Thursday, 29 July 2010

19,18,17,16: Strathfarrar Four

The Strathfarrar Four (29th July 2011)

After a few days over in Lossiemouth waiting for the wet westerly winds to abate, we headed back towards the hills on Wednesday 28th, encouraged by a better forecast for the next day.  Once more, we pitched the tent at Cannich, and marvelled at the arrival of "das Rollende Hotel"- a bus with a sleeping trailer, fold-out dining shelter, and about 40 passengers - a truly bizarre sight (below)!

Das Rollende Hotel at Cannich camp site
Next morning, we were up early to get to the gate at Struy for 9am.  The road up Glen Strathfarrar is a private one, with locked gates, open from 9am to 8pm in the summer months, and by arrangement at other times.  As a further restriction, only 25 cars are allowed up at any time.  We found three other cars waiting, so that was fine.

It was a lovely drive up the glen, and we soon reached the starting point for the walk just beyond the top of Loch Beannacharan.  I dropped Anne off here at 9.30am to begin the walk, then drove another 7km up the road, to the planned end point of our walk.  Leaving the car there, I cycled back down the glen, and set off up the path at 10am.

An initially good track turned into a boggy squelch for a mile or so up the Allt Coire Mhuillidh.  I walked for a while with another solo walker, and soon we were heading up to drier ground on the broad south west ridge of Sgurr na Ruaidhe ("reddish peak").  About half-way up we caught up with Anne, then overtook another solo lady walker (who turned out to be from Gattonside, only a few miles from Selkirk).  Soon the ridge began to ease off, and 2 hours from the car, we reached the summit cairn.   A sociable lunch spot ...

summit of Sgurr na Ruaidhe, with Carn nan Gobhar in background
We didn't remain long, though, as the air felt quite cold and damp.  After 15 minutes, the chap in the blue cagoule set off  westwards towards the next Munro, Carn nan Gobhar.  We followed son after, and made quick progress down grassy slopes to the intervening bealach - where we caught up with him and handed over the lunchbox he had left behind;  pity - I was looking forward to the chocolate biscuit!

From the bealach, more easy grassy slopes led us up toward the boulder-strewn top of Carn nan Gobhar (992m), the second Munro of the day.  Hang on a second - weren't we on Carn nan Gobhar (992m) this time last year?  Yes!  Bizarrely enough, there are two Carn nan Gobhars, exactly the same height, and only 14km apart - one in the Mullardoch range, the other one here in the Strathfarrars.   Maybe they were named after the same goats!  (we didn't see any).

Anne on Carn nan Gobhar, with Sgurr a'Choire Ghlais, Creag Gorm a'Bhealaich and Sgurr Fhuar Thuill in the background
Anyway, we lingered a few minutes on this one before heading off down the grassy highway to the next bealach, then up the steep curving ridge of Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais, the day's highest point at 1083m.  The mist was coming and going on the twin tops of this peak, so we didn't linger for long (but made sure to visit both cairns), before continuing westwards.  After skirting around the initial boulder field, we were soon back on springy mossy turf - a joy to walk on. Yet another bealach lay ahead, and a scalloped ridge leading up to Creag Ghorm a'Bhealaich, a fine peak in its own right, although only designated as a top.

Creag Ghorm a' Bhealaich from Sgurr a 'Choire Ghlais
looking back to Sgurr a'Choire Ghlais from Creag Ghorm a'Bhealaich

Another 10 minute rest here before continuing.  Each of the last sections had taken just under an hour, easy walking, but the final two tops were much closer together.  

Twenty minutes after leaving Creag Ghorm a' Bhealaich, we passed over the top of the 4th Munro, Sgurr Fhuar-Thuill (peak of the cold hollow) without stopping, and 15 minutes later we were on Sgurr na Fearstaig, the most westerly top - little more than a rounded hump at the end of the ridge.  Job done!

the final stroll to Sgurr na Fearstaig
We sat on the final top at 4pm, enjoying the view, but mindful of the "locked gate", we didn't linger too long, and were soon headed down the fine stalkers' path towards Loch Toll a' Mhuic.

the start of the route down past Loch Toll a' Mhuic below Sgurr na Muice

In less than 2 hours, we were back down to where I had left the car, and all that remained was to pick up my bike, and enjoy the run back down Strathfarrar to Struy.


4 Munros + 2 tops
17 km walk + 7 km cycle
1560 m climb
8 hours 


left bike09:55 Ruaidhe11:55 - 12:15
C. na Gobhar13:05 - 13:15
Sg. a Ch. Ghlais14:10 - 14:20
Cr. Gh a' Bhealaich15:10 - 15:20
Sg. Fhuar-Thuill15:45 
Sg. na Fearstaig16:00 - 16:10

posted 15/04/11  D. Bethune

Friday, 23 July 2010

22,21,20: the Conbhairean group

Carn Ghluasaid, Sgurr nan Conbhairean and Sail Chaorainn,   23rd July 2010

After 7 Munros yesterday, a rest day might have been in order.  However, the weather dictated otherwise!  It's not often you get two blue-sky days in a row up the west coast, and when the opportunity comes along ...

We parked at Lundie on the shores of Loch Cluanie at 10am.  We started up the old road as far as a communication mast, then off it on to an excellent stalkers' path which climbed steadily up the hillside avoiding the worst boggy bits.

To our left, a marvellous view of yesterday's hills opened up across the loch.

Carn a'Mhaim and Druim Shionnach across Loch Cluanie
We followed the path across a shallow coire, then up a series of wide zig-zags on to Carn Ghluasaid's SW ridge.

on the way up Carn Ghluasaid
The zig-zags opened out on to a broadening shoulder of rocky outcrops, leading up to Carn Ghluasaid's remarkable flat summit plateau.  A couple of hundred metres across to the far side, a large cairn marked the summit - only 2 hours from leaving the car at the lochside.  Carn Ghluasaid means (possibly) "hill of movement", but there was nothing moving up there except for us!

on the summit of Carn Ghluasaid, with Sgurr nan Conbhairean behind

the summit plateau of Carn Ghluasaid
It was a bit early for lunch, but a grassy ledge behind the cairn, overlooking the deep coire Toll Creagach Beag, proved irresistible.  We sat there for half and hour, enjoying the dramatic view spread out before and below us, before heading off towards the next Munro, Sgurr nan Conbhairean.

This took exactly one hour:  a short, gentle descent from the plateau, then round the edge of the coire, then up on to the intervening top, Creag a' Chaorainn (Anne by-passed the top by cutting across to the left).

Sgurr nan Conbhairean from Creag a' Chaorainn
Another slight descent around the rim of the next coire to Glas Bealach (above, left), then 140m of steady climbing, up a series of grassy solifluxion lobes, to Sgurr nan Conbhairean's impressive summit cairn.

Anne looks happy to be on the summit of Conbhairean!
We'd already had some lunch, but it was a nice spot, so we sat a while to admire the view.  Despite the blue sky, we had to sit behind the cairn to get some shelter from the cool breeze.

After half an hour or so, we decided it was time to make for Sail Chaorainn, the third Munro.

Sail Chaorainn from summit of Conbhairean
From Conbhairean, Sail Chaorainn was an easy 2km walk - down the broad ridge from the summit around the tops of two further deep coires (above) to a bealach at 913m, then a short rise to Sail Chaorainn's broad whaleback ridge, with the summit a rocky outcrop at the far end.  45 minutes and we were there.
view from Conbhairean across A'Chioch to Mullach Fraoch-choire and Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan
Anne waited patiently on Sail Chaorainn for half and hour, while I made a quick detour out to Carn na Coire Mheadhoin, Sail Chaorainn's north top (and only 1m lower than the main top).  This proved to be a great viewpoint - into Glen Affric, and as far as Torridon to the north and the Moray Firth to the east.

on Carn na Coire Mheadhoin (looking worried that the camera might fall off its perch!)
There is another top, Tigh Mor na Seilge ("the big house of the hunt") another mile beyond.  Despite its intriguing name, I decided that I had gone far enough for the day, so headed back towards Sail Choarainn.  Will I ever get to that outlying top, I wonder?

looking back from the north top to Sail Choarainn (rocky top of green lump in middle distance), Sgurr nan Conbhairean's pyramidal summit (centre),  Carn Ghluasaid's flat top (left), and Drochaid an Tuill Easach (just off to the right)
Back at Sail Chaorainn, Anne was feeling a bit chilly, so we quickly set off back towards Conbhairean.  Part way up its north ridge, we struck off to the right and contoured across the west flank to join the path leading down the SW shoulder, saving ourselves 100m or so of climbing.    Another short descent and ascent, and we were on the final top of the day, Drochaid an Tuill Easach ("the bridge of the watery hollow").  Two ravens were sitting on the cairn, looking like two old hags, but flew off as we approached.

It was cool and breezy on top, so we didn't linger there, but stopped for a final rest part way down the south ridge, overlooking Coire Lair.  Suitably refreshed, we pushed on down the ridge by an intermittent path, which brought us down to the road at the lochside at 6.10pm.

The car lay 2km away along the road, so I left Anne and my rucsac at the pretty little waterfall, while I made a quick march along to fetch the car.

Only 20 more to go - a productive two days!!

3 Munros + 1 top
19 km walk
1300 m climb
8 hours 45 mins


left Lundie 09:55
Ghluasaid 12:00 - 12:30
Conbhairean 13:30 - 13:55
Chaorainn 14:40 - 14:45
north top 15:00
Chaorainn 15:15 - 15:20
Drochaid TE 16:25
road 18:10

Thursday, 22 July 2010

7 in a day: it can only be ...

The South Cluanie Ridge   (22nd July 2010)

After Sgurr Mor, we moved on up to Cannich in Glen Affric, but the weather turned wet and windy, so not worth venturing onto the hills.  Then we had to head home to (a) help Fiona move her belongings to her new flat in Stirling, (b) do some gardening, (c) sort out some Regeneration business, and (d) attend a Royal Society Computing at School meeting in London.  By the 21st, we were free again, and, as the weather forecast looked better in the west, we headed up to the Morvich campsite at the foot of Glen Shiel.

we found a dryish patch to pitch the tent at Morvich!
A fine couple of days were promised, so it had to be the South Cluanie ridge.  Anne was content to let me tackle this marathon alone, so she dropped me at the road end beyond the Cluanie Inn at 9am.

I was a little apprehensive as I set off down the road.  7 Munros in one day's walk....  Could I last the distance?  Should I have started earlier?  At least I knew that if I had to abort before the end of the ridge, it wasn't a long distance back to the road, and the weather looked perfect.

The walk up the old road made an easy start to the day, and reminded me of the day back in 1979 (I think?) when we drove up here from Inverness in Marjory's Fiat 126, sat in the car for an hour looking out at the wind and rain, then drove back again!

In contrast, today's weather was perfect!  I followed the road as far as the bridge over the Allt Ghiubhais, then headed off up a rather muddy path to a stile across the deer fence and onto the open hillside.  The path continued to wind its way up, with the view across  Loch Cluanie to the north Glen Shiel hills giving excuse for frequent rests!

looking across Loch Cluanie to Sgurr nan Conbhairean and Carn Ghluasaid
I continued up the west side of Coirean an Eich Bhric (the corrie of the speckled horse!), slanted across its headwall on a narrow sheep track, and reached the ridge 200m east of Creag a' Mhaim (947m).  Two hours from leaving the car, I was on the summit of the first Munro.  

Any doubts about my ascent route were dispelled when another walker appeared 10 minutes later, having left Cluanie 10 minutes before me, having followed the old road to the watershed, then come up the east ridge - a better path all the way, but longer and slower than the route I had followed.

looking west from Creag a'Mhaim to Druim Shionnaich and the distant cliffs of Aonach air Chrith
I enjoyed a 15 minute rest, a bite to eat and a cup of coffee while contemplating the wonderful view all around, including the way ahead along the ridge over Druim Shionnach towards Aonach air Chrith.  The further tops remained hidden frown view.

Spidian Mialach and Gleuoraich dominate the view to the south, with Sgurr Mor through the gap
The east end of the ridge was easy walking - gentle gradients, short grass underfoot (and, of course, fresh legs!).  I kept company with another walker for some of the way, and in half-an-hour was climbing the short rocky arete to the summit of Munro number 2, Druim Shionnach (987m), "the foxes' ridge".

Once again, time for a seat ...
sunglasses and bare legs on Druim Shionnach!
The views were constantly changing, both of the way ahead, and of the surrounding mountains and glens, with the Five Sisters of Kintail starting to dominate the view ahead.

The Five Sisters from Druim Shionnach
After the initial gentle grassy section, the ridge began to get more interesting beyond Druim Shionnach, with steep drops to the right into Coire an t-Slugain.  Still the ups and downs were fairly modest, over Druim Shionnach's West Top (the only Munro top on the ridge), and nowhere dropping below 868m between Creag a'Mhaim and Aonach air Chrith.

Aonach air Crith from Druim Shionnach
Another 50 minutes from Druim Shionnach to the top of Munro number 3, Aonach air Chrith (ridge of trembling) - today's highest point at 1021m.   12.45 - lunchtime!  I met up with another group of 4 walkers on the summit.  One had a Borders accent - and turned out to be my neighbour's daughter's boyfriend's father!   Small world.

looking north from Aonach air Chrith along Druim na Ciche to A' Chioch and Loch Cluanie beyond

looking back from Aonach air Chrith to Druim Shionnach and Creag a'Mhaim
We continued on more or less together - now in the heat of the day, but quite pleasant with a gentle breeze to keep us comfortable towards the next Munro and half-way point, Maol Chinn-Dearg.

westwards towards Maol Chinn-dearg from Aonach air Chrith
This next section was quite similar to the previous one, with continuous grassy slopes falling away an unbroken 600m on the left, and a series of craggy bites on the right, dropping into Coire na Eirechanach.  The path wound its way along between these, with great view on both sides.

To the south, Sgurr a' Mhaoraich was now the dominant hill.

Sgurr a' Mhaoraich, with Glen Quoich airport at its foot!
A short steep ascent led up to the top of Munro number 4: Maol Chinn-Dearg (bald red head).  The group of 4 were there just ahead of me, one sporting a "maol chinn-dearg" of his own - a reminder that we needed to renew our sun protection!   It was now 2pm, and everyone was happy to chat and lie out on the grassy summit for half and hour or so before gradually setting off on the second half of the ridge, now all visible ahead.  

From Chinn-Dearg, the ridge dropped steeply over a rocky outcrop (left), before continuing much as before, by-passing the minor bump of Sgurr Coire na Feinne on its south flank.  

A further drop to an 800m bealach means an ascent of 200m to the next Munro, Sgurr an Doire Leathain (peak of the broad oak thicket!);  in fact, this is the biggest re-ascent of the day, so no complaints!   

No sign of any oak thickets!

The summit lay 200m out to the north of the ridge on a spur, with a tiny lochan where it joins the main ridge.  

Sgurr an Doire Leathain from the lochan on the main ridge
The others were a little way ahead, so I had this summit to myself for 10 minutes, apart from some flying ants!   Again, an excellent viewpoint, especially looking north and west down Loch Duich.

To the south, Ben Nevis appeared over the shoulder of Gleouraich.

the main ridge (foreground), Gleouraich, and Ben Nevis (in the distance)
From here to the next Munro, Sgurr an Lochain, was an easy 1km down and up, along the grassy ridge, but with some impressively deep gullies dropping into Coire an Lochain.

the ridge continuing towards Sgurr an Lochain and beyond

(left) The lochan, in Coire an Lochain, below Sgurr an Lochain!  

Not the most imaginative of names for a mountain, but a superb peak nonetheless!

I sometimes think the locals must had a wee twinkle in their eyes as they gave the OS surveyors the names of the hills.  

The worst/best example is A' Bhuidheanach Bheag, east of Drumochter. The name means "the wee yellowish place", hardly the name for a mountain!  I can just imagine the conversation that took place down in the glen.   OS surveyor, pointing up towards the skyline, to local: "What's the name of that mountain?"  The local raises his eyes to the hills, but looks puzzled ...  "You mean that wee yellowish bit up there?"  The OS surveyor dutifully notes this on his map ...

And, so, 30 minutes after leaving Sgurr an Doire Leathain (1010m), I was on the 6th Munro of the day, Sgurr an Lochain (1004m).  Not often you can climb a Munro in half-an-hour!  Its fine grassy top deserved a short stop - 10 minutes - before embarking on the final leg of the ridge.

Sgurr Beag (896m) was the next wee bump on the ridge.  The purist would insist on the 100m of ascent to include Sgurr Beag, but my now wearying legs yielded to the temptation of another by-pass path cutting across its southern slope. This also gave the chance of refilling my water bottle from a spring next to the path.

Once back on the ridge proper, the path led down a broad shoulder to the Bealach Fraoch Choire, complete with its own wee lochan, reflecting the still blue sky.

Ahead, the final Munro, Creag nan Damh, filled the view.   The line of the ridge was much less well-defined here, but a well-worn path led up the final weary 190m to its rocky summit.

Creag nan Damh from Bealach Fraoch Choire
And so, at 17.05, I stood on the final Munro - the 7th that day, and my 260th.  I had caught up again with some of the other walkers, and we spent 15 minutes chatting and enjoying our achievement.

All that was left now was to make our way back down to the road.  Two routes looked feasible - the shorter one over Sgurr a'Chuillin - or the longer one down the Allt Mhalagain.  We chose the latter, enticed by the prospect of an excellent stalkers' path. I texted Anne to let her know I would be at the roadside at Malagain Bridge in about 2 hours.  

So we continued on along the ridge for 2km, gradually descending over some rocky steps to reach the Bealach Duibh Leac at 730m.    This was the first time below 750m since before the summit of Creag a Mhaim, 7 hours earlier and 14km back.  In between lay 7 Munros and a Munro top - a superb high level traverse.

From the bealach, we made a steep and rough descent over broken ground before picking up the path beside a lochan at 600m.  The path descended by a number of wide zig-zags, to cross the burn at 370m, then descended steadily down the glen (left).  

Aware of my promise to be down in two hours, I pressed on downwards at speed, leaving the others behind, and reached the roadside at Malagain Bridge at 7.15pm.

No car waiting!   For some reason, the text hadn't arrived, but a quick phone call soon brought Anne from where she had been waiting a mile or so up the road.

A fantastic day!

7 Munros + 1 top
23 km walk
1600 m climb
10 hours 15 mins

left Cluanie                  09:00
Creag a' Mhaim             11:00 - 11:15

Druim Shionnaich          11:45 - 11:55
Aonach air Crith           12:45 - 13:05
Maol Chinn-Dearg         14:00 - 14:30
Sgurr Doire Leathainn   15:15 - 15:25
Sgurr an Lochain           15:55 - 16:05
Creag nan Damh           17:05 - 17:20
return to A87               19:15
written 03/03/11  D. Bethune

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

30: Sgurr Mor

Sgurr Mor (Glen Kingie)   13th July 2010

After our big day yesterday on the Corryhully Horseshoe, a rest day would have been ideal, but unfortunately(!) the weather was fine.  Too good a day to waste, so this time, leaving Anne to potter about in Glen Nevis, I set off on my own back up Loch Arkaig. Two days earlier, it had been foul and murky;  today, the views up the loch were superb.

view up Loch Arkaig
After a few stops to take photos, and a seemingly endless succession of blind summits and bends, I reached the end of the road at Strathan at 10.20am.   Across the valley, yesterday's hills - Sgurr Thuilm and Sgurr na Coireachan were shrouded in cloud.

at the top of the road - Streap and Sgurr Thuilm in cloud
I loaded my rucsac, and cycled 3km up the road, almost to Glen Dessary House.  The map shows a path heading up on the north side of the stream, but a rough track could be seen heading up on the south side, so, leaving the bike by the side of the track, I made my way up this squelchy track.   Note to anyone thinking of doing the same - don't!  There is a much better path on the north side!  

Anyway, I squelched my way up the track, which improved a bit higher up, but then evaporated completely on the level bealach.  A line of well-spaced stobs seemed to suggest a route through the peat hags - fortunately it was a dry day!  After 25 minutes of floundering across the moss, I joined a better path leading down into Glen Kingie, with Sgurr Mor, today's destination, dominating the skyline ahead.
the boggy bealach between Glen Dessary and Glen Kingie - Sgurr Beag (left) and Sgurr Mor ahead
No sooner had I found the path, but it started to turn eastwards towards Kinbreck, so I abandoned it and headed north west and down towards the River Kingie, which I reached at 12.10.  The water was pretty low, so it was easy enough to cross to gain the good stalkers' path up the north side of the glen.  Actually, this path (highly rated in the guide books) was a little disappointing, badly worn and quite boggy in places.  Still, it was much better than anything I had been on so far today! 

After following the path for a couple of kilometres, it started to climb, then rose in a series of beautifully engineered zig-zags up to the col between An Eag and Sgurr Beag at 660m.  About half way up the zig-zags, my stomach demanded food, so a 15 minute stop to refuel at 1pm. 

Soon the col was reached, and the superb path continued in graceful curves up the ridge to Sgurr Beag (890m).   Behind me, Sgurr na Ciche started to pop up over the nearer hills, and soon the whole ridge to the west was visible in its full rugged splendour. 

Sgurr na Coireachan, Garbh Chioch Mhor and Sgurr na Ciche, from Sgurr Beag
This was a fine place to rest (now 2.10pm), with just a warm breeze blowing from the south, and a fine view looking down to the head of Loch Quoich.  A short shower swept across, but had passed almost as soon as I had got my cagoule on.

Another series of well constructed zig-zags led down to the next col, followed by a long slog up the steep SW ridge of Sgurr Mor, with my legs complaining after yesterday's exertions.  Suddenly, just after 3pm, the top appeared, and I flopped down at the cairn for a 25 minute rest. 
summit of Sgurr Mor
 To the west, Sgurr na Ciche, to the north across Loch Quoich, Sgurr a' Mhaoraich, Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach, and to the east, Gairich - I had already climbed everything in sight!

Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach across Loch Quoich from Sgurr Mor
3.30pm - time to move off.  The only other climber I had seen all day had left the summit before I reached it.  I descended east along the summit ridge, then continued down the ridge towards Sgurr an Fhuarain.  It looked like it would be an enjoyable walk to continue to its top, but not for today!   At the lowest point of the ridge, I dropped off south down grassy slopes (Anne would have hated them!) and was back down to the Kingie an hour after leaving the summit.  Time for another wee refreshment break there, before toiling back up to the boggy bealach, and retracing my steps across and down into Glen Dessary.

The bike was where I had left it, and it proved its worth as I trundled effortlessy back to the car in only 10 minutes, overtaking the other walker I had seen earlier.  6.05pm, and a lovely evening.

The final bonus was the view across Loch Lochy to the Nevis range on the drive back to Glen Nevis.
Ben Nevis and CMD across Loch Lochy
And so, apart from the Aonachs, that completed all the Munros accessible from Glen Nevis, and it was time to head further north - Glen Shiel and Glen Affric beckoned ...

1 Munro
6 km by bike
15 km walk
1250 m climb
7 hours 40 mins

written 26/02/11