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17 things I have learned when walking in claggy mountains

Written by Fiona

June 12 2024

“Clag” or “claggy” when referring to being in the mountains means low cloud or fog. I can’t say I would recommend a walk in the mountains in thick cloud and without great views, but sometimes best laid plans end up with a hike in poor weather. In any case, when conditions are less than favourable, you do learn things. 

A walk in Sutherland with David.
A solo walk to a Fiona on Arran.

On two recent outings I walked in clag. I did a circuit of a Corbett Beinn Leoid and two, Fionas Meallan a’ Chuail and Meall an Fheur Loch, in Sutherland with my friend David. On another outing, I completed a solo walk of the Fiona, Beinn Bharrain, as part of a route called the Pirnmill Circuit on the Isle of Arran. 

This is my route of the Corbett Beinn Leoid and two Fionas. It was almost 17km and with some 1250m of ascent. The lower areas were wet and boggy with a few peat hags. There was a path to start and bits and pieces of trod, plus more obvious trods higher on the mountains.

Here is my route of the Pirnhill Circuit, taking in the Fiona Beinn Bharrain. It was almost 15.5km and a total ascent of 930m. 

A claggy walk will often start below the clouds.

17 things I have learned when walking on cloudy mountains  

  1. There is often a feeling of hope. The hope is that the cloud might lift, or you will end up above the cloud. 

2. Even just a glimpse between the clouds can bring great joy.

3. Clag at higher altitude doesn’t always mean cloud at lower elevation when you start the walk. It many cases, some of the walk will be enjoyed with clear views.

Sometimes you will be treated to a nice view.

4. It can make a difference if you choose to head to a lower summit, such as. Fiona rather than a Corbett or a Munro. Many times I’ve enjoyed a walk to a Fiona to 2000ft elevation and looked accords at higher mountains shrouded by cloud.

5. You need more clothes than you might imagine. The clld and damp of walking in clouds means you will probably want gloves, headwear and extra layers even in summer.

6. Walking in thick cloud focuses your attention far more keenly to the navigation. Without features and landmarks to see ahead, you need to be able to make sensible decisions based on what you can see on a map.

Check that you are on a summit.

7. Following a route on a mapping app, such as OS Maps, is fine to a point. But if you end up walking away from the route, it’s important to have a map and compass to be able to find the right bearing to return to the route.

8. You need to be able to trust your map and experience when you can’t see very far ahead.  I wanted to avoid a scramble on a ridge during the Pirnhill Circuit and this meant I needed to ascend a different side of a gorge near the start of the walk. But the climb was steep and rocky and it seemed to take forever. 

9. Tricky conditions bring increased confidence – in the end. This is especially true when walking solo and you successfully find your way.

A trig pillar looming in the clag.

10. It’s fine to talk to yourself! I found I needed to give myself a couple of pep talks when walking in clag on my own. A couple of, “you can do this”, or “you know what you are doing” comments seemed to help me!

11. You might be surprised by what you suddenly can see. During the Pirnhill Circuit, I knew I should be passing beside a lochan. I could see no evidence of the water until suddenly a section of cloud shifted and there I was, right on the shore!

My sudden view of a lochan.

12. You are more likely to eat on the go. Sitting down on a mountain in thick cloud is cold and damp and not particularly enticing. Plus, everyone prefers a food stop on a mountain with a beautiful view! 

13. It’s important to check you have actually reached you hoped for summit. In cloud, you might imagine you are at the highest point but when you can’t see the landscape, it’s easy to be fooled. Check your location with a GPS device.

14. Mountain noises are louder. I had a bit of a shock when I suddenly heard a ptarmigan take flight with a noisy call only a metre of so from my feet.

I spotted lots of lovely wild flowers.

15. You will probably take more notice of things at ground level, such as beautiful wild flowers.

16. There is a great feeling of reward when you finally make it to a summit in the clag, or you come back down out of the cloud and you can finally see again. 

17. The mountains will always be there and you could choose to do a lower level walk rather than a hike in claggy mountains.

I do prefer to walk in clear weather and with good views, but sometimes it’s a good test with confidence-boosting rewards to hike in the clag.

Corbetts bagged: 150 

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