Sunday, 31 May 2015

Glen Strathfarrar - Basecamping

basecamp: noun; main encampment providing supplies, shelter and communications for persons engaged in activities such as exploring, hunting or mountain climbing.

Yip, that pretty much describes the temporary home Bart and I made for ourselves at the distant head of Glen Strathfarrar for a few days of Munro bagging. The tent provided the shelter and making the long approach by bicycle allowed us to carry in extra supplies to last a few days. The word "basecamp" always conjures up images of Everest expeditions inching their way up wind-blasted mountains in snow and freezing temperatures.  That image wasn't so far from reality as we got caught out in late May by a sting in winter's tail.

A private single track road runs the length of Glen Strathfarrar. With no public traffic, it was a joy to cycle as it meandered alongside the river and passed beautiful remnants of the ancient Caledonian pine forest. In some parts the river was a torrent of white water, in others slow and peaceful, and in a couple of places it broadened into tree-fringed lochs. After the long cycle in, Bart and l set up basecamp near the end of the road on a shelf of green grass beside the river. There had been a fall of fresh snow on the hills during the night so our view from the tent was forest and white-capped mountains.

In the afternoon we set out to climb Carn nan Gobhar. After a tussle with peat hags clogged with the remains of an ancient forest that must once have covered the slopes, we pulled up onto the broad back of the mountain. We were amazed in places to now be plodding through 20 to 30cm of fresh snow. We saw a weather front coming over the hills to the west and it arrived just before the top, engulfing us in a whiteout. Luckily it cleared quickly and we continued to the top to enjoy a breathtaking view of the adjacent peak, Sgurr na Lapaich, and its achingly beautiful coire lochan.

We weren't so lucky with weather the next day and turned back from our peak in rain and sleet and winds that blew plumes of spindrift from the ridges. The bonus at least was the chance to have a low-level wander in the afternoon to explore the old, atmospheric pines of lnchvuilt Wood.

Our last sortie from basecamp saw us climb two Munros, Sgurr na Ruaidhe and, confusingly, a second Carn nan Gobhar. They were only lightly touched by snow but blasted by freezing cold northwesterly winds. Sgurr na Ruaidhe in particular seemed to be placed at some sort of vortex and we crouched behind the modest cairn for a modicum of shelter. It was hard to believe that at the end of May we were dressed in wool layers, duvet jackets, thick gloves and waterproofs to try to keep warm. Even the ptarmigan who spend all winter up here in the snows were escaping the wind in their shallow snow holes.

With three Strathfarrar peaks in the bag, we packed basecamp away into our backpacks and barbags and made the long cycle back down the glen. Our wee basecamp had provided supplies and shelter though it failed on communications as the only smartphone signal was on the tops of the Munros. In the few days there, we'd explored and climbed mountains but the only hunting done was to find the last packet of biscuits at the bottom of the basecamp food bag.

Fact File
More photos: click HERE.
Access: Glen Strathfarrar is accessed from Struy, north of Cannich. Access to the glen is restricted for motor vehicles but fully open for walkers and cyclists. The private road is asphalted throughout.
Our route for Carn nan Gobhar (Mullardoch): At the very end of the asphalt road we crossed the river by the small dam at the power station marked on the map at NG183381. Climbed the steep hillside above through thin birch woods and struck out SSE to gain the ridge between Carn nan Gobhar and Creag Dubh then walked to the top. Headed slightly north then descended west to the bealach between it and Sgurr na Lapaich.  From here descended into Garbh Coire to eventually pick up our outward route. This route is mostly quite rough with no paths except at the bealach.
Our route for Sgurr na Ruaidhe and Carn nan Gobhar (Strathfarrar): A track leaves the road at NG284386. We followed it (boggy) until we could gain the ridge of Sgurr na Ruaidhe where there's a bit of a path. From the top headed NW to the bealach bewteen it and Carn nan Gobhar where the route is clear to the second top passing a boulder field that was a bit annoying in soft snow. We descended SW to the next bealach then south into Coire Mhuillidh (rough and boggy) to eventually pick up our outward path.

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