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A sunny stroll on Bidean nam Bian

A sunny stroll on Bidean nam Bian


Postby houdi » Sat May 07, 2011 12:40 am

Munros included on this walk: Bidean nam Bian, Stob Coire Sgreamhach

Date walked: 30/04/2011

Time taken: 8.5 hours

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After a week of glorious weather in the Highlands I became pretty blasé about it all. I didn’t even bother checking on MWIS. Instead, I just took it for granted the next day would be another clear blue sky day. And it was. 8.30am on Saturday of the May Bank Holiday weekend and Glencoe was busy already. Not quite so heaving as ‘The Wedding’ (oh no, not that again!) Friday, but pretty busy nevertheless. I parked opposite the Three Sisters and walked down the valley to Loch Achtriochtan giving Ossian’s Cave on Aonach Dubh more than a cursory glance. I was destined to have a close encounter with that cave later in the day. Speaking of close encounters, I had one with a sheep of all things as I followed the path along the fields beside the A82. It came running over and stuck its head through the fence for me to stroke it like some affectionate mongrel. It even followed me when I continued walking. I guess it was feeling fruity, but I had no time for distractions. I had a mountain waiting for me!

Glencoe is my favourite place in all Scotland and Bidean my favourite mountain. It is such a complex beast you could never familiarise yourself with all its hidden secrets in a lifetime of hillwalking. And there are so many good ascent routes it’s difficult to choose one. I liked the look of the Dinnertime Buttress and considered this as an option before setting out as it gets you up into those secret recesses of Aonach Dubh. However, I chose Coire nam Beith because of the spectacular scenery and it also allowed me to do the ridge in some sort of logical order. A small metal gate in the road barrier opposite the Clachaig turning on the main road leads to the open hillside and up into Coire nam Beith. Before Sgreamhach was upgraded to Munro status (don’t get me started on this one!) this used to be the favoured route to Bidean’s summit. It gets less traffic these days and both the Lost Valley and Coire nan Lochan routes are much more popular, Sgreamhach’s elevation has also put Stob Coire nam Beith out of favour and this part of the ridge is all but surplus to requirements. A pity really as Coire nam Beith is the wildest and most spectacular of all Bidean’s corries as it allows you a close glimpse of the mountain’s most impressive rock formations around the Diamond and Church Door Buttresses. And the path up here to Bealach an t-Sron is easily the best (and quickest) of any route to Bidean’s summit. It has been extensively renovated and steps its way to the skyline avoiding any difficulties, including the scree which had to be negotiated at one time. Now the path takes an easy zig-zag route through the boulders and rubble to the right of the scree, emerging at a small cairn on the ridge above. From there it’s quite a haul over rocky terrain to the summit of nam Beith where there are glorious views west all the way to the sea. The subsequent transfer to Bidean hardly breaks sweat and would prove to be the easiest descent and re-ascent of the day. Oddly enough there was no wind on the ridge nor any of the tops but it was fairly howling up through the corries and over the bealachs.

Bidean nam Bian’s summit area is deceptively small but the views are extensive as well they should be from Argyll’s highest point. The Ben seems within touching distance and there are stunning views everywhere and in every direction. A long descent over several rocky undulations brings you to Bealach Dearg at the Lost Valley headwall between Bidean and Stob Coire Sgreamhach. My one and only previous visit to this mountain had been in the depths of winter when all these ridges and peaks were covered in snow. I have to say it was a damn sight easier walking up and down the smooth snow contours rather than having to clamber over rocks and boulders. Even now with all the recent mild sunny weather, the last part of the route up the corrie from the Lost Valley was covered in soft slushy snow and lines of hillwalkers were heading up that way and struggling on the slippery stuff. Not surprisingly, people were avoiding a descent by this route, and quite right too.

I haven’t made my mind up about Sgreamach. It is vaguely prominent, sitting up there above the Lost Valley, but is it really a Munro? The ascent from the bealach appears relatively short and there’s not much of a summit to stand on once you’re up there. Great views over the other Glencoe hills and down Glen Etive though. It seems to be one of those peaks that the Munro ‘panel’ have tacked on as an afterthought because no one would visit it otherwise. A bit like Stob na Broig really. One thing I do know is that Sgreamhach is inferior to Stob Coire nan Lochan in every way imaginable. Its upgrade to Munro status has only served to downgrade one of the very best summit routes to Bidean and it makes you wonder if these self-elected few who mess around with the Munro tables every now and again when they tire of playing Scrabble, actually know anything about the Scottish hills they’ve put themselves in charge of. Obviously not if Beinn Tullaichein is anything to go by.

I retraced my steps back to Bidean’s summit and made my way towards Stob Coire nan Lochan. At the bealach I chatted to a couple of walkers who had hauled their way up here from the Lost Valley to avoid the soft snow on the approach to Bealach Dearg. It looked a brute of an ascent and the fact that they had collapsed on the rocks exhausted after their climb bore this out. I think I’d rather have tackled the snow. It’s a stiff old climb to the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan from here and comparing this with the ups and downs to Sgreamhach, I still can’t understand why nan Lochan isn’t a Munro. It should be as it’s the finest of all Bidean’s peaks. It even has a real summit with room for lots of people to stand on, unlike any of the others. Seriously, it’s a crying shame that nan Lochan has been overlooked. It is the dominating peak of Bidean, and it’s rock face is the one everyone sees from the valley floor and all points north. Why shouldn’t Bidean nam Bian have three Munros? It’s status as the biggest and best mountain in Argyle certainly justifies it. And there’s no point in mentioning the 500ft descent and re-ascent rule as there are quite a few current Munros which fail this criteria.

I took the left hand (west) descent from Stob Coire nan Lochan but only because I intended to walk out to the end of Aonach Dubh. The right hand route down to the three lochans is the easier and preferable choice for many. Not difficult to understand why as the option I’d taken had to be negotiated carefully down over a giant boulderfield. I stepped on one and it moved, bringing the one next to it crashing down on me and tearing a large portion of skin off my left shin. It started to bleed quite badly too and I was forced to administer some hasty first aid. This basically consisted of cleaning it up with a couple of antiseptic wet wipes and sticking a giant plaster on it. Unfortunately, the wound was the size of the plaster and the sticky bits were attached to my raw flesh. That evening I was forced to remove the plaster. It wasn’t a pleasant experience and I didn’t bother applying another one.

Just before my accident I chatted to a Canadian girl who was ‘wandering around the hill on her own without a map’ (her words). Not that she actually needed one today. She asked the best way down and I pointed out a couple of options. “So what do you think of the Scottish mountains then? I expect you’ve got much bigger ones in Canada?” “Yes” she replied “But I don’t have to worry about being attacked by a bear in these mountains.” Lucky for her it wasn’t midgie season yet. Bears or midgies? It’s a difficult choice, but I think I’d rather take my chances with the bears!

Having injured myself once already I should have called it a day and headed on down but I had a crazy notion to see if I could access Ossian’s Cave from the top of Aonach Dubh. Not that I’d be able to physically access it as I gather it’s not possible to get into the thing without climbing equipment as a mossy one hundred foot rock wall leading up to the cave prevents this. I was working from memory and I have to say my memory is not very reliable these days. From the small summit cairn, I descended the dip to my left and down onto a series of small grassy ledges. These ledges were damp and not very stable and neither was any of the rocks down there either. I traversed carefully to my right but pretty soon I came across a dark rock recess with a frightening drop straight down. I couldn’t go any further and I quickly realised I wasn’t in the right place. I wasn’t sure where I was but I definitely shouldn’t be here. I didn’t fancy the ledges again so I headed up and tried to scramble up the rocks above me. The grass here was even more damp and loose and the rock similarly so. I couldn’t get a decent handhold to pull myself up on to the first level of dry rock and it was about this time I looked round to see the awesome drop into the valley behind me and all the tiny ‘matchbox’ cars on the A82 a long way below. I have been in a few ‘uncomfortable’ places in the hills before but this beat them all hands down. I managed not to panic and traversed to my right across the grass ledge I was standing on and was able to get my knee up onto a damp rock and haul myself clear of the ledge. After that it was an easy scramble back to the summit of Aonach Dubh on good clean sound rock.

I checked my photos when I got home, taken from the Aonach Eagach, and straight away saw where I’d gone wrong. Effectively, I hadn’t gone down the face far enough and had started traversing across too early. I should have carried on down from the top, angling away in the opposite direction from the cave (west) and I would have eventually found the easy sloping ledge I needed. As it was, I ended up way too high at the top of the gully immediately above the cave. Still, I’ll know better next time. And there will be a next time. This was my second time on Bidean, but it is a mountain which demands repeat visits. You cannot possibly enjoy all its complexities in one or even two visits. As for the cave……. If I ever get round to attempting it again, I’ll do it the sensible way up the gully route from the valley floor.

b1.JPG
Gearr Aonach & Aonach Dubh


b2.JPG
Stob Coire nan Lochan


b3.JPG
Ossian’s Cave on Aonach Dubh


b4.JPG
The route to Coire nam Beith


b5.JPG
Almost there!


b6.JPG
Looking down from Bealach an t-Sron


b7.JPG
Dinnertime Buttress


b8.JPG
Looking West from an t-Sron


b10.JPG
Diamond & Church Door Buttresses – Bidean nam Bian


b11.JPG
Stob Coire nan Lochan from Bidean’s summit


b12.JPG
The peaks of Glencoe from Bidean’s summit


b13.JPG
Sgor na h-Ulaidh


b14.JPG
View down Ben Etive to Ben Starav & Ben Cruachan


b15.JPG
The Lost Valley


b15a.JPG
The Ben across the Aonach Eagach ridge


b16.JPG
Bidean nam Bian


b17.JPG
Stob Coire Sgreamhach


b18.JPG
Beinn Fhada & the peaks of Glencoe from Sgreamhach summit


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Looking towards Loch Leven & Loch Linnhe


b20.JPG
And a closer look


b21.JPG
The Buttresses of Bidean from nan Lochan


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Beinn a’ Bheithir


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Beinn Fhada across the three lochans


b24.JPG
A different view of Stob Coire Sgreamhach
houdi
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Re: A sunny stroll on Bidean nam Bian

Postby ChrisW » Sat May 07, 2011 10:47 am

Fantastic report houdi and some really stunning pics. The friendly sheep - funny, the discussion on munro status - interesting, the boulder on the shin and plaster stuck to raw flesh - ouch, getting in a dicey position on the ledge then getting off again - nice....but the mistake of the day - being approached by a young lady seeking the best way down and just providing directions instead of saying "with me of course" :lol:
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ChrisW
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Re: A sunny stroll on Bidean nam Bian

Postby skuk007 » Sat May 07, 2011 5:40 pm

Great report houdi, and some cracking photos too. Nice to see the ones I seen but from a different angle.
It's definitely one I'd go back too as I just love Glencoe aswell. Just got a few (263) things to tick off first then I'll be back.

Oh, and your first aid skills sound like mine except I tend to use a bit of spit instead of the wipes. :lol:
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skuk007
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Re: A sunny stroll on Bidean nam Bian

Postby houdi » Sun May 08, 2011 5:35 pm

I reckon you're a bit of a smoothie on the quiet, Chris. A few years ago I might have taken your advice but at my age now you tend to come across as a sad pervert :lol:

When I was younger and actually lived in Scotland I might have had a go at the full Munro thing, skuk007. I get up to Scotland so rarely these days I end up redoing all my old favourites. I did seven straight days of hillwalking this time and clocked up 14 Munros. Trouble is, only 6 of them counted to my list. I'd already done the other 8 before. Not complaining though - loved every minute of it :D :D :D
houdi
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Posts: 288
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Re: A sunny stroll on Bidean nam Bian

Postby skuk007 » Sun May 08, 2011 7:45 pm

No problem with doing your favourites. It's a long way to drive just for a slog up a horror of a hill.
Problem is until I've done them all I don't know what my favourites will be and, unfortunately, I'm a "lists" person so when presented with a list I have to tick them all off. :? :?
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skuk007
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