Honestly, this was so long ago that I can barely remember it! A whole month now.
I was going walking with a guy I met at the Cape Wrath Challenge (another Scott, so let’s call him young Scott to prevent any confusion!). He lives over in Tongue (about 45 minutes east of Durness) and there are two decent mountains near him. I decided to climb Ben Loyal – further from Durness, not as high, but looking like it had loads of character.
Like much of my walking at this time, I didn’t really have a plan. We drove to the standard start place (Rhibigill) and walked in along the farm roads until we hit open moors, at which point we followed a “sort of track”. I had read my guidebook, but apparently not that well as I re-read afterwards that it said to go to the east of Ben Loyal before ascending. Oh well! We walked along the western edge, then turned and went straight up the side of the hill.
There was a river on the way which I managed to cross by climbing out of a narrow limb of an overhanging tree and swinging off onto the bank. Quite adventurous of me I thought! Here is a picture of young Scott and the tree. He didn’t want any photos of him, so I have another one without him in, . . . but it’s not like he, or anyone he knows, will read this anyway!
It was pretty hard going – steep, and reasonably thick grass. Also, young Scott seemed to have no troubles at all, which made my struggle even harder! After several pauses (not even pretending to hide them as photo stops by now) and much complaining about how I don’t actually like climbing hills,I just forget when I get down how much I hate it, we finally reached the top of the ridge.
We went and explored a subsidiary peak at the north, then walked across to the main peak.
It is quite difficult to get up to the main peak, with some very large, steep and slippery rocks to climb. It was also a little wet, and very windy. We took shelter at a ledge just off the peak and had some lunch (I had to share my biscuits with Merlin!!) then decided to walk all the way around the corrie to the southern peak and descend, via the main corrie and hanging valley, from there.
Getting off the summit was actually quite easy. It turns out there was a sensible path . . . if only we’d found it on the way up!
The next section was quite difficult. It was too windy to walk on top of the ridge (I was almost blown off my feet several time), and I’m not sure there was actually a path there anyway. We followed a sheep track around the inside of the corrie, a little way below the top. The slope was very steep, and slippery, with some sections of loose scree from old landslips. It was also still very windy, even there. We made it eventually (young Scott only slipped once), and were very happy to be back on the broader, gentler slope on the other side.
I was also being reminded that it gets substantially colder when you go increase elevation. The ground level temperature was already below 10 degrees, and we were up 700m, plus with a roaring wind. I had a longsleeved shirt, fleecy, rainjacket, beanie and gloves and was still very cold. Definitely needed to rethink my gear choices before I went out next time, and buy some more gear before winter!
The walk to the final peak was pleasant enough, then it was a fairly straightforward (but very steep) descent into the corrie. Finally, a section where I was faster than young Scott! From there, it was across the hanging valley, and down the main corrie below, following a pretty burn (stream). Again, steep and slippery, but not too difficult.
At the bottom we meandered our way northwards, near the top of the treeline. We saw a huge herd of deer, and Merlin took off after them, which meant that we lost him when we got into the trees, and had to backtrack for about 10 minutes to find him again!
Back through the trees, which was incredibly boggy (think tea-tree swamps back home), and which took a lot longer than I thought. Obviously we were further south than I realised. Finally we were out into open moorland again.
Back to the same stream crossing. The tree was not an option this time, but I could walk safely across the shallow ford. This didn’t help young Scott who didn’t have waterproof shoes so we decided that, as a bit of a novelty, I’d piggy back him over. I went over first to check I could make it, then came back and got him. Luckily he’s not very heavy, but still heavier than me and I did almost drop him half way! Still, it was a bit of a laugh.
From there it was a slightly boggy walk across the moor, then a pleasant wander back along the farm track. A very friendly highland coo came to say hi and posed for some photos. I was happy to hear that young Scott was actually feeling quite tired by this point, whereas I was feeling OK. So, maybe my general stamina is good, . . . just not my hill climbing strength.
It was very windy, and a little bit wet. Visibility was not great (as you can see in the photos) but at least there was no cloud on the summits. Merlin did surprisingly well on the steep and slippery rocks and his harness was definitely a help. There was one pile of rocks that I thought he’d never get up so I told him to stay at the bottom, then when I looked around at the top he was there with me!
Ben Loyal is quite a stunning looking hill, and provides a nice interesting walk along the top. The way up was not fun, but may’ve been nicer if we’d taken a more conventional route! There is also some nice scope for traverses – going up one side and off the other – if we’d organised transport in two places.
PS Ben Loyal is primarily a large pluton of igneous rock called syenite. It is similar to granite – grey, coarse grained, with orthoclase feldspar and horneblende (amongst others) but almost no quartz. I can say from this experience that it is quite hard but VERY slippery!