Monday, 29 June 2009

Fisherfield Adventure

A’Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor    28-29 June 2009

An expedition to the remote jewels of A’Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor had long been in my mind.  It would need an overnight bivvy, which meant finding a suitable porter to help carry the gear!  

The opportunity presented presented itself as part of a week’s camping holiday at Gairloch Sands, with Iain, Julie and Isla.  We all arrived at Gairloch on Saturday 27th, and  pitched our tents close to our favourite spot.

Sunday was a lovely hot sunny day, so Iain and I decided to make the most of the good weather (which might not last), packed tent, sleeping bags, food and clothes, and set off by car on Sunday afternoon, leaving the 3 generations of girls to guard the encampment!

We parked at Poolewe (right) at 4pm, and loaded up our (rather ungainly) rucsacs.

(right) Ready to start at Poolewe.  I'm supposed to be in the picture here, but something went wrong with the self-timer on the camera!

We enjoyed the cycle up the tarred road on the east side of the River Ewe, continuing on a good landrover track up to Kernsary farm, then through a gate into the forest.   

A few 100 metres into the forest, we decided the bikes should be abandoned, and continued on foot, before leaving the track onto a new path, soon crossing a high stile (left) onto the open moorland.  

Beinn Airigh Charr dominated the view ahead initially.

It was a lovely warm evening as we made good progress along the well-built path gradually gaining height below the steep northern flank on Beinn Airigh Charr

A small detour to cross the burn running out of the Strathan Buidhe meant we were past the half way mark, and soon the path started the descent towards the head of the Fionn Loch (right).

(right) Fionn Loch and Dubh Loch, with A' Mhaighdean behind

Soon we were down to the shoreline, and followed the shore round to the causeway, passing a couple in a small tent, camped at the head of the loch.

The causeway (left) was a slight disappointment, not as dramatic as expected, as the loch water level was fairly low.  

It was now 7.30pm, and time to pitch the tent, on a level area just across the causeway (right), with a view to the Dubh Loch, dominated by A' Mhaighdean

With some midges starting to appear as the sun dropped towards the horizon, we headed into the tent for an early night, ready for an early start next morning.

We woke next day at abut 7am, and were soon setting off up the path past Carnmore, happy to have lighter packs than last night.  Still on the good stalkers' path, we climbed steadily up above the Dubh Loch to around 400m, then struck off to the right, across the Allt Bruthach an Easain towards Fuar Loch Beag, reached by a short climb up a steep grass and rock slope.  Time then for our first rest, on the jumble of massive boulders at the ouflow of the loch (left).

After crossing the outflow burn, we headed on up onto the NW ridge.  

Once on the  crest, fantastic views opened up down to the Dubh Loch, the causeway, Fionn Loch with Beinn Airigh Charr beyond, and righ out to Poolewe on the distant horizon (right).

Initially easy, the first obstacle n the ridge was a slightly exposed clamber up a sandstone step straddling the ridge.  

Beyond this, the going was pretty straightforward for the next kilometre or so up to the 850m contour, until we suddenly found ourselves on a sandstone platform, peering over a 10m drop to a notch in the ridge. A dramatic place!  

(left)  Iain peering over the notch in the ridge.  Fuar Loch Mor and Ruadh Stac Mor behind. 

Just to the left, we found that we could descend a few metres down a sandy gully, then clamber up to the right to a notch which led out to the arete below the sandstone outcrop.  A slightly less secure descent might have been possible on the right, but we didn't try it!

(right) Looking back past the pinnacle to the sandstone platform, where the last photo was taken,

We then weaved around a couple of small pinnacles (left), before clambering up some natural sandstone steps up out of the dip in the ridge, and out onto a grassy plateau area, broad enough to hold a football pitch, in stark contrast to the rocky section.

(below) Looking back to the tricky section of the ridge form near the summit, with the "football pitch" to the right

From here, the summit was quickly reached up an eroded sandy path, and at 10.40am we were standing on the highest point of one of Scotland's finest Munros.  

We remarked on the similarity of the Gaelic name A' Mhaighdean, to both of the English translations words "virgin" and "maiden."  Do they all have a common root?  And how did the mountain get such a name?

(left) The views all around were dramatic, with steep falls to Gorm Loch and Lochan Fada to the south, and across a jumble of complex craggy ridges to Ben Lair and Slioch.  

By contrast, the eastern side of the hill sloped gently away toward the bealach between A' Mhaighdean and Beinn Tarsuinn.  

This was place to linger awhile.

The sky was starting to grey in, so we decided we had better drag ourselves away - there was still another Munro to be climbed, then a long walk home.  We returned to the "football pitch", then found a steep path leading off down to the bealach at 750m below Ruadh Stac Mor.

(right) View from summit of A' Mhaghdean across the "football pitch" to the rounded top of Ruadh Stac Mor 

The climb up to Ruadh Stac Mor was short but steep (left), following a gully up through the initial rock band, then a clamber over boulders to the summit.  

From  the first Munro to the second took exactly an hour.  

Once again, the views were superb, especially to the north towards An Teallach and Beinn Dearg Mhor.  

Spent 20 minutes or so surveying the scene, before heading of along Ruadh Stac Mor's NW ridge.  This involved a short rocky drop off the summit, then a stroll along the almost level grassy ridge for a few hundred metres, before choosing a spot to descend steeply off the ridge on grass and scree to reach the main path coming down from the bealach.  From here, there were great views across Fuar Loch Mor to A' Mhaighdean's NW ridge, with the notch and pinnacles clearly visible in profile (right).

The stalkers' path led steadily downwards to the outflow of Lochan Feith Mhic' illean, then joined the main path through from Gleinn na Muice.   This path led us rapidly back down to Carnmore at 2pm, where we packed up the tent, had some lunch, then loaded up our rucsacs for the walk out.

(left) Dubh Loch reflections from the causeway

From the causeway back to Poolewe took us 3 hours 15 minutes - 9 km walking and 6 km cycling.

A superb expedition - long anticipated and now completed.  Many thanks to Iain for acting as sherpa!

Total walking 30km, cycling 12km, climbing 1300m, time 14 hours (+ overnight)
Munros 232 and 233
Tops 387 and 388

Sunday, 14 June 2009


Gulvain   14th June 2009

Another fine morning – too good to waste – and not too tired out by yesterday’s exertions on Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach – so Anne and I set off along Loch Eil after a leisurely start. 

We parked on the old road at Kinlocheil just after 11am, and cycled up Gleann Fionnlighe.  The track was pretty good for the first couple of miles or so, but gradually deteriorated beyond Wauchan.  

We managed to keep going pretty well to the foot of the mountain (left), where we abandoned the bikes at about 12noon. 

Almost immediately, the path started to climb, directly at first, then up a series of zig-zags on the steep south ridge.  The day was warm and quite humid, and after our late start, we needed to stop for some lunch about half-way up where the gradient eased a little to form a little grassy platform overlooking the glen. 

Further up, the path became rougher, with grassy slopes gradually becoming rockier, then levelling out once over a minor top.  An easy walk along a broad grassy ridge led us to the south summit (961m) at 1440, where a group were resting around the cairn.  We didn’t stop there, but continued down and along the broad summit ridge (right), then  up a lovely little rocky arĂȘte to the highest top at 987m. 

We rested there for 30 minutes, enjoying the views all around, until a light shower encouraged us to head back the way we had come.  

The descent was steep, so we took our time, reaching the bikes just after 6pm, 2.5 hours after leaving the summit.

The cycle run back down the glen was a joy!

Cycle 10km, walk 9km, climb 110m, time 7hrs 50 mins.
Munro 231, Tops 385-386

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach

Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach
13th June 2009

We had a lovely journey up from Selkirk on Friday evening – Loch Lomond, Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe all looking splendid – and set up camp at Glen Nevis campsite at 6.30pm.

Rain overnight tested our new space age tent (left).  We had decided that in our old age, it would be nice to have a tent in which we could sit up on chairs and stand up to get dressed!  So, no more strolls round campsites to see if ours was the oldest tent there!

After the overnight rain, there was a blanket of low cloud, but it looked like it would lift, so Anne and I  set off in faith, and drove up by Loch Garry and Tomdoun to Loch Quoich.  There was still could hanging around the tops, but it was definitely improving as we set off from the car at 11.30am.  No long walk in here!  The excellent stalkers’ path climbs directly from the roadside, up through rhododendrons and onto the open hillside above.  

Soon we were looking down on Loch Quoich (right) as the path zig-zagged up to Sron a’ Chuillin.

After a steady ascent, the gradient levelled out along the ridge of Druim Seilach, with Glen Quoich far below to the left, and Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich opposite.   

Was that a light aircraft landing strip we could see below us at Alltbeithe (or perhaps Ryanair’s “Inverness” airport?!)

We followed the excellent path round above Fraoch Choire to where it stopped abruptly at a stalkers’ shelter at 850m.  A short steep climb up the ridge above, and we arrived at the rocky summit at 2pm, just as the cloud lifted off.  

A fine view appeared along the ridge to the east.  Compared to the grassy slopes of the south side, the view to the north side revealed dramatic rough rock-strewn  corries (Garbh Coire Mhor and Garbh Choire Beag) and  the south Cluanie ridge across Easter Glen Quoich.
After a 20 minute rest on the summit, we continued on along the ridge, over the subsidiary top, Craig Coire na Fiar Bhealaich, then down to the bealach at 746m.  

Ahead of us were three sweeping curves of the ridge around the heads of Coire na Fiar Bhealaich, Coire Leacach Mor and Coire an Spidein, leading to the 2nd Munro, Spidean Mialach.  

Behind us, a heavy shower was  sweeping in from the west.  Would it miss us, or catch us?  Unfortunately, it caught us half way to the summit, so we struggled on in the wind and rain, reaching the summit at 16.10.  We “cooried doon” inside the cairn for a few minutes, hoping for the shower to pass over.  We picked up a rather nice-looking top, which looked like it had been left by accident recently – maybe we could return it to its owner (perhaps the walker we had seen ahead of us earlier in the day).

No sign of the shower passing over, so we set off down the hill – wind and rain in our faces now.  The rain soon stopped, and the views across Loch Quoich reappeared (right) to Gairich, Sgurr Mor and Sgurr na Ciche

We made good progress down the SW slopes of the (rather wet) hillside and round the north side of Loch Fearna.  

Here we picked up a good stalkers’ path across Coire Mheill, then followed it down through the rhododendrons and back to the car.  

(left) Gairich across Loch Quoich

Hastily removing our boots, we jumped into the car just in time as the swarms of midges detected fresh blood!

No sign of the other climber – he had already left (probably driven on his was by the midges!).   However, we spotted him at the road end, waiting for a lift, and, sure enough, the top was his, and he was glad to get it back!  Only slightly disappointed that I couldn’t claim it for myself!

Lovely evening drive back to the campsite.  

10km walk, 110m climb, 7hrs 15mins, Munros  229 and 230, Tops 382 – 384.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Knoydart Adventure (5 - Sgurr na Ciche)

2nd June 2009  
Sgurr na Ciche, Garbh Chioch Mhor and Sgurr na Coireachan

So, after a good overnight sleep in the car, the sun rose early, and I was ready to set off just after 6am.

I took the track branching off to the left, dropping down past Strathan to cross over the river, then turning right up into the forest.  By taking this route, I was able to cycle about 8km up the south side of Glen Dessary (left),  with good views across to the the hills on the north side.  

After an hour, I came to the end of the track, and dumped the bike.  A path / track crossed the river, and continued on the north bank for a mile or so, then climbed very boggily up out of the forest to join the main path up the glen.  

Once on this path, progress was rapid through the upper part of the glen - desolate apart from a (temporarily) abandoned JCB / digger!

I followed this path for a short distance, then branched off it on a bull-dozed track which climbed steeply up the hillside onto the SW shoulder (above) of Garbh Chioch Mhor - a fine place for a rest, overlooking Coire na Ciche.  Quite a few deer around, grazing quite unconcerned at my presence.

Continued on round the shoulder to the foot of Feadan na Ciche (left), a steep boulder filled gully leading up to the bealach between Sgurr na Ciche and Garbh Chioch Mhor.  This provided 20 minutes of fun, scrambling up to the 845m col at the top.   
"Feadan" means whistle.  Apparently, it is named because of the way the wind whistles through the col, but today it was silent!  

Quite a dramatic place, with the cliffs of Sgurr na Ciche on the left, and of Garbh Chioch Mhor on the right.

From  the col, a 200m climb up a steep rocky path, and suddenly I was standing on the summit at 10.35am.   What a wonderful viewpoint!

Spent 25 minutes on the summit (right), enjoying the views - although it was hazier than it had been earlier in the week. Savoured the alone-ness, and fortified myself with food and coffee! 

(left) view down Loch Neivs from summit of Sgurr na Ciche

The ridge ahead over Garbh Chioch Mhor (above) looked rough and inviting, so, suitably refreshed, I scrambled back down from the tiny summit area to the bealach.  

From there, a steep pull up over a series of rocky steps (passing a solitary soul heading the other way) took me to the top of Garbh Chioch Mhor in about 50 minutes from Sgurr na Ciche.  Two more Munros - numbers 226 and 227!

Garbh Chioch's rocky summit delayed me for another 20 minutes, again enjoying the views and the sense of being alone in this magnificent wilderness.

The precipitous north side of Garbh Chioch Mhor (right) with the boulder strewn coire below - a dramatic place to be.

(Sgurr na Ciche behind to the right)

The next 30 minutes were an exhilirating rough walk along the ridge to Garbh Chioch Bheag, a Munro top, again with dramatic cliffs on its north face. (below, as seen looking back from Sgurr na Coireachain)

Next, the path dropped fairly steeply alongside a dry stane wall to another bealach at 740m.  Here I met another Computing teacher, Andrew Wilson, and stopped for a chat - only the second person I had seen all morning.  For the bealach, another steep grassy climb of 200m to the final Munro of the day, Sgurr na Coireachan.  Contemplated briefly the option of continuing on to Sgurr Mor, but decided against it.  Just to make sure I didn't change my mind, I continued over the main summit, and stopped for the final rest of the day on Sgurr na Coireachan's SE top.

From here, the descent was long and steep on a faint path down the south ridge (left), and I was glad to get to the forest track at the bottom.  

A short scramble down through the woods, and at 16.05 I was back to my bike.  

Finally, a 40 minutes cycle back through the forest to the car at Strathan - a superb day!

16km cycle, 12 km walk, 1350m climb, 10.5 hours
Munros 226,227 and 228
Tops 378, 379, 380, 381

Note: Sgurr na Ciche is probably one of the most badly pronounced Munro names.  It shouldn't sound like "quiche", more like Key-Chu!

Monday, 1 June 2009

Knoydart Adventure (4 - back to the "mainland")

1st June 2009

Two days on Knoydart - two days of sunshine - and all 3 Munro climbed!  So, a thanks to Marjory and Roger for their hospitality, but declined to stay on for the rest of the week.  Instead, I decided to head back to the "mainland" and drive round to approach Sgurr na Ciche from the east.  A boat trip, then 62 miles by road, to get to a destination only 21 miles away "as the crow flies"!

So, a welcome long lie, then off down the road to get the 11am ferry from Inverie back to Mallaig (right).  Once again, it was a lovely sail - flat calm - watched porpoises playing round the boat.

Once back to Mallaig, found the car as it had been left, and drove down to Glenfinnan.  Plenty of time, so stopped off for coffee and scone, then found a hillside perch to watch and photograph "The Jacobite" steam train crossing the viaduct (left).

Next stop was along Locheilside, for more photos, this time of Ben Nevis, gloriously cloud free (for once), then again for the traditional shots from the canal basin at Corpach (right).

After some shopping in "The Fort", and a meal in Glen Nevis, it was time to head off along the back road to Loch Lochy (more photos - left), then through the "dark mile" and along the north side of Loch Arkaig, now heading due west back towards Inverie!  It was a beautiful evening - still and clear.
Finally, parked the car at the last layby on the road at Strathan, and settled down for a good night's sleep.

(posted 18/06/10)