I’m clinging on to the final few opportunities to take advantage light evenings. That meant that I could argue the toss on site with a planning officer about a tree sitting one metre inside a conservation area, and still get up to Glen Coe for an early afternoon start on my current bête noir.
It had been my own fault really. In the spring, I’d visited Beinn Sgulaird equipped with all the gear: no snow, no ice and the grass wasn’t even frozen. The following day I left the gear in the back of the car and slogged round to Sgor na h Ulaidh: the top couple of hundred feet was crusted with a hard coating of snow. On getting up close to it, while being buffeted by a stiffening wind, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour. So near yet so far.
So, after wrestling with caravans, roadworks and traffic lights on the afternoon A82, I was away from the parking space near Achnacon a few minutes before 2.00pm. The sun shone, Aonach Eagach gleamed and I set off determined to make this trip count.
Apart from a detour to avoid the cottage gardens in Gleann Leac na Muidhe, the route up the glen is straightforward: the track passes a cluster of farm buildings and a couple of patches of woodland. The valley then swings south, opening up the view of the crags and cliffs that make up Sgor na h Ulaidh’s north face, and once a fairly boggy patch has been negotiated the path tracks the burn upstream.
Distance is covered easily and height gained gradually. However, at some stage you’ve got to take the decision to leave the comfort of the burn-side path and attack the slog of a slope to the left. Having been there before, I knew it was something that just had to be done: put aside an hour from your life and get it over with.
When Bidean nam Bian bursts into view at least you know the worst is over. At last there’s something else to look at other than a wall of green or a field of shoogly stones. Paths? Tracks? Dream on! Be grateful if it’s not wet.
The time it takes to get to the top of Stob an Fhuarain depends on how direct or diagonal your ascent of the aforementioned slope has been. It seemed interminable.
The cairn, when it finally appeared on the skyline, comprised hefty stones with a distinctly pinky hue, sitting amidst grey and green. Never mind Ulaidh sitting a few hundred metres away to the south west, Stob an Fhuarain stands proudly enough on its own. Its position, its views and the slopes falling away on each side mean that it’s better than many Munros of a lesser stature.
But my return exchange with Ulaidh awaited.
The drop to the bealach seemed to plunge and rise steeply up the other side, giving the impression that there was going to be a sting in the tail. However, its bark was worse than its bite and it was barely ten or fifteen minutes before the top was reached from the bealach.
Peaks and pinnacles, plummeting slopes and sweeping ridges. Island hills in the distance, sun shimmering on the sea lochs, countless summits in every direction that now each prompt memories of their own. Lengthening shadows as the day gets later, throwing ravines and gullies in to shadow. There’s nowhere quite like the western highlands. Needless to say a fair amount of time was spent just gazing: taking it all in.
By now shadows were creeping across the glen and, despite it being August, there was a definite chill in the air when not in the sun. As a result, the descent down the slopes of Stob an Fhuarain was an ankle-straining diagonal towards the bend in the glen. Then it was an easy amble back to the car.
I’d got two more on the agenda for the following day so it was fish and chips on the quayside at Fort William before heading off for a hot shower at the campsite in Roy Bridge.
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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.