2 years ago I set out from Euston Station on the sleeper to finally see the highlands. What could have been an average trek was quickly turning into a spectacular, life changing journey for 2 reasons:
1: Ronald Turnbulls book - NOT the West Highland Way.
2: The long freezing spring that year had eliminated the midge larvae.
The Black Mount traverse was the most memorable day for many reasons - from dramatic views to having my a**e handed to me on a plate by the conditions. I learnt a few lessons....
The day started from the Bridge of Orchy, Strolling along the WHW with a pair of Parisian puppeteers I had met along the path. I was in 2 minds as to whether to attempt this crossing, as it was still blowy down the bottom, a few clouds coming and going from the summits and a 50/50 weather report from the MWIS.
I'd had mixed reception from the locals, not least from the crazy Glaswegian on the sleeper train who forced 6 cans of McEwans down my neck and then hired a car and driven me to Balloch rather than Milngavie - but thats another story.
Leaving the Way, and my companions, at Forest lodge the sun came out for a lovely stroll along the river. Turning Northwards, the ascent gradually started coming into play. It had slammed it down the day before so the path was acting as an auxiliary stream, but only lightly.
The 3k slog began to really pay off when reaching the low part (668m) of the ridge West of Stob a Choire Odhair (see pic).
Moving Eastwards, the path began to disappear into a shingly scramble until levelling out onto a short but narrow/exposed ridge with a spectacular drop on either side. I noticed on the map the words Aonach Eagach, identical to the famous scramble in Glen Coe. i begun to wonder if this was Gaelic for 'brown underpants'.
Slowly and carefully I worked across the ridge until I looked up and saw a grey mass coming at me at a rapid pace about a hundred yards away. I planted myself down and waited for the gusts to pass, taking the opportunity to have a sandwich.
The walk to the summit of Stob Ghabhar after this was straight forward. The clouds were beginning to swirl at this point but when they did part, the views were something special.
A party was there to greet me at the top, a few gentlemen doing a different circuit and an 18 year old German chap called Frido who was doing the same route as me. He was amazed that I was packing a copy of Not the West Highland Way as he was trying to do the route from memory on a land ranger map. I was amazed at his unique navigation strategy and suggested that, as I had it marked up on an explorer and downloaded on a GPS, we should stick together.
5 minutes later we were glad to have joined forces as the weather hit...hard, cyclonic and painful on the cheeks. Orentation was extremely challenging and with all the instruments telling us to head down a hill side with an apparently alarming descent, Frido began to remonstrate that we should follow the easy ridge (the one that doesn't go anywhere).
I explained to him that he i was more inclined to follow a compass and a Garmin than an exchange student who can't source the correct map and he was free to go where he wanted.
Suddenly the wind literally whipped the clouds away and the ridge lines of the Black Mount appeared in all their menacing splendour, including our path, proving my theory correct.
The ridge towards Clach Leathad included circumnavigating a small, mini peak. Given the graft that was going in to the trek, i wasn't bothered about going over it.
At some points we dropped into clear air. The atmosphere and drama of this range felt quite unique. Very steep sides into desolate watery chasms.
the stoney ramp up to the summit proved easy underfoot, although the horizontal wet stuff was waiting for us up there.
We took shelter in the circular cairn, shared my remaining sandwiches and coffee and put on the extra base layer I had packed.
We had to be carful to find the right point to descend but there was a well established path once found. Short and sharp, both hands were required.
'Now we have another mountain to climb' said Frido looking up at Meall a' Bhruiridh, with its cloaked summit. He was about to hump a full camping pack and food up the 3rd Munro of the day. Most of my gear was being sherpered along by the transfer service, leaving me with just sandwiches, water and waterproofs, all of which I had either eaten, drunk, or was wearing. I didn't envy him.
The lower grassy banks were fairly steep but perfectly civilised. However the scree summit in the howling winds and clouds were a different story and we didn't hang around.
The long gentle descent down the sports slopes felt like a walk in the park. Dusk approaching and the weather clearing provided a beautiful backdrop of the Rannoch Moor, deer wandering across the hillside and the white spec of the Kingshouse hotel promising warmth and comfort (even though it turned out to be a couple of guys in rangers shirts spoiling for trouble).
A great day, the extra graft really adding to the experience.
Don't skip the intro - The book gave this route an easy rating but a health warning in the intro which I didn't read.
Be prepared - Frido wasn't.
The best advice I ever read - Never allow yourself to panic.
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