Saturday 14 February 2015

Fionn Bheinn

We stopped at the roadside cafe at Tarvie for a cuppa (Jim had to have a bacon buttie as well!) on out journey west along the A832.

Chatting to a chap who was travelling east, we asked what the weather was looking like at Achnasheen - Pea souper was the reply! 

Aww well.... Always the optimists - maybe we were in for a temperature inversion!

Looking south into the mist beside Allt Achadh na Sine
soon after setting off from Achnasheen

I don't think I'd have quite called it a pea souper - but it was certainly foggy when we parked up in the village centre in Achnasheen - it was pretty chilly as well, so muffled up, we headed out of the village and across the main road and away into the mist.

As usual, when setting off, getting out of the populated places without taking the wrong track and looking like a fool is a high priority - this time there was pretty much no chance of ending up in some farmers yard. There were plenty of signposts, complete with footprints, arrows "walkers" and "footpath" left us in no doubt the way we were supposed to go.

Not quite sure what would have happened if we had strayed from the designated route...

Beside Allt Achadh na Sine on the ascent of Fionn Bheinn

Once away from the farm buildings and through a couple of kissing gates we started the ascent along the east bank of  the Allt Achadh na Sine. There were a few pieces of infrastructure on the burn, assume it is being used as the local water source, but once past these the stream ran fast and churning across the hillside, cutting a deep gorge lined with birch and alder.

As we ascended the fog began to thin, azure sky bleeding through as the sun burned off the mist...

Just a few more metres and we popped out over the cloud, to the glory of the hoped for, wished for temperature inversion.

Temperature inversion - south from the ascent of Fionn Bheinn

The pictures say it all...

Rafe - views south east to Sgurr a'Mhuilinn

Temperature inversion - south from the ascent of Fionn Bheinn

As we climbed the cloud slowly thinned, swirling about the glens, constantly changing the view.

Fionn Bheinn and Creagan nan Laogh

The ascent eased as we reached the rim of the wide coire between Creagan nan Laogh and Meall a'Chaorainn. New views to the west and north. A slightly unusual view of Slioch, from a different angle, initially took a bit of recognising!

The snow which had been rather intermittent up till now, filled every hollow - and it looked like there was still plenty higher up...

But it was warm in the sunshine. Lovely.

Slioch from ascent of Fionn Bheinn

The views to the south and west were still awe inspiring. Including a clear view of  Beinn Liath Mhor and Sgorr Ruadh, a couple of hills we climbed in high summer last year.

Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor from ascent of Fionn Bheinn

The snow on Fionn Beinn looked smooth and inviting.

So rather than ascend Creagan nan Laogh, we crossed the north east branch of Allt Achadh na Sine (just above where a lovely little waterfall fell into a snow surrounded pool) and headed off up the open hillside directly for the summit. Rafe was bounding about - he just loves the snow!

Jim - Allt Achadh na Sine just before the final pull up Fionn Beinn

We passed a couple of cross country skiers, just donning their skis.We gave them a cheery hello, but they weren't very happy with the lack of snow!

Liathach, Beinn Eighe and Meall a'Ghiuthais over Meall a'Chaorainn from ascent of Fionn Bheinn

As we went up, keeping to the patches of snow, the views just kept on getting better.

The snow was hard enough not to keep giving way, but soft enough to kick steps - crampons would have been over kill.

Rafe and Jim - ascent of Fionn Bheinn

Rafe was on point - oh yes... a couple of mountain hares in their winter gear, hopping away over the snowfields.

Tiny cross country skiers and Creagan nan Laogh
from ascent of Fionn Bheinn

Views east from ascent of Fionn Bheinn

Views north west from ascent of Fionn Bheinn

Jim nearing Fionn Bheinn summit

We were soon at the top... Fionn Beinn (Munro 245,933m).


Fionn Bheinn summit (Munro 245,933m)

Views east over Toll Mor from Fionn Bheinn

There was a rather chilly wind blowing in from the south east on the tops - time to don an extra layer again.

Jim looks west to Torridon from Fionn Bheinn

We popped over the summit plateau and down onto the north west slopes, out of the worst of the wind for a spot of lunch. The hillside was pretty open with no particular shelter, but we did the best we could with the rucksacks and got hunkered down with our flasks of tea. The view was just too good to be rushing off.

Liathach and Beinn Eighe from Fionn Bheinn

An Teallach and The Fannichs from Fionn Bheinn

But all good things must come to an end, and I really think we'll have to get a bigger flask for next time...

Rafe and Jim - Descent from Fionn Bheinn

Once back on the summit, we struck off east along the edge of Toll Mor.

The views were stupendous (really!)  The loch to the north was unfamiliar - Loch Fannich - I'm sure we'll be seeing much more of this stretch of water - we've still got all The Fannich's to do..

Rafe and Jim - views to Sail an Tuim Bhain - descent from Fionn Bheinn

Over Loch Fannich from descent from Fionn Bheinn

It was rather on the cold side. One of those days when the wind gives you an ice cream headache...

Looking back (west) at the summit of  Fionn Bheinn

We met another cross country skier as we descended - his skis strapped to his rucksack - he was looking forward to a bit more snow at the summit!

The slopes of Sail an Tuim Bhain - descent from Fionn Bheinn

The day was so clear and bright, we could see our descent route laid out before us -  across the snowfields, back onto the grassy open hillside to a drystone wall and then down an old drovers track across the moor...

Red deer - descent from Fionn Bheinn

A large herd of red deer bounded across the hillside and over our path - stopping to thumb their noses at Rafe before disappearing over a rise.

The slopes of Sail an Tuim Bhain - descent from Fionn Bheinn
Views to Sgurr a'Mhuilinn

The wind dropped off as we descended, and the sun felt pleasantly warm again.

Descent from Sail an Tuim Bhain on the old track - views south

The going was good (although the old drovers road was a touch damp in places) and we made good time. I was pleased we had chosen this route rather than the usual advertised route of up and back the same way.

Jim - Achnasheen Plantation

The track led us through gates in a couple of deer fences and into Achnasheen Plantation.

Once on the other side of the wood, sheltered from any wind, we had a second lunch. We sat on tree stumps by a burn, chomping the last of our sandwiches and looking south to Glen Carron.

Rafe, of course, was in the burn.

South of Achnasheen Plantation

The path led us quickly to the road (A832), but we found that the gate there was padlocked.

Rather than climb the gate at this point, we headed west on a faint path, parallel to the road,  just inside the field. We passed a couple more locked gates before we reached Achnasheen and climbed the one just opposite the first road down from the A832 into the village. It was a metal five bar gate (as had they all been) and quite high - easy for us to climb, but it was too high for a middle aged collie to jump and too low to the ground for him to squeeze under. The fence was also impassable. Thank goodness Rafe was wearing his harness - Jim was able to lift him over (just like a grumpy suitcase) and deposit him at the other side. I think I would have struggled to lift him if I had been alone!

There was a sign on the other side of the gate "Official Route to Fionn Beinn" with an arrow pointing west! Mmmm - not sure I like "Official Route" signs and locked gates! Aww yes - Ledgowan Estate, well known for welcoming walkers!!!!

A short walk back to the car and something of a relief to get the 4 season boots off...

What a day! Wonderful!!

The Achnasheen cafe was closed for the winter, so we headed off to Strathpeffer for coffee and cake at the Museum Coffee Shop...

Sgurr a'Mhuilinn and Strathbran Forest - south east from descent to Achnasheen

Route: Car park in Achnasheen (NG164586), NW along road back to A832, cross the road and take unclassified road beside phone box NW over old bridge, take next right (NE signpost - footpath) and follow track through gate, past water treatment building, turning right and immediately left (well signposted - footpath) through another gate, follow rough track beside Allt Achadh na Sine, to NH151599 where the slope eases, head N to Fionn Bheinn summit (Munro 245, 933m), SE then E along summit ridge, descend to wall at NH165619, follow wall (intermittent) SE to NH175612, turn S (right) and follow old path (intermittent) through 2 gates in deer fences and into Achnasheen Plantation, continue S on rough path to A832, follow rough path on pasture side of the fence to Achnasheen, climb gate at NH166587, cross A832 and take left turn sp station, to start.

Statistics:  Distance: 12km  Ascent: 800m  Time: 4.30hours

Maps:  OS Explorer 435 (An Teallach & Slioch) and OS Explorer 436 (Beinn Dearg & Loch Fannich)

Fionn Beinn

Saturday 7 February 2015

The Cairnwell Munro's - Carn Aosda, Carn a'Gheoidh and The Cairnwell

Setting off from the Ski Centre at Glen Shee in winter was a bit if an eye opener. Despite arriving quite early in the day, it really was quite busy...

We pulled off the A93 just north of the main car parks and joined the throngs making their way to the ski centre. Rafie got a few funny looks - I don't expect they see many dogs heading toward the ski runs!

Glen Shee Ski Centre

East over Glen Shee from the ascent of Carn Aosda

We trudged through the masses waiting for equipment and around the queue's for the ski lifts. We thought we would save time by making a bee line for the start of our ascent up Carn Aosda, our first Munro of the day. This though, took us over an invisible dip in the ground and left us floundering in thigh deep snow - after a slightly embarrassing extrication, we stuck to the beaten track (literally!).

Rafe and Jim - ascent of Carn Aosda

Once passed the queues we were alone on the snowy hillside - the ski runs of Carn Aosda were not in favour today. Initially we stuck to the edge of the run, but the snow was deeper and much harder going. Since there was absolutely nobody on the run, we moved away from the snow fence and it was much better going.

Glen Shee and The Cairnwell from the ascent of Carn Aosda

Carn Aosda has the reputation for being the easiest Munro of them all, being one of the smallest (917m) and having a start point at the ski centre of over 600m. The summit really did look pretty close...

But it was fairly steep and somewhat slippery - time to don the crampons...

A skier came swooping down the run past us, with a cheery "morning" - with his dog ( a lovely spaniel) almost flying behind him.

Views north from the summit of Carn Aosda (Munro 278, 917m)

Once we were spiked up, it really didnt take much doing to get to the top. The views were breathtaking - and so was the wind. We had been nicely sheltered as we ascended, but a biting, icy northerly hit us with a vengeance as we neared the summit - Carn Aosda (Munro 278, 917m).

The view took in the whole of the Mhonaidh Ruaidh - serried ranks of  frozen hills as far as the eye could see - and that was quite a way.

The Cairnwell and Glen Shee from Carn Aosda

Most of the snow has been blown off the plateau, so our crampons were stowed away again before we headed off towards our next objective - Carn a'Gheoidh. This involved skirting south west around the bowl in the hills containing the ski centre - lots of little toy skiers were swinging up the slopes on the ski lifts and sweeping back down again - it didn't look very real.

The Cairnwell, Cairnwell North Top and Creag a'Choire Dhirich from descent from Carn Aosda 

Once away from the ski slopes, the walk took on a more wild and remote feel - we were alone in the snowy wastes!

Loch Vrotachan was frozen over - only just discernible due to it being completely flat.

Looking back (east) to Carn Aosda

A frozen Loch Vrotachan from ascent to Creag a'Choire Dhirich

Jim and Rafe ascend Creag a'Choire Dhirich

The going was pretty good - not too much snow and even once we were passed the low point (sh 808m) there wasn't too much in the way of ascent.

But it was really windy in the bealach - Jim's hat (a rather expensive and still new hat) made a bid for freedom, taking off in the deneral direction of The Cairnwell. Jim made a brief attempt at catching it, but it laughed at him and disappeared over the hillside, never to be seen again! Luckily Jim had a spare - it really would have been an issue if he hadn't.

Once onto the wide ridge of Creag a'Choire Dhirich, we had wonderful views into the frosty wilderness of Choire Dhirich.

On Creag a'Choire Dhirich with views to Carn a'Gheoidh

The Cairnwell and Choire Dhirich - south from Creag a'Choire Dhirich

We marched south west across the icy tundra (!). We met a couple of other walkers, but apart from muffled "hello"s and comments on the weather, it really wasn't conducive to stopping for a nice chat.

We bypassed Carn nan Sac, making a beeline for Carn a'Gheoidh across The Coolah, a wide wind blasted plateau. 

The slopes of Carn nan Sac - views to Carn a'Gheoidh

Jim and Rafe on the ascent of Carn a'Gheoidh

Carn a'Gheoidh summit (Munro 180, 975m) - views north

Carn a'Gheoidh soon loomed ahead - not too much in the way of ascent, but it looked like there was more in the way of snow to negotiate. 

There was - and it was pretty hard stuff. As it was a bit more sheltered (it felt positively balmy compared with out on The Coolah) we thought we'd do a spot of step cutting. There's nothing like a bit of ice axe swinging to warm the blood...

We were soon at the top, Carn a'Gheoidh (Munro 180, 975m), highest point of the day beside the frozen cairn. A few monochrome pictures were taken and we were soon on the move again.

Jim and Rafe cross The Coolah with views to Carn nan Sac

Carn nan Sac summit (920m) - Views Carn Aosda

We followed our little icy steps back down the slippery slope and made good time across the frigid plateau...

And picked up Carn nan Sac (920m) on the way back - mainly because Rafie had spied another cairn on the summit and taken himself off (as he always does) to be the first on the highest point! We couldn't let Rafe be the only one to bag it.

Ptarmigan on Carn nan Sac

Carn nan Sac East Top - views south east

And we were glad we did - the weather had calmed and cleared a bit - we had some of the best views of the day from the East summit (NO121768). A couple of ptarmigan popped out of the rocks to check out what we were up to - in full winter finery.

Carn Aosda and Creag a'Choire Dhirich from Carn nan Sac

We retraced our route back over Creag a'Choire Dhirich, eventually finding a place amongst the rocks, out of the wind for some lunch - we were definitely ready for a hot drink!

Choire Dhirich and Carn nan Sac

Back across the bealach above Choire Dhirich the wind was still howling, funnelled up to a speed that made walking difficult, we were glad to pick up a track which kept us below the ridge leading to The Cairnwell (our final Munro of the day), rather than up on the tops...

Ascent of The Cairnwell

Much of the snow had been blown away here and the ascent was gradual, the going easier...

West to Carn nan Sac from ascent of The Cairnwell

We came out on the summit ridge just south of the top of the ski tow (NO135775) - the communication masts and associated buildings and paraphernalia clearly in view.

Jim and Rafe on the ascent of The Cairnwell

Obviously, there were rather more people about here!

Views west from ascent of The Cairnwell

...But nobody else making for the summit.

Nearing The Cairnwell summit

It was further than it looked and the path was icy and slippery - hard going - bit we were soon at the summt - The Cairnwell (Munro 245, 933m).

Views south down Glen Shee from The Cairnwell

But the views from the top were marvellous (with our backs to the masts!). These are definitely winter hills - they would look despoiled without the snow!

The Cairnwell summit (Munro 245, 933m)

We descended back to the top of the first ski tow and turned right - this was one of the quickest descents ever. We plunged through knee deep snow along the side of the ski tow - Rafie bounding ahead, throwing snow in the air. Great fun!!!

We were soon back in the real world. We took one look at the ski centre cafe and decided against it - far too many people!

The car was warm, and a wonderful drive north through the Cairngorms lay ahead.

Rafe and Jim - Carn Aosda (left) and Glenshee Ski Centre
from the descent from The Cairnwell

Route:  Glenshee Ski Centre (NO139784), N through ski centre buildings and past octaganol ski cafe, N up piste next to most easterly ski tow to summit, Carn Aosda (Munro 278, 917m), W then SW along ski fence to sh 795m, path S then W to bealach (sh 808m), ascend Creag a'Choire Dhirich, SW along ridge, contour W round summit of Carn nan Sac, The Coolah, ascend to Carn a'Gheoidh (Munro 180, 975m), return to The Coolah, Carn nan Sac (920m), return along Creag a'Choire Dhirich to bealach (sh 808m), rough path below (E) of Cairnwell summit ridge to bealach between The Cairnwell North Top and The Cairnwell (NO135775), The Cairnwell (Munro 245, 933m), return N to bealach, Cairnwell NorthTop (873m), E down ski piste to Glenshee Ski Centre and start.

Statistics:  Ascent: 600m  Distance: 12km  Time: 5.15hours

Map:  OS Explorer 387 (Glen Shee & Breamar)

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...