I knew there was something wrong with the altimeter on my GPS when I got back down: I definitely hadn’t climbed over 1800m. I felt tired, but not that tired. And while descending the final half mile through the woods to the car, it told me I’d climbed another 50m.
Mind you, I suspected that something was amiss at the beginning of the day. OK, we’ve had the wettest winter in decades, but I was being told I was electronically ten metres below sea level. Flood warnings on the road at the head of Loch Creran and seaweed hanging from the fences suggested that the odd high tide might come this way, but this meant that a tiny part of Scotland was akin to a Dutch polder.
Anyway, technical malfunctions aside, Beinn Sgulaird didn’t make it easy either. There’s no gentle stretch of comfortable ground to get the legs and lungs in working order, and even the forest / hydro track kicks in at a gradient that would punish Tour de France cyclists within the first couple of hundred yards beyond the picturesque Druimavuic. But an Alpes d’ Huez it ain’t. No, the track is now a brutal scar scraped from the hillside, visible for miles with the tree cover having been felled.
Getting off the track and on to the hillside above provided no relief. An unrelenting plod up the nose of the ridge begins with a boulder on the skyline as a target. Is it fridge-sized? Is it van-sized? Is it house-sized? Nothing to give perspective and no clue as too how long my legs are going to have to endure the strain. In time, the imaginatively named 488m is reached and the route gives a little kick in the teeth with a sharp drop. Height is finally regained and the next plod continues to the first of Meall Garbh’s tops.
Spring, and a little warmth may finally have arrived, but any distractions gleaned from distant views is lost in the haze. Beinn Sgulaird itself may have been clear enough, but surrounding hills disappeared into a succession of dissolving ridges.
Reaching Meall Garbh didn’t simply unlock the door to the Munro ahead. Instead it revealed itself as a rollercoaster series of dips and crags and scrambles that were tackled in a now buffeting wind: any illusion of spring warmth had gone and having to keep on regaining lost height became strength sappingly tiring.
The huge cairn was finally reached just over two and half hours after leaving the car and a welcome rest was taken – in a sheltered spot and trying to identify surrounding hills in the haze.
The steep descending traverse back to the valley was shunned in favour of a return across Meall Garbh. I’m not a lover of near vertical wet grass so the prospect of having to repeat the ups and downs of the way out was a price to be paid. “The effort is repaid in good weather by superb views” had been the lure in one guide when planning this walk. However, another consequence of the haze was the disappearance of the coastline and isles into the blue-grey smudge ahead.
An uneventful descent ended the day with a few more leisurely stops at cairns on Meall Grabh and at one on the 488m spot.
Bits of the day had been hard work, not made any easier by the increasing wind-speed on the tops. Maybe the circular route down the north west ridge would have proved to be more interesting and not as tricky as I feared. I could sense that the views would have been more spectacular in more favourable conditions: but they weren’t. As a result, I was glad the trek round into the area had been made and I’d managed to get to the top of another unvisited Munro. But it won’t rate highly in my list of days out.
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.