within 50 minutes of the 999 call - I don't think they had any trouble spotting us on the completely white hillside in bright sunshine. Rafe, and all the kit were secured as it flew over.

The paramedic was winched down, examined Jim and without much further ado he was whisked up into the helicopter and Jim was taken off to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

Jim and the paramedic wait to be winched off Geal-charn

Once again, thank goodness for Fraser - I wouldn't have had any particular difficulty walking off the hill (even the escape of the map wouldn't have mattered today!), but it was so much better to have company.

Jim's rescue from Geal-charn

The view's were still glorious - the hills oblivious - it was almost as if nothing had happened.

It only took 40 minutes to lose the height that it had taken more than 2 hours to gain. We met another walker as we descended. He had completed the walk that Jim and I had intended to do - he said that it had felt like he was wading through treacle in all the new snow. I couldn't have put it better.

Back at the car park, Fraser and I traded contact details and I drove north to Inverness - half expecting Jim to be sitting at the entrance, waiting for me, looking sheepish...

A'Mharconaich and Geal-charn

He wasn't of course - it was a heart attack.

But they're pretty confident he'll be making a full recovery. He'll be back in the hills before we know it...

So - Thank you, thank you - to the RAF S&R Team for Lossiemouth, the doctors, nurses and everyone else at Raigmore and ARI, Dougie, calm and reassuring and particularly to Fraser - every one a hero.

Route:  Car park at Balsporran Cottages by A9 (NN627791), W along track, over railway line at crossing, continue W over 2 fords to NN622790, take track to right, NW then W to cairns at NN606785, return to start.

Sunday 9 March 2014

Meal Chuaich.

With our usual optimism, we set off from Layby 94 on the A9, hoping that the cloud would lift and the day brighten.

Aqueduct south of Allt Cuaich

We were feeling confident that, should any white stuff appear in our path, we were equipped with the kit and the basic knowledge to deal with it, after our winter skills course a couple of weeks before.

Considering how much snow there had been in these hills at that time, we were surprised that we weren't setting off in snow.

Cuaich Power Station with Stac Meall Chuaich beyond

A couple of hundred yards north along the A9, traffic whistling by (and a couple of funny looks), we took a right turn and very soon a left along good tracks. A couple of k's walk beside an aqueduct carrying water for the hydro electric system in the area, full and fast flowing. We passed the Cuaich Hydro Power Station and continued along good tracks into the beginnings of Coire Chuaich.

Creag Liath and Carn na Caim from NN681868

There was snow on many of the tops, but none nearby - much to Rafe's disappointment - he had to make do with a plodge in the burns flowing down towards Allt Cuiach.

Loch Cuaich and Stac Meall Chuaich

We could see Stac Meall Chuaich ahead, beyond Loch Cuaich - our route up today's Munro - no snow - no snow at all....

Crossing Allt Coire Chuaich at NN692868

After crossing Allt Coire Chuaich, in weak sunshine, we passed a wooden bothy - locked, but through the window, we spied one big room, lined with many union flag beach chairs...

Jim and Stac Meall Chuaich from NN692868

The path up was obvious - no navigation issues at all. We set off, up.

South east from the ascent of Stac Meall Chuaich

Loch Chuaich from ascent of Stac Meall Chuaich

It was never very steep, but it was really rather boggy at times. Squelch...

North from NN710880 - ascent of Meall Chuiach

The tops were snowy, but they were in cloud from about 850m ish - the views were moody.

Over Coire Choich to Bogha-cloiche

There seemed to be snow on every hill but ours...

North from the ascent of Meall Chuiach

But as we reached the wide bealach between Stac Meall Chuaich and Meal Chuaich, we could see that the north side of the Munro had a really respctable amount of snow - enough for there to be an off piste skier sliding towards us at speed. His fun was soon over though, as he reached the bealach.

Rafe and Jim - ascent of Meall Chuaich

We crossed the snow field, but it was never steep enough for us to even think of getting the crampons out.

Rafe on Meal Chuaich

Rafe was like a puppy, louping about, kicking up snow and trying to catch it.

Mountain Hare on Meal Chuaich

As we made our way towards the summit, Rafe alerted us to a mountain hare, in winter white, then another and another - a whole drove of hares.

Views south to Carn na Caim from between the cloud from near the summit of Meal Chuaich

It was good fun to try out cutting steps in the snow - although there wasn't really any need to - it wasn't that steep.

Jim approaches the summit - Meal Chuaich (Munro 214, 951m)

As we approached the summit, via a few rocky patches, the snow decreased - blown off, no doubt, and the summit cairn sat in an icy puddle. No views, I'm afraid, just grey mist, swirling in the blustery wind. Then the snow started..

It seemed logical to use our bothy emergency shelter for a spot of lunch (it's been in the rucksack for several years and never been used !), but Rafie decided that he didn't like the orange flapping contraption and wouldn't come in - so we scranned a quick sarnie, feeling guilty, whilst we watched Rafie sitting in the wind and the swirling snow flakes. So, despite our relative comfort, this was one of the quickest summit lunches ever. I also managed to put my ice axe spike through the bothy - not an auspicious first use !!

Descent from Meall Chuaich, coming out of the cloud

A quick descent from the summit plateau and the falling snow was left behind and the mist soon started to thin.

Jim - Views (only just) to Glen Truim from the decent of Meal Chuaich

This morning's weak sunshine had gone, but being high is always good.

Rafe - views west - Coire Chuaich

We returned by the obvious path, we had left it on the way up to take to the snow fields, but there was no snow at all on our descent route - we made good time.

North west into Coire Chuaich from Bothy (NN671870)

We had a second lunch by the locked wooden bothy and then sauntered back to the car. 

Coffee in Aviemore - as always...

Route: Layby 94 on A9 (NN654867), N along A9 for 200m, E along track turning left onto a larger track beside aqueduct, past Cuaich Power Station, track above Allt Cauich to NN693868, rough path ENE ascending Stac Meall Chuaich, continue on path bypassing the summit, Meall Chuaich (Munro 214, 951m), retrace route to start.

Statistics:  Distance: 14km  Ascent: 615m  Time: 4.45 hours

Meall Chuaich

Beinn Bhrotain and Monadh Mor

Setting off from Glen Feshie - it was chilly - before the sun had a chance to peep over the hills...  Off we go! Jim - Setting off near Auch...