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Walk Islay 2013 - Ascent of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura

By Becky Williamson

It was the day we'd been waiting for all week, which doesn't sound like a long time, but in a week of unsettled weather with several walks having had to be modified or cancelled, the highlight of the week, the long awaited ascent of Jura's lowest Pap was anticipated with anxiety. Would the weather put paid to this eagerly anticipated event? The forecast had looked good for Friday all week, but often it changes at the last minute. I logged onto XC weather the night before and peered over my hand-covered eyes to dare to view the forecast. Bright sunshine all day and with winds no stronger than 7 mph, who cared what direction it was blowing from? Yippee!!!

This was the culmination of the 11th Walk Islay week, an annual event which up till now has been organized by the tireless Ian Brookes (of the Islay Bird blog) who is definitely retiring this year (after having threatened to do so for at least 4 years!)

We caught the first ferry of the day from Port Askaig at 08.30 and, watched our destination, still capped in early morning cloud, draw nearer NR4873 : Beinn a' Chaolais and Beinn an Oir from 'Eilean Dhiura' by Becky Williamson. The first part of the walk was easy. Waving goodbye to the only other two passengers who drove off towards Craighouse, 22 intrepid walkers turned left onto the short stretch of road that leads to Inver Cottage where we were to meet our guide, Donald Ewen Darroch. We watched the Eilean Dhiura return to Islay NR4369 : 'Eilean Dhiura' on its passage to Port Askaig, Islay by Becky Williamson and so we were committed to whatever lay ahead.

Donald Ewen was there to meet us and welcome us to Jura. I turned back to cast one last glance at the island we'd just left behind NR4471 : View across the Sound of Islay from near Inver, Jura by Becky Williamson and then gave my full attention to what lay before - the now cloud free Paps of Jura NR4471 : Looking towards Beinn a' Chaolais and Beinn an Oir from the hydro track, Jura by Becky Williamson and NR4472 : Beinn a' Chaolais from near Cnocbreac, Jura by Becky Williamson. En route we were told about the relatively new hydro electric works on this side of the island as we passed some of the buildings NR4471 : New hydro works buildings near Inver, Jura by Becky Williamson. We then walked up to Cnocbreac, and what remains of a ruined village there NR4473 : Part of the ruined village of Cnocbreac, Jura by Becky Williamson. After crossing the Abhainn a' Chnuic Bhric, we turned eastwards into what was now new territory for me. This road NR4572 : Beginning the ascent of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson has been built for the hydro-electric works on the island which began a few years ago. I don't know enough about it to explain I'm afraid - I was always last to turn up as Donald Ewen was giving his little speeches!

As promised the day was almost totally cloud free and Beinn a' Chaolais stood waiting for us, and the ascent route was no more obvious now we were closer than it is from my house in Bowmore! NR4672 : Beinn a' Chaolais and Beinn an Oir from track up Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson and NR4672 : Beinn a' Chaolais from the new hydro-electric track by Becky Williamson. We continued along this easy track NR4672 : Looking back down the new hydro-electric track, Jura by Becky Williamson and NR4672 : The track up Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson, passing Loch Gleann Astaile NR4772 : Lochan Gleann Astaile from track up Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson and the hydro works there NR4772 : Hydro works at Lochan Gleann Astaile, Jura by Becky Williamson. The track veers northwards here and then we left it, striding out across pathless moorland NR4772 : Moorland below Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson.

Once closer to the mountain it looks ever so slightly less daunting, but only because the summit has disappeared from view NR4773 : Looking up towards the summit of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson and NR4773 : Looking up Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson. As we ascended the mountain's western slopes, we paused to rest often and to take in the view across the Sound of Islay NR4773 : Looking towards the Sound of Islay from the western slopes of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson NR4773 : Ascending Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson and NR4773 : Before the scree, Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson. Lochan Gleann Astaile was getting more distant NR4872 : Lochan Gleann Astaile from southern slopes of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson and NR4873 : Looking down to Lochan Gleann Astaile from near the summit of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson and the ominous scree slopes for which this range of mountains is famous, were drawing ever closer. Soon we were at the beginning of the scree; the bit I was dreading NR4872 : Looking towards the summit of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson and NR4873 : Scree on southern slopes of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson. Despite being dry underfoot, this was still hard work, particularly for someone who suffers form vertigo as I do. There's so much to concentrate on here - every footstep matters. Will I dislodge a rock that will fall on someone's head below me? Am I going to smash my camera on the rocks? Why didn't I put it in my rucsack before I began? Can I safely stop to take a photo? And then, 'What's that, Bronwen? You asked me something?' These mountains need treating with respect - and, for me, fear. But then, there's an incredible feeling of achievement once the worst is past NR4873 : Western slopes of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson. Occasionally it was possible to stop to take a photo NR4873 : View from southern slopes of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson and NR4873 : Looking towards the Sound of Islay from the western slopes of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson, but mostly we plodded on, heads downwards until this scary ridge bit from where we got our first glimpse of the view south-eastwards NR4873 : Looking south-east from near the summit of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson NR4873 : Looking south-east from near summit of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson.

Then there's a small cairn NR4873 : Cairn near summit of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson and lots more scree NR4873 : Making our way to the summit of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson before, relieved and elated we reached the summit NR4873 : Beinn an Oir and Beinn Shiantaidh from summit of Beinn a' Chaolais, Jura by Becky Williamson - and more perfect conditions we could not have asked for. It was nearly windless at 733 metres above sea level (and don't forget we walked every single one of those metres; my GPS read -3 metres at one point!) Needless to say the views here are fantastic and it was only after about an hour at the summit that we started to feel a little shivery and so began our descent.

Once back on level ground I turned to look at the monster we had conquered NR4773 : Beinn a' Chaolais after the ascent, Jura by Becky Williamson. It looked less foreboding, but I still couldn't see how we'd made our way up! Two down, one to go - maybe I'll manage it this year yet! Watch this space . . . Our thanks to our excellent guide.


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Sat, 20 Apr 2013 at 14:53
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