I have not got out much this winter but this is a look back when I did.
Where were you 42 years ago in 1976 we had a plan, we used our leave for the full year nearly ? We lived on packet soup porridge and some compo rations.
1976 North – South getting tired
The aim – This was a mountaineering expedition from the most Northerly Mountain in Scotland Ben Hope to the most Southerly Ben Lomond. The route was planned to cover the 270 miles with no support all travel on foot. The palns was to climb 42 Munros and ascend a total of 70,000 feet. This was 1976 gear was simple as were the maps and there were limited communications Mobile phones were a long way away
The Team was all from RAF Kinloss MRT Heavy Whalley , Jim Morning , Paul Burns all were young SAC ‘s (a very low rank in the RAF)This was only allowed to go after great arguing with the powers that be by the RAF Kinloss Team Leader Pete Mac Gowan.All military authorization for expeditions in these days had to have an officer in charge. (Normally military expeditions were led by an officer or SNCO ) The planning was done an orgy of maps joining and tracing other walks in the past and done in the dark winter nights or at weekends. Food was planned and food caches set up with the help of Keepers and Village Halls and friends of the team. The RAF Team would meet us at weekend training Exercises and re supply us, well that was the plan.
Extract from The Big Walk North To South – May 1976 David Heavy Whalley , Jim Morning and Paul Burns. Heavy Whalley – Jim Morning (JM Paul Burns(PB) This was the first expedition in the RAF to be led by SAC’s VERY JUNIOR RANKS and no officer. The expedition had lots of support by Pete McGowan (Team Leader) who stuck his neck out to let us do the Traverse.
A long drive up to Tongue in the far North of Scotland the night before it took 4 hours and then we were dropped off at Ben Hope the most Northerly Mountain in Scotland. The ascent was from North of the Broch of Dun Dornagil.
In 1976 the Ben More path was not as it is today a big path but an easy ascent by small waterfall and then along the fine ridge with its big cliffs to the West. It has great viewpoints and its splendid isolation makes it a lovely peak to climb. Today was not for hanging around as one does the weather was fine and though we carried 4 days food in our sacks we still carried all the up and down? The views are great the magic Ben Loyal looks and is a great day out and the landscape is wild in every aspect, the views to the sea and the huge moors make this a place to stop and drink it all in. In these days we must have been daft and it was rush, rush rush. I was lucky enough to enjoy this peak on many occasions and even to run up this peak several times along with other peaks all in one day. I also climbed this peak by various ways including by a gully in winter on the big cliffs and great ways up but not easy access a bit of a walk in and the a grand but serious scramble from the North a long walk in that gives a different aspect to this fine peak. You can miss the scramble by a gully but it is still a grand outing and worthy of an ascent? There was I notes much winter climbing potential here!
We had no idea what we were taking on this was our first walk, we were very fit and wanted no support on the walk. We had set up food caches in lodges and bothies and were carrying very basic gear as this was 1976. The maps were inch to the mile and pretty basic in these days. From here we were heading to Merkland Lodge via the Corbett Ben Hee ( the fairy hill) After Ben More it was along the road and along the Estate Road past some incredible places and names Gobernuisgach Lodge and then on to Beleach Nam Meirleach the robbers path and onto Ben Hee an amazing hill with some big cliffs worth having a look at. This would be great mountain bike ground today as the road cuts across some wild places. It was rough walking I bet there is a good path now but we were soon on the top and the weather was fine it was then down to the Lodge at West Merkland to see the keeper who met us with a big dram and a great bothy an enjoyable day and despite the hill bag weight about 40 lbs it was not too bad. We were all going fine and had and enjoyed a great introduction. We took our time it was about 8 hours there was no rush! Tomorrow was another day.
The day’s distance was 21 miles and 5437 feet of ascent, 1 Munro climbed
Day 2 May 10 th 1976
It was all a huge adventure for us; we had never appreciated the distances into the mountain or the unusual aspects that we would have to climb the hills. We left Merkland Lodge by 0700 there was plenty of day light it was May and wandered down the A838 past Loch Merkland and down a few miles to the top of Loch Shin and then follow a hydro road into the wilds. All the time we could see Conival and the huge massive of Ben More Assynt in the distance. After we left the track it seined endless we hit the purgatory sloped for about two hours to eventually reach the Summit ridge of Ben More Assynt. It was a great day and the views of the moonscape Assynt of the great hills and the sea were incredible, how I was to love this place and spend a lot of time here on the nearby Aeroplane Flats where a plane and crew had crashed in 1941 and are buried on site, what a fitting tribute to those who gave their lives for us and how many visit this remote grave? It was along the narrow ridge of broken Quartzite blocks (interesting in winter) to the days second Munro Conival . From here we could make out our route and our next objective Seanna Bhraigh and the Loch Coire Mor bothy. We were heading for Ben More Lodge hidden in the back of Loch Ailish for the night and had a great scramble down the short ridge to Dubh Loch a place of remoteness and beauty. On the way we spotted several gullies still holding lots of snow on the other side of the Coire and the possibility of good gullies still holding lots of snow on the other side of the Coire and the possibility of good climbing in a scenic area. I was taking note for future trips to this area and wonder how many visit this coire and see its hidden beauty. There were vast herds of deer moving around and so much other wild life, spring was in the air and the winter was leaving but the hills would still hold their winter coats for a few more weeks. It was a wet glen walk as the hills were shedding there snow in the May sun but we were soon on the track and then the Estate road to Ben More Lodge and again great hospitality from the keeper who was glad to see us after a long winter. He asked us where the deer were and we were rewarded by a huge dram again as the Keepers phone from Merkland had said we enjoyed a dram after the hill. It was incredible hospitality again and we were soon in the bothy sorting out our meal and then an early night.
Today’s distance was only 17 miles and 4478 feet of ascent. Total Munros 2
Grand Total 3 Munros
Looking back much was on tracks and hard ground onto the hill, we were feeling great and this walk was going well.
Day 3 May 11 – Ben More Lodge – Loch Coire Mhor bothy
This was the only day planned to purely road walk and it was along trail down to Oykel Bridge and then follows the forestry and estate road into Corriemulzie Lodge huge open moorland. In these days there were few cars and we had an easy walk to the hotel and very upmarket place for the famous fishing on the river Okyel.
From here it was head down and into the wilds the weather was again special and after Corriemunzie Lodge the track along Strath Mulzie and into Loch Corrie Mor and our bothy for the night below the impressive Luchd Coire and the ridge leading to Creag Duine looking so impressive. The view changes as you get closer and the 5 kilometres of cliffs are rarely seen by the Munro baggers from the West. I love this place and its history the Coire Mor bothy and the Corriemunzie Club for many years climbed these huge cliffs in winter and many are rarely visited or climbed. This is a true remote place and to see it at the end of winter with the great rim of cliffs above a featureless plateau is so impressive.
I had our first food cache hidden here and it was in good nick and we soon had a wee fire and a meal and then enjoyed the ambience of this place. All the greats of this club had spent many nights in this tiny bothy and though Spartan I revealed in its history and even had a simple guide of the time to pick out the lines on the cliffs. I would visit this again and run a winter 4 day trip a few years later. I was outside enjoying the view until late, more herds of deer were around we had seen no one on the hill after three days and tomorrow we would hit the big hills right outside our door. We had a big day planned 5 Munros in a wild area and the weather were changing.
Today’s distance 21 Miles and 1400 feet.
No Munros – Grand Total 3
1976 Copy of N – South walk Strath Okyel Jim Heavy – pain was yet to come!
Day 4 May 12
The night was spent in the bothy at Loch Coire Mhor below the great cliffs of Seanna Bhraigh a wild place. This was day 4 of a walk from the North of Scotland from Ben Hope to Ben Lomond in the South by three young members of the RAF Kinloss MRT. We were staying in bothies where possible and carried our gear and food with us using pre placed food caches every 3- 4 days. It was a trip into the wild with basic maps one inch to the mile and simple hill kit. It was May 1976.
It is a great way to start a day right in amongst the hills and the bothy at Loch Coire Mhoir is the place to be. Outside is the incredible ridge of An Sgurr onto the steep narrow Creag an Duine Ridge interesting way up onto the summit plateau of the huge Luchd Corrie and the summit of Seanna Bhraigh.
This is where the famous Corriemulizie Club mainly from St Andrews University who produced a guide to the area in 1966. I was to lead a trip for 5 days in 1981 to climb here an amazing trip but that was in the future. It is still an area rarely visited and I enjoyed the wildness of these huge cliffs. From here the weather changed and it snowed and it is a long way to the next Munro Eididh nan Clach Geala this is really remote and challenging area where navigation has to be on the ball. There are some secret cliffs in this area and many I have still not visited. I was so looking forward to seeing the remote Coire Ghranda and I was to snow- hole on the beleach years later after a wonderful climb in this remote Corrie.
The main cliff of Beinn Dearg and the normal approach up Gleann na Squaib most go for the classic Emerald Gully a real tick in the old days but in later years I was to have some wild days on Penguin Gully and other climbs of a modest standard nowadays. These were climbed by such great talents of Scottish Winter climbing like Tom Patey, Bill Murray and Norman Tennant some of the greatest climbers of the pre and post war eras . The hills are hard work and in the weather we had tricky there were few paths and by now the snow had covered them one we went to Meall nan Ceapraichean and out to Cona ‘ Mheall and then in white out up to Beinn Dearg our last Munro of the day. It was very tricky finding the top as there was still plenty of snow about and big cliffs to be aware off. From here it was a tricky descent still lots of snow very hard in places. It was very steep and into a very wet glen walk to Loch Droma bothy a very simple broken down hut by the A 835, where we managed to get a small fire going and our wet clothes off. We soon ate and were in our beds early everything was soaked and we were off to the big hills of the Fannichs tomorrow another huge day, with wet gear. I went up to the house to mention we had arrived but no joy, so we just got on with our night meeting no one again. We had spent a whole day of the hill helping making the track up to the house for the Very Senior retired RAF Officer the year before who owned the house. I remember it well and spoke my mind about it at the time but was only a young lad. It was a tricky day with long spells of hard navigation this was not a place to underestimate in bad weather and we were walking into a wind from the summit plateau only getting a break in snow covered peat hags, We saw few footprints until Beinn Dearg this is a lonely place to be and never easy in bad weather. It was a wild night in the bothy and the snow and rain fell most of the night, it was damp and wet and I could not wait for morning to come. The Deer were down at the wee bothy all night and on the road after the salt and shelter it was a night to be in!
Distance 16 miles and Height 6599 feet. 5 Munros – Grand Total – 8 Munros
1976 walk Heavy Jim Tired – there was a lot more to come!