Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Low Winter Sun: Cioch na h-Oighe

I think I have been up Cioch na h-Oighe more than any other ridge or peak on Arran. Close to the road, it is just a steep heather bash from Glen Sannox and a great choice for a shorter day if you want to get in to technical rocky scrambling terrain.  The rock is generally sound, the views immense, and it is one of the quietest places in the Northern Hills- I rarely meet anyone else up there.

So, this morning, a long lie and a good weather forecast lured us back up there with a promise of a fun scramble and some winter sunshine.  We were not disappointed. I think it would be hard for me to get tired of this fantastic ridge.

Walking up Glen Sannox for a short distance, before cutting up to the left and towards the Devil's Punchbowl. 

I've have described this route a few times, but in case you are new to the blog- climbing up to the Cioch involves taking a path leading up towards the Devil's Punchbowl, above Sannox, and then picking a traverse line under the nose of the Cioch, before scrambling over slabs and scree to reach the upper slopes.  The final tower forms a hooked prow, spectacular in profile.  On the left, the terrifying crags of The Bastion drop away, and to the right, steep but heathery slopes in to Glen Sannox.

Arriving on the Cioch, we were blinded by the low winter sun.  It was glorious, but a bit much so we gratefully dropped down in to the notch beyond, and followed the undualting crest over granite blocks and through narrow squeezes until the ridge broadened in to the flanks of Mullach Buidhe.

Cir Mhor from Mullach Buidhe

Beyond Mulllach Buidhe, there is a short descent before the final climb on to North Goatfell. Here the bright sun dazzled us again,  The view from the summit was incredible, and as well as the snow capped highlands to the North we could also make out Jura, and for the first time ever- clearly, the Isle of Mull to the Northwest.

On the summit of North Goatfell

Finally we began our descent down to The Saddle between North Goatfell and Cir Mhor. In places the path is heavily eroded and a fine scree of granite gravel means that care is required on descent.  From the saddle we traversed a short distance under the North East flank of Cir Mhor, before descending a well marked but scree filled Gully above the Whinstone Dyke.  From here, in descent, you have a choice of continuing to folow loose scree to the right (facing out) or descending the dyke itself, which is steep but certainly preferable in dry conditions.  There is plenty for hands, but the footholds are a bit polished by time, boots and running water. 

At last we arrived back in to Glen Sannox, and all that remained was a long stomp out of the glen as the light failed.  We passed a small herd of stags on the way, who crossed the river to avoid us, but still allowed us great views of their magnificent head gear.

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