Monday, 6 September 2010

Sutherland Adventure Part 2: Karst Country

I arrived in Inchnadamph in late afternoon after a long hot walk out from Suilven back to Lochinver. I had booked myself in to Inchnadamph Lodge and was looking forward to a proper bed for the first time in a couple of nights. I was also very excited to have arrived at the location of the famous Bone Caves, where not only have 4500 year old human burials been found, but also the remains of a polar bear, radiocarbon dated to almost 19,000 years ago when Scotland was in the grip of the last ice age. The caves have yielded a remarkable array of fossil bones spanning the last 45,000 years.  Other mammals found at the site include reindeer, arctic fox, and lemmings, painting a picture of a landscape much colder than today.

I quickly ate my supper, and headed straight back out again, hoping to reach the bone caves before dark. The area around Inchnadamph is unusual as is primarily made up of limestone- a type of landscape geologists call "karst".  Numerous long, complex cave systems and underground watercourses have wound their way under the mountains and as I walked up Allt nan Uamh Glen I saw the first of many wonders that this landscape would reveal. Before me, where the path would go, a river rose up fully formed from the ground.  There was no visible exit for the water, and although the geological reasons for this are well understood- it appears like a miracle. 

Above the path, a tiny trickle washes down the rocks, below it, a rushing river!
 The bone caves are further up the glen on the right as you walk up hill. 

A circular walk around the Glen leads up and past the caves.
The next morning I took a track behind the cottage in Inchnadamph that climbs the Gleann Dubh up to Conival (987m). At the head of the glen, a boggy path turns left up to the bealach between Conival and Beinn an Fhurain.  It was a still and overcast day, and the midges were ferociously hungry, so it didn't take me long to reach the bealach- I didn't stop for long!

Gleann Dubh (The black Glen).
Even on the ridge there was little respite from the biting beasties, but there were some fantastic views to be had, and I quickly made my way along the frost shattered scree slopes to the summit of Conival.  From here is was a short hop and a skip along the ridge to Ben More Assynt, at 998m, my second Munro of the day.

Looking Northeast towards Beinn an Fhurain.
Frost shattered rock on the summit of Conival
Looking towards Ben More Assynt from Conival. 
The return to sea level was more or less by the same route, but at the exit from Gleann Dubh I took a short detour to visit the Tralligil Caves. These caves form the entrance to a vast cave system, and here I was able to witness the river plunging in to the ground, emerging- who knows where?!

The lowest cave- with the river rushing in to it. 

700m upstream, there are more caves, and water can be heard and sometimes seen rushing through them.
It is possible to safely enter one of the caves.  The mountain framed is Quinag.
After exploring the caves I returned to the lodge. I was incredibly tired and midge bitten, but happy from another brilliant day.  I was also excited about my plans for the following day, when I was going to climb a mountain called Quinag, which I had never heard of before I came to Sutherland.  The shapely form of Quinag was visible from Suilven, Conival and Ben More Assynt, and was so strikingly beautiful I had to go and see it close up.

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