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Last updated: 15/10/10


'Whelks, solifluction and the pub with no beer'
12 February 2006

The traditional (i.e. second year running) February Minibus Meet got going on 12 February 2006 with better road conditions than last year - in fact, it was a beautiful morning in Aberdeen - but a similarly dire forecast ("walking may be difficult in virtual white-out conditions") for the Northern Highlands, where the target was the area around Alltguish, the scene of a memorable "Easter" Meet a couple of years back. Despite the attractions of a pit-stop at the 24-hour Inverness Tesco, determined work by Driver Alec got us to the drop-off point west of Loch Glascarnoch at only a little past 10 o'clock, and the main party of 7 set off for the Munro Am Faochagach (the place of the shells or whelks, as any ful kno) to the north, while the residue dribbled off to the south, ignoring a new signpost pointing directly away from its target of Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich.

The SMC guidebooks carry heavyweight warnings about the first part of the Am Faochagach route, e.g. "very wet underfoot", and with stream crossings which "will entail wet feet" in normal (i.e. raining) conditions. This of course did not deter the Cairngorm Club, who found their way across the Abhainn a'Gharbhrain with only one minor piece of aqua-acrobatics. Then it was a plod up the boggy hillside, though on an emergent (guide-induced?) path until near the ridge, when the surface suddenly improved. All this time, the weather, while turning cloudy west of Inverness, was not at all bad - indeed, far too warm for those who put on their long johns for the day! Snow-clad Beinn Dearg and its satellites were in full nearby view, with the Fannichs to the south. On the ridge, however, the cloud lowered as we set off northwards up the fag-end of a newish landrover track amongst scattered fields of soft snow. After a bump or two, and the "effects of solifluction" (look it up!), the unimpressive Am Faochagach summit was reached in about 10 minutes more than the guidebook time of 2 hours 50 minutes, with not much to look at except our sandwiches, to which attention was duly paid.

A tentative proposal to exit adventurously by the Carn Gorm-Loch top to the north-east, and then returning to Alltguish along Loch and Strath Vaich, was vetoed by the fainthearted, and so the return initially reversed the ascent route, passing a couple of other hillwalkers half an hour behind us, and noting a few ptarmigan amongst the snow patches. Then it was generally eastwards, along the landrover track for those with engine oil in their veins but over each of the many subsidiary summits for those made of sterner stuff. The latter were rewarded by a very fine cairn on top of Meall Coire nan Laogh: a solid 10x10x10-foot construction topped by shining quartzite. 

After this, the weather started to improve as the clouds lifted, but conditions underfoot began to deteriorate, and Andy's all-day warnings of peat hags big enough to swallow elephants started to ring true. Against all mountaineering principles, the party split up into no fewer than three groups as the final stretch approached. Andy himself quietly departed southwards, presumably to pick up the lochside hydro road as soon as possible, while two others stuck to the landrover track until it started diverging towards Strathvaich Lodge. The "main" party of four headed straight (insofar as the deteriorating terrain allowed) down and along the broad ridge but decided to forgo the dubious pleasures of another mile or so of bog-trotting over the final two 400-metre tops, in favour of descending the nameless corrie (but Laogh, presumably) to the hydro road less than a mile from the dam. As the leading pair walked along the top of this edifice looking down on the welcome sight of the Alltguish Inn with the minibus standing outside, a figure by the vehicle, and then the vehicle itself, leapt into action, so that we all reached the pub door more or less simultaneously.

But, to general despair, the Inn was all in darkness! However, Driver Alec had not been wasting his time all day, and assured us that he, Derek, Willie and Gordon had scoured the countryside looking for alternative hospitality, which had been located at the Inchbae Lodge Hotel a few miles east (just as well - there is no other pub for miles). Thus, with an obliging barman woken up for the occasion (the February tourist trade on the Dirrie More is unaccountably slack), thirst was quenched by all, and indeed a good deal more than quenched by those who had been there all afternoon.

Perhaps due to some over-indulgence by the latter group, the trip home was initially accompanied by peremptory requests for roadside halts and by unbecoming noises from the back of the minibus, but things quietened down after fish and chips in Nairn, and all were safely bundled out, to a cacophony of “Where’s ma ice-axe?”) in Aberdeen by 10.00 pm. 

Thanks to Coordinator/Organiser/Driver Alec Macmillan for doing all the hard and boring bits, and here's looking forward to another epic in 2007.

Author: Ken Thomson