Summer is here

Munros since diagnosis #153 and #154

15:45 – Stob Ghabhar (M055), 3576ft, 1090m

17:45 – Stob A’ Choire Odhair (M226), 3100ft, 945m

Since my last visit to the mountains near here – hardly more than three weeks ago – summer has arrived. The slopes are green with lush new grasses, butterflies and dragonflies flit between flowers, the snows are confined to the darkest north facing crevices and gullies, families of ravens caw and play in the thermals, and the midges are hatching.

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I have come to discover that consulting route planning websites about a journey time late at night is not the best way of judging how long it will actually take the next day. Leaving very early in the morning presents open roads and makes driving a pleasure, although mixing it with whatever traffic each new summer day will bring offers unique challenges – specifically this morning: on the road from Perth to Lochearnhead, slow moving motorhomes and campervans, timid tourists in rentals, and a learner who braked into every slight bend in the road; and after that a convoy of about twenty vehicles stuck behind one of the aforementioned slow moving campervans that had overtaken me as I visited the facilities in the car park at Lochearnhead. Only after Tyndrum was the road clear of vehicles that were unaccustomed to driving it.

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I left Victoria Bridge at about one o’clock, knowing that morning clouds were predicted to clear during the afternoon. As I walked away, the tops of many surrounding peaks were still garnished with wispy clouds. The people I passed, who were now on their way down had seen less than they had hoped for at the summits. I took the clockwise route, starting with a steep and sometimes scrambly ascent past the waterfalls over Creag A Steallaire, followed by a gentle rise round Coire na Muic onto the southern shoulder of Stob Ghabhar, where I sat awhile and snacked before the final push to the top. There is a good path all the way up, along the line of an old metal fence, which near the top traverses behind the main ridge to gain the summit.

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At the top the views were spectacular in all directions; for the first time the route along the Aonach Eagach and down to the bealach to Stob A Choire Odhair bacame visible. In the other direction, I could just make out the more famous Aonach Eagach among the lumps and ridges of Glen Coe and the Mamores receding towards Ben Nevis.

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Any ideas I had about taking advantage here of the still air and gentle sunshine to rest, eat a leisurely snack and prepare for the onward journey were dashed by a sudden cloud of midges, which had either just hatched or latched onto the odour of sweaty mammal that was undoubtedly accompanying me. Midges? At over three and a half thousand feet? The air was still and only my moving about taking snapshots was enough to keep them away from my skin. So I walked on, munching on raisins and dried mango.

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What a cracking little ridge this is! Not at all as exposed and challenging as its namesake, but great fun nonetheless. There is only one really narrow bit along the way, and several places where a bit of clambering is required. The path leads to a round subsidiary summit at 991m from which it plunges steeply north down a mess of loose scree, gravelly chutes, sharp outcrops and boulders. This was certainly the most difficult section and required great care.

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Before finally levelling out, there is a bit of a clamber down the front of a crag, but once onto the bealach it is easy going through grassy banks and  rounded outcrops. Views on one side to the precipitous cliffs of Stob Ghabhar and Sron nan Guibhas, the corrie beneath them and the outflow into the edge of Rannoch Moor; and on the other side to Corrie Toiag, the end of Loch Tulla and the Trossachs into the distance. There were a couple of little clambers over outcrops on the way to the summit of Stob a’ Choire Odhair, but it is a gentle gradient. At the summit, the full expanse of Rannoch Moor is laid out properly for the first time. This vast flat watershed of bleak, inhospitable peat hag, impenetrable bog, tiny rivers and dark lochans looks quite benign from this height. I could almost see, in the clear summer air, trillion upon trillion of midges rising up in great clouds, beginning their brief journeys on this planet; to be on the one hand, at the very bottom of the food chain, to be staple for larger insects, amphibians and birds; and on the other, in their inexorable drive to feast on the blood of any passing mammal, to become the most notorious challenge to human beings these mountains afford.

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Again, my desire leisurely to snack at the summit was thwarted by these tiny, almost invisible, dragons. So I walked off the mountain towards the north shoulder in search of the stalker’s path down into Coire Toiag. Suddenly, blowing from inside the bowl of the corrie, a wind. The peaks of Stob Ghabhar were now holding a thickening cloud in their thermals, cooling the air behind the cliffs on the north and east of the mountain, creating their own little climate. Before the path plunged steeply away, I stopped and found a place to eat properly, to survey the view ahead and to reflect upon the day. I was sat there for maybe an hour, protected from midges by a cooling wind coming off the mountain top, insulated by down and fleece, eating supper and meditating.

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The path zigzags steeply into the glen, then takes a straight line to the estate track out to the road. On the flanks of the mountain my movements startled a herd of deer, the evening wind continued to keep off the midges all the way back to the car. I arrived at about nine and sat changing my shoes, eating the remnants of supper in preparation for the drive home. A couple of young deer ambled along at other side of the car park, apparently unaware of or indifferent to my presence. It became clear quite quickly that one in particular was less uncomfortable with human beings than his upland cousins. Sniffing the air in front of him, his nose pulled him towards the box of fresh raw vegetables I was in the process of munching. Had I not physically prevented him, he would have had the box out of my hand and be eating out its contents.

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This is a place much frequented by human beings, for not only does it lie at a staging post on the West Highland Way, it is at the end of a very picturesque road with plenty of space for motorhomes and campervans to park up for the night. Scavenging fauna are here then perfectly understandable, but this young buck was a few notches above scrounging. A sign of the times no doubt, even the deer are learning how to hustle. In a strange inversion of my experience, the midges were less troublesome here than on the mountain top and the deer the very negation of timid. I drove slowly towards Inveroran past many zipped up tents and people with midge nets on their heads. The lowering rays of the sun garnished the ancient forests and mountains, casting dark shadows and illuminating their flanks with deep orange. The trunks of wise old pines glowing against blue loch water and vibrant green grasses. The drive home through the gloaming was uneventful. I was back just after eleven thirty, the northern horizon still glowing red.

Summer is here.

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Author: duncanspence

Philosopher and almost retired cycle messenger.

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