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Motorcity Madmen on Ladhar Bheinn in Knoydart

Motorcity Madmen on Ladhar Bheinn in Knoydart

Postby andrewclyde » Thu Nov 28, 2013 5:50 pm

Route description: Ladhar Bheinn from Inverie, Knoydart

Munros included on this walk: Ladhar Bheinn

Date walked: 24/10/2013

Time taken: 9.7 hours

Distance: 17.1 km

Ascent: 1160m

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013
At 12:48 we boarded the Scotrail train in Fort William bound for Mallaig. We had spent the night camped at the north side parking lot by Ben Nevis having walked the Ben the day before. The trip to Mallaig was incredibly scenic as we passed along the shores of sea lochs with salmon farms and Scottish hills dotted with sheep and bogs. The train came to a crawl as we crossed the famous 'Harry Potter' Glenfinnan viaduct and were provided souvenir postcards by the Scotrail attendant. We arrived into the old fishing village of Mallaig around 14:10, disembarked and began looking for the pier and the Sea Bridge Knoydart ferry to Inverie. A nondescript hut served as office for the local ferries and everywhere smelled of shellfish. A couple of forklifts whined around the ferry as they shuttled crates of prawns and crabs from boats to the warehouse. The Sea Bridge Knoydart ferry pulled up to the dock and we loaded aboard with several other passengers including a lanky father and son with mountain bikes and backpacks. They were from south of Glasgow and were headed to Knoydart for a couple days of wilderness exploring. From them we discovered the existence of the Knoydart Foundation Bunkhouse where they were booked to stay during their visit to the peninsula. The Bunkhouse was a hostel owned by the same Foundation that owns a large swatch of the Knoydart Peninsula.

On the Seabridge Knoydart ferry from Mallaig to Inverie.

Approaching Inverie and Knoydart with the silhouette of Ladhar Bheinn in the distance.

Town of Inverie and The Old Forge Pub.

Drew and I were apprehensive about wild camping another 3 nights given the weather forecast was predicting high winds and rain. After arriving at the pier in the small village of Inverie, we hiked towards the designated campsite just outside of town. We were passing by the Bunkhouse so we dropped in and talked to Anna the warden. She explained the rules and price which was only 17 pounds each per night and included bed, linens, hot showers, flush toilets, a fully equipped kitchen, sitting room with TV, CD player, VHS player and a wood stove. The facility also had a washer and dryer for a small fee and a drying room with a dehumidifier for hanging wet outerwear and gear. We went ahead anyway to survey the camping area and discovered it was on the loch with no shelter from the wind. We debated briefly then agreed to stay at the Bunkhouse for the night. Later that evening we walked into town for a dinner of venison burgers and chips at The Old Forge Pub, the "remotest pub on mainland UK'. Later back at the bunkhouse we watched 'Throw Mamma from the Train' on VHS. Actually, Drew watched the movie and the movie watched me sleeping in a big leather chair.

Foundation Bunkhouse to the right, path to Ladhar Bheinn to the left.

Thursday, October 24, 2013
We both slept well although Drew was struggling with a cold he had been carrying for several days. We had planned a two-day trek over Ladhar Bheinn (pronounced "Lar Ben") using a route that I found at the Walkhighlands website. The Glasgow father and son showed us on our map a good location to camp Thursday night beside some nearby ruins. The original route started in Inverie and traveled clockwise traversing Ladhar Bheinn from west to east. The suggested campsite would be only a couple of hours into the trek. The weather forecast was good for Thursday but promised wind, rain and cold temperatures for Friday. We decided to follow the planned route but to switch direction and traverse in the counterclockwise direction to take advantage of the weather forecast and the suggested camping site. This turned out to be a serendipitous decision for many reasons. The topography of Knoydart is a mixture of bogs, mountain streams and rock with very few ideal sites for pitching a tent. Reading the trip blogs on walkhighlands.com and surveying the topo map, there appeared to be potential campsites on top of the Ladhar Bheinn ridge but our experience on Ben Nevis taught us this was risky business in October. A clockwise trek would have made Friday a long and difficult walk in wet and cold conditions.

The Ordinance Survey map with our planned route in yellow and actual journey in ink.

We packed our gear for the overnight hike and left a few items behind along with a note to Anna that we would be back to stay at the Bunkhouse on Friday night. After an oatmeal breakfast and coffee, and final use of the flush toilets, we began our two-day journey across Ladhar Bheinn at 8:30. Very early in the walk it became apparent that Knoydart was a special place, remoter and wilder than the eco tourist area of Fort William and Ben Nevis. The path followed a ridge through the lower forest with an ancient stone wall bordering us on the right. The chatter of birds provided a musical backdrop for the view down to the Inverie River below. This was a prelude to the spectacular scenery to follow.

Start of the trail from Inverie to Ladhar Bheinn.

Memorial built by a former Laird in memory of his father.

Drew's level of interest and excitement ratcheted up a few notches when he spotted the silhouette of a large Red Dear stag high on a ridge to the north. He appeared to be scouting us like an Indian in an old spaghetti western.

Red Deer stag scouting us from high up on the ridge.

The receding forest gave way to bog and grassland as the trail followed a meandering mountain stream. I had read about the possibility of seeing Red Deer but we had little expectation of the quantity we would encounter. The bugle of a Red Deer stag reverberated from somewhere on a hill and the sound would be a constant refrain throughout the day. The well defined trail led up a very gradual slope to an old stone structure beside Loch an Dubh-Lochain.

The path running adjacent to the river from Loch an Dubh-Lochain.

Walking along side Loch an Dubh-Lochain just before we start to ascend to the ridge towards Ladhar Bheinn.

At 9:50 we had reached the point on the trail where we needed to decide on a line of ascent to the top of the mountain ridge. There was no defined path up this part of the mountain; it was the first opportunity of the day to test our limited map and compass skills. The steep slope proved to be very difficult and was compounded by plenty of wet and slippery bog. After a couple of frustrating attempts to find the 'easiest' path up the mountain, we had our first and only real argument of the two-week vacation. We could not agree on a line to take up the mountain. Drew wanted to go further north along the base of the mountain before ascending and I believed it was only going to get steeper and more difficult. After passing the map and leadership responsibility back and forth we both started climbing.

Drew ascending the hill from Loch an Dubh-Lochain below.

View back towards our approach along the river and Loch Bhraomisaig sitting atop the distant hill.

After almost two hours of slogging up the boggy mountain side and getting separated from each other, we reached the crest of the ridge at 11:40 and found a faint trail leading towards Ladhar Bheinn. We promised each other that we would not get separated again and started on the adventurous and challenging walk along the ridge to the summit of Ladhar Bheinn.

Drew finally on top of the ridge with Loch Nevis and Isle of Skye in the back ground.

The Old Man feeling quite pleased with himself with a westerly view of Gleann na Guiserein below.

The ridge turned out to be perfect for scouting the herds of Red Deer below. The end of the rutt was approaching and most of the does were in herds with a big stag in tow. We took a break at 13:30 to eat peanuts with a cup of soup and watch the Red Deer grazing nervously below.

A herd of Red Dear with a large and proud stag bugling his approval.

The ridge continued to rise closer to the clouds and the temperature became colder and the wind wetter. It was hard to walk very far without stopping to admire and take photos of the awe-inspiring views of the Isle of Skye to the west and Loch Hourn to the north. There is not much conversation needed between a father and son on a day such as this. The experience of the moment in a place so close to your spirt is all that is needed to fill the heart with gratitude and a keen sense of belonging.

View of Loch Hourn to the northeast.

The trail to the summit of Ladhar Bheinn turned out to be a series of false summits. We had ascended into the clouds and it was impossible to see very far ahead and recognize that just beyond sight there was another rocky scramble to a new precipice. On one peak we actually thought we had reached the summit marked by a small rock cairn and took several pictures as we shivered a bit in the cold rain. It turned out there was yet another rise to follow to the actual peak and marker for Ladhar Bheinn.

"Which way now?"

Another spectacular view of Loch Hourn 900 meters below.

Drew scrambling up another step with trekking poles strapped to his backpack.

We reached the summit of Ladhar Bheinn at 15:20 and managed a couple of photos of the survey ordinance marker. Drew once more had to listen to is father point a trekking pole skyward and shout that infamous phrase, "there can only be one!" Unbelievable that he has never seen the original version of The Highlander.

Ladhar Bheinn!

We did not linger at the top very long but quickly started on our way again to find the path down so we could escape the heavy wind and sleeting rain. The trail was faint to non-existent and we were forced to test our navigation skills once again. I learned later that evening from another walker at the Bunkhouse that a compass will not work on some of the Scottish hills due to the magnetic materials in the rock. We worked our way down the southern slope of Ladhar Bheinn through boulders strewn amongst the bog and streams. My legs were tired and burning and I slipped on the muddy bog a few times. Our backpacks each weighed about 35 pounds and added to the challenge of ascending and scrambling up the mountain.

Descending Ladhar Bheinn to Gleann na Guiserein with Loch Nevis and Isle of Skye on the horizon.

We eventually picked up a faint trail along a mountain stream and made our way down towards the river. We scouted for a good spot to pitch the tent close to some old stone ruins beside the mountain stream. Drew picked a nice spot between a converging fork in the river and we set up camp at 17:20. We spotted a jeep or Range Rover parked next to a bridge in the distance with a couple of people attending to some horses. The sky continued to clear of clouds as the sun set and we ate our freeze-dried dinners. We could sometimes hear the bugle of a Red Deer stag over the constant roar of the river.

Drew eating dinner and resting his feet at camp with the ridge of Aonach Sgoilte in the background.

We climbed into our sleeping bags as the sun disappeared. I awoke sometime around midnight to get out of the tent and empty my bladder. The sky was crystal clear and full of bright stars and the swatch of the milky-way overhead. It reminded me of an Algonquin Park night and the many memories from that other special place. Scottish DNA was passed on to me from my father. He emigrated from Glasgow to Canada in 1957 and married my French-Canadian mother. Later, in 1960, I was born. Fifty-three years later, I am camping in Knoydart with my 27-year-old son on our first visit to Scotland. Words fail to adequately describe the sense of 'being home' I felt standing beside that mountain stream in the shadow of Ladhar Bheinn.

Friday, October 25, 2013
We awoke to a moderate rain and brisk wind so we decided to pack up and eat breakfast somewhere along the trail in the forest ahead. We passed a gate and several horses eating along the river. I nicknamed a white horse 'peekaboo pony' as he watched us attentively around the corner of an old stone building.

Peak-a-boo pony.

The walk followed a dirt and stone packed single track. Soon into the forest we stopped and I prepared some instant oatmeal and coffee for breakfast. Drew passed on the food and went out to explore a bit while I boiled water on the JetBoil. Drew discovered a large pit full of deer bones, hooves and carcasses. We packed up again and continued along the single-track.

Our 'roadside breakfast' stop.

We crested a small rise in the roadway and spotted stakes of fenceposts and wire fencing waiting to be installed along the way. There was a back-hoe sitting unoccupied partway up the mountain. A small tent was pitched close to a small cabin and a parked ATV beside the roadway. Smoke trailed from a tin stack on the cabin and we shouted a hello as we passed by. Shortly after walking past the cabin, the ATV approached us from the rear driven by an older gentleman. The driver had long grey hair, salt-stained eyes, goggles and a heavy, red work suit. He looked well worn from a life of hard work and play. We discovered he was a contractor hired by the Knoydart Foundation to install and repair fencing to deter the wild deer from entering town and the other estates on the peninsula. We were surprised to learn that he was digging all of the postholes by hand with a pick and a shovel! Equally surprising was the backhoe was not being used for building the fences but was used to create dirt mounds for planting trees. Most of the forest consisted of fir trees planted in recent years. The Knoydart Foundation master plan included an ambitious goal to reforest areas of the peninsula with trees indigenous to Scotland. We were told that the fencing keeps the Red Deer contained within the wilderness area. Although the fencing seemed low by Whitetail standards, he explained that Red Deer need a strong motivator to jump over a fence. Deer that did manage jump over the fence were usually shot so the gene pool developed no sense of a land beyond the fences!

The trail back to Inverie with Loch Nevis and Inverie Bay in the distance.

We arrived back at the bunkhouse just before noon where we prepared and ate some freeze-dried meals for lunch. At the bunkhouse we met several other walkers that had come to Knoydart for the weekend. Drew and I got cleaned up and hung out in the sitting room watching 'A Fish Called Wanda' and chatted with the other walkers. Later that evening, we walked into town and enjoyed the seafood platter for dinner at the Old Forge Pub. Back at the Bunkhouse, we chatted some more with the other Knoydart enthusiasts and packed for our return trip to Glasgow the following morning. A week of walking and camping in the highlands of Scotland left me wanting more. We will be back!
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Re: Motorcity Madmen on Ladhar Bheinn in Knoydart

Postby mgmt! » Thu Nov 28, 2013 6:45 pm

another great report there andrewclyde, glad you like out scottish mountains." the red deer bugle call " had me in knots :lol:
haste ye back
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Re: Motorcity Madmen on Ladhar Bheinn in Knoydart

Postby Avocetboy » Thu Nov 28, 2013 7:13 pm

Cracking report. May have to do the same with my elder kids.
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