Posts tagged ‘Monadhliath’

July 19, 2015

Stronelairg – 5 snowy days in the Monadhliath pt2

by backpackingbongos

Part one of this trip report was published a few months ago, unfortunately other trips got in the way and I never got round to writing part two. So cast your minds back to Easter this year……….

You can read part one here.

The contrast with the murk the day before could not be greater. The mist, low cloud and poor visibility had been replaced by blue skies and crisp visibility. The air was still and despite snow still laying on the ground it felt warm.

The upper reaches of Glen Tarff really is a gem, a place where no one really bothers to venture. I picked up the old stalkers path and climbed my way back onto the Monadhliath plateau, enjoying the retrospective views down the glen to distant snow-capped mountains.

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The plateau was reached just south of the dam for the newly built reservoir. The sense of space on that clear spring morning was exhilarating. Sometimes you don’t need high craggy mountains, the empty rolling moors often make me feel just as happy to be out.

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I was heading for the summit of the Corbett Gairbeinn. Normally this would be a straightforward affair of walking across the moors and climbing onto its long summit ridge. However with deep and rapidly melting snow on the ground it was not quite that easy. The various watercourses were covered in unstable snow bridges, banks ready to collapse either side. I spent a while linking up patches of snow free ground, often making detours when the snow became too deep and soft.

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The going was easier on the higher and steeper slopes, the snow still having a bit of bite which meant that I could kick steps up. With a heavy winter pack, warm sun and no wind I quickly felt exhausted. The high snow-covered plateau however was spellbinding and I did not need much excuse to just stand and drink it all in. I was sad with the knowledge that soon the whole area will be covered in wide roads and wind turbines.

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The ridge of Gairbeinn was snow free but the east side was heavily corniced. There had recently been an avalanche which is visible in the third photo below. Some of the blocks of snow were the size of a chest freezer, not something that you would want to get caught up in.

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I lingered at the summit for a long time, out of the wind the sun felt warm and the surroundings were majestic. Across the infant Spey the Creag Meagaidh hills towered high and snowy. Much of the high plateau of the Monadhliath was still draped in virgin white, so I decided against a planned long walk across the summit of the Corrieyairack to bag some more Corbetts. Even though it was only early afternoon and I had walked only a few kilometres I decided that I would look for a nearby high level pitch and just enjoy my surroundings.

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I backtracked along the ridge and then descended to the east to a good spot on the 780 metre contour. I pitched the Trailstar and spent a lazy afternoon and evening reading, brewing and eating. Taking time to walk around various vantage points above camp. The air soon became cold and crisp, the hills glowing in the setting sun.

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It was only a short walk back to the car the following morning so I decided on a small detour to climb Creag Mhor. It’s a small hill that does not feature on any lists but it was worth the effort for the views along the upper Spey and back to the plateau from which I had come.

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The often grassy banks of the Allt Gilbe eased progress back to Garva bridge. I passed a family picnicking next to the bridge over the Allt Coire Lain Oig, the first people who I had seen in five days. I could not think of a finer place in which to spend a busy Easter weekend than the lonely underrated Monadhliath.

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April 7, 2015

A fond farewell to the magnificent Monadhliath

by backpackingbongos

I stood under blue skies and hot sun, after stopping to strip down to just a baselayer. A welcome relief after three days of freezing temperatures and limited visibility. The high plateau stretched into the far distance, every gully and hag of the brown moor still filled with snow. For a while I was transported back to Arctic Sweden, such was the scale of the scene. It was day four of a solo backpack and I had yet to see another human being.

The Monadhliath have long held a magnetic draw for me, unlike any other place in Scotland. It is predominantly moorland in nature, although in places it does rise above the magic 3000 feet. High plateaus split by long lonely glens, perfect for the backpacker.

My attention for five days over the Easter weekend was a leisurely exploration of the area where the consented Stronelairg wind farm will sit. 67 huge turbines along with miles of new roads, pylons to connect it to the grid and a potential substation near the historic Garva Bridge. The turbines will occupy a site the size of Inverness. This past weekend though it was just me, numerous golden plover singing their hearts out and mountain hare still in their winter coats. It’s heartbreaking to think that it will soon be covered in concrete and steel, the whooshing of blades replacing bird song. There is a possibility that the John Muir Trust will win their appeal, but I don’t hold out much hope.

In a way this was my final farewell to a fabulous area, a place that gives a feeling of freedom and space that is hard to find in this crowded Island. Goodbye dear Moanies, it was good to meet you whilst you still had a beating heart.

I’ll do a proper trip report at some time, in the meantime just a few photos and words.

Looking into the heart of the proposed site, a high plateau all above 600 metres. Taken from the summit of the Corbett Meall na h-Aisre.

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Camped at 670 metres bang in the middle of the extensive moorland plateau. You can just make out one of the wind monitoring masts right of centre.

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The still frozen Allt Creag Chomaich. In summer the joy of the Monadhliath is following the grassy banks of the numerous watercourses. This time the going was treacherous with snow covered bog to snatch the unwary.

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Looking north from the summit of the Corbett Gairbean across the rapidly melting snow fields on the plateau.

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There is currently a worthwhile petition, Save Loch Ness and the Great Glen. Please sign it.

May 2, 2014

Four nights alone in the magnificent Monadhliath pt3

by backpackingbongos

Day 4 – 23 kilometres with 590 metres ascent

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It was probably one of the worst nights that I have ever had for condensation. No wind, next to a stream and temperatures around freezing meant the walls were dripping by morning. That was in a huge drafty shelter with no door, my Scarp would have turned into a chilly sauna. Rather than start moving about and get everything wet with drips I decided to lay in my sleeping bag until the sun hit and dried everything out. Therefore it was once again gone 9.00am by the time I got up, no great hardship. I was spoilt by another alfresco breakfast, stretched out on a groundsheet in the warm sun. I wish that everyday could start like that.

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It was yet another morning where the blue sky looked unreal such was its brilliance.

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I followed the River Eskin for a while until it met a series of streams flowing down from Coire Seilich. Once again I used a series of grassy rides alongside the streams to guide me through the peat and heather on the climb to the north. Along one such stream I came across a large lurid green bog. A prod with my Pacerpole failed to reach solid ground. Not a spot to unwittingly stumble into, especially with no one to pull you out.

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The last couple of kilometres to the summit of Carn na Saobhaidhe was particularly unpleasant, height did little to tame the vegetation. Time was spent lurching and cursing under the hot sun, feeling like the summit was not getting any closer. Height however did increase the views and I could look east and see my route for later in the day.

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As I was approaching the summit I kept spotting a bright yellow object, this would move about and then disappear. It was difficult to work out what it was from a distance. As I eventually reached the summit plateau I could see it was a man in a high-vis tabard taking 360 degree photos on a large camera. For me there could only be one reason he would be there and I asked him if he was taking photos for a wind farm. He confirmed that he was. There then took place a short and polite conversation about wind farms. He said that he liked them for their beauty and they give him employment. I asked him a series of questions and he obliged by answering them.

As I am an Independent Advocate in my professional life I am aware that you need to talk to the right person if you want to influence change. I have my personal feelings about building wind farms in such places but it was not really appropriate to inflict them on this guy. At the end of the day he was a very small cog in a huge machine. I did think of various uses for his tripod though.

I decided to shuffle off and seek some shelter in which to have lunch. A mound of peat with grouse grit on top was the only such shelter on the exposed hill. I could also turn my back on the man in the fluorescent tabard and enjoy the view to the north. Ben Wyvis was clearly seen and I could just make out the Kessock bridge near Inverness. My phone even received a signal when I turned it on giving me the opportunity to call my wife.

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It really was rather pleasant in the sun and I had to resist the temptation to have a bit of a snooze. Back on my feet I once again passed the guy taking his panoramic photos, this time without his bright jacket. I had mentioned to him earlier that he was visible from miles away, perhaps he decided he did not want to draw attention to himself again. As I left the hill I registered my protest by ensuring that I walked into shot.

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I have heard about the track that leads to the summit of Carn na Saobhaidhe from the north. However nothing could have prepared me for just how destructive it was. A deep gash bulldozed through the soft peat, mounds piled up to ten feet high on either side. It really was spectacular in its hideousness. What made me chuckle however was that the chap doing the wind farm panoramas could not get his vehicle up it as it was full of snow. Once away from the monstrosity, the cairn on Carn Mhic Lamhair was a nice place to sit down again.

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Rough ground was crossed before dropping down to Allt Odhar and an easy track to the cottage at Dalbeg. This occupies a prime spot on the upper reaches of the River Findhorn. If the owners are reading this and fancy letting me stay please get in touch!

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This part of the Findhorn is simply lovely, an area where I enjoyed a wild camp during the 2011 TGO Challenge. A good track led me rapidly towards Coignafearn lodge, my pack feeling heavy and feet hot under the cloudless skies.

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I took a track that branched off up the Elrick burn and I was now at the lowest spot since the beginning of the trip, a lowly 450 metres. There was then a long steady climb ahead as I wanted to cross the watershed into the upper Dulnain before the end of the day. The track gave easy progress up the scenic glen, the river a lively companion to my left.

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I had planned to cross the burn at a footbridge but this was now in pieces beside the track, only steel girders remaining. I continued to the ford further upstream where boots and socks were removed. The ford was wide but reasonably smooth bottomed meaning it was not too painful on bare feet, the freezing water on the other hand initially made me gasp. With it reaching my knees there was no way to cross dry-shod whilst wearing boots.

The track soon started to zig zag up the hillside to the left, I climbed up this for a while before branching off on an unmarked track that just happened to be going in my direction above the stream. This contrasted hugely with the great scar I had witnessed near Carn na Saobhaidhe, with a little effort hill tracks don’t have to be huge monstrosities.

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When the track petered out it was a simple case of following grassy banks along the infant stream to its watershed, this being hidden under lingering snow banks. It was like a game of Russian roulette as I gingerly crossed them, aware of the sound of running water. Once again it was a glorious evening, the low sun casting warmth and shadow across the heather clad hillsides.

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I was tired when I finally reached the wooden bothy, so decided to spend the night inside rather than pitch the Trailstar. The hard wooden floor was unforgiving but it would enable an easy getaway the following morning.

Day 5 – 11 kilometres with 160 metres

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After spending nights on beds of moss and grassy river banks, a hard floor meant I did not sleep very well. I had a long drive ahead of me later that day so I was off and away before the sun cast away the shadows around the bothy. The track that would lead me directly back to Kingussie was at an easy gradient. I felt a bit sad as I had a final look over my shoulders into the wild heart of the Monadhliath before the trudge back to the car.

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The final stretch of tarmac between Pitmain Lodge and Kingussie was a bit of a bore, especially with a rumbling belly. I had eaten the last of my food for breakfast, supplies being rationed the previous day. The Coop was raided for carbohydrate and sugar based foods to set me on my way for the 400 mile drive south.