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Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Postby mountain coward » Mon Jul 06, 2009 12:34 am

Route description: Sgurr na Ciche: 3 Munros from Loch Arkaig

Munros included on this walk: Garbh Chioch Mhor, Sgurr na Ciche, Sgurr nan Coireachan (Glen Dessary)

Date walked: 02/01/2011

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‘Fraid this is rather a long report but I found it quite a full day!

The second to last set of Munros Richard and I needed to do in the Fort William area was the 3 Munros in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart at the end of Loch Arkaig; Sgurr nan Coireachan, the Garbh Ciochs (Mhor and Bheag) and Sgurr na Ciche (I still have Sgurr Mor to do). I’d spent all week reading up on them, studying the maps and looking at the piccies in the book but was feeling a little nervous as I thought the walk would be quite demanding on my nerves. The weather forecast for our last day at Fort William was good so it was decided it was the day to go for it!

We got up pretty early for us as we knew it was a really long drive down Loch Arkaig on a not very fast road and that there was limited parking at the roadend. Despite setting off from Fort William at 0800, it was 0915 by the time we reached the parking at the end of the loch.
Streap & Sgurr Thuilm.jpg
The view from the end of Loch Arkaig
The water looked beautiful all the way along the loch – mirror calm and with beautiful light, but I didn’t feel we had time to stop for photos (although I knew it wouldn’t be like that later). :( The actual pull-off at the roadend was full by then so we went back up the hill slightly to park on the very rough and rocky verge and got our fold-up bikes out for the ride-in to Upper Glendessary. A van parking up after us got badly snared underneath on a rock so it isn’t the world’s best parking really.

The track was rougher than we normally cycle and, at first, was very hilly so we ended up walking with the bikes more than riding (they’re not really built for rough-tracking up and down hills but fit in the back of the car really well). After about half a mile the track settled down to being pretty flat and much easier for the next 2.5 miles to the house at Upper Glendessary. 2 Irishmen had just set off walking as we parked up but it took us most of the way to catch up with them – they were setting a cracking pace!

Just before the house the track sets off for a short distance up the side of the hill – there are green ‘rights-of-way’ signposting, however, the Irish guys hadn’t seen these and were about to set off past the house and towards the forest. I put them right and we all set off along the track over a couple of very rickety stiles.
Upper Glendessary.jpg

I’d seen, during my long research, that a better route than slogging up the steep ridge of Sgurr nan Coireachan would be to go up the river to Coire nan Uth – gentle slopes all the way. However, as the route wouldn’t have any kind of path and the ridge does, I thought Richard wouldn’t really go for that so we set off up the ridge. We both thought in retrospect that the other route would have been far nicer and much quicker – it would certainly have been much easier! I also, in retrospect, wished I’d done Sgurr nan Coireachan on its own!
Knoydart from Sgurr nan Coireachan Ascent.jpg

We eventually reached the summit of Sgurr nan Coireachan after a few false summits and a very steep and unremitting climb – I have to say it wasn’t worryingly steep, just hard work! 2.5 hours had gone by when we reached the summit and the book says it should only take 5 hours to the summit of Sgurr na Ciche!!

I knew the descent to the col between it and the Garbh Ciochs was steep but was soon to find out just how steep... I can honestly say I was completely terrified and it’s one of the worst descents (apart from the Bealach an Lapain in Kintail) that I’ve ever suffered! There was, as Richard pointed out, a perfectly good zig-zag path down the ever steepening ridge but I found it a bit loose and, after the first steepish bit, the path suddenly seemed to go vertical! I could see there was ground missing below the curve it took down to the col and just knew there were big crags below us – there were! Luckily no one had caught us up at that point as I was making some terrible noises and spent the whole descent urging the completely unfazed Richard to ‘be careful for goodness sake!’ He of course thought there was nothing to it!
Bloody awful descent(SNC).jpg
Was much worse than the photo makes it look!

I had a short rest on the col to try to get my nerves back into one piece and we duly set off for the ascent of Garbh Cioch Bheag. This is a very long ascent but nowhere steep and the path follows slight scrambles up little craglets most of the way but there was nothing scary or exposed anywhere and the rock was exceedingly solid. Also, if you wanted, you could always walk round on grass each time you reached a rocky bit but even I was finding it great fun and didn’t bother! There is, as the book says, a wall all along the ridge so even if it hadn’t been a cracking day (which it was – absolutely red hot and very clear) you wouldn’t get lost. The ridge is a fantastic viewpoint for Sgurr na Ciche.
Sgurr na Ciche.jpg
We reached the very pleasant summit of Bheag which was uncharacteristically wide, flat and grassy but there was a lot to do so we continued straight past it.
The Garbh Chiochs.jpg

There was a very slight descent and the ridge continued in much the same rocky vein towards Garbh Cioch Mhor but ever so slightly narrower. You got a great view down the more or less vertical sides, on your right into Garbh Cioch (apparently the roughest corrie in mainland Scotland) and down huge crags to the left. But everything was still nice and solid and there was still no exposure. We reached a rocky turret where, for once, there wasn’t a grassy route round but it was very secure and shortly after that there was a small descent and an easy rise to the main summit. We had a very short break there but I was anxious to see what the descent to the next col was like after my fright earlier!

This descent was a complete contrast to the earlier one... it was only ever in short steps down of maybe 20-30 feet down easily-angled scrambly bits and again, extremely solid. Then you would have a grassy platform and another short bit to descend. On the couple of grassy platforms above the col, there were some pretty little lochans. Hoping there would be more on the col, I decided we wouldn’t have a break until we got onto the col – sadly, when we got there, there wasn’t really anywhere to sit as there was just a bog.
Garbh Cioch descent fm Sgurr na Ciche.jpg

Unfortunately for poor Richard, I again decided I didn’t want a break as I’d seen the ascent to Sgurr na Ciche – and it wasn’t where I’d originally thought! I’d been looking at the peak all the way along the Garbh Cioch ridge and had seen what looked like paths going up the end of the mountain – didn’t look very steep to me. However, when we got there, I couldn’t see any route to take you to the end of the mountain as it looked very steep and had huge crags all over it going down to the valley. I could see where our route was heading – along a slightly ascending grassy rake to a boulder field above big crags... and then straight up the side to the summit ridge! To me, with my great fear of steep, it again looked horrendous!

I decided we could probably get off the peak another way, like down to the Druim a Ghortein towards Sourlies bothy and Camusrory in Knoydart proper. You can easily get off the side of the Druim to our route back. So off up we headed - I can go up steep (better traction and you don’t have to look down) just don’t like going down steep. The route started off up big boulders (which were luckily very firm) and then up a fairly eroded zig-zag which, from where I was standing, looked long and vertical! I shot off up it and waited for Richard on the ridge. I have to say that Sgurr na Ciche is a superb viewpoint! You can see the whole of Knoydart including all the Munros. Beinn Sgritheal looks great from there across Loch Hourn. Loch Nevis is very prominent in the summit view, you can also see Loch Morar and Loch Quoich/Sgurr Mor etc. At this point we’d taken 6 hours, not 5 as in the book.
Loch Quoich&Sgurr Mor fm Sgurr na Ciche.jpg
down Druim a Ghoirtein to L Nevis.jpg

We spent a while taking in the view and I took some piccies and I had a look down the end of the ridge to the Druim but thought it looked a bit steep – I decided ‘better the devil you know’ and decided to descend our ascent route. I descended very cautiously but can’t say I was actually terrified this time, just pretty wary. I thought the fact that I’d gone up Sgurr na Ciche despite my fears of descending it again and after my scare earlier in the day showed some promise of me eventually improving as a Munroist!

We now just had ‘The famous Feadan’ (Feadan na Ciche) to do. I’d had a read about it and it sounded like it may be daunting but had looked up some pics on the internet of it from below and it looked okay so we headed off – me with a little trepidation. There was a path each side most of the way down so you had choices. The route would approach what looked like a huge drop over rocks (I’m very wary about following watercourses down mountains) but, each time you got there, there was no problem whatsoever. In the end, partway down, I found I was enjoying myself hugely. :D Richard of course loved it.
The Fabulous Feadan.jpg

At the bottom of this I finally relented and said we could now have a proper break! We lounged around on grass atop a little crag with a great view down the route which goes to Sourlies and the end of Loch Nevis and also of people picking their way down the Feadan. It was hot and sunny and we really couldn’t be bothered to move for about an hour so we sat and ate most of Richard’s tea-loaf and drank our flasks (I’d had nothing so far except a little water).
L Nevis fm Feadan na Ciche.jpg
Garbh Cioch Mhor side.jpg

It was a long but very pleasant walk back under the Garbh Ciochs and I spent a lot of time marvelling at how sheer and craggy they were and taking a few more photos.
The Garbh Ciochs pass.jpg
Sgurr na Ciche fm Garbh Ciochs pass.jpg
Heading back from the Rough Bounds.jpg
I must have driven Richard completely mad as I was so amazed we’d got round, what with my nerves and his lack of enthusiasm for long, hard walks on very hot days, that I kept banging him on the back suddenly and saying ‘Well done mate! we did it!’ We were back following the 2 Irishmen again who’d passed us as we were lounging. The walk didn’t really feel long or tedious until the last mile before the house at Upper Glendessary – didn’t help you couldn’t see the house until you descended the last bit towards it! I think last miles always seem loooong... Eventually our bikes hove into view and we found it great to just mount them and freewheel all the way back to the car instead of walking the last 3 miles or so. :D

Strangely, since I got back from this walk, despite me having various worries and frights along the way, it’s the walk and area I’ve most missed since getting back home, especially the Garbh Ciochs which were great fun and I’d love to do them again. I won’t ever be going near Sgurr nan Coireachan again though...
Last edited by mountain coward on Sun Jan 02, 2011 1:49 am, edited 1 time in total.
mountain coward

Re: Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Postby monty » Mon Jul 06, 2009 8:20 am

What a lovely report. Well written with great pictures. I cant stop laughing at your "terrible noises" during the steep descent to the col :lol:

I have a plan to kayak from Mallaig to Sourlies, camp out and do these three munros from the west.

A month ago I kayaked the 10 miles of Loch Morar and camped at the river mouth then walked half way up (the other) Sgurr nan Coireachan (Glenfinnan). The drive, kayaking in bad weather and the walk half way up (all on the same day) left me knackered so I returned on the Sunday. It was a good dry run though.

Re: Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Postby mountain coward » Mon Jul 06, 2009 6:27 pm

It's really a good job that all the people following were way behind and didn't start their descent until I'd got to the col. They'd have probably thought the mountain was haunted with all the 'Oooooohhhh' sounds :lol:
mountain coward

Re: Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Postby Paul Webster » Mon Jul 06, 2009 6:31 pm

You did alot of very big walks with a broken toe :shock: That walk was just about the one that made me most exhausted - or was it just the drive back along Loch Arkaig.
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Re: Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Postby mountain coward » Mon Jul 06, 2009 6:34 pm

That was while I had the original injured toe which my boots were supporting... the real problems came in the second week when I fell in the Nevis Gorge and damaged my big toe - that can't really be supported and you really can't walk properly without it. I continued to walk of course, can't go all the way to Scotland and waste the time and money and effort... that caused me to severely damage my Achilles tendon on my opposite leg :( I actually had to drive to work for 2 weeks - I would never do that normally, not even in really bad weather! I'm still not walking properly but I can cycle...
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Re: Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Postby LeithySuburbs » Mon Jul 06, 2009 7:25 pm

I realize that everyone walks at different paces but my experience of guidebooks is that they underestimate the time needed for a walk. The one I use by Cicerone is particularly guilty of this. It does say that the times given do not include breaks but they can still be pretty ambitious. I walk by myself and keep a pretty good pace but still struggle to match the times given. I only just beat the time for Carn na Caim and A' Bhuidheanach Bheag having jogged half the route as I had to get back to Edinburgh for a golf tie!

PS. good report BTW
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Re: Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Postby mountain coward » Mon Jul 06, 2009 9:32 pm

You're certainly right there - and I always reckon we're well up with Naismith!;-) We only really had a break after we'd got down the Feadan from Sgurr na Ciche so we were around 1.5 hours behind the book by then - we weren't going slow either.
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Re: Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Postby doogz » Mon Jul 06, 2009 11:26 pm

great detailed report ..hope i can get similar weather for this...many thanx.... 8) 8) 8)
have you been to SKYE YET? :shock: :shock: :shock: :shock: :shock:
REMEMBER THESE WORDS>>>>Sgurr nan Gillean and Sgurr Alasdair Am Basteir...Sgurr Mhic Chonnich...THE INN PINN :D :D [/b]

OH THE JOYS OF STEEP these looked flat in comparison :? :?
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Re: Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Postby mountain coward » Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:21 pm

Those words are etched on my brain... in the 'fear' department! :-S
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Re: Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Postby kinley » Tue Jul 07, 2009 7:23 pm

Don't mind him.....it's not as though he could see any drops when he did them :lol:

Great TR from Knoydart.......you seem to be rampaging through the munros 8)

Re: Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Postby mountain coward » Tue Jul 07, 2009 9:33 pm

Well this last trip's been more like limping through the Munros!;-) I've been more determined this year though and had loadsa extra visits - normally I just go to Scotland twice a year, this year I've been going at least once a month so have got quite a few done - still loads to go though...
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Re: Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Postby benno » Fri Jul 10, 2009 3:07 pm

Fantastic report, thanks!

I'm hoping to do these hills this summer, but include Sgurr Mor in the same day, ascending Sgurr nan Coireachan via An Eag. Should be fine if I set off early enough.

Is the parking situation really that bad? How far away from the road end did you end up?
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Re: Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Postby cjwaugh » Fri Jul 10, 2009 10:31 pm

Another cracker MC :D
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Re: Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Postby MartinMeredith » Fri Jul 10, 2009 10:43 pm

Great report, excellent photos!

Funny how it's difficult to capture 'steep' in photos unless its a great pillar with a climber hanging off it. Any advice from people who know about photography?

Totally agree about the Cicerone guides and timing. But then you look at the credentials of some of the people writing them (Alpine, Himalayas...) and it starts to make sense. I reckon I'm doing well if I make it round in the time stated. Having said that, I've found on several occasions the times they give to the first Munro in a round are overestimated, and I don't exactly race up. I don't know where I lose it on the rest of the round either.

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Re: Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Postby mountain coward » Fri Jul 10, 2009 11:47 pm

benno wrote:Fantastic report, thanks!

I'm hoping to do these hills this summer, but include Sgurr Mor in the same day, ascending Sgurr nan Coireachan via An Eag. Should be fine if I set off early enough.

Is the parking situation really that bad? How far away from the road end did you end up?

Firstly, unless you're superfit, I'm not sure about including Sgurr Mor in the walk all the way to Sgurr na Ciche. It was quite some walk as it was - it's pretty hard walking. It would be a great idea to do Sgurr nan Coireachan up it's steep ridge (for variety), drop down onto the headwall of Coire nan Uth to follow the ridge to An Eag (nice-looking ridge) and follow the other ridge along to Sgurr Mor. Then come back along the same ridge and drop down into Coire nan Uth (easy from anywhere) and then walk back out. You could also follow the ridge of An Eag back towards Upper Glendessary House - there's 2 ridges come back towards it, one heads more or less south from the summit, the other goes eastish first.

Cycling to Upper Glendessary House saves about 3 miles each way and if you have a mountain bike (don't forget we had road-type fold-ups) should be a decent enough ride (we both fell off 3 times each coming back :lol: - one of my falls was so spectacular, the bike ended up with the saddle back to front :lol: ). The Garbh Ciochs and Sgurr na Ciche would still be quite a day. You could certainly go up to the col following the stream between Sgurr nan Coireachan and The Garbh Ciochs - I was looking at that all the way up - it was pathless but fine. I'll probably do the Garbh Ciochs again sometime that way and just come back via the Feadan na Ciche without doing Sgurr na Ciche.

I now think that the parking situation wasn't as bad as all that. As we drove back at the end of the day we saw where everyone else had parked later on. The ones in the best spots had probably come back up the road about 1/4 mile (or 1/2 mile at the most) and found good spots. Just if you park on the hill immediately up from the road-end, it's extremely rough at the sides, hence the chap in his van getting caught up underneath! So I'd advise just driving back up the hill (short hill) until the flat bit and look a bit further along where the verges are much better/smoother.
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