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A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas

A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas


Postby Redrock » Thu Jan 12, 2012 2:31 am

Route description: Sgiath Chuil and Meal Glas from Glen Lochay

Munros included on this walk: Meall Glas, Sgiath Chuil

Date walked: 09/01/2012

Time taken: 9.7 hours

Distance: 18.6 km

Ascent: 1282m

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Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas were two Munros that I had always thought would be challenging to do together. It was partly the deep drop between the two ridges on which they are situated, and partly the fact that they are often described as boggy hills. But they proved to be challenging to me for a quite different reason. I discovered just how much longer it takes me to do a walk in winter compared to a similar route in summer. My timings over the last year have generally been in the middle of the range given by Walkhighlands for Munro routes. I have adjusted these a bit for winter walking - usually working with the longer time quoted. But, I've now found that that is not enough. I'm probably going to have to add something like 50% to my summer time estimates to give myself a reasonable estimate of timings in the winter - the time of year when timing is all the more critical! :shock: I'm not sure why it takes me so much longer in winter but I reckon that a heavier packs and trudging through snow as well as time needed to adjust clothing to suit wilder conditions all play their part. Or maybe it just that "I'm getting old and slow and due to retire" :lol: (sorry Runrig!)

The plan had been to get an early start - that's always a good idea in winter! :) But it didn't quite work out that way due to delays on route and me not being as efficient as I should be! So it was 9:30am before I set off from the new car park east of Kenknock in Glen Lochay. Ben Challum and the other hills to the west looked inviting in the early morning sunshine.

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Ben Challum and other hills


It was clear that the River Lochay was in spate due to melt-water so I decided that my approach to the hill would be by the Hydro board's road which provided a convenient bridge to cross the river.

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The Bridge over the River Lochay


I didn't seem to take me long to zigzag up the hill to the end of the road where views of Creag Mhor opened up to the west.

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Creag Mhor


From here my route was above the trees and over the burn (using a Hydro-board weir to cross) and then onto the north ridge of Meall a' Churain as my route to the summit of Sgiath Chuil. I reached patches of snow at about 500 metres and Beinn Cheathaich came into clear view across the beallach to the west.

P1080860.JPG
Beinn Cheathaich


Shower clouds rolled in bringing snow and the wind strengthen to what felt to me like gale force but I kept steadily on through widening snow fields and steeping ground. And then I was there at the top of Meall a' Churain looking south to the summit of Sgiath Chuil with Ben More in the background.

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Towards the summit of Sgiath Chuil


So then it was a straightforward stroll along the ridge following the one set of footprints through the snowfields that led the way. The summit cairn proved to be one of the lesser cairns I have visited and by now the wind was chilling my face and hands quite a bit! Time for wrapping up a bit more!

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Sgiath Chuil Summit


Now it was time to head across to Meall Glas which could now be seen beyond Beinn Cheathaich to the west.

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Meal Glas from Sgiath Chuil


But this was the point where I started to wonder about the wisdom of doing the second Munro. It was already 1pm and there was still a long way to go. It had taken me 3.5 hours to get this far and I had hoped to be at this summit by midday. I resolved to descend to the beallach below and make my decision then once I was down and out of the punishing wind! (it doesn't show much in the pictures - but it was wild!).

P1080870.JPG
At the summit of Sgiath Chuil


The route I chose down the steep west slopes of Sgaith Chuil was not the best. I went a bit too far north before descending and ended up having to make my way carefully round crags. From below it looks like the easiest descent route is west for the intermediate top on the ridge about 300 metres north of the summit. But it is far easier to see a route from below than looking down a steep slope. One good thing was that most of this hillside was clear of snow - which made life a bit easier. The photographs don't really show how steep it was!

P1080879.JPG
The western slopes of Sgiath Chuil


I usually find there as a part on almost every walk which goes very smoothly - when I seem to make a lot of progress in a short time without feeling I am pushing it - I call it the golden time! :D Anyway, it came probably at the wrong part of this walk, because I was down at the beallach in a little over half an hour and I was beginning to believe that I could perhaps make the summit of Meall Glas by about 3pm - a bit late, yes, but with time to reach Beinn Cheathaich on the return before 4pm and the to make the descent to the hill road on its northern ridge before dark. Well, with hindsight I can say that was somewhat delusional thinking and I had not reckoned with snow fields and growing tiredness - along with around 360 meters of ascent and several kilometres to cover! But I decided to go on and headed for the spur on the south side of the ridge which was to be my route forward. That was a bad decision - not disastrous - but bad - and one from which I will learn!

P1080884.JPG
The spur to the ridge


There was a lot of snow filling the hollows on my route. It was that special consistency that supports you until you are just beginning to transfer your weight onto it then it gives. And then there were the deeper bits that had to be avoided at all costs - there was probably a raging burn down there hidden under a tunnel of snow! But occasionally I sunk up to my waist in the white stuff! :shock: I tried to keep to snow-free ground when I could but it was not always possible. When the snow got steep I had to kick steps - it wasn't firm enough for the crampons! Eventually I reached the col between Beinn Cheathaich and Meall Glas and the summit rose up before me!

P1080888.JPG
The summit ridge of Meall Glas


There was a lot of snow on the western slopes of Meall Glas so I aimed to ascend from the south eastern side. This still involved some snowy climbs but there was a fair amount of clear ground too! As I climbed the nearby Corbett, Beinn nan Imirean was enveloped in cloud.

P1080893.JPG
Beinn nan Imirean


So I reached the summit of Meall Glas. It seemed a finer mountain to me than it is often give credit for. Maybe it was the evening light but this Munro impressed me! :-o

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At the summit of Meall Glas


But even as I took a moment to look around I realised that things were not looking good. Cloud seemed to be closing in from all directions and the light was fading fast. I checked the time - it was almost 4pm. I was well past my estimated time for being here and now I faced the prospect of navigating a difficult route back in the dark.

P1080896.JPG
The summit cairn - Meall Glas


I would have to make my way back as quickly as possible. My main concern was to find my way back to Beinn Cheathaich while there was still some light. Beyond that I was fairly confident that I could make my way down the north-east ridge back to Lubchurran and my route back to the car. But the cloud came down and complicated things further! :shock:

P1080900.JPG
Cloud on the summits


The compass was out in earnest as I took bearings to navigate across the col to the south-east of the summit of Meall Glas. It's one of those hummocky areas which make for difficult navigating. I was half way across this area, taking care crossing the snow beds, when the cloud lifted and I could see the way forward again - in the fading light! Soon Meall Glas itself was fading behind me.

P1080905.JPG
Meall Glas in the fading light


Once I was on the ridge I made good progress. Again the wind was strengthening and buffeting me quite a bit. I pressed on to trig pillar at the summit of my last Top of the day: Beinn Chathaich.

P1080911.JPG
Trig pillar on Beinn Cheathaich


After that it was all downhill! :) I followed the North-east ridge down hoping to cross the hill road that climbs up from Lubchurran burn which I would then follow down to the glen. I didn't, however, find it (it wasn't marked on the OS map I was using but I had seen it earlier and it is mentioned in the Walkhighland's route) and so continued carefully descending the ridge, thankful for a good head-torch (and a rising full moon) to show the way.

I reached the road which brought me past Lubchurran - although I didn't notice the house! I was quite surprised when I went through a gate and found I was standing at the edge of what I first thought was a large pool of water. The I realised I was already at the river. I had previously considered making my way down river on it's south bank and crossing at the hydro-board bridge, but the thought of crossing burns, ditches, fences and woodland did not appeal. So I checked the water depth and flow and it didn't seem too bad. So I waded across. The water was over my boots in the middle but it was nice and cool on the feet! :lol: Once over, though, I had a straightforward march back to the car which I reached just after 7pm.

I am not proud of misjudging the time so badly. I would not have minded simply walking the road in the dark - but unknown country is a different matter. I had to be very careful coming down the ridge - especially when crossing snow fields and it would have helped to have found the hill road - but I knew it was pointless trying to find it when I didn't know its position with any accuracy. I didn't feel particularly anxious at any time but I was glad to have gained the ridge on the way back before the light had faded completely. I will be more careful in future - especially when out on my own. And I'll allow a bit more time in these short winter days too! 8)
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Re: A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas

Postby MarilynMunro » Thu Jan 12, 2012 3:59 am

Thats a bit of an epic, well done on getting off ok, I'm sure it must have been worrying at the time, probably your experience that got you back ok. What doesn't k*** ya, makes ya stronger.
Thanks for your efforts in providing us with some fine photos. :lol:
I take it Mrs Redrock won't be hearing about this :lol:
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Re: A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas

Postby ChrisW » Thu Jan 12, 2012 6:46 am

Great read Redrock, one mans ordeal is another mans entertainment :shock:

"There was a lot of snow filling the hollows on my route. It was that special consistency that supports you until you are just beginning to transfer your weight onto it then it gives" That is the worst kind of walking, well done on getting yourself home in one piece (albeit with wet feet) :D
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Re: A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas

Postby Fudgie » Thu Jan 12, 2012 3:51 pm

I agree about the extended walking time due to the winter weather. Ben Challum took us six hours recently when I had estimated 4 and a half at the very most. The two hills in your report aren't that far away from me but I'm holding off doing them until the days are a bit longer.
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Re: A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas

Postby quoman » Thu Jan 12, 2012 7:36 pm

Hi redrock

I was up there with some of the WH gang last monday we only managed sgiath chuil. A think we took 6hrs there and back half way up we decided to only do the one.

well done on doing the two and yes the winter walking does take more time.
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Re: A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas

Postby yokehead » Thu Jan 12, 2012 8:27 pm

Another superb report RR, you're getting in some wonderful trips. :D I agree this is a fine round and doesn't deserve the negative comments of some. That descent from Chuil is indeed a bit steep! I'm not surprised about the time taken, from the photos I can see that you had tough snow conditions. I experienced similar last year in Kintail - gently put your weight forward, you think the crust will support you, in you sink. And so it goes on! :o All rythym is lost, I reckon speed can be cut to a quarther of normal, especially if you're ascending as well.

Anyway you made it and had a memorable day. Days like this make you appreciate the challenge, particularly in retrospect :) , and the relief in getting back to the car! :D
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Re: A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas

Postby Owen b » Thu Jan 12, 2012 8:41 pm

Those two hills took me four attempts between them last year, the first three in February as part of the annual Munro trip I make with a group of friends. I ended up coming back solo for my last attempt in the summer.
1. From Glen Dochart, we aimed for Meall Glas, but were making painfully slow progress in snow that was very soft and frequently waist deep. We gave up at the bottom of a steeper section somewhere around the 730m contour in mist, concerned about the time, the weather and the state of the snow.
2. Next day we bagged Sgiath Chuil from Glen Lochay, but with snow from about 400m upwards and still very soft and deep any thoughts of bagging Meall Glas didn't last long.
3. On the third day we aimed for Meall Glas from Glen Lochay by way of the track. Unfortunately the track just seemed to be a snow trap and the walking was again very difficult in deep soft snow. In white out conditions with a strengthening wind and spindrift, and getting a bit short of time given the very slow progress we were making, I got cold feet (excuse pun) at about 870m, not far off the summit of Beinn Cheathaich, and we all trooped back again.
4. I went back in the summer and finally bagged Meall Glas from Glen Dochart and bagged the Corbett Beinn nan Imirean for good measure. A very boggy Munro and not the most inspiring but excellent views of Ben More and the hills at the top of Glen Lochay, and of course the satisfaction of finally ticking it off was all the greater for the difficulties we'd had in the winter.
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Re: A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas

Postby Collaciotach » Thu Jan 12, 2012 9:42 pm

Was thinking of doing these two on Saturday ..no now :lol: ..... ach your right days is still short and deffo takes a lot longer we were six hours on A Mharconich and geal Charn on Sat (howling gale n snow) i reckon in Summer it would take me half the time :)

Still enjoyed your report :)
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Re: A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas

Postby jonny616 » Thu Jan 12, 2012 11:05 pm

Great report. I know what you mean about the winter & timming. It seams to me that it particularly applies to these lochey munros. I have done both in winter as singles. Meall Glas was 17k on its own took 7 hours & walked the track in fadding light. Can't decide the best way to handle the two on the other side :lol:
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Re: A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas

Postby Paula Hubens » Sat Jan 14, 2012 6:31 pm

Wow, what a walk! I love the pictures, they give a very good idea of the lie of the land for when I will attempt these 3. Well done for keeping cool, calm and collected!
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Re: A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas

Postby Redrock » Sat Jan 14, 2012 10:43 pm

Thanks for all your comments folks - and all the encouragement too! :D I may have made it sound a bit more of an epic than it was. I knew my location at all times and I knew the way to go. My one concern was if the cloud came down before I made Ben Cheathaich as navigation through the Col to the east of Meall Glas would have been awkward considering the ground conditions there! I was disappointed not to find the hill road - but I suspect it might have been filled with snow. I might even have walked over it (buried in snow) on my way down the ridge and not noticed it! :lol: As far as timing in winter is concerned I'm going to take the Walkhighlands minimum time and add 50% and see how that fits (6 to 8 hours, take 6 add 50%, equals 9 hours - it took me 9.7 hours so that's not bad).

MarilynMunro wrote:I take it Mrs Redrock won't be hearing about this

I can't keep secrets from Mrs R, Marilyn, in fact we were in touch by text as I walked into the darkness! :shock: Fortunately she is not the worrying type! :D

ChrisW wrote:Great read Redrock, one mans ordeal is another mans entertainment

Enjoy Chris! Actually I enjoyed it too - and the walk in the dark was an interesting challenge! 8)

Fudgie wrote:The two hills in your report aren't that far away from me but I'm holding off doing them until the days are a bit longer.

A few more weeks and an early start could make all the difference. But snow conditions can be critical. I was out again yesterday, on Chno Dearg, and good hard snow made walking with crampons a pleasure! :D

quoman wrote:A think we took 6hrs there and back half way up we decided to only do the one.

That's what I should have done, quoman, but it's so tempting when you have gained all that altitude! :lol:

yokehead wrote:I experienced similar last year in Kintail - gently put your weight forward, you think the crust will support you, in you sink. And so it goes on! All rythym is lost, I reckon speed can be cut to a quarther of normal, especially if you're ascending as well.

There was definitely a lack of rhythm when walking through the snow, yokehead. It went something like: step - crunch - lunge - steady and so on! :lol: I did enjoy the day out though. It was a great day and even the challenges were good! Thanks. :D

Owen b wrote:I went back in the summer and finally bagged Meall Glas from Glen Dochart and bagged the Corbett Beinn nan Imirean for good measure. A very boggy Munro and not the most inspiring but excellent views of Ben More and the hills at the top of Glen Lochay, and of course the satisfaction of finally ticking it off was all the greater for the difficulties we'd had in the winter.

You almost make me feel I had it easy on Monday. The deep soft snow you experience would have been worse! But it sounds like Meall Glas in winter, with all the bogs frozen, was quite a good option for me! I did at one point try to convince myself that I could come back and bag the Corbett along with Meall Glas at some future date. But It didn't quite work! :lol:

Collaciotach wrote:Was thinking of doing these two on Saturday ..no now ..... ach your right days is still short and deffo takes a lot longer we were six hours on A Mharconich and geal Charn on Sat (howling gale n snow) i reckon in Summer it would take me half the time

I hope I didn't put you off too much, Collaciotach! I trust you got out and found some mountain tops above the inversion layer!

jonny616 wrote:Can't decide the best way to handle the two on the other side

I'm definitely saving Creag Mhor and Beinn H for longer days! :lol: It's a pity you can't drive a bit nearer - but it seems the tracks are closed.

Paula Hubens wrote:I love the pictures, they give a very good idea of the lie of the land for when I will attempt these 3.
Thanks Paula. I presume by "these 3" you mean the two Munros and the Corbett, Beinn nan Imirean (or did I do more than I had realised? :lol: ). I would definitely approach that circuit from the Glen Dochart side. It could make a very pleasant round - especially in dry conditions underfoot! :lol:
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Re: A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas

Postby luckyguy68 » Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:12 pm

a bit of an epic. Remind me to have been walking for about 5 years before i go out with you. That was a lot of time to be on your feet :lol:
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Re: A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas

Postby Redrock » Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:24 pm

luckyguy68 wrote:a bit of an epic. Remind me to have been walking for about 5 years before i go out with you. That was a lot of time to be on your feet :lol:

I'm just an old slow coach, luckyguy! :lol: The feet didn't seem to mind. Have you been out again yourself? 8)
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Re: A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas

Postby PeteR » Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:34 pm

Great report and pics Redrock. These two are tough little blighters, as I found out myself from glen dochart. I often have the devil and the angel on each shoulder encouraging me to go that little bit further, push myself that little bit harder or do the sensible thing and be a tad more cautious or realistic :? I find it hard to listen to the angel sometimes, but I'm learning :lol: So I camn empathise with your desire to look to bag the two in the one trip. Despite the concern over timings it looks like you had a great day though :D

I hope to be back up this way, probably from glen lochay, in the summer when I might try and bag gh two and the wee Corbett too :D I'l wait for a sunny day :lol:
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Re: A case of bad timing on Sgiath Chuil and Meall Glas

Postby Collaciotach » Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:48 pm

Well i did try these two today :o ... 8 hrs in total did Meall Glas first in heavy mist and with a slow walking companion :shock: then bailed at the 605 mark below Sgiath Chuil as we could see Sweet F :( All ...... navigation is tricky no many features to work from and a slog, enjoyed it all the same but no in a hurry to get back to Sgiath Chuil :lol: when i do via Auchlyne 4x4 track it will be :lol:
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