North Goatfell – 818m
Cir Mhor – 799m
Tuesday 15th July 2008
Weather/Conditions: The day started out sunny. With height it became windy and I was blasted with it on the way up Goatfell. Rain showers were passing through constantly and the scramble over the north ridge of Goatfell was mental - with winds exceeding 50-60 mph, they were intense times. The wind dropped as I left North Goatfell and didn't return until below the Cir Mhor summit. Things did brighten up a bit by the end of the day though.
Accompanying: All that weather and I went solo ... bit mad...
I started at Brodick at 2.10pm after having lunch and headed up the path – it was very similar to two days before. Not a lot happened on the way up although I definitely felt stronger and the ascent felt quicker. It was also pretty sunny when I started although 1500 feet up the weather turned as a rain shower moved through. It was only around for ten to twenty minutes and it was soon past. However a strong wind consistently blew from the west and I worked my way up gradually walking behind the shadow of the mountain. Cloud started obscuring Beinn Tarsuinn to the west although I'd hoped Goatfell would stay mostly clear.
Before long I was on the summit ridge to Goatfell yet I was also getting a little tired. The fleece went on and as I reached the top, views of the western hills came into view. The atmosphere was different today and there was more cloud being blasted over the tops by wind. I sat down for a drink but only briefly before I got up again, knowing I wouldn't be content about going the way I came. It didn't seem like the most fun so I decided to once again take the north ridge of Goatfell.
To North Goatfell and down to The Saddle
The wind wasn't dying down and only increased in strength. I was well aware I was alone and so didn't even bother climbing the pinnacles. The camera went away – it was time to keep the hands free and concentrate on the ground ahead – it was, after all, a rather long (and steep) way down to Glen Rosa. The wind kept picking up and after being pushed off to the right once I knew I'd have to keep on guard. The first bypass path took me to the right of the first pinnacle (which I had climbed the first time I was up) and the second passed two pinnacles which took me off to the left. It was a steep scramble down and then along and up from where I was at the bottom of North Goatfell. Around the back I went where the wind died and I came upon a cairn beside the top where the wind blasted once more. The summit was an airy place and I was nearly lying down on its flat top to keep the effects of the wind down. Out came the camera for a couple of pictures and then back away it went. I didn't feel like going down to Corrie so soon – I'd had that adventure – and so descending by the west ridge to the Saddle somewhat appealed. I left North Goatfell and looked down at the ridge. It looked like a scramble, definitely, but with a mighty wind blowing across the tops I didn't want to have exposure and high winds to deal with. It so happened a guy and girlfriend/wife were ascending up it just below me.
Concerning conditions, The reply I got was “some fun scrambly bits”. Well – I'd done some “fun scrambly bits already”. Maybe it was in my capabilities after all? I thanked him for the advice and went on down the ridge. Funnily enough the wind died down almost the second I started and luckily it stayed that way. He was also right, the scrambling sections were sure fun and although there was plenty of exposure, I had a great time. I felt a great sense that I had somehow progressed with my scrambling abilities. There were no shortage of drops but I never came across a single “holy-shit” situation. The closest I got was to decide that when there a bypass path, it's for good reason and even then I dodged the potential obscure situation.
I was at the Saddle some fifty minutes after leaving North Goatfell and what a fun fifty minutes. That ridge hadn't seen the last of me, that's for sure. On the way down I began to consider potential routes up Cir Mhor and came to the conclusion that to tackle it straight from Saddle was asking for a bit too much. I was also acutely aware that it was getting late. (that's what happens when you sit drinking hot chocolate in Bilslands until mid-afternoon...)
My plan was to ascend into Fionn Choire on the southern side of Cir Mhor and approach the peak from the back. That way I could turn around at any moment I wasn't comfortable and climb Beinn Tarsuinn on the way back. From the Saddle I left any paths and began contouring around the side of Cir Mhor. Then I began to encounter some slabs, so I took off some height and walked around the bottom of them. This was simple enough. From there it was a bit of a slog up onto the ridge. Energy was going down a little but I felt a little too determined to get up and didn't stop to rest. (I also heard a couple guys climbing on the cliffs but I never actually saw them. I hadn't seen a soul since North Goatfell)
Once I was on the west ridge and looking over to Caisteal Abhail (whoa!) I began the climb up onto the summit. I knew at any moment I could turn around – if it's too much, just go back and be happy with a days outing and attempt on Cir Mhor. If I turned back then in my mind I'd just feel more intimidated at this peak and I would know that it could be beyond my capabilities. But as I say, I wasn't afraid of turning back. Even with this in mind, things were going well – it offered no real problems on the way up. The grassy slopes increasingly became slabs of granite and the wind had picked back up. Just a good ole' slog.
Time was getting on and it was approaching six o'clock. 'Shit...' I thought to myself, 'I don't think I've ever been out this late...' If the summit didn't reveal itself soon enough I'd have to turn around just to make sure I didn't get caught out in the dark – and with a phone call back to touch base with the parents, I hadn't phoned in a while. While things were getting on I knew that the summit was close. I could almost see the mountain ahead thinning to a point. I wasn't far off. After more exertion and some just-around-the-corner mentality it occurred to me I was in the final stages of the climb. The wind was blowing a gale and I'd figured some scrambling would be involved in reaching the summit. So behind a clump of grass and rock I dropped the trekking poles, put the rucksack on top to keep them from blowing astray and I continued the final metres with camera in hand. It also occurred me that the scrambling was minimal here and if I was able to climb the ridges I'd been to already then this one was no problem.
A final few scrambles up the angled rock cracks and I was finally on top. Finally on top of what two days ago was a terrifying peak. All the same it didn't seem entirely significant. I certainly didn't feel perched on top of what looked like the Matterhorn of Scotland. (well, second maybe to Sgurr nan Gillean) But at the same time, it was 6.05pm, the light would be gone in a few hours and I had no bloody phone signal. I took a few pictures from the top of it's small and airy summit as the wind blasted clouds around about and knew that I couldn't feel settled until I could make some contact with parents, I hadn't in a fair while. I really felt like I was in the middle of a great mountain range. It was one I had only really discovered in recent days and what was all more exiting was that it's all so damn close to Glasgow. Wester Ross is all very well and stunningly beautiful but I felt like I'd found a place that somehow challenged it while being within reach of the non-driving me.
Descent to Brodick
Out of the fantasy world. I was heading down now, and as fast as possible. I'd figured that if I wasn't getting a signal on top of Cir Mhor then by descending by Glen Rosa, the first place I'd be able to make contact was near Brodick. I got my rucksack, downed some water and off I went down the mountainside. Pretty quickly, I was in Glen Rosa and scooting as fast as possible down the track. At 7.05 I looked back at Cir Mhor – it's a dark and sharp peak and clouds scraped along the top. I gave a brief thought to the fact that I had actually been up there only an hour ago. And that under my own power, I had come all the way from up there down into the hanging corrie and down into Glen Rosa where I finally stood. Cir Mhor is a pretty incredible mountain and just like the west ridge of North Goatfell I'm sure this day wouldn't by my last visit to it either. The first of many many more, likely - even if not on this holiday.
But of course I had to get a signal because I now hadn't phoned back for three hours. Only as Glen Rosa turned in the direction of Brodick did the phone begin working, and it was after that did I feel much more relaxed. I approached the end of Glen Rosa, Cir Mhor went out of view and I walked the rest of the way back to campsite outside Brodick, arriving back at 7.40 pm: 5 and a half hours, 17.5 km and 1300 metres of ascent after I'd left.
(0.00) 2.10pm Brodick
(1.30) 3.40pm Goatfell
(2.05) 4.15pm North Goatfell
(2.55) 5.05pm The Saddle
(3.55) 6.05pm Cir Mhor
(5.30) 7.40pm Glen Rosa campsite