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Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach: without a soundtrack

Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach: without a soundtrack

Postby old danensian » Wed Mar 18, 2015 4:40 pm

Munros included on this walk: Gleouraich, Spidean Mialach

Date walked: 15/03/2015

Time taken: 5.15 hours

Distance: 13.5 km

Ascent: 1150m

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I arrived alongside the shores of Loch Quoich as the light faded the previous evening. Having fed and watered in Spean Bridge, I snuggled down in my sleeping bag with an Ian Rankin on my Kindle, stretched out in the back of the car (me that is, not Ian Rankin).

Next morning, once the ice was scraped off the inside of the car windows, breakfast in bed was accompanied by the sun rising over Loch Quoich: the day could not have started any better. Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach waited above, ready to be traversed in what promised to be another glorious day of bright sunshine.

Sunrise over Loch Quoich

A chilly start looking west down Loch Quoich

But, by 8.30 I was wrestling with that interminable problem: finding the start of the walk.

The SMC guide describes a cairn marking the start of the walk up a stalker’s path. Hydro work has a lot to answer for. This romantic image would appear to have been replaced by a more prosaic and utilitarian grey steel pole on the roadside, where a grubby looking track leads into the centre of a rhododendron bush.

Cairn, what cairn? The start of the walk from the roadside by the Allt Coire Peitireach

Undaunted, I dived into it, emerging on the other side to be greeted by the aforesaid stalker’s path. (Hang on a mo’, where should that apostrophe go? Is it a path for a singular stalker, or can it be used by whatever the collective noun for a bunch of stalkers is? Whatever.)

Whoever the stalker was, as I began to climb, I realised that he did a pretty good job. The previous day on Gulvain the exertion had been punishing while its steep nose was tackled. Today however, the 600m to Druim Seileach passed like an effortless dream. The path swept back and forth, in and out of the folds of the hillside, and was always easily angled, rarely steep. It switched one way then another, changing the views all the time to distract and engross. Only when patches of snow blanketed the path and a detour was necessary did it become hard work.

The South Glen Shiel Ridge comes into view over the slopes of Sron a Chuillin

Looking back across Loch Quoich - Knoydart's out there

Once on Druim Seileach, after only seventy five minutes, the majority of the day’s height had been gained. The final sweep up the south west rib of Gleouraich stretched away across lattice-pattern patches of snow. No steepening faces or crags to overcome, no muscle-sapping gradients to tackle, just a relatively easy angle for the last kilometre. While Knoydart spread out to the west, the South Glen Shiel Ridge gradually emerged along the horizon to the north as height was gained. In another half an hour all the Munros of Kintail and many beyond in Affric burst into view from the summit.

The final slopes of Gleouraich from Druim Seileach

The upturned hull of Druim Seileach from below Gleouraich

Approaching the top, the foreground suddenly changes. Having strolled up the easy slopes below, with a distant horizon as the backdrop to the walk so far, it was easy to ignore what lay in between. Once on the top, the airy plunging northern corries contrast sharply with the gentler angles to the south. Scooped out like ice cream from a tub, they form a dizzying trench in front of the mountain riches beyond.

The upper reaches of Wester Glen Quoich from Gleouraich

Sgurr a Mhaoraidh from Gleouraich

Tick them off, name them, list those climbed and those on the personal “to do” list, or simply stare and stare and stare ....

Cornices then became a constant companion along to Creag Coire na Fiar Bhealaich and the remainder of the day beckoned as one corrie followed another toward the east and the second Munro of the day.

The remainder of the day stretches ahead - Craig Coire na Fiar Bhealaich and on to Spidean Mialach

Looking back west to Gleouraich from Craig Coire na Fiar Bhealaich

So far the ground had alternated between frozen rough turf, occasional patches of snow and jumbled rocks: ice-axe and crampons hadn’t been necessary. However, footsteps in the snow approaching the steepening slopes to the Fiar Bhealach suggested discretion was the better part of valour. Evidence of crampon spikes from a previous visitor prompted them to be used. I’d carried them all this way, so I might as well use them. Consequently, more confident foot placing made for a more comfortable and reassuring descent down the steepest slope of the day so far.

Once at the bealach, there was that inevitable despair of losing so much height. But, a steady step, step, step up to the second Munro of the day gets you there. It definitely wasn’t the easy gradient of the stalker’s path from earlier, but the spectacular views across the cornices to the left helped take the edge off the pain of ascent.

Flat stones surrounding the cairn on the top of Spidean Mialach made a well-deserved rest comfortable. How many different ways can you describe soaking in the view, the atmosphere, and the sheer scale of the surroundings?

Final slope to the summit of Spidean Mialach

After a lengthy lunch, I wandered further east and followed the rim of yet another corrie to look back at the sweeping snow slopes and the shadows cast by the winter’s remaining cornices. From the final rocky knoll at the end of the ridge, visited just for the sheer hell of it, I looked down into the Coire an Diamh Bhain before turning my back on the spectacle beyond.

West from Spidean Mialach - back to Gleouraich

Below, the steel-grey sheet of Loch Fearna lay frozen at the foot of Coire Glas. In between the ridge and the loch, the ever-softening patches of snow over the grassy slopes linked together, providing a safe and speedy yomp and slither. The bealach just above the loch was reached in a handful of exhilarating minutes, from where the final track back to the shore of Loch Quoich could be seen.

Boggy, thawing ground lead south west towards the Allt a Mheil. Beyond, another hydro feature scarred the landscape. Yet again, SMC guide suggests reaching another stalker’s path, but this appears to have been somewhat crudely replaced by a bulldozed hydro track. Caterpillar tracks have scoured a rough road out of the hillside, leading back down to the road.

Half a mile or so of tarmac saw a return to the car. The whole descent, including a chat with someone mending a fence, had taken just seventy minutes. The whole day, despite having a sense of being on a “big trip” had only taken a little over five hours: proving the SMC guide correct in one respect. It observes that these are, “among the easiest in the Western Highlands.”

Be grateful of the report as its stands. You may want to finish reading here.

As reception hissed and crackled, then faded in and out while I drove along Glen Garry the evening before, I learned on the car radio that March 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the film premiere of the Sound of Music. From that moment on, and throughout the next day, I couldn’t shake tunes and lyrics from my head. Childhood recollections abounded: the film, countless Christmas TV screenings and even the LP that must still lurk somewhere in my mother’s house.

On getting back to the road and walking to the car my mind went into overdrive on fate, destiny, karma and kismet, still unable to shake the musical from my mind. What had I done to deserve such a cracking day?

Forget the hills being alive, mountains climbed and any number of goatherds. I’m definitely one or four decades beyond being sixteen going on seventeen so, “somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.”

Apologies for the corny end but, whatever I’d done, a shed-load of other folks must have done it too, as I can’t have been alone in experiencing such a magnificent day on the hills last Sunday.

Just liked the image too much - and I was too far south for a sunset shot.
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Re: Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach: without a soundtrack

Postby Graeme D » Wed Mar 18, 2015 4:51 pm

The hills are alive, with the sound of bagging!!!!!! :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

Great report Nigel and exquisite photos. Very timely too. I am planning my next outing for 3rd April and these two are the front runners at the moment, also with an overnight kip in the car by the side of Loch Quoich. Thanks for the heads up on the grey pole as well! :D
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Re: Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach: without a soundtrack

Postby Fife Flyer » Wed Mar 18, 2015 5:17 pm

Great stuff Nigel, enjoyed reading your 'story' :clap: :clap:

These 2 hills really are fantastic, we did the route the opposite way round and ended up appearing out of the undergrowth :lol: :lol: It was a bit of a shame that we didn't get any views off the summit of Gleouraich, but everything became clear after 100m or so of descent 8)
They are a couple of hills I would definitely return to, anyone who hasn't paid them a visit, move them up your bucket list :wink:
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Re: Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach: without a soundtrack

Postby PeteR » Wed Mar 18, 2015 8:31 pm

Yet another great report of yet another circuit I saw sqiuddly dot from. Did this in hee-hawing rain and driving winds. Loved it, but want to return on a stellar day like what you had.

As for your reports ending.......thanks, I now have that awful soundtrack floating in my head :lol: (apologies Mother if you're up there reading this)
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Re: Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach: without a soundtrack

Postby Huff_n_Puff » Wed Mar 18, 2015 10:09 pm

Beautiful - love these hills - so I'll forgive the references to the SoBM :lol: Smashing pics :clap:
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Re: Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach: without a soundtrack

Postby Mountainlove » Thu Mar 19, 2015 4:59 pm

Lovely report and wonderful pictures. Need to make my way up there soon as well :D
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Re: Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach: without a soundtrack

Postby litljortindan » Thu Mar 19, 2015 9:40 pm

Looks a cracking day you had. Possibly a little more enjoyable than mine spent watching my football team get beat in a cup final!
Went as far as Drum Seileach a couple of years ago on a March day with the intention of going farther but in fact I just stopped on that top and spent some time doing that view gazing you mention.
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