Thursday, October 31, 2013

Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, "hill of the cold slopes"...and the forecast "65mph+ gusts".

One of three summit cairns at around 699m.
Loch Ness stretches to the west along the Great Glen.
On the drive along the east side of Loch Ness the other day, a mountain on the west side came into view, the sun illuminating its higher elevations. It was simply stunning.

Across Loch Ness, Meall Fuar-mhonaidh.
It was a distinctive hill, the most prominent along the loch. Checking the map, it could only be Meall Fuar-mhonaidh. Its Gaelic name means, "hill of the cold slopes" or "cold round hill".

Looking through the binoculars, there was a tiny shape at the summit - a cairn? Yes, it had to be. This barely discernible, human construction of rocks served as an "invitation".

A summit cairn, just visible.
Two days later, in Inverness, the skies were clear in the morning. The Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) was forecasting "windy and showery" in the high country. It appeared, however, that the rain would hold off until the afternoon. As it happened, neither one of us focussed much on the "windy" part. (After all, the report of "gusts 65mph" didn't sound excessive when you normally think in the metric "kph". We are, however, learning.)

The trail head parking is well marked at the hamlet of Grotaig, at the very end of a single track road, south-west of Drumnadrochit. A sign, just before the trail, was very tempting - a cup of coffee or a pot of tea did sound good. Undoubtedly there would also be scones, butter, and jam. :)

A left turn was very tempting!
After a brief moment of indecision we resisted the siren call to the tearoom and followed the arrow obediently to the "mountain footpath". The trail followed a little bubbling stream, through a peaceful hazel and birch woodland. A most colourful mushroom, an amanita muscaria (toxic and hallucinogenic) had grown up right in the middle of the path. It must have been some time since others had passed, or perhaps they had honoured this courageous "stand". When we returned, several hours later however, the mushroom was gone.

A very brave, albeit toxic, mushroom.
The trail led out onto moorland, becoming increasingly steep and rocky. The "entry gate" to continuing the hike up the south-west ridge to the summit is the tallest stile we'd ever seen! We don't see these much in Canada as we don't, unfortunately, have the same statutory "right of access" as here in Scotland.

Joan navigates the giant stile.
The path up the ridge is rough and very boggy in places, but despite that and the deteriorating weather, it was a glorious day to be out.

"Bog factor 3", the summit in the distance.
The reward of every step forward was an ever-expanding panorama of this extraordinary land of loch and mountain.

As we gained elevation, the skies began to darken and the wind gained velocity.

Wind is simply air in motion. Air moves from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure. We can't see the wind, but we can see what it "animates".

Now, with regards to the MWIS forecast of "65mph gusts"...

Darkening skies.
...well it certainly animated us, bringing out the "child" within. Images tell the story much better than words ever could.

Joan, trying to keep a grip on the ground.
Totally understood!
I think I can fly, preparing for take-off!
From the summit of Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, Loch Ness seems to stretch forever, along the massive and dramatic geological fault line, to the east...

Looking east, towards Inverness.
...and to the west.

Looking west.
There is something quite marvellous about an event, a circumstance, or a memory that awakens the child within. That "child" is there, within each of us, just awaiting those moments that come serendipitously. For us, it was the unexpected thrill of a stormy wind. We knew that we were safe and that the shelter of the return slope was only moments away.

Releasing the child from within, if only for but a few moments, is good for the spirit, and therefore, the body and the mind. The experience is cathartic. It washes away the adult tiredness, the worry, the weight of responsibility, the concern for the future...if only for awhile. It is enough time, however, to gain new strength and renewed determination to live each moment of time.

Refreshed and exhilarated...a last look.
And as if to punctuate a most marvellous day on a mountain...

...a rainbow guided us down the rocky path.

Total km: 9.3
Elevation gain: 540m (1771')
Sighting of Loch Ness Monster: Not yet.
Number of scones with butter and jam: None (today)
Lessons learned:
1) Read the MWIS forecast - carefully.
2) Release the "inner child" more often. :)


  1. Amazing...TOTALLY JEALOUS!!


  2. Sounds like a great day out Duncan, great wind-defying images! :o)

    Kind Regards

  3. Hi Duncan and Joan

    Just sitting here with a glass of malt whisky and reading your blog and looking at those magic photographs.
    I feel as though I am starting to get a "feel for the place" that I have lived in all my days.
    Thank you both.
    MG Mike

  4. Hi Mike, sounds like a great evening. How I wish I could appreciate a glass of malt whiskey. Must be something missing in my genes! Surely every Glaswegian should! Haha! Thanks so much but I think you have a pretty good feel for this place already. See you soon. Duncan.


  5. Haha! I'll bet you are, L. Just wait, your time will come! Your "inner child" will love it too. :) D.

    It was, indeed, a great day out Ian. To be honest, we were taken aback at the force of the wind. It's easy to see how things can go a little "south", at this time of the year, if blowing snow becomes an added ingredient. Respect. Many thanks. Duncan.

  6. Duncan I'm not sure if you ever read up on the Sami's use of those mushrooms. They feed it to the reindeer and drink their urine to get super high. they also hang em up on string and put around their tents to dry.

    Red and white, garland and flying reindeer...there is more connections to Christmas there as well, Interesting stuff

    1. Never heard that, Lee! Every day is a school day. Many thanks and best wishes. Duncan.