Canisp and a Bad Case of Wind

9 03 2011
Jun 2010
Stats: 7 miles, 2277 feet of ascent, 3 hrs 15 – me and Richard and a very bad case of wind!

On the Monday we’d decided not to walk for two reasons… one was that we’d had a hardish day finishing the Fannaichs the day before but the main reason was that it had been very windy. So we’d just done the ‘Ullapool Hill Walk’ – I did it twice as I dropped a new and expensive Kodak film so had to do the whole walk again looking for it (found it on the summit). Unfortunately, this day was windier still! I said we had to get some more hills though or our (my) totals would slip. Richard reluctantly agreed. I chose Canisp for 2 reasons – one was that it was with a tailwind – the wind was SW and the route was too! The other reason was that it was a fairly safe hill.

We headed north to the anglers’ parking and loch where there is a bridge over the initial river and also a path which the book said went at least to the next loch. I parked initially with the car’s bum to the wind – bad mistake. The gale kept forcing the tailgate too far up and ripping off the struts – poor Sunny! I decided we had to turn round into the wind, partly so we would keep the tailgate and also so everything wouldn’t blow out of the boot. Before that it had been quite hard fishing for what you wanted while holding everything else in there! The weather was quite dull and it looked like rain but we must go for it I said. Richard didn’t look enthused…

We set off along the path which was very boggy to start. It passed over a nearby hump though and soon dried out and improved. We crossed a few burn-beds with no water in showing it was still quite a dry year this year. We were soon by the second loch where the path was set to end. Fortunately (as us Englanders like a nice path), the path continued on… In fact, it continued for quite a distance until we breasted another rise. The path then disappeared into stony ground and we came to a dip across a little valley. I couldn’t see a path at the other side of the valley either. We set off across the dip and as we started to ascend again, I noticed a bright white quartzite path over to our right near the main river. We contoured round the hill for that.

The new stony path went about another quarter of a mile and we then came to another dry river with a slabby bed. There were huge flat quartzite slabs with very small dry waterfalls continuing ahead which made for superb walking for another quarter of a mile or so. When we ran out of nice, smooth slabs, we just had stony ground rising ahead but most of the stones were well embedded so didn’t impede progress. The wind continued to blow quite hard on our backs and I was thinking it wouldn’t be quite so nice coming back down into it…


River of Slabs to Canisp

Despite the very easy ascent the summit cone never seemed to get any nearer. I was worrying Richard would soon revolt and go back to the car and I’d have to plod on alone. He was lagging a bit behind and not looking like he was having fun but he continued to follow. It just seemed a really long way…


Canisp’s long easy ascent

I headed for the grassier col between the two stony ridges going up towards the summit cone (which had disappeared for a while) and was eventually pleasantly surprised when the cone suddenly hove into view looking close at last. The ground flattened out for a while and I strode across it eagerly. Just before we reached the cone there was a dry and winding gill – I’m sure it will have a burn in it most years. I dropped into it and climbed out the other side and looked back to see how Richard was faring. He’d stopped in the gill and was shouting at me to come back – I couldn’t hear anything. I thought “this is the point he’s turning back” and reluctantly returned to see. Anyway, he was still continuing at that point but just wanted a rest. We hid in the gill out of the wind and had a very quick break and a sip of drink.


Canisp summit – hurricane hill!

After a short rest, I said we should get on with it. We climbed out of the gill and headed to the start of the rise up the cone. Suddenly, the full strength of the wind hit us, by now coming more from our right-hand side. We got knocked down a couple of times, surprisingly Richard more than me.

We staggered from rock to rock until we reached a grassy spot. I noticed I was suddenly out of the wind for a minute so stopped to let him catch up. He was looking quite shaken up and said he didn’t want to continue and that it was stupid to carry on as we could barely stand. I said there was no way I wasn’t getting to the summit after such a long and quite dreary walk in as then we’d have to do it all again but that he could go back if he liked and offered him his flask to take back. I also offered him my camera as I was starting to worry about it (strangely, I always worry about my camera before myself). He thought for a minute then said he’d try to get further.

At the next grassy and strangely out-of-the-wind spot, I stopped again for a further decision from him. He was definitely going back he said. We’d been knocked over quite a few times by now and were falling over rocks and suchlike. I could see his reasoning but insisted I was continuing. For some reason he then decided to continue with me but by now he looked terrified – I wasn’t too comfortable either!

We got further up the cone to a steeper section which was fortunately just grass. Richard headed for the middle of it but I told him to come further right with me – that way we could use the wind to blow us up the hill instead of just blowing us over. That was towards the very steep side so he didn’t look keen but he followed me and we were battered and buffeted rapidly up the grassy section to a flatter area.

We could by now see the summit shelter ahead across a plateau. I was afraid the plateau would be lethally windy but it seemed calmer to start with. I grabbed Richard’s arm and marched him across the plateau, hoping that would give him more confidence. The wind started to pick up again by the far end of the plateau and we approached the shelter much more rapidly than we liked. I could see that there was a very steep drop approaching immediately after the summit shelter so knew we had to score a direct hit. I aimed ourselves between the, by now hurricane, and the cairn and we were hurled straight onto the shelter stopping abruptly when we hit it. I had a quick glance over the drop, saw there was a beautiful loch and some lovely scenery and then said we’d best get the hell out of there.

Richard said perhaps we should try to reach the other shelter – I said feel free but for heaven’s sake keep away from that drop and go down the hill a bit first. The next time I looked, he was laid amongst boulders trying to claw his way along them and not making any progress at all! I decided it was hopeless and motioned for us to go back down…

We turned and attempted to get down the hill. For many minutes at a time I was pinned to the mountainside totally unable to move. I’d dropped to the ground and occasionally managed to claw my way down some of the boulders but most of the time couldn’t move against the wind at all! Not good… Richard, being stronger, was making slightly more progress but not much.

It was at this point I realised I looked like one of those people you see in films in a wind-tunnel. My face was totally distorted to the side. One of my eye-lids was flapping wildly and trying to tear off, the eyebrow above it was going rapidly up and down and my mouth was also going off that way. I had no control whatsoever over any of it and, if it hadn’t been so damned awful at the time, I’m sure I’d have found it funny. As it was, I realised how dangerously strong the wind really was and worried whether we’d ever get off the hill.

At one point the wind tore Richard’s flask out of my side pocket – luckily I noticed and retrieved it from the rocks. Any time we tried to stand up we were hurled back onto the rocks and had to resume crawling down them. I was amazed how much strength I had to exert on each rock to make any downward progress. But finally we made it to the sanctuary of the gill and found a sheltered corner where we collapsed, by now totally exhausted, for a bite to eat and a warm drink.


Looking back down from the gill on Canisp

We didn’t have any problems on the rest of the descent and it seemed much quicker and shorter going back down from there. We managed to find all our original paths too which was nice. The last mile or so it started to rain but we didn’t care – we just hurried on – we couldn’t wait to get back to the shelter of the car. We were extremely pleased to get back and agreed those were the worst conditions we’d ever been out in and we weren’t going to do it again!

Then we were straight off to the teashop at Elphin where we were surprised to find a fellow Yorkshireman running it along with his Yorkshirewoman wife! We were even more surprised when we came to pay for our wonderful veggie soups and my luscious Victoria sponge-cake slice and found the 2 couples ahead in the paying queue were also from Yorkshire! It was like a Yorkies convention. I did feel slightly sorry for the lone Scots couple!

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5 responses

17 05 2015
razzah

That sounds like crazy conditions, but I did laugh – it did seem comical – scoring a direct hit at the shelter 🙂 Well done for persevering. I know Ally would have not let me continue if it had been us. Wind like that is terrifying!

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17 05 2015
mountaincoward

I only continued as it was an easy and pretty safe mountain – otherwise I’d have turned back myself I think!

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17 05 2015
razzah

Agree with what you said though – the actual walk is a bit of a plod!

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11 03 2011
Tango

that wind you had sounded just like something i had on Bowscale fell never seen anything like it crawling to get to the shelter stones..poor old mutts didnt know what had hit them!!!!!!!!! lucky for me it died down after that summit just plenty of rain…hooray

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17 05 2015
mountaincoward

There’s nothing worse than a bad case of wind in the mountains! LOL

It’s actually the thing which will keep me off the hills quickest – I prefer any conditions to gales. There’s been many a time I’ve been clinging to rocks in terror and I was once flung across a cairn on Green Gable so hard I demolished the top half of it – and it was a big cairn! That was when I listened to Richard and decided to turn back…

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