Monday, 16 May 2011

A rinsing on the Innsean!

When I set out from the bothy the view to the day's hills was obscured by a shower. I hoped that the sunny spells would outnumber the showers!

As I climbed to a shoulder below the first hill, Sgurr Innse (peak of the meadow) the cloud cleared to show the rugged summit cone. The way up lies on the far side of the summit so I began contouring the slopes to the left below crags and blocky boulderfields.

The Sgurr is mainly schistose rock which breaks down to reasonably good soil and supports a better variety of plants than soils from some other rock types.  Among the boulders, the herb Dwarf Cornel (Cornus suecica) was flowering earlier than usual.  the white "petals" are in fact bracts, the flowers are the tiny dark cluster at the centre which ripen to a cluster of round red berries.  The berries were once used to stimulate the appetite, but the plant is now fairly uncommon.

The ascent of Sgurr Innse looks intimidating, but as is so often the case unfolds as a reasonably easy line requiring occasional mild scrambling.  The compact summit has great views and is set neatly between the much larger hills of the Grey Corries to the west and the Loch Treig hills to the south east.  The view across to Stob Coire Easain and Stob a'Choire Mheadhoin above Loch Treig is particularly fine.  I recalled climbing this pair in wet snow and a gale of wind on a day much more pleasurable in the pub afterward than it was on the hill!

The key to safely descending Sgurr Innse is to go back exactly the way you climbed up on a slanting rocky shelf.  There are a couple of apparent paths leading to descent routes but the summit area is surrounded by crags and loose gullies.

Back on the bealach (col) I had a clear view across to Cruach Innse (hill of the meadow).  The names of these hills refers to the meadows at the foot of them where the sheiling remains lie.  The Gaelic word "Innse" or "Innis" can mean either meadow or island and crops up regularly in place names where there is pasture, most usually in the form "Insh" and on islands where it is usually rendered "Inch"

To the west the sky had blackened and I was obviously due a meteorological kicking.  The right hand boulder made a good shelter and I sat in its lee as the rain started - and what rain!  It simply hammered down, the air temperature dropped dramatically and the wind increased too.  After about half an hour I was becoming quite chilled, and decided to move on as soon as there was any sign of a slackening in the rain.  Battening down, I headed out, and a few minutes later the rain got even heavier...  I can recall being out on the hill in heavier rain than this only once; it was truly lashing.  The ground was visibly flooding around me as I plodded up the rocky slopes of the Cruach; and then, as suddenly as it had come on the rain stopped.

One of the features of a showery weather regime in the UK is the quality of light in between the rain; everything looks intensely coloured and washed clean.  The view back toward the Loch Treig hills seemed much more vibrant.  Sgurr Innse is at centre right and the rocky shelf of the ascent route is clearly visible slanting right to left.

The two hills, though linked by a bealach and quite close together are completely different in character.  The Sgurr is schisty and craggy whereas the Cruach is a spacious dome with clipped heather overlying quartzite rock in all shades from dazzling white through pink to ashy grey.

There's a long view from the summit along Glen Spean to Loch Laggan and Badenoch.  The tops of the Creag Meagaidh group were in the cloud, a towering banner which stretched fully 60 kilometres - no wonder it was a long shower!

I headed back to the bothy for the night and actually managed to get back dry as the wind was still quite strong.  All the streams and rivers had risen considerably in just a few hours from the rain and burns were streaming off the hillsides in ribbons of white.

I cooked dinner and took a stroll around the area of the bothy before a disturbed night due to the mice which were neither "sleekit, cowerin' or timorous"! 

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