Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Ben Klibreck

Ben Klibreck looks like a fairly straightforward hill on paper. Indeed, the hillwalking books make it sounds so easy that they recommend doing it in a morning and continuing on to climb Ben Hope in the afternoon. In practice however, Ben Klibreck was very wet, slippery, boggy walk to an exceptionally difficult climb onto the ridge - a real slog. To be fair, once on the ridge Ben Klibreck is rather delightful, it is elegantly shaped, and its steep sides offer dramatic views out across the northlands. Having climbed Ben Klibreck in the last few days, the important lesson is that the hillwalking books are not always right, and should sometimes be ignored in their route advice!

While the usual route guides such the SMC Munros book or Cameron McNeish's The Munros do offer a choice of routes, the consensus seems to be to attack the side flank of main ridge above Loch nan Uan (the short straight eastward pointing arrow on the map below). I had begun my walk, at the little footbridge just north of the ruined cottage at Vagastie, the river being unfordable at the usual crossing point further down-river. Despite the thick morning mist, navigation was fairly straightforward as the expanse between the road and the hill is marked by a series of rather distinctive lochans which can be used as little way-points. The climb from Loch Bad an Loch up to the larger Loch nan Uan was wet, and boggy and required some awkward river crossings and I was looking forward to gaining enough height to get a sight of the higher loch. However, when I reached the shores of Loch nan Uan, the cloud lifted and I got a sight of the climb ahead, and it looked a bit grim! However, the aforementioned books have been trusty guides for many years and I pushed on. This was a mistake. The climb up from Loch nan Uan onto the ridge of Klibreck was horrendous. The very steep grassy bank might well have been a reasonable prospect in dry weather, but after heavy rain it was squelchy and unbelievably slippery. 

A better route up would have been to ascend the more gentle slopes of Carn Fheidh, as on the long curved arrow on the map. This would have avoided the grimly boggy crossing from Loch Bad an Loch to Loch nan Uan; would have avoided the dreadful ascent route; and provided an extended and rather pleasant ridge walk on a decent path! Indeed, I descended this way, and couldn't believe what a difference it made. Some walkers extend this route even further, adding the top Cnoc Sgriodain into a route starting at the intriguing Crask Inn. I say intriguing, as when we were in Tongue getting the car fixed, the local paper had a story about the Crask Inn having been incorporated into the Scottish Episcopal Church. The Inn offers hospitality, a well as services including Holy Communion; making it more like a monastery from the Middle Ages than either a pub or a church! I have to say, such an abolition of the divide between the sacred and the secular is rather appealing!

Despite the slog, and the bog. Ben Klibreck's upper reaches are thoroughly enjoyable. The A'Chioch  at the hill's North West 'corner' is particularly splendid. Sadly the top of the hill remained in cloud, and the march up the old broken trig-point on the summit and back was cold and view-less. Once out of the cloud, and with a decent route in mind, the walk out was quite pleasant. It's a good hill to have done, but perhaps not by the recommended route; at least not in wet weather.

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