Date: Saturday-Sunday 20th-21th July 2013
Distance: 15km + 16km
Ascent: 1600m + 300m
As always the forecast was driving the route selections as we approach the weekend. Serious heat suggest that athletic ambition should be avoided and water should be available. Likely haze argued against island-spotting on the west coast but favoured hill-rich areas.
We gravitated towards a plan we’ve had for a while – accessing the “Strathfarrar” munros from Strathconon via Glen Orrin.
We’ve never liked hurrying – when we went round the 4 Strathfarrar munros in 2005 we cycled in from the gate to avoid any car access restriction deadlines. Involving a 25km cycle and a 24km walk that made for a rather tiring day.
Our northern approach allowed a rather more relaxed approach and a summit camp.
In addition local contacts had always spoken highly of Glen Orrin and we’ve been looking for an excuse to visit it for ages.
Parked about 100m E of Inverchoran in an enlarged passing-place with space for about 4 cars.
Even at 0900 it was already hot – the inversion we’d been under since Inverness was dissipating quickly in Glen Strathfarrar.
Got booted and got going.
Passed through Inverchoran – their sign indicates the preferred route round the farm itself. Started uphill – the heat was already adding several kg of invisible weight.
The marsh flowers are blooming – a vibrant display of bell heather and asphodel. Unfortunately our squadron of personal trainers in the form of clegs were making sure we stopped infrequently.
We’ve been up this track before on the way to Beinn Mheadhoin on a claggy January day. Passing over the top of the pass and turning the corner we were heartened to see a mature stand of Caledonian pines.
Glen Orrin is a flat and fertile looking place – you’d expect it to be occupied.
At the foot of the track there is a bridge over the Orrin (NH 266 468).
Followed the path marked on the OS uphill along the Allt a Bhealaich Bhig – we’d started walking with under 1L of water each, crossing the Orrin and following this Allt meant we had no need to carry much water until the supply looked like tapering out.
The Allt also allowed us to dip heads, hats and T-shirts into the water to stay as cool as possible in the sapping heat.
Spotted 2 eagles (1 adult and 1 juvenile) cruising the updrafts over Glen Orrin.
The N side of the Strathfarrar munros is quite attractive. Long arms and cliffs.
We’d expected to head up the coire headwall to the bealach between Carn nan Ghobhar and Sgurr a Choire Ghlais, however we spotted a small stream on Carn nan Ghobhar from a high spring so we decided to head up this to the source before filling up with water.
We got as high as 830m before filling (around NH 269 437). The water was obviously filtering under the summit of the hill – marvellously cold.
As I stuck my pack back on I quickly noticed my backside was getting drenched in cold water – found that my platypus was leaking – the sealing along the edge had split. Thankfully we carry a spare 2L platy for cooking water.
From the spring it was a slow 20 minutes to the summit of Carn nan Ghobhar.
Sat and had some lunch here and looked at the views – very hazy to the east. We could just make out the Cromarty Firth.
Sitting for 30 minutes we took our boots off and enjoyed a slight breeze. 2 walkers passed us by heading east.
Carried on slowly from here over the undulating ridge. Passed a further 3 walkers in a group and after that it was just us for the remainder of the walk.
All the remaining ascents were (or felt) slow – just too hot to be walking uphill. Thankfully heading west each ascent gets smaller. 230m up and Sgurr a Choire Ghlais was ascended. 2 large cairns and 1 trig point in the middle.
From here an easy descent followed by a 140m ascent to Creag Ghorm a Bhealaich.
Then over to Sgurr Fhuar-thuill with 100m of ascent. We sat here for a while and considered our options. The initial plan had been a camp at about NH 221 442 – Creag a Ghormlaich as we’d thought that water was likely here. We had noticed that the whole group of hills had springs emerging quite high despite the dry weather.
We had a quick explore under the bealach between Sgurr na Fearstaig and Sgurr Fhuar-thuill and found a reasonably flowing wellspring . Filtered out our night’s water and changed plans to a summit camp on Sgurr na Fearstaig.
Sgurr na Fearstaig is fairly flat and grassy, easily identified a pitch and got the tent up.
The tent was up by about 1900 – the remainder of the evening was spent wandering around enjoying the views. One of the biggest draws of summit camping for us is the opportunity to sit somewhere and watch the views evolve as the light changes. It’s radically different to simply visiting a summit.
Cooked up tea and ate it out of the tent. It was certainly a new experience to be sitting around at 1000m in Scotland at 2030hrs in shorts and T-shirt, still feeling warm.
Eventually the temp dropped enough that an additional layer was worth considering.
The sun was setting into the Loch Maree trench – just over-shooting into the slopes of Beinn Airigh Charr. A few previous pitch sites were visible, including A’Mhaighdean and Sidhean Biorach near the sunset.
Quite beautiful to watch – and relaxing to spend 3 hours watching it evolve.
Went to bed – insulation scarcely required. Set the alarm for the middle of the night (0130) to see what we could see.
Got up and took a gander – scarcely any stars visible and still a very noticeable sun glow to the N.
There was a 90% moon lighting the sky too.
Back to bed before the tyranny of astronomy had me up again at 0500 for sunrise.
We’d expected an inversion but nothing was seen overnight. It had grown in the latter half of the night and extended its arms west. I spent a good 40 minutes enjoying the sunrise views before re-joining the tent-sloth.
Altough hazy we’d been able to spot Ben Klibreck and the Grahams Creag Mhor and Ben Armine to the left of Carn Cuinneag the night before.
Had another hour in bed before getting the cocoa on the boil and getting out again – the change in light and views in these hours is remarkable.
Packed up and got moving for 0830 – it had been nice and cool at 0500 – by now the sun was already feeling too hot. As usual it was with regrets that we tore ourselves away from our camp spot to wend our way home.
Headed west down easy slopes towards Creag a Ghormlaich. We’d decided to head out to the interesting looking Carn Eiteige while the opportunity arose.
A herd of deer had been on the bealach at dawn, most had moved off. We did however get a chance to creep up on a hind, calf and young stag that had lingered.
The hind and calf had missed us completely, the young stag eventually clocked us and did a runner.
An easy amble to Carn Eiteige with views across to the ever-appetising Sgurr na Muice.
Looking SW we could see the entertaining tops of Sgritheall and Cruithneachd.
Carn Eiteige is a splendid viewpoint – the horseshoe of Sgurr na Muice to Sgurr na Fearstaig, Carn Eiteige to Creag a Chaobh is gesturing at us.
Turned around and pointed our noses for home. Dropped down to Creag a Ghormlaich.
Steep slopes NW drop quickly down 300m – cleg density increasing all the way. We aimed for the marked track at the foot of Druim Dubh (another future target), before pausing at a breezy spot for lunch.
A nice view from here down Coire Domhain.
The track from here into Glen Orrin is patchy at best, but the terrain is easy and it wasn’t worth searching for the path. Easy descent to upper Glen Orrin.
Again, the marked path is patchy if it exists. However even in July this is a walk over short grass and even ground, a path is not really needed.
We liked the glen – somewhere for a future wild-camp perhaps.
This weekend broke one duck for me – actually seeing sundew flowers. I was beginning to think they flowered at night or somesuch. This weekend they were coming into bloom.
A stroll through meadows – idyllic except for blood-thirsty personal trainers.
I’d have expected many ruins in Glen Orrin – this is all we saw.
From Loch na Caoidhe we took the track up 100m to the head of Gleann Chaorainn – amazing how far 100m feels when you’re hot and being assaulted by biting flies. Nice view back up Glen Orrin.
…and the last leg – a good track down Gleann Chaorainn. A few Ring Ouzel, several dragonflies and hundreds of clegs spotted.
Splendid walk – we already rate Strathconon as one of our favourite glens – the wander south from there to Glen Orrin is a treat.
Accessing these munros from the north is well worth the effort. Their peculiar circumstance with the gate and car restrictions means they must be infrequently camped on, despite their ideal surface.
We already want to go back, preferably out of cleg season.