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Kinlochourn to Glenfinnan

Kinlochourn to Glenfinnan

Postby johnbythell » Wed Sep 13, 2017 3:14 pm

Date walked: 30/08/2017

Time taken: 4 days

Distance: 71.3 km

Ascent: 3528m

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The plan

First a bit of background: I’ve never really done many multi-day mountain backpacking trips, except where we would carry the heavy packs into the valleys and camp, then do circular day walks, scrambles or climbs with a light pack. The plan here was to go lightweight camping-backpacking and take in a few of the Munros in the Knoydart area over a 4 day hike from Kinlochourn to Glenfinnan. I’m not quite sure what you call this activity (apart from mad), as ‘trekking’ doesn’t seem to take in the peaks.

I also wanted to revisit some spectacular pools along a river that I visited about 30 years ago with my, now old, friend Steve (we trekked in and then did circular climbs on that trip). Trouble was, I couldn’t remember where the pools were and couldn’t find them on Google Earth. A trip to visit Steve in the Lake District – and another adventure and a few reminiscences - made me realise I’d been looking in completely the wrong place (somewhere between Inverie and Barrisdale) – and I then managed to find them instead (probably) on the upper part of the river Carnach, to the west of Ben Aden. So that was the plan - I plotted a route taking in 4 or 5 of the more spectacular Munros in the region and some very vaguely remembered river pools. I wasn’t at all confident I could get up the Munros with the full camping backpack though, so had a few low-level options plotted in case of weak legs, bad weather, or both. Quite a lot of the planned route was off any recognised path, so the plan was to make up the detail as I went along, and I also therefore needed other options in case of poor visibility. Oh, and I decided to do it alone, mainly because I couldn’t think of anyone mad enough to want to do it or that I felt comfortable inflicting it on.

So how did it go? Overall, pretty well, I got from Kinlochourn to Glenfinnan, in 4 days – so was there at the right time to get picked up by my wife on her way back from a trip to Skye, found the pools and recognised exactly where we had camped all those years ago, and managed to get up two Munros with the camping pack as well as near-enough to a third (Luinne Bheinn), which I decided to miss out to try and make the campsite near the pools. Here’s how it unfolded:

Day 1

Set out from the Kinlochourn B&B about 9 am after a leisurely breakfast as I figured an early start wasn’t worth it given that I would run out of steam before I ran out of daylight. My wife and her friend Pat accompanied me for the first few miles. Unfortunately after a week or more of wet weather it had rained all night and the Loch Hourn path was basically underwater with some pretty treacherous burn crossings to deal with.

Start of the Kinlochourn to Barrisdale path. Wet underfoot but a break in the rain.

Loch Hourn looking spectacular, even in the wet.

Ruin at the head of Barrisdale Bay, about 3.5 hours from Kinlochourn – slow-going attributed to the wet conditions rather than the condition of the author!

First deer of the trip – near the bealach on the Mam Barrisdale at about 450m.

Cairn at the top of the Mam Barrisdale path, looking towards Lochan Dubh-Lochain. Here I turned left off the path to find the line of fence posts leading up the western slopes of Luinne Bheinn.

At the Bealach a’ Choire Odhair, with a brooding Ben Aden in the background. My route was straight down the Coire ahead, following the line of old fence posts. The Luinne Bheinn-Meall Buidhe path goes left and right from here.

Third set of rather surprised-looking deer of the day. My destination, the river Carnach, down below.

Clouds clearing for a spectacular first glimpse of Sgurr na Ciche.

The descent of the Coire na Gaoithe ‘n Ear to the river Carnach was slightly spoiled when I left the line of fenceposts on a would-be shortcut to the left (north) and ended up in a massive boulder field that was hard to negotiate, but I was rewarded with sight of a pine marten skipping over the boulders, who was a bit too fast for the camera.

Finally reached the valley floor about 6:30 pm after a very long and tiring descent – and a perfect campsite revisited for the first time in 30+ years!

The cascading pools just above the campsite, with a raging torrent instead of the serene falls that I recalled from my last visit.

Day 2

There wasn't too much more rain overnight, but the river was still in spate, so I decided not to risk a river crossing and instead headed southwest down the path along the river Carnach towards Sourlies. The upper part of the glen was pretty wet underfoot.

The uninspiring sign on the footbridge – still seemed safer than a river crossing attempt. After crossing I saw the first people I had seen since leaving the Mam Barrisdale path the day before – close enough to wave to on the far bank.

Between the bridge and Sourlies was extremely wet bog.

Sourlies Bothy, which I made a brief stop at before heading up the well-marked path up the Finiskaig river. No-one was home.

Crossing at the fords below the Lochan a’ Mhaim was a quite a tricky (and wet) experience.

The upper part of Glen Dessary above the treeline was another strength-sapping quagmire, which led to another damp and chilly camp in the plantation below.

Day 3

I left camp quickly the next morning to avoid the midges and about 15 min lower down stopped for breakfast at the fords in the river at NM 929 933 and with the skies brightening, took the chance to dry out my gear a little. This would have been a far better choice for a campsite in hindsight.

Mid section of Glen Dessary with the A’ Chuil bothy in the centre distance – the forest track winds around to the left above the bothy.

I finally left the plantation in Glen Dessary to head up towards the Gleann ‘a Chaorainn.

But not without another tricky river crossing first, over the Allt a’ Chaorain – here looking back towards the Glen Dessary wood.

Had a pleasant afternoon walk up the Gleann ‘a Chaorainn in the breaking sunshine.

Excellent campsite near the head of the glen, with more time to dry out gear, then into the tent to watch a big group of red deer moving across the slopes of Streap, with the young ones bolting across the landscape for fun, covering incredible distances in seconds.

Day 4

I was up early for a quick walk up to the bealach and then a long (400 m), steep climb up the flanks of the Druim Coire a’ Bheithe. I eventually found another line of old fence posts and followed these to the top at 875m, which was now in the cloud. Then I followed the fence posts rightwards up towards Sgurr Thuilm.

And was rewarded with a sight of some ptarmigan in the mist.

Reached the summit of Sgurr Thuilm (963 m) in the cloud, but as I was leaving the summit the clouds parted spectacularly.

I then completed the horseshoe round towards Sgurr nan Coireachan, with spectacular views unfolding as the clouds lifted.

Final slopes of Sgurr nan Coireachan, with Rum and Skye in the distance.

Spectacular views to the north from the trig point on Sgurr nan Coireachan (956 m), looking north.

My pick up wasn't till the next day (Sunday) so I had a final camp in the Choire Charnaig above the Glenfinnan lodge. Sgurr ‘a Choire Riabhaich and the descent ridge in the background.

Job done – the awesome Glenfinnan viaduct. Time to go and wait for the Hogwarts Express.

Reflections – what went well and not so well?

• Overall I was pretty happy with my pack weight at around 12 kg fully loaded. In future I could reduce that by another 1-1.5 kg because I didn’t need to carry as much fuel as I thought, and by forking out for a lightweight stove (am still using an ancient Trangia and carried 500 ml meths – I only needed half that).
• I lost my filter water bottle on day 1, which wasn’t really a problem in the upper valleys, but I used sterilising tablets lower down, which caused delays and I didn’t have anything to carry water in apart from the stove pan. On the ridge walk on day 4 I had to do a long lunch break to boil up water from a pool, which wasn’t ideal. In future I’ll pack the camelback and use an in-line filter.
• I have never used the dehydrated dinner packs before – they are a revelation. You don’t need to cook, just add boiling water, so can reduce the fuel load. You eat them straight out of the pack, so no dishes, and can boil enough water for the food and a hot drink at the same time – perfect. And they really aren’t that bad tasting and are enough food for one person. I prefer the Mountain House ones – more expensive but worth it.
• I lost the tip to one of my walking poles on the climb up to the ridge (Day 4). Not much to do about that, although I might try drilling and riveting the tips on so they can’t come off in future. Also I forgot my duct tape emergency roll – essential kit IMO. I could have used that to protect the stump a bit, which I damaged a bit on the descent (new poles cheaper than new knees).
• To reduce weight I carried a very light sleeping bag and slept in my clothes. When it was wet, this consisted of an insulated jacket I kept in the drybag, which was fine overall but my legs were a bit cold. In future I’ll pack a pair of lightweight merino long johns to sleep in. I had one more midlayer fleece than I needed – but I would carry that again in case of colder weather/emergencies – and it made a good pillowcase.
• I carried two pairs of socks, but both were soaked by the end of the second day. Am considering buying a pair of Sealskinz waterproof socks for one of the pairs. I would definitely have paid the price for them at the point I was putting the wet pair on at the start of day 3.
• My only injuries were one black toe nail I’m sure I’ll lose and another bruised one I hope will recover. As ever, Compeed worked brilliantly and prevented those foot injuries from hobbling me – great stuff, indispensable. A bit more care trimming toenails short before setting off would be a good move.

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Re: Kinlochourn to Glenfinnan

Postby bargee » Tue Dec 12, 2017 7:20 am

Inspiring trip. would love to try something similar
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Re: Kinlochourn to Glenfinnan

Postby terminalsump » Tue Dec 12, 2017 1:56 pm

Great write-up and trip, especially the reflections. Knoydart looks stunning.

Did you not consider summiting Luinne Bhienn being so close on Bealach a' Choire Odhair ?
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Re: Kinlochourn to Glenfinnan

Postby johnbythell » Tue Dec 19, 2017 5:04 pm

bargee wrote:Inspiring trip. would love to try something similar
Thanks Bargee, it was a really fun trip. Am already planning something similar for the spring.
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Re: Kinlochourn to Glenfinnan

Postby johnbythell » Tue Dec 19, 2017 5:23 pm

terminalsump wrote:Great write-up and trip, especially the reflections. Knoydart looks stunning.

Did you not consider summiting Luinne Bhienn being so close on Bealach a' Choire Odhair ?
Hi - thanks. Yes it was what I had planned to do (amongst a few others) but I was running out of time and didn't want to get caught in the coire down to the river Carnach after dark. With hindsight I think I probably should have done it, but I was already pretty knackered and the rain and cloud was coming in, so it wouldn't have been much of a view.
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