Friday, 18 January 2013

Am Bàthach

Walk Statistics
Walk Date - 18 January 2013
Walkers - Steve Smith, Gina Smith
Accommodation - Cluanie Inn
Start Point - Cluanie Inn (GR NH 07619 11760)
Start Time - 10:11
Finish Point - Cluanie Inn (GR NH 07619 11760)
Finish Time - 15:26
Duration - 5hrs 15mins
Average pace - 1.27mph
Distance Walked - 6.66miles
Height Ascended - 773.53metres

Peaks visited
Corbett (221)
Am Bàthach (1)
Marilyn (1216)
Am Bàthach (3)


Walk Summary
“The worse the conditions are, the better the walk”. Once again the paradox is satisfied for this walk. However if I had any idea the conditions would have been as severe as they were, there is no way I would have exposed Gina to them.

The days plan was a circular walk from our lodgings at The Cluanie Inn including a fairly steep ascent to Am Bàthach South Top from the A87 to give a good aerobic workout and from there push on enjoying panoramic views of the surrounding Munros from the enhanced vantage point of the fairly narrow (but not arête) 1km ridge walk to our first Corbett Top - Am Bàthach. This would be followed by a gentle descent to Bealach Chòinich, descending further to the path along An Caorann Mòr and back to the A87 with a finish at The Cluanie Inn.

Other than summiting our first significant top in Scotland together I had the hidden agenda to provide a memorable walk for Gina to experience the thrills, exhilaration and sense of achievement you get; thereby whetting her appetite to join me on further hill walks in the Scottish Highlands.

The large expanse of blue skies punctuated with fluffy white clouds framing the snow capped summits boded well for completion of this plan. However the biting cold south easterly wind in our faces as we walked along the A87 was a foretaste that the weather would have other ideas.

As we started the ascent up the stalkers track to Am Bàthach South Top I was relieved the wind was now at our back and started to plan the line of ascent as the stalkers path disappeared under the ever increasing depth of snow as we ascended. At the same time I was keeping an eye on Gina to ensure she was OK. As the gusts increased I was expecting Gina to say something about going back but nothing came so I pressed on. We found the easiest path around the right of the crag marking the first false summit and as the small cairn appeared I thought we were at the South Top. As I took photos, Gina did not seem too excited but more interested in the next top which I now thought was Am Bàthach.

Although the wind had strengthened it was still at our backs and gave no indication it would get too bad. Very soon this would change and as the gusts became more persistent the snow was whipped up in to blizzard like conditions creating drifts that were at least calf deep, interspersed with patches of no snow on the grassy ridge. Several times we had to stop and brace ourselves against the wind and each time I checked with Gina that she was still OK to go on. Well impressed I pressed on, still convinced we were heading for our second summit.

So after all the hard work getting this far you can only imagine my feeling of guilt and regret when we reached the summit and I could see the next peak which was not Ciste Dhubh. There was another one further along, which was in fact Am Bàthach. I felt terrible this was bound to put Gina off further hill walking I thought. I asked her if she wanted to go back (more like screamed in her ear). Her reply was immediate – “I’m not going back through that lot,” Which in all honesty was the correct decision the ascent had been hard enough but the descent is often a lot worse.

So from the 734m spot height we braced ourselves against the wind and started the descent along the ridge walk proper. My mind was racing, plotting a safe route forward while constantly checking back on Gina. There was no need, she was coping admirably. I was expecting the wind to strengthen as we descended to the 705m spot height marking the low point of the saddle between the S Top and NW Top, but nothing like the vortex that was whipping up a triangular snow drift at a step half way down. I kicked it to push it over but it was frozen solid so the only way forward was to straddle it with Gina following me. The spindrift blew upwards into our eyes as we gripped on to each other. I had not experienced this before but we had to press on and once we were over the wind and blowing snow ceased almost completely. As it turned out this was the worst we had to endure. Within 5 minutes we were on the summit of Am Bàthach at 798m (2619ft) enjoying for the first time the surrounding summits.

After a brief photo shoot we were heading down. There was a lot more drifted snow than we had seen so far, but somehow I felt this made the descent easier. Still taking care to plot a route that I could see directly ahead and looking further ahead for the next stage so not walk us towards an edge but my main concern was staying off steep slopes that had been masked by the snow.

Half way down we met a lone walker coming up heading for where we had come from. After taking each other’s photo, we wished him well and he offered his tracks to find our way down. Unfortunately after only a short distance they had been erased by the drifting snow, but by then we could see Allt a’Chaorainn Bhig to our left, which would be our chosen route home. The route plan had avoided this route because although it is a more direct route home to the Cluanie Inn, it is known to be boggy, however with the low temperatures it should be frozen.

As we descended early from Bealach Chòinich the wind dropped and we realised how thirsty we had become. We were also quite cold so we found a sheltered spot and shared a well earned hot coffee and a couple of biscuits to see us through. All we had to do now was find a suitable crossing of Allt a’Chaorainn Bhig. We stayed high for as long as we could to avoid any chance of finding the boggy area but both still managed to get at least one boot full of water each. The river was not anywhere near full spate but we were keen to get across before it became too wide. We soon found a suitable place that was not too difficult, though great care had to be taken along with full use of our trek poles for stability before putting full weight on each of the slippery stepping stones.  The crossing was to be the last of the day’s excitement. All we had to do now was find the marked track on the other side of the stream and follow it back to the Cluanie Inn.

Not quite the day I had planned to bring Gina out with me. Although I am sure she experienced the thrills, exhilaration and sense of achievement I am not sure how much it whetted her appetite for more walks of this type.

What I can say is I am so proud of how she handled everything that was thrown at her and got on with what had to be done without complaint. Looking back I would put this in the top five of my most difficult walks and with the exception of the frozen snow drift and associated spindrift had seen most of what we had to deal with.

For Gina all of the extreme conditions were new, which must have given her a complete sensory overload. But instead of panicking or going to pieces she just dealt with it. Brilliant – no wonder she was on a high at the end of the walk.

Walk Description
1.) Head east along the A87 from The Cluanie Inn for approx. 1km past the harvested Glenshiel Forrest on the left.
2.) Before the right bend road sign go through the rusted gate just past the forest boundary fence.
3.) Follow the stalkers path uphill along the fence.
4.) As the fence turns west, continue uphill towards the right side of the first false summit marked by the small craggy buttress.
5.) As you clear the ridge pass the small cairn and follow the ridge line NNE to the first summit straight ahead. This is Am Bàthach South Top a minor summit of the type Sub Graham Top, which at 705m (2313ft) is not such a minor summit missing out on the full Graham Top by 1m against it's 29m drop.
6.) From this summit in a slightly more easterly line you will see Am Bàthach – a Corbett. Descend to the 705m spot height marking the low point between the two summits, then follow the path up Am Bàthach just to the left of the ridge line.
7.) From the summit head towards Bealach Chòinich. There may well be a path to follow, however we could not see one as the whole descent was covered in at least knee deep snow.
8.) Again because of the frozen conditions we turned left and followed the stream Allt a’Chaorainn Bhig to return to The Cluanie Inn. An alternative in better conditions and as originally planned would be to turn right at Bealach Chòinich and after crossing Allt a’ Chaorainn Mhòire follow the track along An Caorann Mòr to the A87.
9.) However if following Allt a’Chaorainn Bhig use your judgement to find a crossing point.
10.) After crossing Allt a’Chaorainn Bhig continue following the stream looking out for the marked track on the OS Explorer map.
11.) Having found the track follow this all the way to the A87 and then on to The Cluanie Inn, the walk start and finish point.

More Photographs
Am  Bàthach  cairn with the Munro Ciste Dhubh beyond
Click on photograph to view slide-show

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