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Trio of Glendessary Munros served with complimentary Corbett
by old danensian » Thu Jun 25, 2015 4:10 pm
Munros included on this walk: Garbh Chioch Mhor, Sgurr na Ciche, Sgurr nan Coireachan (Glen Dessary)
Corbetts included on this walk: Sgurr Cos na Breachd-laoigh
Date walked: 23/06/2015
Time taken: 12.3 hours
Distance: 29 km
Ascent: 1900m7 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Sometimes you just have to go against the flow, buck the trend, and reject the recommendations. You’ve also got to choose a way that keeps options open, making sure you’ve got the time and legs to take advantage of opportunities that open up as a result.
A flurry of texts over Sunday evening and Monday morning resulted in Pat (aka Morecambe Monkey) and I having a rendezvous at the far end of Loch Arkaig on Monday evening. We both wanted to be ready for an early start to tackle our targets the next day: the three Knoydart Munros of Sgurr nan Coireachan, Garbh Chioch Mhor and Sgurr na Ciche.
The single track approach road is an adventure in itself: a rollercoaster of blind bends and summits. Add to that a liberal dose of spice added by contractors doing hydro / forestry work leaving plant, mud and piles of earth on the road, and the occasional stretch with the lack of anything resembling a road surface. In all, it’s an interesting drive.
Streaks of blue patterned the sky during the evening and, although the surrounding tops wore thin caps of cloud as light faded, we were optimistic for the following day. Heavier cloud greeted us the next morning as we prepared to be away by 6.00am. I know, that’s ludicrously early for this time of year, but we had plans and options to consider as the day progressed.
Passing the crumbled walls of the old barracks at the start of the day made me think of the conditions those poor Roman legionnaires had to suffer when they were posted to the exposed fort at Hard Knott in the Lake District. Yet they had all their bathing and central heating inventions to keep them in what constituted luxury in the those days.
But as for this lot, what did Butcher Cumberland’s Redcoats suffer? “Not enough,” I hear some cry. In this apparent desolate and alien environment, they must have huddled together in a cramped hovel fighting off the midges and braving the weather, while their quarry – clutch of renegade Jacobites – popped over passes known only to them and shared a dram and a laugh with their mates at the soldiers expense.
For us, it marked the start of the walk up Glen Dessary towards the distant trio. Guides, route reports and the redoubtable McNeish all invariably recommend striking up the south ridge of Sgurr nan Coireachan, then taking an undulating day that culminates on the pinnacle of Sgurr nan Ciche.
Only the day doesn’t end there. There’s a sting in the day’s tail. You need to drag your tired limbs all the way back along Glen Dessary.
To avoid that end-of-day trudge, and to keep those options open, we decided to do it back to front.
Let’s face it, when you get to Sgurr na Ciche there are only two options: turn round and do it all again, or go down. Also to be honest, neither of us fancied the slog up the steep nose of Sgurr nan Coireachan. I like to get the legs going early in the day without putting too much stress on an ageing body. Gaining distance and height in a comfortable balance is my philosophy whenever possible.
So it was. Fresh legs stretched out along the track to Upper Glendessary and beyond. Worries about the Allt Coire nan Uth being in spate could be shelved and we didn’t need to search for the hidden bridge over its raging waters. Instead, the simplest of rock-hopping sufficed.
At a steady pace we gained height, aiming continually for the shoulder dropping from Garbh Chioch Mhor which would be our threshold into Coire na Ciche. A pair of lonely tents epitomised how fine this place was for a wild camp. Surmounting the shoulder we traversed round below the crags of Garbh Chioch Mhor – then stared up into The Jaws of Gloom.
Clouds still persistently clung to the tops all around, with occasional hints of optimism as an opaque orb above the clouds graced us with its appearance every now and again. Once it even gave us the pleasure of a shadow, making us think summer had actually arrived.
The gully, gorge, chasm, or whatever you want to call it loomed above; dripping, dribbling and trickling amongst the chaos of jumbled blocks. Steep enough to be interesting at times; loose enough to make you think. Isn’t it great how scrambling takes your mind off being tired. Just concentrate on placing your foot somewhere near your chin and not kicking a cascade of stones down on the poor soul below.
In no time at all, and appearing from the mist, our way was then blocked by our companion for the remainder of the day: The Wall.
In the Feadan na Ciche we crouched in its shelter and loitered, refuelling with second breakfasts, a spot of elevenses and an early lunch, then headed off into the mist and along a clear path to the left of the wall. That’s one thing for this route beyond the winter climes; navigation and route finding is a doddle. Despite the remoteness the feet that do pass this way are channelled into a fairly narrow track. Along, up to the right, then off to the left and the top’s there.
Any hope that the silhouette of a trig point would encourage those last few steps was dashed. It lay in pieces, shattered by the weather or pummelled by annoyed walkers frustrated at the lack of a view. Another photo consigned to the “Cairns in the Clag” file.
After five hours out we still felt fresh so were ready to tackle the high-level return to the car. Nevertheless, we pondered, waited and kept telling ourselves that it was getting better, but when we realised that such nonsense was mere optimistic tomfoolery, we got up and went.
On the way down we two Englishmen, brought up on Lakeland crags, saluted a feature that appeared to be masquerading as the Scottish equivalent of Napes Needle on Great Gable.
Back at Feadan na Ciche the cloud ceiling had lifted. We were treated to a view between the chasm’s walls and beyond to Loch Nevis. Gradually the day was improving. Keep on telling yourself that and it will come true.
We simply accompanied the wall eastwards, marvelling at stretches that were even too steep for the path to follow, curious to get inside the head of anyone who thought it might have formed anything other than a psychological barrier. The most arthritic of sheep would have little trouble crossing into the neighbouring clan’s territory.
Garbh Chioch Mhor soon emerged from the mist and, as we rose to tackle the next twist and turn to its minor mate, Bheag, Moses must have had a word because the clouds simply parted. And what could we see? Yet more wall disappearing into the distance and tracing the route towards Sgurr nan Coireachan.
By now, the horizons to both the north and south revealed the wilds beyond: to the north the South Shiel Ridge with Affric’s tops beyond, and to the south the Glenfinnan and Lochaber peaks. Out west Pat sought the scene of earlier celebrations and Basscadet’s compleation of Beinn Sgritheall. Marvellous: a lifetime’s exploration in the panorama that surrounded us. This is why we do it, even if we miss out on the occasional view.
But, at the Bealach Coire nan Gall, reality gave us a rude awakening. I dropped into low gear and began to blow. The final 220m to the top of the third Munro of the day started to take its toll.
The sun greeted us as we approached the cairn of Sgurr nan Coireachan, and so did the midges for their first and only visit of the day. As they didn’t encourage us to stay, it was now decision time: the opportunity to look at those options.
The simplest and shortest would have been to drop down the south ridge, tumble sore-toed and knee-jarred to where the Allt Coire nan Uth enters the forest back in Glen Dessary, then face a long walk back down the glen. Neither of us thought that to be an ideal end to the day
In the comfort of my sofa on Sunday evening, and in the snug of my sleeping bag the night before, I’d harboured hopes of having the legs and energy to push on to Sgurr Mor. It may save a trip in the future went my logic. It could save the legs by not having to include it when tackling Gairich sometime in the future. And there was always the aspiration to simply maximise the use of the daylight hours at this time of year.
Pat had maintained a polite enthusiasm for this idea, but I suspect he also kept a judicious scepticism in his back pocket, ready to play the card if I called his bluff.
To be honest, with An Eag and Sgurr Beag in between, it looked an undulation too far. I’d rather end the day enjoying it rather than enduring it. To be even more honest, the spirit may have been willing but the body was raising one or two pertinent questions.
Fortunately, another option lay between the two. Once over An Eag a shorter rise led to Sgurr Cos na Breacdh-laoidh from which an enticing ridge ran east to west from where the map showed a sweeping shoulder leading down to Glendessary Lodge. This offered a far more elegant departure from the hills and a shorter trudge along the track to Loch Arkaig to end the day.
The midges having prompted our departure from Sgurr nan Coireachan, the relatively short ascent of An Eag confirmed the decision to curtail the attempt on the fourth Munro of the day.
Once again the vestige of a wall, complete with rusting stumps, guided us to the top, but not before leading us to a minute lochan that presented itself as a moat protecting the small jumble of stones marking the summit. From here the ridge Druim a Chuirn looked every bit as enticing as it promised to be from Sgurr nan Coireachan. The gradient leading down to the farm and lodge below seemed more pleasant than punishing.
While descending to the glen I recalled calculating the metres of climbing from each of the alternatives and a fascinating question arose. The last climb had been 190m and, as everything else was all the way down to the glen I put two and two together. Had we just unwittingly bagged ourselves a Corbett?
The urge to answer the question drove us on to complete the day, as did my own hope to complete a drive home before the day drew to a close. Our tired feet finally passed the crumbling gable end of the old barracks and brought us back to a surprisingly full car park.
In all, twelve and a half hours out and on the go and we both immediately dived into our cars, not for refreshment, but to check the Corbett book.
Yes! We had shunned a Munro and gained a Corbett: a fair swap and marvellous icing to what had been a superb cake of a day.
But the trials and challenges weren’t over. The single-track rollercoaster along Loch Arkaig made sure you paid attention, and cyclists hurtling down to the Caledonian Canal from the Commando Monument had to be avoided. However, a wee while later a hollow rumble from the back of the car couldn’t be ignored. I hadn’t gambled on a late-night wheel change after acquiring a puncture when swinging into Glen Coe. Where’s the F1 pit crew when you want one? I was stationary for a tad longer than the 2.5 seconds Lewis Hamilton manages, and was on my way again with appropriately oily fingers within twenty minutes.
And then to cap it all the M77 had been closed for overnight maintenance.
My day finally ended close to midnight. I unfolded stiffening legs from the car, hobbled into the house and left the car and my gear to be sorted in the morning – along with an £80 bill for a new tyre.
Such is life and the experiences we enjoy. The SMC guide says of these three Munros that “the day spent traversing them will be a memorable one.”
Spot on mate, in so many ways.
by Silverhill » Thu Jun 25, 2015 9:15 pm
by dav2930 » Thu Jun 25, 2015 10:46 pm
I did the standard round of the three Munros on 13th June and am in the process of writing up a WR for it, but not sure I'll submit it as my photos are all of mist and clag - yours are much better!
by Alteknacker » Fri Jun 26, 2015 12:08 am
And it looks as if you got away reasonably lightly on the clag front, to judge from the many excellent pix.
by weaselmaster » Fri Jun 26, 2015 1:13 pm
Good alternative to the usual route - the traipse back over the already-ascended two munros is indeed enervating, especially when you run out of water on Sgurr na Ciche .
I quite fancy going up the long west ridge of Sgurr na Ciche next time I do these ones
by Mal Grey » Fri Jun 26, 2015 1:34 pm
We did Sgurr nan Coireachan up the fairly unrelenting S "ridge", on a very wet & windy February day once. Once on the ridge, we binned the idea of going on to GcM and SnC, the conditions were miserable. So we too gained a Consolation Corbett making a poor Munro day into something a little more satisfying,
Still to go back and do the rest.
by Huff_n_Puff » Sat Jun 27, 2015 6:51 pm
We haven't come to a landing on how to tackle these three so very much appreciated reading about your route, which has joined the others in the ponder mill - many thanks
by helenw » Sun Jun 28, 2015 9:25 pm
by Morecambe Monkey » Tue Jun 30, 2015 8:19 pm