Our April meet was a little different from our previous outings. Two of our members, Jim Hughes and Norman Harrison had booked the hostel some time previously with the intention of climbing their final Munro together in Strathfarrar and celebrating the event with friends and family. There was sufficient capacity at the Hostel so a number of members joined the pair intent in joining in both the climb and the celebrations.
Norman and Jim are neighbours from Larbert who decided at a barbeque around nine years ago that it would be a great idea to climb Ben Nevis. They duly did so the following weekend, caught the Munro bug and were now on the verge of completing all 282.
Most Munroists will climb all four summits in the Strathfarrar range on the same day but on a previous visit Jim and Norman ran out of time and were unable to climb the most westerly – Sgurr Fuar-thuill. Thus, this awkwardly placed hill was to be their final Munro.
The planning had been very carefully thought through – the date having been chosen to be after the snow had disappeared and before the onslaught of the midges. The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley!
In addition to Jim and Norman, ten other members attended:
Jim Aire, Raymond Evenden, James Fraser, George Henderson, Susan Henderson, Paul McGrandles, Ian Millar, Ian Pollock, Norrie Shand and Chris Wilson.
Jim Aire and Raymond were very quick out of the traps and had headed up to Torridon on the Thursday morning with the intention of making the best of the excellent weather, camping out and revisiting the great mountains of Liathach and Beinn Eighe. They were rewarded with a continuation of the sunshine and an epic two days scrambling and posing on these classic Torridonian peaks which were still holding a fair bit of snow.
George, Norrie and Susan set off fairly early on Friday and made for the twin peaks of Meall na Teanga and Sron a Choire Ghairbh alongside Loch Lochy. They too got some fine weather and soon reached the summit of Meall na Teanga with a snow field on the ascent adding just a little bit of interest. Despite the sunshine it was quite cool on top. Nevertheless the opportunity was taken to remove several layers and indulge in some blatant posing on top in the new club t-shirts.
By the time they reached Sron a Choire Ghairbh the weather gave them just a little bit of a hint as to what might be in store the next day as predicted by the forecasters.
A very convivial evening of food, drink and song was enjoyed in the Hostel on Friday with a few members meeting others for the first time. This was Chris’ first outing with club and surprisingly Norman’s as well.
The next morning over twenty of us, including friends and family of Jim and Norman, with very different degrees of keenness gathered for the “before” photograph in conditions that could best be described as “changeable”. Around five or six of the party had never climbed a Munro previously and were probably secretly wondering what they had let themselves in for.
Glen Strathfarrar has a locked gate and is subject to very strict opening and closing times plus a limit on the number of vehicles allowed, adding just a little potential recipe for disaster. We therefore got there just as the gates were opening and after a cheery chat with the Lady Gatekeeper – “6 o’clock….potholes!” we headed up the glen leaving a car half way up for those who wanted to complete the round of four.
Soon the party were heading up the fine path along the Allt Toll a Mhuic past some beautiful waterfalls and on up to the lochan nestling cold and serene below the icy corrie walls. The burn which was quite high had to be crossed at one point adding an entertaining episode to the proceedings. Raymond assisted the nearly-fallers acting as Gandalf the Grey albeit with a walking pole rather than a staff.
Understandably in the circumstances there were varying levels of experience and fitness amongst the party and a very long string of hardy hikers could be witnessed traversing the snow filled corrie wall across and up towards the main ridge. Fortunately the snow was not too hard and the angle not too steep and everyone progressed successfully.
The conditions on the summit were quite wild though – temperatures were very low and the wind was gusting quite severely. Sgurr Fuar-thuill translates as “Peak of the Cold Hollow”. Those who arrived first at the cairn and had longest to wait did not have to wonder for long how the hill got its name. There was much arm slapping and some on-the-spot Irish dancing designed more to keep warm rather than entertain.
Eventually Jim and Norman, having let everyone reach the summit before them, emerged through the swirling spindrift, and to much cheering and backslapping ascended together up to the summit cairn. The champagne had literally been on ice for some time and no time was wasted in popping the cork. A few bottles of malt also appeared and a few celebratory drams were gratefully taken which certainly helped provide some inner warmth to the assembled crew.
At this stage the party split in two with the majority having achieved what they set out to achieve descending east and then south down an easy angled ridge and back down to the burn crossing where a well earned lunch break was taken with everyone taking in some much needed nourishment – and most also had something to eat.
Back up on the ridge George, Susan, Chris, Ian and Ian had already set off to see if they could complete the three remaining Munros. The weather remained quite arduous with Chris in particular revelling in the challenge never having climbed before in proper winter conditions. Ian and Ian soon learned that walking with George and Susan was literally no picnic. George and Susan’s natural(?) pace combined with the cold conditions and possible issues with the gate meant that the group pressed on quickly. The four Munros were completed without any major difficulty and the group descended to where a couple of cars had been left half way up the glen. It only remained for Ian to be given a lift back to the start to pick up his car and for Chris to bump start his car having left his sidelights on all day.
Back at the Hostel the festivities were soon under way with lashings of food and drink and drink and drink replacing all the calories that had been used up earlier. A bottle of Scapa in particular had a shorter lifespan that a sick mayfly. The club members had chipped in to get Jim and Norman some of their favourite tipple in remembrance of their memorable day. Jim made a speech to the assembly which was quite remarkable as he reeled off statistic after statistic relating to their Munro round. Norman didn’t make a speech but regaled everyone with a heartfelt “My Ain Folk”.
Soon the guitars were out with Raymond and Norrie taking turns to lead off the singing. Norrie had managed over the two nights to acquire one member in his Junior Fan Club – but she soon deserted him when he admitted that he couldn’t play anything by One Direction!
James Johnston treated the group to some truly excellent acapella John Legend/Roy Orbison songs and later Stuart McKay eventually dragged his light from under a bushel and entertained those who remained awake to some fine songs accompanying himself on guitar.
It being a non-normal Club Meet the McGrandles Cup and the Wooden Compass were not up for grabs though the Cup would probably have been travelling back in the same car in which it arrived.
It proved to be another great weekend with congratulations split equally between Jim/Norman and the attendees who had climbed their first Munro in conditions that were far from easy.
On Sunday the weather was even less pleasant than the previous day and nobody was keen to get out in the hills again so everyone headed off back home to allow their weary limbs and sore heads to recover.