• HOPELESSLY LOST ON SEANA BHRAIGH - A LESSON IN NAVIGATION

    Published 1st June 2016, 16:16

    SEANA BHRAIGH is a magnificent mountain but it does provide a testing day out in so many ways.

    Whichever way you tackle this remote Munro, heading in south from Oykel Bridge or east from Inverlael, it’s going to be a long, tough day.

    Then there’s the navigation. Although the approach from the north is straightforward, the eastern route involves crossing a lot of complicated ground, made even trickier in limited visibility. It’s one of the places where I have been hopelessly, haplessly lost.

    I wasn’t alone. Six of us had set out on a miserable spring day. The rain that had pounded down all night had relented but we were left with low cloud and a cloying dampness.

    We were only an hour in to the walk when we hit the first problem - the thundering waters of the Allt Gleann a’ Mhadaidh. Crossing here was impossible.

    I hadn’t expected a problem. When I first tackled Seana Bhraigh years earlier in the middle of the night, it had been during a long, hot spell and I boulder-skipped easily across.

    So it was a surprise this time to hear a roar like Niagara just ahead. A long detour upstream was needed and even then there were a few wet feet.

    Once on the other side, we followed the long meandering path until it petered out at a cairn. This is the crux of the route, but we could see nothing. We took our readings and headed off into the mist.

    I still don’t know exactly where we were or where we had gone wrong. I just remember going from one hump to the next in a state of bewilderment. After about 40 minutes of wandering around and running out of ideas, we cut our losses and, amazingly, made it back to the cairn.

    One of the group wanted to start again but everyone else had had enough. There are huge rings of cliffs here and one wrong turn could be disastrous. We did manage to summit one Munro that day, going back over Eididh nan Clach Geala, which also meant we avoided having to tackle the river again.

    Last weekend, I was back at the scene of the crime, again on a dank and damp day. Again there were problems with the river, again we had to cross much further upstream. But this time, when we reached the cairn where the path vanishes, the cloud blew away and gave us a glimpse of Seana Bhraigh and our onward route.

    Crucially, there was now a series of little cairns highlighting the line ahead, swinging east then north-east through the crags to keep us above the massive cirque of the Cadha Dearg cliffs. The cairns may have been there six years ago, but if they were, we failed to see them.

    My only memory of my first ascent was that I had climbed steeply down between rocky terrain in perfect sight to connect with the path to the final push.

    Looking around now I thought I could see the way I had come, but I still had no clue as to where we were when we got so hopelessly lost.

    I suspected we had drifted east - it looks so easy to go off course into a vast swathe of featureless ground, where one grassy mound, one stretch of bog, looks just like any other. Finding the Loch a’ Chadha Dheirg is key - once you have made it there the route becomes obvious.

    The cairns had helped us out this time, but I am not sure I’m comfortable with the proliferation of man-made markers.

    The simple fact is that if you aren’t capable of navigating the route then you shouldn’t be there. We got lost that day and we retreated. The mountain had beaten us - we just licked our wounds and made plans for a rematch.