04 – 07/05/2018, just getting into Glen Affric is a demanding adventure. The track had been eroded due to heavy snowfall and 4×4 vehicles churning their way through the glen, however, after what seemed like a very long time, we eventually arrived at Strawberry Cottage at around 11pm. Ann and Colwyn had arrived earlier and had the log burning stove going and the cottage was warm and welcoming.
05/05/2018 – day one in Glen Affric, Sail Chaorainn, climbed with Justine, Philip members of the JMCS Glasgow hillwalking club. What I would like to point out before I describe the hill and the adventure up it, is that I had no sight in my left eye? Don’t ask me why I have yet to uncover the reason but only my right eye was functioning. Sail Chaorainn was a pleasant hill; we walked directly out of the hut onto the hill, a longish walk along the base of Glen Affric before pulling up steeply to a bealach, continuing right along the long meandering ridge to the summit. From the summit, there were good views of Sgurr nan Conbhairean and Carn Ghluasaid which can be hiked up from Glen Cluanie. We made a good time to the top and enjoyed our second lunch of the day whilst watching the cloud pass overhead. A more leisurely descent back to the lower ridge, whereby Justine navigated a different descent from which we had climbed up. We encountered only one challenge on the way down, the wind, which was buffeting in places, not sure if this was an increase in wind-speed or simply that the glen itself produces wind tunnels which, can become buffeting periodically. Either way, we made a quick descent of this area and moved to a more accessible descent. After about an hour of zigging and zagging down we made it safely back onto the base of the glen and enjoyed a relaxing walk back to the hut and to banana loaf heaven and a big pot of tea, magic.
06/05/2018 – day two in Glen Affric, Ciste Dhubh, climbed with Colwyn again a JMCS member, this was to be a demanding and torturous 9-kilometer cycle into the bottom of the hill direct from the strawberry cottage. I had no experience of cycling in this type of terrain before. I had to quickly grow my courage muscle and my confidence in the bikes capabilities. Again the harsh winter weather and use of 4×4 vehicles have churned up this track. Another issue was the water levels which initially looked like shallow puddles and suddenly the bike was submerged above wheel height in parts. Eventually and very happily we dismounted the bikes just beyond Glen Affric youth hostel. Next challenge was the river crossing, Colwyn found a good spot and quickly stepped across effortlessly. I, on the other hand, took two or three confident steps and then plunged into the river up to bum height!!! The loss of sight in my left eye had tricked me into thinking there was a rock to stand on when there was not! Not wanting to seem like a novice on the hills I just smiled and continued to walk. Colwyn had mapped out a good line up the side of Caste Dhubh, no particular path but just using the line of sight and referring to the map gave what felt like a decent line up the hill. The weather produced zero views to either side of the hill, this created a good number of false sensations of being close to the top, however, the cloud retained the true height of the Munro and gave discrete outlines every now and again of the size and scale of the mountain. On the way up I did find a rather nice antler which I tucked into my rucksack. We eventually hit the top of the Ciste Dhubh and were welcomed by six other climbers having their lunch on top. Embarrassingly as I stepped forward to touch the summit, I miss placed my footing and slid not very gracefully back down the summit. Shaking off my embarrassment I quickly took a bow and attempted to hit the summit, this time with more care on where my feet were being placed.
Colwyn quickly set up his Transmitter Ariel as he is part of the Summits on the Air (SOTA), an association for radio armatures that encourages portable operation in mountainous areas. SOTA is fully operational in nearly a hundred countries across the world. Each summit earns the activators (Colwyn) a score which is related to the height of the summit. Colwyn made contact with several other activators from Spain, how fantastic.
I joined in the conversation with the other six climbers from Edinburgh who had climbed from Glen Cluanie. What a nice group of people they were. The climbers all worked within the financial sector and were out on the hills to build both their physical and psychological resilience. The financial sector has been a difficult and challenging place to work over the past decade due to the 2018 financial crisis. Therefore it was reassuring to see this group of climbers acknowledging the importance of team spirit and collective experiences. Good luck and thanks for your company and chat. Your physical and psychological resilience will support economic well-being and recovery in the long-term.
After about 30 minutes of transmitting from the top, it was time to set off back down the hill. The sun by now was beginning to come out and at last, we could take off a couple of layers. The walk back down was easier and on my way back to the bikes I found another two antlers, a four and a six-pointer. Colwyn made a speedy return to the cottage by bike whereas I decided to take a more leisurely pace and walked a fair amount of the track back to the strawberry cottage and another big pot of tea.
07/05/2018 – day three in Glen Affric, Toll Craeagach and Tom a’ Choinich, climbed with Justine and Philip. We packed up Strawberry cottage in record-breaking time and headed out on to the hill by 8am. This was a much easier start to the day, with a very good track up to the dam, followed by a wet and boggy stackers’ path to the bealach. The weather was interchangeable throughout the morning but nothing overly demanding. We stopped just before the top of Tom a’ Choinich to have our first lunch of the day and shelter. Beyond the first summit, we began our long walk across a broad and grassy ridge across to Toll Craigach. Food on the hill is always very welcome and we enjoyed a second lunch of the day tucked into the summit of Toll Craigach. The descent was equally unchallenging, Justine navigation was superb and we found a good line off the hill which also avoided any river crossings and within a short period of time, we were back at the dam and had a quick cup of tea before the easy track path back to the car. Thank you to Justine and Philip for transportation and company, a good weekend on the hills.
The most amazing thing about Glen Affric was its remoteness; I had no signal, no communication with the outside world. I was initially uncomfortable with this disconnection however after the second day, I just gave into it and allowed my mind to be still. I did not think about the ProfDoc at all over the entire weekend. I was, however, a little bit concerned regarding my loss of sight in my left eye. Overall a good weekend of climbing and good company.