Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Making the Most of a Bad Day - Loch Maree Trail

Morning and the predicted rain has arrived turning the sky grey, although still in the valley the wind can be heard whistling somewhere higher up the hillside. After a bit of thought I decide to head down to Loch Maree and walk the way-marked interpretative mountain trail above the loch. I’m hoping that as the weather is coming from the west that by the time it’s made it over the Torridon triptych of Beinn Alligin, Liathach and Beinn Eighe it will have dumped most of its moisture creating a rain shadow.

Mellan Ghobhar across Loch Maree. Potential winter line no.1 (just below col)
The trail tops out at 550m but depending on conditions high up I may quickly shoot up Meall a’ Ghiubhais a Corbett which marks the north west edge of the Beinn Eighe massif. The whole area is within the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve (the first ever established in the UK) an area of outstanding mountain wildlife, geology, and scenery.

Water, water everywhere

Pulling into the car park things look promising there is only a very slight drizzle and the cloud base appears higher. The path climbs steeply through the forest of pines, colour and sent brought out by the moisture. The ground is rich with moss and heather as streams bubble and gurgle hidden in the undergrowth. The view back across the loch is fantastic even in the gloom; Slioch head almost in the clouds and Mellan Ghobhar a waterfall tumbling down it’s sheer back cliffs dominate the scene.

From here you can see Slioch is a mountain of two rocks the lower part a mass of rounded bosses and crags where the truly ancient Lewisian Gneiss (3.5 billion years old) outcrops. The upper part is a tower of Torridon Sandstone which the blurb in the little guide to the walk states was once 5km thick now eroded down to less than a fifth of that by wind water and ice; the mind boggles! Good view come to those who wait.

Slioch, showing a clear change in geology

Once above the tree line I begin to feel the wind and the higher I climb the heavier the rain becomes. The landscape is now a hillocky plateau of quartzite dotted with small lochans linked together by a network of streams. The vegetation clings to the thin soil clear evidence of the harshness of this environment almost arctic and alpine in character.

Target for today. Yes the lense go that wet in about three seconds

Meall a’ Ghiubhais rises out of the plateau For the geologists amongst you it’s distinct from the rest of the Torridon group as due to some “faulting and thrusting” (that’s as technical as I go) the older Torridon Sandstones have ended up on top of the younger Cambrian Quartz. It does not look to bad from the path so I decide to give it a go.

The route up to the summit is horribly steep, relentless, and covered in loose scree. Furthering my enjoyment is the gusting wind and the constant rain straight into my face. It’s not the fabled 360o / upwards rain Scotland can sometimes produce but it’s close. I’m not sure why but I take an almost perverse enjoyment about going out in conditions like this. The feeling of being surrounded by “proper” weather and being able to function and get stuff done; retrospective enjoyment perhaps but it also seeds confidence that you have cards in hand if caught out when better days turn bad.

Potential winter line no.2?

Having rejoined the way marked trail the rain has obviously set in for the duration as it accompanies me right back to the car. The path contours above an impressive steep sided ravine a stream cascading down a series of waterfalls in it’s depths. I was very impressed by the mountain trail even on a horrible day like today it was enjoyable (not counting my Corbett climbing masochism) and a good half day challenge. Its also very well made, way marked, and hidden with a lot of work having gone in to weaving the path unobtrusively up the hill. It’s also quite tough, very steep in places with small rocky steps, wet slabs, and some exposure to add spice. Highly recommended!

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