Thomson Holidays don't include the Highlands as a winter sun package; but with miserable weather flooding in across the North Sea, the forecast was there for the north and west. Paul and I drove to Glen Shiel before finding a hill which met our criteria: something new with blue sky above !
Sgurr Mhic Bharraich above Shiel Bridge is approached by a superb engineered track to a bealach (quite possibly made by those same skilled men who built the nearby stalkers track to the Forcan Ridge). It gave grand views of The Five Sisters just east, The Saddle, Beinn Sgritheall, the Rum and Skye Cuillin, and Lurg Mor away to the north....... good memories all !
Back at the bealach, we decided to continue round to make a circuit of the hill. Suardalan bothy lies just across the way, so we added an extra detour to have a look-see.
This put us almost at sea level on the “wrong” side of the mountain, so the closing part of the sunny afternoon was spent up forestry tracks and the Mam Ratagan road, a clever way of turning an 800 metre day into our typical 1100 metres.
Sunday morning was totally without a cloud at Roy Bridge. We decided on “One of the finest mountains in the western highlands, and certainly the finest and most precipitous mountain in Ardgour” (SMC). That of course is Garbh Beinn. Whose name means “Rough Mountain”.
Now why would they call it that ?
Could it be that from sea level, all the way up, the route is strewn with boulders, slabs and scrambly buttresses at a variety of angles ? Plenty of opportunities to test the steepest angle at which a sole will grip.
Or could it be that there is a big notch towards the summit, so that with 80m drop/reascent, the 885-metre mountain takes a total 1050 metres of ascent ?
Or possibly (in the upper reaches), some quite steep slopes of crusty powder snow, somewhat close to the huge drop of the east face. ?
Well on this particular day, the rough-house came from the wind. An inoffensive breeze at the summit, suddenly strengthened to 50mph so that within 30 minutes we were struggling to keep our feet using axe-shafts up a short gulley out of the notch. The planned lunch-stop was abandoned as Paul jabbed his axe downhill and I nodded.
The wind continued to push us about all the way down to 200 metres. Not a very long day, but we could feel the quality. We could also see, from miles away, spiral columns of spindrift now rising off the Ben, the Aonach Eagach, and Bidean. !!