Sgurr Dubh & a String of Disasters

9 10 2016

Wed 5 Oct 2016
This is the follow up to my previously wasted 1000 mile trip (well, would have been wasted if I hadn’t managed to do Ben y Vrackie on the return). From start to finish it pretty much went wrong but it was still a great day out and a superb route to this particular Munro Top.

Mullach Choire Mhic Fhearchair's Craggy Top

(photos as credited – mine are from a previous trip)

On the Tuesday morning, I set off from my caravan for Dundonnell where I’d booked into the lovely hotel there. Even this part didn’t go right. I’d gone to the caravan to get some proper sleep off nightshift (noisy neighbours at home) before driving the 450 miles up to Scotland but, in looking for one of my sleeping bags, I found where a mouse had been living – AND, also what it had been eating. It had munched it’s way through 2 sleeping bags, a blanket and a set of sheets for its bedding 😦 This, of course, took an hour or so to clean up, including emptying the hoover mid-clean due to the sheer amount of devastation! That meant I got just half an hour’s sleep before setting off for my long drive.

All went well on the drive until I reached the lovely Dirrie Mor road – a long and very fast road across the moors towards Ullapool. Me and the guy in front were having a superb drive along the road – well spaced out and doing a steady 60mph. I saw him brake momentarily and so presumably I must have slowed a little – perhaps to 50mph.

The next moment, in my headlights and immediately in front of my car, I saw a huge red deer strolling across the middle of the road very casually. I couldn’t imagine why it was strolling across at this very moment on what wouldn’t be a busy road at that time of night because, not only had a car just passed, mine was also approaching with a further two cars coming in the other direction. It quite literally couldn’t have picked a worse moment! 😮

I did my best to swerve around it in the dark while trying not to end up in the ditch and thought for a moment I’d missed it. But then there was the loud bang which told me I hadn’t. Shortly after this the two oncoming cars passed me and I looked in my mirror to see whether they braked – they didn’t so I assumed the poor deer had left the road. I didn’t think I’d be able to find it in the dark and at least it wasn’t lying in the road so I saw no alternative but to continue my journey. I felt terrible about it though. Mind you, if I’d hit it square on, that would probably been the end of me as well as the deer!

The next road after Braemore Junction was terrible for deer but is much less used so I felt justified in dawdling along at 40mph. I saw 13 more deer either at the side of, or in, the road. On reaching the hotel I parked by a bright light and got out to inspect my car. Luckily, there wasn’t a mark on the bonnet which I thought was what had hit the deer – obviously wasn’t. I think I’d just clipped it with my wing mirror – hopefully that wouldn’t cause too much injury as it’s plastic and moveable.

I got a nice early night but was disappointed to be awoken by my now diseased chest at 0430. It was just an asthma attack but didn’t go away until around 0600. I got up at 0830 and had a lovely breakfast – fresh fruit salad and porridge with cream.

Driving back up the road I was glad to see all the deer had disappeared into the moor – to be honest, they generally only jump out on you at night! I was parked up by 1000 and starting my walk. I was perturbed to notice that my breathing was very heavy indeed – just like I’d been running. As the walk in along the glen by Loch a’ Bhraoin is basically flat, there’s no way I should have been out of breath.

By the end of the loch (one hour and ten minutes later) I’d reached the bothy and cottage and left the stony and oft-loose track for a nice soft and springy one. My breathing improved quite a bit as I suppose it was less effort. There were plenty of stags roaring all around as it is now rutting time.

sgurr-dubh-looking-back-down-loch
Long way back down the loch – the road is in front of the far hills – this is only half way down the glen. (Photo AJG)

A further hour later, I’d reached the curve in the glen and Loch an Nid came into view along with my hills. I could see the famous slabs gleaming white on the hillsides – these were one of the things which had prompted me to take this route – that and the fact I hadn’t been down this glen before. Oh, and also the fact that there was an easy, non-scrambling route up my Munro Top from this side too 😉

I intended to ascend the left-hand slabs in the photo as they would take me more or less to the required height in the corrie for the nick in the crags surrounding Sgurr Dubh which I’d noticed before…

sgurr-ban-slabs-meallan-ajg
Photo AJG (the guy in the photo isn’t there on my walk – I saw no one all day – I’m having to use other people’s photos – you’ll see why at the end of the post)

I was also interested in ascending the cute little peak at the entrance to the corrie in the photo above, Meallan an Laoigh (hill of the calf) if I found I had the energy/lungs left after my peak.

Before crossing the river, I took a precautionary blast of my reliever inhaler – I didn’t want more problems during the ascent. This did actually stop my breathing getting any worse and I was just tired and slow during the ascent but kept going steadily. The best place to cross the river, by the way, seems to be just after a ruin on the nearer bank. It was very low and no problem anyway… Also, I found on the return that if you round the small peak just across the river on its right-hand side, you should find a path across this section to the slabs…

There was a bit of rough moorland to cross and then I reached the foot of the lovely slabs. These are quartzite and you gain around 700 foot ascending via them. They make for great going underfoot when it’s dry – not sure how they are in the wet but I’d imagine a bit slippery.

sgurr-ban-slabs-ascent-ajg
Another guy who wasn’t there on the day! (both photos AJG)
sgurr-dubh-slabs

I picked the longest line up the slabs as it was so nice ascending them and that would take me to the exact height to head across the lip of the corrie.

sgurr-dubh-slabs-sidecar
Looking back down to Loch an Nid and a side view of my slabs (photo Carn an Righ)

As I crossed the corrie, I couldn’t see what my ‘nick’ in the crags was like for the sun (can’t complain about having sun for a change though). After an easy crossing of the corrie lip, I reached the shade of the crags and was delighted to see an almost flat path through some scree gently ascending the breach in the crags. This was easily and quickly ascended and I followed the burn up for a while until the crags on my right disappeared.

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‘The Nick’ slightly sunlit in centre of photo (photo Nicole Morschett)

Mullach Choire Mhic Fhearchair's Scrambly Top
A photo of mine also showing ‘the nick’ from an earlier trip

I rounded the crags and headed towards the further side of the grassy ascent. There were two reasons for this – one was that the wind would then be directly behind me – the other was that there were successively higher grassy ridges which broke up the ascent for a while.

Eventually, I ran out of little grassy ridges to ascend and just had the long plod straight up the grass at the back of the peak. This was quite long but I went slowly and went up pretty well. There were lovely views, especially to the left, so I didn’t mind. I was a little worried about the ‘narrow neck’ across to the actual summit which I’d read about in others’ walk reports.

I needn’t have worried – when I breasted the grassy rise, I found that, although there was quite a narrow little col which was sheer for a long way down the right-hand side, down the left-hand side was just a rough slope down a gully. It all looked fine. To make me even happier, the wind had almost gone up here. Sometimes you find that it’s really windy in the glens where the wind is funneling but not at all windy near the summits.

sgurr-dubh-summit-car
I took exactly this photo of the summit peak… but this is Carn an Righ’s photo

After visiting the very tiny and airy summit (I raked across the grassy area to the left of it and then came back along the very narrow ridge to it), I had a look at the onward scrambling route along the pinnacles. The pinnacles route is the one most people do – not sure if this is purely because they like scrambling, or just that they are approaching from the main peak beyond. A further variable is that they might not have spotted my easy backdoor approach!

I studied the scrambling for a while and set off to have a go. I did okay until one pinnacle I couldn’t see how to get around. I could see a couple of routes to the left-hand side of it – one up a tight, grassy gully with a chockstone, the other along tiny, loose ledges further right. I also wondered whether you could bypass the pinnacle to the right or go over the top but decided you couldn’t really.

Friend and fellow blogger Nicole’s photos of the scrambly bits…

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The pinnacles from the summit – I got stuck on the far, grassy pinnacle

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Looking back from more or less where I gave up

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The other side of the pinnacles – the point I should have reached!

In the end, after deliberating and dithering for a while, I decided that, while I’d be happy to attempt either of the left-hand routes, I wouldn’t be quite so happy coming back down them if I couldn’t continue so decided not to bother. After all, my ascent route had been delightful and there was a lot more to see and photograph on the descent.

I returned below the main summit to the wide grassy area and sat in the sun admiring the scrambly bits with a coffee. It was lovely and warm sitting there and my breathing was normal for a while so I wanted to sit for ages but decided there was a long way to go yet and the day was fairly short. Also I still had to try to bag the little Meallan an Laoigh – it seems to be a neglected peak and I hate leaving those unclimbed.

I descended the edge of the crags, turning round regularly to click away at the fantastic views of the peaks past the crags and pinnacles.

sgurr-dubh-pinnacles-on-approach-car
Photo Carn an Righ

I was soon back on the level grass and nipped along to the end of the ridge which is officially Tom an Fiodh. The cairn wasn’t on the highest part but along at the end where the drop to the glen afforded a viewpoint.

It was slightly harder to find my nick in the crags in descent – well, put it this way, it was okay in such good conditions but might be tricky in mist. The key, however, is a pretty little lochan with an interesting shape which you keep well left of. I was soon heading back across the corrie for my cute little peak, scattering deer in the process.

Loch an Nid from McmF's Middle Top
Meall an Laoigh from above (photo mine from an earlier trip)

I was soon up the little peak as it’s only a very short, but steep, climb. Well worth a quick visit I’d say… I descended more or less the same part of the peak as I’d seen another area of slabs to descend before the main stream.

The slabs didn’t last long but I soon managed to traverse back across to my ascent slabs. They were a bit more disconcerting to descend as you had to trust your feet not to slip. It wasn’t slippery though, despite some areas looking mossy, and I was soon back down in the glen.

After crossing the river by the ruin, I stopped in the sun for another break as I hadn’t yet eaten anything since my breakfast. It was now 1700 and I was pretty hungry and thirsty. I was disturbed to find my very heavy breathing was back – why, I had no idea as I’d only been descending! It didn’t clear up after my ten minutes or so relaxing with my coffee either – what on earth was going on? 😦

With only just over a couple of hours before dark, I soon had to move on and started the slight ascent round the bend in the glen. I romped fairly well along the riverside track on the firmer ground but my breathing was still screwed.

At one point I was disturbed to hear a stag roaring – apparently just around a corner of the riverbank. I had visions of running straight into him – not a good idea at rutting time as they are very hyped up and think everyone is a challenge. I rounded the corner in trepidation and was relieved to find that, although he was literally just round the corner, he was the other side of a fence. That and he decided to leave straight away – phew!

On reaching the bothy and cottage, I decided on another break as I was still hungry. I ate both my shortcake fingers and had another quick coffee. I also went for an investigate of the bothy but even made a complete hash of this! I thought the entrance was up a very sloshy and wet track to the wall but found I was outside of the enclosure. I clambered clumsily (and now wearily) over the wall and had a peep in the bothy. I noticed there was actually a water supply but it was turned off so, despite I’d have liked a cup of water, I decided to leave it as is… On exiting the bothy, I couldn’t open the gate so clambered wearily back over the wall again. As I reached the cottage, I saw that I could have come down a path outside the wall with no gates instead of climbing over. Oh well…

I wasn’t looking forward to the walk back along the loch shore. It was cold now the sun had dropped down, it looked gloomy and the track is hard and loose – not my favourite things to finish the day on. I was already still breathing very hard after my second rest so wasn’t about to get any better for the 3.5 miles along that track.

I was pretty knackered walking back along the track but plodded on determinedly. Both my legs were paining me now, even my much-improved hip was complaining. The sciatic tendon was moaning down the other leg and one of my ankles was grumbling on and off… My breathing was getting worse too…

It dropped dark as I ascended the final rise from the boathouse but the track is fine in the dark. Around 1930 I arrived wearily and thankfully at my car, took my bags off and collapsed into the driver’s seat. Immediately my asthma started again – I was coughing and wheezing badly. I took two swift puffs of my reliever inhaler to shut it up and the coughing and wheezing went away immediately. My breathing was still terrible though – just like I’d run the last few miles!

By the time I’d driven the 10 miles back to the hotel, I was still totally out of breath and could barely ask for my key. The kind girl on reception (East European?) asked if I was okay and I just gasped out ‘asthma attack’. She asked if she could get me anything but I said I’d taken my inhaler so no more could be done and that I’d probably be fine after a nice bath.

I had a lovely bath but, unfortunately, my breathing was still very heavy indeed. I felt slightly foolish, and not a little worried, as I sat in the bar gasping away. Everyone must have been wondering what on earth was wrong with the old biddy in the corner! A few hours later, at bedtime, I was still puffing away. Luckily, as soon as I lay down, instead of getting worse (which is more usual for a bad chest on lying down), my breathing suddenly eased.

The whole breathing thing was seriously weird and had me very worried so I went to see my doctor today. He basically said that, now I have lung disease (COPD), I shouldn’t be going up hills in the wilds of Scotland at all and that I should desist as it would be impossible to get me to an emergency department in time! 😮 😦

So, why are all the photos from other people? Did I once again stupidly forget my camera? No… when I rewound the film, I found I mustn’t have loaded it properly and there was nothing to rewind! I’d clicked away happily all day and taken nothing! 😦

A big thanks to the kind folk who rescued my post by letting me use their photos 🙂

Stats: 18 miles, 3854 feet of ascent, 9.5 hours

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19 responses

13 10 2016
45degreesmc

When you go back after a trip like that……that’s when you kinow you are hooked. Good luck with health issues.

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18 10 2016
mountaincoward

I actually wouldn’t mind going back and doing it again… with my camera! I’d stay 2 nights in the bothy though to cut down the mileage per day I think.

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12 10 2016
Blue Sky Scotland

Don’t remember those slabs at all but I probably added the top on as part of the main ridge-line as I only had to go back for a handful that couldn’t be collected along with the Munros. It did make for some extremely long days but I hated the thought of going back for anything twice.
I’ve had that film in camera not coming out feeling twice over the years. Bad luck. Annoying if it was a special day or occasion.
Hopefully your breathing improves as I know what its like but steroids and certain inhalers do help. Just ask Sir Bradley Wiggins :o)

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18 10 2016
mountaincoward

I just had a course of (cortico) steroids and they have helped quite a bit. I don’t like taking them though as they’re extremely bad for you and will make my osteoporosis worse. The inhalers don’t seem to do much though if my chest gets a mood on! 😦

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12 10 2016
McFadzean

Blimey, Carol. You do lead an eventful life. There’s a lot of stuff happening in that post. My wife had a similar experience with a deer on a backroad near Northallerton. She swerved, there was a bang, but when she stopped the car and looked back there was nothing there.
Those sloping slabs are very impressive, by the way. Not seen them before.
Cheers, Alen

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18 10 2016
mountaincoward

I really hope the deer was okay. I think if it was my wing mirror, it was probably just bruised. Scary though when you see a large deer immediately in front of your car at speed!

The slabs are absolutely ace – well worth a stroll down the glen even if you don’t bother with the hills. The environs of Loch an Nid around the corner are lovely too…

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10 10 2016
tessapark1969

Eek – sorry to hear about the breathing problems. Good report though – how many tops left?

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18 10 2016
mountaincoward

3 now – all on An Teallach so one ‘compleation walk’ with 3 tops on it

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10 10 2016
rrogerson2014

Still totally cool stuff. I might be around in the hills saturday if you want to give me a wave!!

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18 10 2016
mountaincoward

I had to go back home to work Sat and Sun shifts and then was back up to Kinlochewe!

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18 10 2016
RyanR

No problem. Was wondering if I scared you off!

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10 10 2016
underswansea

That sounds like quite the trip. Sorry to hear about your breathing problems. Hopefully you will be able to manage it, I can’t imagine you taking time off from the mountains. Take care.

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18 10 2016
mountaincoward

I don’t intend to follow the doc’s advice – after all, what’s life for if not for living. Something will kill you eventually so why not try to enjoy it beforehand 😉

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18 10 2016
underswansea

I hear you, but be careful. You wouldn’t want to have to pay for a helicopter ride out of the mountains.

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19 10 2016
mountaincoward

We don’t pay here – it’s all a volunteer service. I’d feel guilty if the Mountain Rescue/helicopter had to come for me though. But, essentially what the doc is saying is that there wouldn’t be time to get to help if I did get very sick. I agree with him that there wouldn’t so it would never get to a callout – just a pick-the-body-up-later! I might carry a note saying ‘leave me for the crows’ 😉

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9 10 2016
Gaslight Crime

A grand account, John

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9 10 2016
mountaincoward

Thanks – shame so many things went wrong

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9 10 2016
markadams99

Best wishes for your breathlessness to abate. I know the feeling when you realise your film hasn’t loaded!

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9 10 2016
mountaincoward

Yeah – and they’d particularly cracking shots that day as it was beautiful weather for a change! 😦

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