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Daimh it, Janet, that's a steep bit at the head of the loch!

Daimh it, Janet, that's a steep bit at the head of the loch!

Postby bobble_hat_kenny » Sun Jun 08, 2014 1:56 pm

Route description: Stuchd an Lochain

Munros included on this walk: Meall Buidhe (Glen Lyon), Stùcd an Lochain

Corbetts included on this walk: Sron a' Choire Chnapanich

Date walked: 06/06/2014

Time taken: 8.75 hours

Distance: 20 km

Ascent: 1100m

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I've been in two minds for some time about the best way to tackle these two Munros tucked away up at the west end of Glen Lyon. Uniquely among the Munros guidebooks, Cameron McNeish's big 1996 hardback tome suggests an intriguing route that makes a round of Loch nan Daimh by climbing Stuchd an Lochain by the standard ascent route from the dam, then carrying on over the fantastically named Corbett, Sron a'Choire Chnapanich ("Nose of the Bumpy Corrie"), then descending steeply (!) to the west end of Loch an Daimh, ascending again to the hills on the north side of the loch, trekking eastwards across the high moors to the second Munro of Meall Buidhe, and then descending back to the car park at the dam via Meall Buidhe's standard ascent route. That sounds all well and good on paper, and it's certainly an attractive alternative to the rather, um... boring alternative approach of bagging one Munro from the car park at the loch, walking back the same way to the car, and then bagging the second one in the opposite direction... However, there surely has to be a sound reason why all the other Munros guides, including the Walkhighlands one, recommend the less interesting alternative. After reading a couple of good walk reports on the "McNeish route" on the website, it was clear to me that the steep descent of Sron a'Choire Chnapanich's north "ridge" (to use Cameron McNeish's optimistic description of it) to the head of Loch an Daimh could be classed as intimidatingly steep for the average walker (which certainly includes myself), and this is the major disincentive for what would otherwise be the obvious route for these two. There is a third option, of extending the round over a second Corbett (confusingly also called Meall Buidhe :? ) even further to the west: that's undoubtedly a great route for the Mountain Athletes amongst us, and it gives a substantially gentler descent and re-ascent at the west end of the loch, but at some 28 km of distance and over 1900 metres of ascent, it was definitely out of my league...
All the same, I did wonder if the "McNeish route" might just be within my capabilities on a good day in the summer :? ... I'd decided to tackle these two hills on Friday 6th June, and the forecast was looking promising, with a lot of low cloud early in the morning being predicted to burn off shortly after 11 a.m., with a fine day thereafter. I thought I'd go up Stuchd an Lochain, carry on a bit westward and at least have a look at the Corbett, and then make the call depending on the weather on whether to go for the Full Bhoona of the McNeish Route, or just backtrack to the car and do the second Munro from there.
I got an early start, and parked in the fairly big car park at Giorra Dam at the east end of Loch an Daimh. As per forecast, there was a lid of low cloud at this stage. The route started on the track that runs along the dam and continued along the south shore of the loch to end at a boathouse; a hill path heading for Stuchd an Lochain left the track at a cairn just after the first right-hand turn.
WR1 - boathouse & path at start.jpg
It's a relatively steep ascent at first, and the path seems to be experiencing something of a Mid-Life Crisis, giving serious consideration to a late career change to Mountain Stream... however, it certainly takes a no-nonsense approach to getting walkers up to the skyline as quickly as possible, and it served the purpose fine. Once the path leveled off at the top, a good path carried on over the minor top of Creag an Fheadain, and then joined a line of fenceposts to head south-west towards Stuchd an Lochain. It would have been a shame not to make the very short detour en route to bag the Stuchd's east Top, Sron Chona Chorein, which sports a surprisingly big cairn.
WR2 - Sron Chona Choirein cairn.jpg
It wasn't much further from here to Stuchd an Lochain's rather cute summit cairn, perched on the edge of a big drop over substantial crags down to Loch an Daimh to the north. Sadly, nae views at this point :( , although the Clag was showing some signs of beginning to fray, with patches of blue sky showing through here and there...
WR3 - Stuchd an Lochain summit.jpg
As I carried on to the west, still accompanied by the line of fenceposts, towards the bealach with the minor top of Meall an Odhar, the cloud started to lift quite suddenly. For about five minutes or so, this gave a great illusion - almost a cloud inversion - where the cloud was appearing to boil out from the edge of the enormous cauldron of Loch an Daimh :shock: ...
WR4 - bealach with Meall an Odhar - boiling cloud.jpg
Continuing down to the bealach with Sron a'Choire Chnapanich, there was a grand view over the Corbett, which was now entirely cloud-free, and the western end of Loch an Daimh beyond it. While it did look a steep descent from here right enough, I'd decided by now that I was really going to have to go for the Grand Mendonka of the "McNeish Route" :crazy: !
WR5 - Sron from Meall an Odhar.jpg
The bealach between the Meall and the Sron is mildly boggy with some peat hags, but it proved possible to find an easy enough route by keeping well right, accepting a slight loss of height in turn for avoiding the worst of the terrain. Soon enough, I was on the way up the gentle south ridge of the Sron, with another line of old fenceposts appearing to aid navigation.
WR6 - Sron ascent route with fenceposts.jpg
It wasn't far to the Corbett's summit cairn, where there was a good view back to Stuchd an Lochain, now almost completely cloud-free.
WR7 - Stuchd from Sron summit.jpg
Now to tackle the infamous descent of that north ridge... I strode off confidently for, oh, about 100 metres or so, until I reached the point where the ridge seems to take a sudden plunge straight down towards Loch an Daimh, some 430 metres below :shock: . My first thought was, "You've got to be having a laugh!".
WR8 - very steep descent of Sron.jpg
However, I persevered onwards, resorting to some unashamed bum-sliding at the scarier bits, and in fact a very steep but nevertheless just about feasible ongoing route did materialise. All the same, after due reflection, my second thought was still, "You've got to be having a laugh!".
WR9 - still very steep descent of Sron.jpg
The easiest way down cuts down slightly to the left (north) of the initial NNE line of the ridge, to join a shallow gully carrying a scree chute: by sticking to the grass immediately to the left of the scree, it is possible to descend steeply (did I mention somewhere before that it is a tad steep :lol: ?) on continuous crag-free grassy slopes all the way to the loch. That makes it sound more straightforward than it was, however, and it was a big relief to finally set foot on terra firma again at the north end of Loch an Daimh. I have to hand it to Cameron McNeish, though: as he promises, this did prove to be a beautifully wild spot, and well worth the effort of getting there.
WR11 - head of loch with bog cotton.jpg
One thing that Cameron McNeish somewhat glosses over is that crossing the western end of Loch an Daimh towards the line of hills to the north of the loch involves two river crossings, across the Loch's two main feeder streams, Feith Thalain and Eas Daimh. On a dry day in June this proved easy enough, and I got across with dry feet, but it could be tricky in the winter, and it would almost certainly involve wading after heavy rainfall.
WR10 - first view of far side at head of Loch - final.jpg
One advantage of my rather slow descent from the Corbett was that I had plenty of opportunity to recce the best ascent route to the hills on the north side of Loch an Daimh's glacial trench. There appeared to be an easy-enough-looking route on relatively gentle grassy slopes immediately to the right of the tributary stream that joins the Eas Daimh at around GR 454465.
WR12 - ascent route from head of loch.jpg
It did indeed prove to be much gentler than the descent on the other side of the loch, although it was still a fairly steep uphill pull. I resorted to my usual expedient of stopping for lunch at a big boulder halfway up, taking the opportunity to have a good look back across at the north ridge of the Corbett, wondering how I'd ever managed to make it down that in one piece :? .
WR13 - the Steepness of the Sron.jpg
Eventually I topped out about halfway along the SE ridge of the minor top of Meall Cruinn, marked on the OS Landranger map as "Coire Choirse". There is a big iron marker post at approximately GR 461472, which might be handy for navigation in poorer visibility. The rounded hump visible in the distance slightly to the left of centre here is not the second Munro Meall Buidhe, as I initially hoped, but just the intervening minor top, Point 824. At least it was in the right direction, though...
WR14 - marker post at 461472.jpg
It was a longer tramp than it initially looked across to Point 824, with some entertaining peat hags en route. All the same, this was an unexpectedly enjoyable part of the route, with a real Back Country feel to it. I wouldn't like to have tackled it without my GPS, all the same. Down at the bealach, there was a grand view back south across Loch an Daimh to Stuchd an Lochain, with its wee pet corrie lochan, Lochan nan Cat, just visible at its feet.
WR15 - Stuchd an Lochain with pet Cat.jpg
On ascent towards Point 824, a faint path finally started to appear, complete with impressive waymarker cairns, and the rounded lump of Meall Buidhe finally appeared in the background.
WR16 - Meall Buidhe and Point 824 with waymark cairns.jpg
It would doubtless be possible to bypass Point 824's summit, thereby avoiding a small amount of descent and re-ascent to the second Munro, but it was easier navigationally just to go right over the top. Point 824 proved to have an unexpectedly big summit cairn.
WR17 - Point 824 cairn.jpg
I was pretty bushed by now, but thankfully it was a straightforward plod on up Meall Buidhe's gentle east ridge to its amazing summit cairn. Given that it had looked such a nondescript lump of a thing from a distance, I was completely unprepared for its astounding summit views. A big rounded lump it may be, but on a clear day like today, its isolated position right at the south edge of Rannoch Moor gives it stunning grandstand views of all of its pointier neighbours in all directions.
WR18 - Meall Buidhe summit panorama 1.jpg
WR19 - Meall Buidhe summit panorama 2.jpg
Predictably enough, the stars of the show were Ben Nevis and the Black Mount Munros. A zoomed shot of the Ben:
WR21 - zoomed shot of Ben Nevis.jpg
And of the Black Mount hills:
WR22 - zoomed shot of Blackmount hills.jpg
Having taken about twenty photos in all directions, I eventually left the summit via the six-lane Autobahn that is Meall Buidhe's standard ascent path from the dam at the head of the Loch. From this angle, Meall Buidhe reveals itself to be not so much a big rounded hump as a long whaleback ridge. The ascent / descent path runs down the middle of its south ridge to a minor cairned top, Point 917, and then eventually cuts down southwards towards the dam before the ridge terminates at the hump of Meall a'Phuill.
WR20 - Meall Buidhe summit cairn looking SSE down return route.jpg
There was a good view down the length of Loch an Daimh from Meall Buidhe's south top:
WR23 - shot along Loch from cairn on Meall Buidhe S top.jpg
However, the best view of the Loch came right at the end of the route, just before the final descent to the car park:
WR24 - view down Loch from end of route.jpg

I'm still somewhat in two minds about this route. I certainly don't have any regrets over having tackled it: it was a fantastic day's walking. All the same, that descent from the Corbett was scarily steep. It proved to be just about within my capabilities on a dry day in the summer, but I certainly wouldn't like to tackle it in cloud, and I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole in winter conditions, when a slip could have serious consequences. If anyone else fancies tackling the "McNeish Route", I'd suggest coming prepared with good tread on one's boots, a good pair of trekking poles, and ideally a moderately good head for heights. A Good Sense of Humour might also be in order...
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Re: Daimh it, Janet, that's a steep bit at the head of the l

Postby rockhopper » Thu Jun 12, 2014 11:51 pm

would agree, these corbetts can often be harder and steeper than the munros :shock: nice route - does look more interesting than the standard car-up-down-car-up-down-car route for the two munros - cheers :)
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Re: Daimh it, Janet, that's a steep bit at the head of the l

Postby dogplodder » Fri Jun 13, 2014 11:22 am

That looks a great circuit but that steep descent does give pause for thought. Was there no other way round that would work? 8)
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Re: Daimh it, Janet, that's a steep bit at the head of the l

Postby Huff_n_Puff » Fri Jun 13, 2014 2:39 pm

Cracking read :lol: and thanks for letting me know what I missed by chickening out of this route many years ago. Your photo from the end of the loch gives me regrets... perhaps one day ... but I'll need to get into training with the zimmer frame :lol: :lol:
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