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South Loch Quoich duo - an amphibious assault from the North

South Loch Quoich duo - an amphibious assault from the North


Postby Graeme D » Wed Mar 01, 2023 3:08 pm

Munros included on this walk: Sgùrr Mòr (Loch Cuaich)

Corbetts included on this walk: Sgùrr an Fhuarain

Date walked: 25/02/2023

Time taken: 8 hours

Distance: 15.6 km

Ascent: 1030m

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Time spent walking - 6.5 hours
Distance walked - 10.6km
Time spent kayaking - 1.5 hours (45 minutes each way)
Distance kayaked - 5km (2.5km each way)


I've become something of a late starter in recent times. Last year it was the middle of February before bagging activities got under way on Beinn nan Aighenan. In 2021 Lockdown #2 meant that it was the balmy days of late April before I went pretty much anywhere let alone as far as Beinn Donachain, and in 2020 it was early March with the shadow of Lockdown #1 looming over us before I succeeded in putting a tick on the board in the shape of Stob an Aonaich Mhoir. 2019 was the last time I stood on the summit of anything other than Kinnoull Hill in the month of January. 2023 would see that pattern of lethargic starts continue.

I had hoped for better for 2023! I did have plans to do Beinn Buidhe, that solitary red balloon in a see of southwestern blue balloons, during the first week of the year before I returned to work after the Christmas break, but this plan fell victim to a combination of skanky weather and my Get Up And Go having Got Up And Gone!

A weekend away in mid-January at Seamill Hydro on the Ayrshire coast and the views over the Firth of Clyde from Seamill to the snow covered peaks of Arran gave my Get Up And Go a timely shake - Debbie and Ailsa would be away the following weekend in Cellardyke on the Fife coast and I would have a pass. The weather had other ideas though and when it saw the forecast, my Get Up And Go promptly Got Up And Went again! I tried, I really did! I got up early the following Saturday and made it as far as St Fillans before the full horror of the weather on view further west made me turn around and take my Get Up And Go back home with my tail firmly between my legs!

Another chance presented itself the second weekend in February with Ailsa and Debbie again away on the Friday night and all day Saturday but again neither the weather nor my Get Up And Go were on board with the plan, and another opportunity slipped away. The mid-term long weekend in mid-February came and went (an off-grid AirB&B on the East Lothian coast being the extent of my adventures) before I decided that I had to get something on the board before March was upon us. Weekends in March are blanked out by other commitments so it was either now or the ignominy of yet another April start but without the excuse of Lockdown to mitigate it!

My mate John (JMisz) has recently broken through the 100 Munros barrier and has lofty ambitions to hit halfway by the end of the year. He has his kids every second weekend but I suggested we pencil in something for one of the interim weekends before February was out. I checked it out and suggested Sgurr Mor and the neighbouring Corbett of Sgurr an Fhuarain via kayak across Loch Quoich. He needed little thinking time before counting himself in although sadly Bruce, the third member of our occasional hillwalking trio, was working that weekend. John was at my house for 06.15, fashionably late as per, and we quickly transferred his gear into my car and headed out of town and on up the A9. A comfort break in Dalwhinnie and a few hours later we were crossing the bridge over the narrow northern arm of Loch Quoich, past the point where a hungover and motley bunch of characters had set off up Sgurr a'Mhaoraich last September on the occasion of Gammy Leg Walker's compleation in a monumental clagfest that only Gammy himself could have conjured up for his compleation!

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Being welcomed by the high heid yin from around these parts (photo by JMisz)

We had studied the relevant TRs for these hills, most notably JP's account of tackling them amphibiously in 2021. I knew from the map that it would be a case of finding a suitable put-in spot somewhere on the stretch between the start of the stalkers path up Sgurr a'Mhaoraich and the block of forestry a short distance further along on the north side of the road. I had scoped out a possible camping spot for later near the old ruin at Coireshubh a few kilometres further west, as we were planning on doing Sgurr nan Eugallt from there on the Sunday. The ideal situation though would be to find a suitable put-in spot with decent camping potential as well. We duly found such a spot right at the western end of the plantation, where there was a large flat area for parking and a rough track leading down to the shore. There also looked to be a good camping spot on a raised flat area between the road and the loch.

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Two kayaks and two nutjobs good to go! (photo by JMisz)

It took a bit of faffing and huffing and puffing but eventually we were ready to put in. We had hoped to be on the water by 10.00 but it was 10.45 before John pushed me off into the shallows. I got no more than a few metres before Luna, who had not been happy about being manhandled into my two man kayak, launched herself overboard and returned to Terra Firma. A second attempt was made with similar results. I was now soaked from the waist down, having been stupid enough to get into the craft without my waterproof trousers on! For the third attempt, I put her lead on her and tied it to my right wrist. Not the easiest arrangement for effective paddling but along with a combination of stern words and gentle encouragements, it allowed me to get far enough away from the shore for Luna to get the message that resistance was futile and she eventually settled enough that I could relax a bit.

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Nervous dog!

She was still a bit fidgety and it was this that I assumed was the reason I was struggling to keep a straight line. The surface of the loch was also choppier than it looked from the road and although I have kayaked in choppy waters before, I guessed it was not helping my line. It was only when I was well past the point of no return that the penny dropped - in the rush to get going and knowing that we had limited February daylight hours to play with, I had forgotten to attach the skeg to the bottom of my kayak!

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Digging deep (photo by JMisz)

There was nothing else for it but to dig deep. There were one or two waves that hit a bit harder than either of us were really comfortable with and we tried not too dwell too much on what we would do if one of us ended up capsized! We both had buoyancy jackets on but even still, out here in the middle of Loch Quoich in February would not be a good spot for a dip! I put these thoughts out of my mind and kept digging deep into the waves, trying to compensate for the lack of skeg and keep as straight a line as I could, knowing that my arms and thighs would pay dearly for this escapade in the days to come!

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John and our two targets ahead

Eventually I could relax and gently coast in to the south shore of the loch, John following a short distance behind. For a water loving Labrador, Luna looked very relieved to be back on dry land as John and I set about hauling the craft a safe distance out of the water. Neither of us fancied a long walk back around the end of the loch later!

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John about to dock

When we were ready for the next phase of our assault, we headed off over the nearby stream feeding the loch and after an unnecessary battle with the same deer fence twice, we found ourselves on a very old yet still very clear looking ATV track. This eventually started to drop back towards the loch which was our cue to take to the slopes of Meall a'Choire Buidhe. We had somehow managed to miss the connecting stalkers path up this northern prow of Sgurr an Fhuarain but soon picked it up again.

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Kayaks no longer visible (gulp!) but little Lochan Doire Meall an Eilein coming into view, with Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach dominating the far shoreline

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West along the deceptively smooth looking surface of Loch Quoich

We stopped for lunch at a nice sheltered spot with the unfamiliar side of Gairich dominating our view, before continuing our way up the grassy stalkers path into ever more frozen terrain. The ground may have been frozen and despite the fact that it was a beautiful, spring-like almost verging on summer-like day, there was still a real sting to the air at this altitude, especially on unprotected hands. I quickly put some gloves on and rethought my outer layers before settling down to lunch and continuing on our way. We both had the usual winter hardware in the car but with our whole route visible from our parking spot, it had been obvious that it would have been dead weight. I wondered to myself when I would ever have set off to bag myself a Corbett and a Munro in February before in the certain knowledge that carrying crampons and an axe would be a complete waste of effort and pack space!

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Gairich from the west at lunch time complete with vapour trail

Despite our remote location, our increasing altitude was now affording us intermittent 4G. Despite my best efforts to avoid it, I still found myself being distracted by the temptation of firing off a few Whatsapp photos to various folk and checking in on how the Jeanfield U12 Girls Jesters team had fared in Ailsa's first game as team captain. A 6-2 victory as I discovered with Ailsa grabbing one of the goals. Go Ailsa! Go Jesters!

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South Glen Shiel Ridge now providing the backdrop for John's ascent

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Sgurr Mor across Coire Buidhe

I was now in full on hill enjoyment mode. The poor attitude shown by my Get Up And Go over the past couple of months was a thing of the past and the views across and around Loch Quoich were transporting my mind back to previous great hill days in this neck of the woods - Sgurr a'Mhaoraich in October 2019, Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach in April 2016, Gairich in July 2017 and the South Glen Shiel Ridge in September 2011. OK, that last one was a bit of a howler as far as the weather was concerned, but you know what I mean! I also remembered reading somewhere of old tales of a monster living in the depths of Loch Quoich (maybe that explains Luna's reluctance to stay in the kayak earlier!) and right enough, it suddenly appeared behind me!

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The Dragon of Loch Quoich attacking Gairich!

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Luna seeing the Dragon off!

The summit of Sgurr an Fhuarain was soon reached - my first hill of 2023 and my first Corbett since that day on Sgurr na Feartaig in July. We took a bit of time at the summit despite the cold bite of the February air, taking photos of the surrounding hills and the wonderful contrasts of the grey and the blue in the skies.

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Welcome to Sgurr an Fhuarain

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Luna facing the wrong way for a summit photo yet again!

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Due south - Fraoch Bheinn

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Due west - next stop Sgurr Mor

My first Munro since July was also now calling, so we headed west down the narrowing western nose of the Corbett and around the head of the gaping Coire Buidhe. The walk over the soft mossy grass of the Braigh a'Choire Bhuidhe put me very much in mind of the drop west off Moruisg towards Sgurr nan Ceannaichean which John and I had done in the company of Bruce back in September 2020.

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Braigh a'Choire Bhuidhe and Sgurr Mor with the Dessary Munros behind

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About to embark on the ascent of the south eastern slopes of Sgurr Mor

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Sgurr Mhurlagain and Fraoch Bheinn

As we turned into the ascent of Sgurr Mor, I noticed a blue pack with ice axe attached lying behind a small rock. I momentarily wondered about it but reckoned it was nothing untoward. It didn't look like it had been there any time at all. I assumed somebody had walked in from the head of Loch Arkaig to grab the same pair of hills as us and left the pack between the two summits to collect on their return. It's the sort of thing I have done many times myself after all. No need to think anything of it. We'd probably meet them very soon as they came down off Sgurr Mor. Nice touch too to take their ice axe for a walk in the hills!

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Sgurr an Fhuarain across Coire Buidhe with Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach across Loch Quoich

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One of the biggest patches of snow we would see all day!

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Gleouraich, Mialach, Gairich and Fhuarain

I was beginning to wonder if there was anybody up there ahead of us and John was just commenting that the lack of blood and gore around the abandoned pack was surely a good sign, when a lone figure appeared silhouetted against the blue sky above us. We stopped for a good chat as we passed. It turned out he had come in across the dam and over Gairich before doing our two hills and was going to drop down into Glen Kingie for the long walk back out, before stopping off at his sister's house in Fort William for a curry. No curry for us tonight we joked. As it felt almost like summer, we'd be firing up the barbecue on the shore (assuming we made it back across without incident). Joking aside, we all agreed how worrying it was to be walking in conditions such as these in February!

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Sgurr nan Coireachan and Garbh Chioch Mhor below dark skies to the south west

With a final little effort we topped out onto the summit area, with the sprawling summit cairn a short distance to the west. We were well and truly into the realms of snow cover now, but nothing that could not be entirely avoided or that required hardware to negotiate.

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The final approach to the summit

We had been blessed all day with stunning views in all directions that, as always, expanded and grew in scope as we gained altitude. Now we had the final piece of the jigsaw, with unrestricted views westwards into the Rough Bounds and out beyond the west coast.

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I'm reasonably confident that our kayaks are somewhere on the near shoreline towards the centre of this shot and that my car is just at the bottom left of those trees at the foot of Sgurr a'Mhaoraich on the far shore

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East from the summit

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West from the summit - Knoydart

The views were huge, the air was still, the memories of great times in Knoydart flooded my mind and the tantalising prospect of more to come raced before my eyes as well. I think John was fairly impressed by the vista too!

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John putting on his best impressed look

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When it's your first Munro of the year and first new one in over 7 months, a spot of man-legging is called for!

At above 1,000 metres, the February air was not being kind to exposed hands as they took full advantage of the photo opportunities. We retreated a short distance eastwards and found a sheltered spot, where we sat down for a bite to eat and to enjoy a can of nicely chilled Grolsch that John had carted up there in his pack, before picking our way down the north east spur of the mountain towards Meall a'Choire Charnaich.

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Homeward bound in shadow and sunshine

We reckoned we had daylight until around 18.30 after which our headtorches would probably be required. We knew we had a crossing of around 45 minutes ahead of us and still a way to go before getting back into the water. This still short February day was marching on and so were we.

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The western reaches of Loch Quoich with Ben Aden, Meall Buidhe, Luinne Bheinn and Sgurr a'Choire-bheithe encircling little Lochan nam Breac beyond

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Gairich and Sgurr an Fhuarain

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The big yellow thing bowing out for the day behind Sgurr Mor

We dropped down into Coire Buidhe, easily making our way over the Allt Coire Buidhe and onto the stalkers path. Where it turned east and began to climb back up towards Glen Kingie, we went cross country, avoiding another confrontation with the deer fence and eventually picking our way along the shore of the loch to the kayaks.

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Alpenglow on Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach to the east

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John silhouetted on the shoreline to the west

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Goodnight Sgurr Mor

Just as with the earlier kayak crossing, the walk back along the shore seemed further and to take longer than we had expected. Eventually though I picked out the shapes and colours of two kayaks hauled up onto the shore ahead of me, with one final obstacle between us and them.

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Kayaks ahoy!

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The final obstacle - the Allt a'Mhaingir

It took some amount of persuasion to get Luna back into the kayak.Actually it wasn't so much persuasion as physical manhandling. At least this time I remembered to put my waterproof trousers on and she didn't attempt to go overboard once we were off and sailing, quickly accepting her fate for the next 45 minutes or so. I had a momentary moment of panic when I looked down and noticed a not insignificant amount of water in the bottom of my craft. I thought the water release valve was leaking before realising it was probably just splash water from the earlier crossing and run off from a wet dog. Still, I doubled my paddling efforts and dug deeper into the waves! I'll be damned if I'm going down now!

We just made it over before darkness engulfed us although in the gathering gloom, I had slightly misread the shoreline and come ashore a short distance west of where we had put in, on the other side of a small jutting headland. Jon was still out on the water behind me and shouted that he thought we were in the wrong place. Neither Luna nor myself were up for getting back in so I hauled my kayak to safety and set off to walk across the headland in search of our put in spot and the track back to the car, while John paddled round. We both had the headtorches on now and his soon disappeared behind the headland, emerging a short time later on the other side. We eventually located the bottom of the access track but by now I had decided to leave my kayak where it was for the night and once he had hauled his up onto the shore, John made a similar decision.

We had other priorities by now - get the tents up, give Luna a well deserved dinner, get the firepit going, get the barbecue on and get a beer down our throats. We quickly forgot about any notion of driving along to Coireshubh to camp and opted for the suitable spot I had identified earlier. Then the things on our list of priorities happened but just not in that exact order. We at least had the good sense to get the tents up and organised before too many beers had done down. This was going to be a cold night so struggling to put the tents up later on after several beers would not be advisable!

Luna inhaled her dinner and immediately made herself scarce under the old duvet at the bottom of my tent and John and I settled down to a dinner of burgers, sausages and spicy prawns, under clear skies and a canopy of stars, while the firepit burned and some questionable music played! We sensibly decided to give the 6.6% Dirty Deeds a body swerve and had a relatively early night by the usual standards of such escapades. It was going to be a very cold one!


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Last edited by Graeme D on Sun Mar 05, 2023 8:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Graeme D
 
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Re: South Loch Quoich duo - an amphibious assault from the N

Postby weaselmaster » Wed Mar 01, 2023 9:13 pm

Nice amphibious report, Graeme. What’s the hoped-for number for this year?
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Re: South Loch Quoich duo - an amphibious assault from the N

Postby rockhopper » Wed Mar 01, 2023 9:58 pm

Efficient bagging MrD - nice weekend to pick to get the best out of this area - cheers :)
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Re: South Loch Quoich duo - an amphibious assault from the N

Postby gld73 » Wed Mar 01, 2023 10:02 pm

Enjoyed reading that, sounds like a great day! All the same, suspect I'll be doing these 2 by land when I get round to them!
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Re: South Loch Quoich duo - an amphibious assault from the N

Postby Graeme D » Sun Mar 05, 2023 4:52 pm

weaselmaster wrote:Nice amphibious report, Graeme. What’s the hoped-for number for this year?


That is the million dollar question Al! Who knows, but without wishing to commit, I'd like to think I might get into the 260s by the end of the year, so we're looking at another 15 or so. Fisherfield is pencilled in for June and I have my July week as well so it's doable! :think:
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Re: South Loch Quoich duo - an amphibious assault from the N

Postby dogplodder » Sun Mar 05, 2023 6:09 pm

That was a great read. Felt for you with boat shy Luna and you did well to get her to stay in the third time. Our Keira harbours a deep suspicion of anything that moves over water, be it boat or shoogly bridge, and we've had to resort to undignified manhandling a few times in the past. With their love of water what exactly is it they're afraid of? :roll:
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Re: South Loch Quoich duo - an amphibious assault from the N

Postby weaselmaster » Mon Mar 06, 2023 4:02 pm

Graeme D wrote:
weaselmaster wrote:Nice amphibious report, Graeme. What’s the hoped-for number for this year?


That is the million dollar question Al! Who knows, but without wishing to commit, I'd like to think I might get into the 260s by the end of the year, so we're looking at another 15 or so. Fisherfield is pencilled in for June and I have my July week as well so it's doable! :think:


Oh I’d love to be able to do the Fisherfields for the first time. That was s really memorable experience. Hope you manage to time them with some decent weather. Fingers crossed.
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Re: South Loch Quoich duo - an amphibious assault from the N

Postby malky_c » Tue Apr 04, 2023 12:50 pm

Pretty adventurous for that time of the year - that water didn't look overly calm to be in an inflatable craft with an unhappy dog :shock: :lol: . Great stuff 8) .
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