Thursday, 10 August 2017

Streap

Thursday 8th June 2017

I had been staying in the Gleann Dubh Lighe bothy that was rebuilt in 2013 with lovely wood panelling covering the inside walls, ceiling and floor making for a great, cosy feel to the place, and with it all to myself I enjoyed every moment. When I arrived the evening previous there had been bright sunshine that made for a relaxing welcome after the bad weather earlier in the week that had marred my time in Glen Dessary. Although the skies were overcast when I got up the clouds were high so I was confident that they would not ruin my walk. The previous day while walking through boggy Gleann Cuìrnean on my way out of Glen Dessary the distinctive peak of Streap had dominated my view and made me wish I could climb its steep slopes. However there is no path up these sheer cliff faces and suicide to attempt an ascent up the impregnable slopes, therefore I walked all the way around to the other side of the mountain and spent the night in the ideal spot to start an ascent up this striking mountain. I had been up Streap before, back in 2008, though the weather on that done the walk in the opposite direction to the recommended.

After my plans around Glen Dessary had been washed out earlier in the week, the sight of Streap the previous day had reminded me of that previous walk and gave me an opportunity to salvage something from this second week of my holiday in Scotland. Setting off along the forest track I soon emerged out of the woods to the fabulous view of the encircling mountain corrie that has Streap at its head. The weather may have been grey and overcast but with the clouds well above the tops of the peaks I was confident of a good walk so crossed the stream and headed off up the grassy western slopes of Meall an Uillt Chaoil. Guidebooks differ on the exact route to take up these slopes but I kept to the grassier ground between the burns of Allt Coire an Tuim and Allt Caol climbing the steep terrain for many excruciating hours (actually less than two) until I eventually reached the top. Long grassy ascents are always frustrating as you just want to get to the top of the ridge but it never seems to get any closer no matter how long you go with every step a battle of will to summon the strength to move further up the hill.

Eventually I passed through the pain and reached the top where a fabulous view opened out before me that leads all the way to Streap. I now knew that the pain that I’d gone through during the last two hours had not only been worth it but was now a distant memory as I anticipated the traverse along this fabulous ridge. After my experiences earlier in the week I was becoming fed up of going up mountains, but now I had the best antidote to that in a great ridge walk. The best mountain walks are always on ridges and the highlights of this holiday had all been along fabulous ridges including the Grey Corries, in the Mamores and now on Streap. My mistake was trying to bag Munros when the most enjoyable part of a mountain is actually the paths between them, along the tops of mountains with views of neighbouring mountains all around. On this walk the weather may not have been great but it was good enough to get a view along the ridge and of the neighbouring mountains above Coire Thollaidh to my left. Low cloud robs an important attraction in mountain walking.

With the prospect of a fabulous ridge walk ahead of me I set off down the craggy slopes of Meall an Uillt Chaoil to Bealach nan Cearc where a steep rise brought me to the top of Stob Coire nan Cearc. This was tremendous walking and I was enjoying every single moment of it with the views of the rest of the ridge before me promising more delights to come as the ridge began to narrow. After a short descent the ridge narrows deliciously and Streap was beginning to look impregnable even from this direction with sheer slopes all around that rise to a sharp point. While steep slopes fell precipitously down both sides of the narrow ridge I nervously walked up to the foot of the steep summit cone of Streap as I’m not great with heights and I’m not comfortable with any exposure or great distance below my feet. A path revealed itself up the steep slope that requires only elementary handwork but what Ralph Storer describes as some fine situations equate to some very steep ground that made me nervous. I like to think that this keeps me away from dangerous ground that could lead to falls, although the exposed situation also generates some excitement that makes the walk more memorable.

The summit ridge of Streap is surprisingly wide but I was conscious of the steep slopes all around and soon led me to the summit cairn. It was great to be at the top of this Corbett that is just shy of Munro status but whose grandeur is unaffected by any classification that can be made to this fabulous mountain. Sitting by the cairn while having my lunch I was happy to be at the top of this mountain whose grey views all around me were still a lot better than the last time that I had been at the top of Streap when I had not had any views at all. After eating, I carefully made my way down the eastern slopes where a thin path heads down to a narrow, connecting ridge and around the head of Coire Chùirn. A strong wind was blowing across the ridge forcing me to nervously keep my eyes on the ground in front of my feet as I crossed the narrow gap until I reached the start of the steep climb up a good, faint path onto the grassy dome of Streap Comlaidh. There is a ridge that heads off towards the north which I explored for a short distance until it starts to drop steeply. The views towards Glen Dessary and Loch Arkaig were not great with the view back to Streap Comhlaidh actually better, although good weather may produce more beneficial views.

Back over Streap Comlaidh I headed over a short col onto a wider grassy ridge before beginning to descend steep grassy slopes all the way into Gleann Dubh Lighe. Nine years ago I had climbed these steep slopes and as I carefully made my way down I wondered how I’d ever made it all the way up these dull slopes. The climb at the beginning of this walk had been bad enough, and a review of my report of the 2008 walk does reveal comments of “virtually impossible” and “absolutely excruciating”. These slopes were a lot steeper than those encountered earlier so I was relieved when I finally reached the bottom of the valley where some spots of rain seemed to greet me, but this didn’t bother me as my walk was almost over. A trek down the boggy valley brought me to the track that I had taken earlier and the bothy where I was staying was not far away from there. This walk was amazing with the highlight being the glorious ridge walk from Meall an Uillt Chaoil through to Streap Comhlaidh. This made all the effort climbing steep, dull, grassy slopes and all the bogs that I have had to trudge through worthwhile. Although that ridge walk was annoyingly short it reminded me why I come to Scotland every year to go up mountains.

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