Trekking in Knoydart – Part 2

The morning dawned, and it was dismal. After reaching the summit, we pitched the tent to shelter from a snow storm. After it had blown over, we left the tent and set off on an excursion trip up, Luinne Bheinn, which was negotiated by map and compass as the cloud had still not cleared. On reaching the summit ridge, however, we found ourselves in lull sunshine with the clouds swirling far below. We could hardly believe our eyes, and cameras were soon produced and the usual plethora of pictures taken. We wandered idly around for an hour trying to absorb the view which were opening up as the cloud began to clear.

Reluctantly we retreated to the tent far below, and after packing it away continued our journey down into Glen Barrisdale. The weather continued to improve, but time was getting on, so we didn’t stop but continued on up the next pass immediately. This proved rather a laborious slog, and it was fairly dark when we reached the summit. The weather had cleared completely and the near full moon rose, bathing us in it’s eerie glow. One consequence of the clear sky was a plummeting thermometer. We pitched the tent by a frozen river, smashing the ice to get at the water for a brew. The temperature was -15c, and it felt it.

Later I’ went out for a stroll to absorb the unreal surroundings. As moonlight reflected off myriads of ice crystals which flashed at every movement of the beholder. I tried to capture the scene on my camera. A 10 minute exposure rendered the view as if illuminated by sunlight, the single candle glowing in, the tent looking more like a carbon arc lamp blazing away.  

We had just completed our third day ‘on the sticks’, and our original plan had been to stay four days. As the weather was unbelievably good, we made a careful check of provision to see if we could stretch to five days. By cutting out a few brews, and having curried spaghetti for breakfast, we reckoned we’d just about do it. In the cold light of the following morning, we struggled to pull frozen boots on, but the initial pain of walking was soon forgotten as we thought of two more days in these incredible mountains.

The descent of the far side of the pass was a bit frustrating due to us being low down in relation to the surrounding peaks, and consequently the low winter sunshine only illuminated the mountains and not the valley bottoms. It was late that afternoon when we finally reached the sun as we laboured up the precipitous north side of Sgurr na Ciche. This was no place for haste, and we had to fit our crampons to cross the huge masses of slab ice which looked extremely impressive but also deadly to the unwary. A slip here would certainly have led to a fragmented end in the rooky gully below, and we began to ask ourselves what the hell we were doing in such an exposed situation.

Eventually our labours paid off as we topped the saddle at the start of the final summit push. The day was now getting on, and the lengthening shadows told us we had no time to spare if we were to get a summit view. We didn’t even have time o strip our sacks of unnecessary weight, and we pressed on in full back-packing gear up through the final bouldery tangle that forms the last few hundred feet of the mountain

Our efforts were well rewarded, we arrived on the top just as the sun was slowly descending into the clouds on the far horizon. The view was a complete panorama, limited only by the distant hills. We must have done something right to deserve such views as, any mountain walker will tell, you, such occasions are few and far between. Though clear, the high wind and sub-zero temperature made our stay a bit uncomfortable. The customary photographs were quickly taken before we hurried off down to descend the steep gully to the south east.

The light was now fading fast and we pitched out on the first flattish bit of ground we came to I stood spell bound as he sun finally dipped behind the distant clouds to slowly vanish ma blaze of red, pink and finally purple, leaving only the blackness of the sky with the stars winking through. We didn’t see the moon for some .hours as it had to climb up behind a three and a half thousand foot mountain behind us.

Well, here it was, our last day. The morning was again clear and cloudless. After a breakfast of spaghetti, we took the tent down for the last time and set off just as the sun was lazily creeping up from behind the mountains.

The first part of our route headed into the sun with its warm red light reflecting back off the snow and ice in front of us. Most of the walk out was downhill, and we traveled easy and fast over the first mile or so. We rendezvoused with Glen Dessary halfway along its length, but still had a tricky descent of its side to reach the glen floor. Once on the track we’d used to walk in on some days previously we found, to our delight, that the ground had frozen as herd as concrete. This was good news as now we wouldn’t have to contend with the bog we’d crossed on the. way in. Descending to the head of the Loch, we could see  huge blanket of mist obscuring the whole area. Upon reaching it, we lost the bright sun as we were enveloped in its cold, clammy clutches, and the last few miles to the car were completed in almost zero visibility.

After a change into dry socks, we drove to Fort William to satisfy our intense craving for hot pies and bread.

Boyd Harris.



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