The track into Glen Affric—“sun and showers”
Sgùrr nan Ceathreamhnan (skoor nan ker-uh-van, approximately) is a remote peak, no road winding conveniently close to its base. Unless you are an athlete, it is a two-day project. But since the approach to the Sgùrr passes through one of Scotland’s most beautiful glens, the trek to “basecamp” is anything but a chore. Basecamp is the Glen Affric youth hostel, open from April to sometime in September, but closed for the season by the time of this hike.
I had planned to pitch my tent beside the hostel huts, where there is smooth grass and shelter from the wind. But, arriving at the hostel on a cool and showery evening, I found a dorm room—the women’s—left unlocked as an emergency shelter. There was no power or other amenities, just bunk frames and a mattress or two. I had no emergency, but what harm could I do staying here? I decided to save myself the task of taking down a wet tent in the morning, and spread my sleeping gear out on a mattress in the dorm. As far as I could tell, there was no one else for miles around.
In the middle of the night, I was woken by a sound like someone scraping a stick along railings. I became immediately alert and thought at first that some idiot of a nocturnal hiker would soon push open the dorm door. But the noise ceased and nobody came. Next I decided the din was likely deer scraping their antlers on the walls of the main hostel hut—a short distance away—as they grazed or tried to shed velvet. The sound resumed, now directly outside. I considered leaving my bed to look outside and check my hypothesis. But what if it was not deer? Since I could think of no other benign explanation, I decided to keep to my theory and my warm bed.
In the morning, I was in for another surprise. When I reached the mountain ridge behind the hostel and looked west toward the Sgùrr, the high ground shone gray-white above the moorland greens and browns. At first, I thought it was frost or even an effect of the light. But easing upward along the ridge, it became clear that snow had arrived on the summits with October.
DATE: Sunday/Monday, September 30th/October 1st.
START & FINISH: Walker parking at eastern end of Loch Affric, 11 miles SW of the village of Cannich on a single-track road. Cannich lies 12 miles west of Loch Ness at Drumnadrochit.
ROUTE: Sunday: Track west to Glen Affric SYHA hostel (closed for season). Monday: Footpath north—a bit elusive higher up—to mountain ridge; ridge path west to the top of the Sgùrr; return to start by outward route.
DISTANCE: Sunday—8.5 miles; Monday—about 16 miles.
TIME: About 28 hours (noon Sunday to 4pm Monday).
TERRAIN: Track to SYHA hostel sticks mostly to the glen floor, and ups and downs are modest. The track itself is puddled or muddy here and there (see DOWNS for a burn-crossing). Climb from hostel to ridge is 1,750 feet, accomplished over a mile and a half on a rough, but mostly visible, path. The ridge-walk to the Sgùrr is up-down-up, ascending a net 1,000 feet.
MAP: Ordnance Survey map downloaded to my tablet.
WEATHER: Sun and showers—mostly showers—on Sunday. Monday, overcast but drier, cloud descending at times to cover the summits. Light snow cover above 3,000 feet.
WILDLIFE: A roaring stag on a vast evening hillside.
ACCOMMODATION: Hostel dorm room left unlocked as winter shelter (see above).
SUSTENANCE: Trail rations—pita bread, cheese, mini-pork pies, peanut butter, nuts, high-cocoa chocolate, etc. After the hike, Fort Augustus fish & chips consumed in the car.
UPS: Finding snow on October 1st; mist-scapes; 24 hours of solitude.
DOWNS: A burn that is usually easily crossed but, on Sunday, was in flood. I spent a lot of time and energy going up and down its banks looking in vain for a dry crossing place. Finally, I returned to the track and waded across in bare feet.
KIT: I should have packed “burn-wading” footwear.
COMPANY: A few groups circuiting Loch Affric but, beyond the loch, naebody.
THE HIKE IN PICTURES:
Sunday: The track into Glen Affric—“sun and showers”
Steep slopes, nice pine
Looking across the Glen to peaks to the south
Looking east from the flank of the Sgùrr
Descending from the summit
Glen and River Affric, not far from “basecamp”
Gleann a’ Choilich, north side of the ridge
Monday morning: The Glen from the ridge
On the summit
Sgùrr nan Ceathreamhnan—3,776 feet
Five minutes closer to the Sgùrr
Loch Affric and Scots pines
Snow on the Sgùrr!