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The slippery slopes of Glen Dessary

The slippery slopes of Glen Dessary

Postby Emmanuelle » Fri Sep 25, 2015 1:12 pm

Route description: Sgurr na Ciche: 3 Munros from Loch Arkaig

Munros included on this walk: Garbh Chioch Mhor, Sgurr na Ciche, Sgurr nan Coireachan (Glen Dessary)

Date walked: 13/09/2015

Time taken: 9 hours

Distance: 24 km

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After almost compulsively checking the met office forecast for Sgurr na Ciche for three days, I decided to 'nip up' to Loch Arkaig with the bike to bag the Glen Dessary Munros. The forecast promised a dry though cloudy day with VG visibility for most of the day and from quite early on. So I left Falkirk at 5.30 after a fairly poor and short night sleep...

The views on the drive up the A82 were lovely as always, and with the dawn rising into high cloud, quite brooding too. When I was driving over the Ballachulich bridge, I saw the sun rays just peak at the bealach between the Pap of Glencoe and the north western buttress of the Aonach Eagach, forming a perfect v-shape of light beams. Absolutely amazing. Sadly, the need for speed and the absence of parking area on the bridge meant I couldn't stop and take a photograph of this beautiful and dare I say rare phenomenon. It was just perfect.

But I had a car to drive, a long walk lay ahead and I was still more than an hour away at least from my parking spot.

Two things are correct in all the descriptions I read of this particular walk - the road along Loch Arkaig is a bumpy ride: there are proper blind summits on this road! Loads of them too. You get to the top of one and you hope there is still a road under your wheels on the other side! Thankfully, there are a few straight bits so you can trust the road doesn't fade away to the side with your wheels dangling straight down, and the traffic is minimal! Also, it's also a good job that exhausts are not on the front of cars, otherwise the place would be covered in rusty tubes! A low slung car is not ideal either. My boyfriend's Pontiac Firebird would definitely not cut the mustard on this road. And although I was driving, I almost felt car sick... Incidentally, I think the road is being widened, which must be a good thing (I think) but I hope they'll smooth some of these bumps over a wee bit. Sad to see that the birches are the casualties of this road widening process.

Anyway, I got to the car park and it started raining. Great. Oh and there was a big sign saying stalking was in progress. Double great. And then I read the sign carefully advising walkers to stick to specific routes - which happily and not entirely surprisingly matched the route description found on this website and other outlets! And then I remembered there was no stalking on sundays. So I got the bike out of the car, donned my waterproofs, waved off the midges and set off. With the bike, the only way is left, down the hill to the river, across the bridge and surprisingly sooner than I thought, sharp right up the track. The track is not too bad actually - a bit rocky in places (especially on the stretch behind the bothy, as you come out of the woodland) - with quite a lot of climbing (good for the return), but some substantial free-wheeling stretches (bad for the return). I think it took me less than an hour to reach the bridge over the river Dessary. I spotted three hinds considering me from a safe distance but they turned around and disappeared into the woods. With much arm waving I quickly locked up the bike and started walking - briskly :D . I crossed the wooden bridge, and kept the allt to my right, walking up to the clearing. It was very boggy, a theme that would accompany me all day. These hills are rocky, grey and black like charcoal, but by gum they are boggy too. The second thing about which the descriptions of the walk are right is that the climb up the south slope of Sgurr nan Corrieachan is relentless: 700m of ascent in only 2km. You can see the buttress which marks the start of the summit ridge, and you think 'it won't take long'. Well, reader, it does. And because I don't use my sticks in the early stages of a walk, my thighs were screaming for some relief. So, you might say, just use the bloody sticks. Well that's another story! :lol: It took me 1h45mins to get to the summit, from the time I jettisoned the bike, 15 mins ahead of time. Not too bad, I thought, but by gum (yes, this was a gum day), it was cold. The wind, although blowing from the south west cast a chill over me and it was truly a shock to the system, intimations of winter perhaps. Despite the effort, I was feeling very cold (and hungry), but I was too stubborn to stop and add layers just yet. So I ploughed on and then the views opened up and I was on the summit. I put almost everything on (short of the downie jacket and the hat), and surveyed the area. The cloud cover was high and the views down Loch Nevis were intimating gloriousness. I also had to find my bearings around this landscape and the game of hill recognition began.

ImageGarbh Chioch Mhor and Sgurr na Ciche by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

ImageSgurr na Ciche by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

I noticed a couple of figures just beginning the ascent of Garbh Chioch Bheag, so I knew I wasn't on my own on the hills, but there was no-one behind me.

After a nice cuppa and a banana, I got the sticks out and I headed down to the bealach. There I picked up the dyke which the path follows all the way to the summit and almost down to Fiadan na Ciche - more evidence of the curious but deadly serious business of privatising Scotland. Don't get me started! :roll:

ImagePrivatising Scotland by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

Either I am suffering from a serious condition affecting my balance or this terrain is particularly prone to slips. I don't know how many times I twisted my ankle, lost my footing, slid, one step up two steps back. On the return to the Glen I even fell backwards into a nice bog patch, when the ground I was landing my right foot on just gave way, ending up with a black and wet bahookie, and a red face! I was absolutely alone by then, so there was no need to feel embarassment, so I had a good laugh instead. I was following in the footsteps of the two guys I mentioned earlier and I could see that they slipped too. That made me feel a bit better (sorry guys, I don't mean you any harm, it just means I do not have a serious illness, so I am quite relieved).

Anyway, although higher, the second Munro Garbh Chioch Mhor, is actually much easier and more pleasant, with some minor scrambling and really stonking views. Ladhar Bheinn to the north west comes into view, the whole length of Loch Nevis and further out, Eigg appeared! What a treat. It was still pretty blowy, so I didn't linger on the summit and instead sought some shelter on the north side of the dyke to have lunch and admire the Knoydart hills, Beinn Sgritheall, the Loch Quoich hills, and much much more beyond. Soon I would also be able to make out the South Shiel ridge.

ImageHeading for Garbh Chioch Mhor by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

ImageBeinn Sgritheall? by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

ImageLoch Nevis and Rum by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

ImageWild cliffs by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

ImageMore wild cliffs by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

I set off again and saw two stick figures on the summit of Sgurr na Ciche. The climb down to Fiadan na Ciche was just fine, just trippy you know? :lol: The walkers had also started coming off the third munro and we met just as I started the ascent. So we exchanged the usual pleasantries and they disappeared down the ravine, whilst I made the fairly straightforward ascent. However the stone chute caused me a wee bit of consternation, not for long though, nothing to worry about, but the path disappears a couple of times in the jumble of rocks and in clag, you'll need to take a bearing if you lose sight of it. But today, this wasn't necessary. It was steep and I worried about coming down but that proved easier to negotiate than anticipated.

ImagePano 1 by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

ImagePano 2: Looking north east by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

ImageLadhar Bheinn by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

The prize of making it to the westernmost hill of this group of Munros is the view - back over Garbh Chioch Mhor and in particular its northern slopes which are rugged, steep, impressive and of course Barrisdale Forest, Loch Hourn, Rum, and to the south the Glenfinnan hills and further south the Glencoe hills! Looking east, I could see a band of rain edging west, so I thought it would be best to come off. Swiftly down, to begin the descent of the ravine. Sure enough, I got caught in a shower, but it didn't last more than 5 minutes. In this kind of narrow, steep and rocky terrain, the sticks are a real nuisance. If I didn't know I had a long walk back to the bike I would have put them away. Instead at tricky sections requiring both hands, I had to throw them down , hoping they wouldn't fall into a great unseen chasm! The terrain opens up again, to grassy slopes, and the path picks up towards Glen Dessary. But it is a bog fest and there is little relief from it. Even the large (ugly) bouldery track which you pick up after probably a mile and which comes from Sourlies is a great disappointment in this respect. To make up for it, the slope eases and my knees were very grateful.

ImageLoch Hourn and Beinn Sgritheall by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

Image2015-09-13 15.03.34 by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

ImageLooking back: Garbh Chioch Mhor with its spaghetti wall by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

ImageLooking south by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

Image2015-09-13 16.05.39 by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

Because of the midges I decided to stay on the path which runs along the the top of the forestry to the start point of the great relentless climb. This was longer but I figured any shortcut being swarmed at by insects was worse than a longer airy walk. I traded the midges for more bog and slipping however. Anyway, I did eventually turn the corner (it is quite a long tedious path) and hopped back down to the bike. But I couldn't avoid the midges - a plague of biblical propertion. They were all over me and I was in a mild panic, expletives interspersed by moans coming out of my dainty mouth as I was of course struggling to stow away my new bike lock! Not the most auspicious conditions for a snack and a cuppa. Mind you, I did swallow some midges and spent the first half mile of my return cycle trying to dislodge them from the back of my throat. Very attractive I can tell you :lol:

ImageWhat for? by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

The worst aspect of the return cycle is the long climb back to the next stretch of forestry, behind the bothy, and in particular the steepest bit right at the end which also happens to be all churned up with great big boulders over which my wheels just weren't getting traction, so the bike had to be pushed briefly. From then on it's very straightforward and the downhill bits are great fun. whee!

Back at the car, the clouds had almost completely cleared and it was balmy and gorgeous. Looking back towards Monadh Mor, which separates glen Dessary from Glen Pean, all I could see was landscape bathed in early evening sunshine. but I couldn't dally. My insect companions had returned. I literally threw the bike back into the back of the car (and it is a tight squeeze so I had to work fast but I must be getting the knack of it because the bike went into almost easily) and changed into dry attire behind the wheel, all doors and windows firmly shut and the fan and A/C full on!

ImageLoch Arkaig by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

ImageBarracks ruin by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

ImageMonadh Mor by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

Back along the roller coaster road (take your kids, more thrills than Disneyland!) to Gairlochy, where superb views of the Ben and then the Carn Mor Dearg arete were to be admired, with only a plume of mist gracing the summit and some fairly substantial patches of snow still clinging to the north cliff face.

ImageBen Nevis by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

ImageCarn Mor Dearg arete by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

And that was that. A grand day out, in better weather than expected, a few annoying trips and slips but I was pleased to have been in such a remote place, only 3 and a bit hours from Falkirk. And these three also took me to the satisfactory 262 Munro tally.
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Re: The slippery slopes of Glen Dessary

Postby Mal Grey » Fri Sep 25, 2015 1:55 pm

Great report, and some really good images.
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Mal Grey
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Location: Surrey, probably in a canoe! www.wildernessisastateofmind.co.uk

Re: The slippery slopes of Glen Dessary

Postby Silverhill » Fri Sep 25, 2015 8:26 pm

Well done, these three are a hard-earned prize, but so rewarding on a good day like you had. 8)
You are nearing compleation, good luck with the remaining ones!
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