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1 post • Page 1 of 1
Let Loners Be Loners
by aaquater » Mon Jul 19, 2021 2:28 pm
Munros included on this walk: Sgùrr a' Mhaoraich
Corbetts included on this walk: Buidhe Bheinn
Date walked: 26/06/2021
Time taken: 9.5 hours
Distance: 15.3 km
Ascent: 1849m2 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
It might feel a little inappropriate to name the report this way when this was a walk I didn't do alone, Graham coming with me. The name is meant to describe the hills, though. Sgurr a' Mhaoraich flat-out says "does not combine easily with its neighbours", Buidhe Bheinn only offers a combination with the 'untickable' Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais, and though the official Sgurr na Sgine route combines it with The Saddle, my vision for the latter was a horseshoe with Sgurr Mhic Bharraich and Biod an Fhithich, leaving Sgurr na Sgine a 'loner' on the outside. Studying the map, though, I thought it should be possible to join the three on a circular route starting from Loch Coire Shubh.
For a further reason why it's not me who wants to stay a loner, I'm not the most confident driver. Being able to rely on an extra pair of eyes the first time I drove down the Kinloch Hourn road was extremely appreciated! As it was the second time a few minutes later, after I'd turned around due to not recognising Loch Coire nan Cnamh for what it was and believing we'd already passed Loch Coire Shubh... Adrenaline rush before we even left the car!
Once the correct spot was reached (and confirmed in multiple ways), we started the walk by taking the Glen Shiel path, crossing Lochhourn River and walking through a gate just beyond it to enter a fenced-off area. Initially, the path was really boggy; given how rainy it had (not) been lately, we guessed the path was probably like that year-round. As some altitude was gained and the path started bending E, though, the terrain improved, turning into a pleasant path by Allt Coire Sgoireadail.
Shortly after crossing Allt Ban, the map shows a path branching to the right and heading for Sgurr a' Mhaoraich Beag. As we planned to take this path, we kept searching, wondering where exactly it would be... to no avail. We couldn't find it. The ascent had to be pathless, then, up the slopes of Sgurr a' Mhaoraich Beag.
The slope was grassy and reasonably steep, although we still had to watch out for boggy areas from time to time. Then, at ~500 metres (eyeballing the altitude from that of Buidhe Bheinn), we found the way up barred by a crown of cliffs running parallel to the contour line as far as we could see. (Well, to be exact, it might've been falling apart into scree on the far left, but the sight didn't exactly instil confidence in me.) Fortunately, we found a place where the cliff appeared manageable - and coming closer, that was confirmed. An awkward throwing-the-backpack-ahead sort of move was required, combined with a few steps of hugging the cliff on a narrow ledge, but that was all it took.
Once we'd made it through, the slope ahead seemed much friendlier. No cliffs in sight, the gradient was milder, and I don't recall any boggy patches in these parts, either. Just a simple walk up the hill to reach Sgurr a' Mhaoraich Beag's false summit, then Sgurr a' Mhaoraich Beag, and finally Sgurr a' Mhaoraich. (If it has a 'Beag' nearby, doesn't it lack a 'Mhor'? )
On that note, the descent to Bealach Coire a' Chaorainn wasn't nearly as obvious as I'd imagined. I kept looking to my right, and the slope kept looking like a no-go zone; it was a lot further than I thought where it started to appear manageable. We basically had to descend in the direction of Allt Ruighe nam Fiadh, only bending right and heading for the bealach once we pretty much reached its altitude. Graham made it down in good time, but had to wait for me; especially on patches of scree, I was extra careful and slow, thinking thrice before stepping onto a surface that didn't look particularly immovable.
The obvious way ahead might've been to climb over Am Bathaich, but its steep slopes (and the knowledge that we'd lose much of the gained altitude immediately) didn't look that appealing, so we hugged it from the left, reaching some extremely wrinkled and bumpy terrain on its other side. The journey planner greatly underestimates the actual amount of descent and reascent required to cross this part, so the going wasn't the fastest, and I was starting to have serious doubts about whether the route I'd planned would be feasible to complete within a day, especially with how late we began walking.
Perhaps because of the tedious walking, perhaps because of the time of day, we ended up speculating whether a caveman would be able to inhabit such a place, find enough food to survive. The usual topic to discuss on a walk of this sort, you know? The thing is, as if called, we came across a mama grouse and a chick only a few minutes later. The two split up as soon as they saw us, the hen obviously trying to get our attention to herself and away from her offspring.
We resisted the hunt, though, and continued up Sgurr Thionail, where we had a short break to have something (non-feathery) to eat. 1.5 hours since Sgurr a' Mhaoraich; the Naismith gives half of that...
What also warranted this break was a blister situation Graham had to deal with, as his shoes were worn and didn't offer much cushioning. Steeling himself for the task of emptying several bags of crisps (down his oesophagus), he then stuffed his shoes with the empty packets. 'Walking on air'? Nah, that's old; 'walking on crisps' is where it's at now! I don't think he's planning to get the invention patented, though, sadly.
But let's get back to the actual walking. The descent from Sgurr Thionail was steep but interspersed with several terraces providing some respite from constantly being on the lookout for what would and wouldn't move under our feet.
More often than not, the former wouldn't be loose rocks, but instead, frogs. A crazy number was hopping around everywhere, and it was a little unsettling to take a step that would descend half a metre only to jerk the foot away at the last moment because a frog had been lurking right where I wanted to step. On a different note, though... caveman lunch #2?
Frogs aside, though, the descent was scarily similar to the one we'd done in autumn, down the W slope of Sgurr an Utha. Almost identical in terms of grassiness/rockiness, a similar cardinal direction, the fact that the hill on the W of the bealach would be the lower of the two... it wasn't that difficult to imagine we'd somehow accidentally made it back to Sgurr an Utha - and it was less than 20 miles away; even the time we'd been walking thus far would agree! Seriously though, 12 minutes betwen Sgurr Thionail and Loch Bealach Coire Sgoireadaich? Nah, let's try 45 instead, shall we?
In terms of frogs, the bealach's other side wasn't any less populated. In terms of the time, though... according to the Naismith, which gave gently over 8 hours for the whole walk, we should've reached this bealach in under 3.5. We'd already been walking for more than 5. Putting how we felt into consideration, including the fact that we still had to drive back (and I really wanted to still have some daylight at the very least until I made it back to the A87), we decided we had to give up, and descend from Beinn Buidhe the normal way. More on that later - but for the time being, we were making the last serious ascent of the day, onto the hill on the other side of the bealach. A hill whose name or altitude I can't find (roughly 825 m for the latter?), but whose summit is adorned with a stone wall.
To note, we came across an impassable face shortly below the summit. A grassy gully ran on the left of the face and a rock-strewn slope on the right. We opted for the latter. Still quite steep, but we made it to the top without issues.
From then on, it was a proper ridge walk over Buidhe Bheinn's main summit and to the more view-friendly W one. It began simply enough as a descent to the wrinkly bealach.
But there were moments when it got quite challenging. Certain parts had to be scrambled up using every available limb, while multiple times I tried to follow the very top of the ridge, only for the obvious line to swerve left into 100-metre drop terrain. The Buidhe Bheinn ridge, I'd say, should be walked not on the very crest but a little bit to the N.
From there, I wanted to follow the official descent route. And getting down to the lochan was pretty simple; the problem was what came after that. The description pretty much says 'Head WSW and you'll come across a path eventually,' which just sounds like a recipe for disaster as far as I'm concerned. And true enough, we never found one. (Although in retrospect, looking at the map, we were probably just heading too far S.) I guess I just kept thinking that we still hadn't descended enough, and we'd see it a bit lower down - and we were already too far down when I realised that couldn't be the case. At that time, though, I thought there would be no use in heading just W in the hope we'd identify the path again. So we carried on SW, down the slope.
There were a few times we almost slipped and fell, and one time when the 'almost' didn't apply, so the slope most certainly wasn't easy. I wouldn't call it insanely difficult either, though. And then the bracken started.
See, the thing is... initially, the bracken was only maybe 30 cm tall. No problem to get through, although it had a layer of dead grass underneath, making it difficult to judge what the ground itself was like. But as we were getting lower, the bracken was getting taller. Shortly above the treeline, it came up to our chests. Speed? What is that, dear Naismith? Just getting down safely took all our concentration. The bracken-bashing was awfully slow, and then the ferns stopped as we came across a canyon we couldn't continue down as we were approaching a waterfall (of sorts), so we had to hurry back to the 'safety' of the bracken... it was such a relief to reach the track running by the fenced area, I was more inclined to fist-pump than I am upon reaching a Munro summit.
Honestly, though, 1.5 hours from the lochan on Buidhe Bheinn's S ridge. In the bracken jungle, I kept patting myself down every few minutes to make sure the bagging map ones would be the only ticks I'd gain over this experience. (A/N: They were. I still wouldn't recommend this route down Buidhe Bheinn to anyone, even if it was the last unticked hill on the list!)
On the track, we just headed W along the fence for a bit to meet the other path, crossed the gate, followed the path until the bridge over Kinlochhourn River and the road, and trudged up the road to the car. Then, I drove it home, refuelled (because I was pushing my luck with the length of the drive), and promptly collapsed into my bed, not to be heard from again for a two-digit number of hours.
Thus, no Sgurr na Sgine. There was no way we could've managed to add it. Of course, I don't know what the descent from it would've been like, and the awful descent from Buidhe Bheinn played a big part in my resultant exhaustion. But just considering the time and how tired we felt up on its summit... trying to join the loners of Sgurr a' Mhaoraich and Buidhe Bheinn alone was awfully sapping, adding the third loner would've been asking too much. So yeah... don't trust the Naismith blindly. Because some loners are best left as loners, and there's a good reason why their social distancing is so effective.
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