Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Archimedes principle, aluminium, Lord Kelvin, and absolute zero degrees K (Kinlochleven).

 Caolas nan Con is really very narrow. This is the view to the right and this...

... is the view to the left, both from the middle of the channel. The surprising thing is that for almost all the 20th century large ships came through these narrows.

 What on earth would bring shipping to this remote spot. Well I will tell you....

 ...water and lots of it brought them. The more insightful are probably wondering if I have lost my marbles and what it is that floats my boat. Well let me explain.I am not talking about the obvious salt water in the loch and the Archimedes principle. What brought the ships here was  fresh water and lots of it. This area gets 75" of rain a year  so what were the locals doing with it, selling it to the Emirates? No let me explain. They (or rather Irish navvies)  built a huge dam high in the hills and a conduit and pipeline to feed a large hydroelectric generator in Kinlochleven.. The ships brought bauxite from Larne in Northern Ireland and France  and the electricity was used to smelt it into aluminium using electrolysis. The ships then took the aluminium ingots to rolling and fabrication mills in central Scotland and England. One of the driving forces of the development of aluminium smelters in the Highlands was the renowned physicist Lord Kelvin who was scientific advisor to the nascent British Aluminium Company.Thes smelters ran from 1908 to as recently as 2000

Once in the inner loch we made steady progress and soon the...

...mountains at the entrance to Glencoe...

...slipped behind or wakes which were the only disturbance on the cold glassy waters of the loch.It is difficult to describe how cold it began to get.

 The sun which never rose above the Aonach Eagach mountains was now visibly sinking leaving this spectacular glory lighting the sky. We decided to make the most of the day and press on to Kinlochleven as as the gathering cirrus clouds foretold the next day's weather.

We came across a large dog otter crunching his catch on the shore here. My hands were so cold he had gone by the time I fumbled to get the camera out.

We were now getting nearer to Kinlochleven which lies at the foot of the great snow covered pak of Am Bodach.

We were not the only ones going to Kinlochleven, this helicopter was delivering fresh supplies of muesli.

The cold was now so bad that even the sea started to freeze.

 Great plates of ice were left cracking on the shore by the ebb tide.

  There was a continuum of cold from the snowfields of the summits to the icy sea loch.

 At first it was easy to crunch through the thinner ice but soon it became thicker...

 ...brash ice. Any drops of water which fell...

 ...on our kayaks froze instantly and frozen sea water started to build up on our paddles.

 As we approached Kinlochleven a cold wind blew down from the icy wastes above but...

...the "melt" water coming down the fast flowing river Leven kept a channel free. We had intended going up to the Ice Factor indoor climbing wall (in one of the old aluminium smelter buildings) for a warm up and a coffee but when we landed on a shingle bank in the river Leven it was so cold that we felt the life force draining out of us by the second. Ian, Mike and I have all spent many days in Scottish winter mountains but we had never experienced cold like this. As my thermometer had broken earlier in the day we had to invent a new scale. as we had never been so cold we set it at absolute zero degrees K. No not Kelvin... degrees Kinlochleven. As we fled the scene, we knew that we would never be so cold again.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Reflections on mountains, deforestation and wolves in Caolas nan Con.

After luncheon we continued east under...

...the shapely peak of Sgorr na Ciche which cast a long shadow...

...over the loch.

We were just about to loose the sunshine and enter the perpetual winter shade of the inner loch.

 As we paddled further east we encountered mirror calm conditions.

The cone of Garbh Bheinn 867m now dominated the south shore of the loch  while...

 ...Am Bodach 1032m commanded the horizon to the north.

We made good progress and soon the mountains at the mouth of the loch...

 ...were left far behind.

Even the reflections on the calm waters were...

...dominated by the mountains.

  We were now approaching the tidal narrows of Caolas nan Con (narrows of the dog).

 Some sources say this is where shepherds and their dogs would swim across but...

 ...I like to think that it is where wolves would have swum across.Wolves roamed much of Scotland until they were exterminated sometime in the 18th century. They were feared predators of livestock and in winter would unearth recently buried corpses. This led to the tradition of Highland graveyards being placed on islands (such as Eilean Munde) in Loch Leven, Loch Awe and Loch Maree and also  Handa island off the coast of Sutherland. Wolves are such strong swimmers that I am not sure how much protection an island burial would give a corpse. Wolves were a particular problem in this part of Scotland. The ancient Mamore Forest, which once covered the ground between Loch Leven, Loch Treig and what is now the Blackwater reservoir, was burned to the ground at the end of the 16th century. Though this removed the wolves' habitat it also destroyed a wonderful environment characterised by Scots Pine. The bare hills we see today may be starkly beautiful but they are a man made desert and their current appearance is a pale shadow of their former beauty. When walking over the peat bogs in the area to the east of the head of Loch Leven it is still possible to find "bog wood", the preserved roots of this lost Caledonian Forest which are now several hundred years old..

We passed Caolas nan Con through just about slack water. The ebb starts at the same time as the Ballachulish narrows at the entrance of the loch but the flood is delayed by about two hours. Maximum flow is about 6 knots at springs on the flood but it is usually possible to get through against the flow.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Keeping abreast of mountain names round Loch Leven.

From Poll an Dunain we enjoyed a view of the sun catching the high ridges of Creag Ghorm 758m which rises steeply behind the Ballachulish Hotel from where we had set off.

 Although we were still in deep cold shade the sun was beginning to...

 ...rise above the deep valleys on the south side of the loch.

We now enjoyed a view of one of the most iconic mountains that surround Loch Leven.

Sgorr na Ciche is only 742m high but it is a proper mountain with a fantastic view of the loch.

I was last on its summit in 1998. It was late in the day in summer. We had just traversed the Aonach Eagach ridge to its east and were in the coll below its summit. We just started to ascend the peak when a man came down the steep slope above. "It's a bit late in the day to be going up there, it's quite a challenge" says he. "Well, I think we are ready for a challenge" says I.. "Well you will need to be very careful the ground is much rougher up there, what way did you come up here?" says he. "Actually we came down to here, we have just come along the Anoach Eagach ridge." says I. "Oh" says he and he scurried off down the path.

 The English name is Pap of Glencoe and Ciche means a young woman's breast.

In contrast, Mam na Gualainn  796m on the other side of the loch is named after the rounded breast of a more mature woman.

There was little wind but what there was was straight into our teeth from the east and the cold heart of the high mountains beyond.

We had to paddle out in to the loch to get round a huge salmon fish farm. We had enjoyed delicious local salmon in the hotel the previous night so could not complain too much. In the far distance we could now see the steep south ridge of Am Bodach 1032m which rises steeply from our destination, Kinlochleven. It is part of the Mamore range, the big rounded breasts.

As we passed the mouth of Glen Coe we had a wonderful panorama of the mountains on both sides of the glen: Sgorr na Ciche 742m,  Sgorr nam Fiannaidh 967m, Stob Coire nan Lochain 1115m, and Bidean nam Bian 1150m.

It was at this point that the plastic body of my thermometer cracked in the cold. It would never again register above zero. We were getting colder by the second in the biting wind.

 At last we spotted what we were looking for...

 ...a little beach, out of the wind with some nice rocks... sit on and in full sun. It was a great location for first luncheon as we knew we would soon be entering the perpetual shade of the upper loch.

 It also enjoyed a great view across the loch to the...

 ,...snowy ridges and peaks of Beinn a' Bheithir 1024m.

Below Bidean nam Bian the sun was lighting the Fionn Ghleann, the fair glen.