Sgor Gaoith revisited

It’s a kind of irony of fate that the weather, my days off and my physical or mental state haven’t met for weeks thus stopping me from hill-walking; then I agreed to do some Pastoral service on my day off and suddenly the forecast was brilliant. The service was not to be long and was in the morning; I’d be free by 9am. Frustrated by the whole situation and desperate not waste the day I decided to revisit the Cairngorms, or more specifically the summit of Sgor Gaoith with its dramatic views of Loch Eanaich and Braeriach. I’d climbed that hill in 2009 and as I don’t like repeating the same walks I decided to start from a different place and to take a different route than previously. My only concern in the weather forecast was the wind – gusts up to 50 mph. It made me think; but I’d known that area and I decided the wind wouldn’t be a problem. Later I learnt I was wrong…

About 10:30am I left my car in a small forest car park at the entrance to Invereshie & Inshriach National Natural Reserve. A quite broad well maintained path led through a patch of birch woodland; some 10-15 minutes later it turned left and started gradually climbing up with a burn noisily flowing on my right hand side in the opposite direction. Now the vegetation was more Cairngorms-like, dominated by Caledonian pines. After quite a while I reached the open space and a burn I had to cross. From there the path became much narrower, with boggy spots here and there. It traversed the slope upwards in a south-easterly direction. About 1 hour after I’d started my hike I reached a kind of flatter patch where the path disappeared (or I lost it) and the headwind couldn’t be ignored any more. I had to put on a soft shell jacket, gloves and goggles. After climbing in the general direction I found a path that seemed to go in the right direction and upwards, so I took it in hope it would lead me to the ridge close to my destination; the alternative I wasn’t ready to take was climbing directly up the pathless slope. Over the years I’ve learnt that any path is better than no path; but I also learnt that not all paths go where I like them to lead. This time that path helped exactly as I’d expected: I reached the ridge south off the peak.

If I were blind I’d known that anyway as the wind became fat much stronger; so strong in fact that it rendered my walking poles useless. I found a path running towards the summit visible not so far away. But with the gusty wind walking was challenging, a bit like a drunken man. Reaching the top took me a bit longer than it should. When I got there I lied on my belly and crawled towards the edge of the cliff to take photos; doing it upstanding was all but impossible. Then I went down a bit trying to find any relative shelter which I did; it was relative. Every now and again I was sprayed with my own tea when I drank it from my flask. After the nutritious lunch of reduced-price egg and ham sandwiches and Snickers bars I moved northwards to climb a nearby summit of Sgoran Dubh Mor. It seemed to be close enough and easy enough to bag it. In the geographical it was; but on the approach to the summit topped with rocky outcrop and on the summit itself the wind was so strong that I really struggled to stay on my feet. There was no point of staying there; bent at 45 degrees against the wind I left the summit and headed south-westward through a pathless slope, thankfully covered with very short vegetation. The wind eased a bit, but it remained a dominant and increasingly tiring feature.

My route led from one hilltop to another, slowly and gradually going down. The ground was covered with very short vegetation and rocks; sometimes it required a bit more of my attention but most of the time I could focus on keeping myself from being tossed around by the wind. Eventually I reached my final hilltop of Geal-charn where I had to turn left and go down quite a steep hill towards the burn I’d crossed a couple of hours earlier. Again it took me longer than it should because of the wind. When I finally reached the burn and the path I felt really exhausted, particularly by almost unbearable noise made by the wind. Going down along the path gave some hope that in the woodland it would be quieter and calmer which was reasonable and – as it turned out – right as expected. In no time I got back to my car and headed back home with some satisfaction, but also a lesson for the future – never ignore the wind in the forecast.