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Tilting at Giants, with thunderous applause

Tilting at Giants, with thunderous applause

Postby Driftwood » Mon Jul 18, 2016 11:31 pm

Munros included on this walk: An Sgarsoch, Beinn Dearg (Blair Atholl), Càrn a' Chlamain, Càrn an Fhìdhleir (Càrn Ealar)

Corbetts included on this walk: Beinn Mheadhonach

Date walked: 05/06/2016

Time taken: 42 hours

Distance: 56 km

Ascent: 2700m

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This was the start of my Highlands trip for the year. I'd researched a number of 2 or 3 day trips and it looked possible to reach several bothies or wild-camp spots with an evening walk-in after a very long drive. That would solve the question of where to stay and also give me some practice with slightly longer walks than I'd tried before.

The forecasts were good - warm, calm and dry, following a very long dry spell through much of May. I'd previously considered joining several of the Glen Tilt hills in a very long day-walk, but a multi-day route could reach even more of them. And it should be possible to bail out down to the Glen on the second day if I decided against the second night.

My drive north went OK considering, but it doesn't take long for time to add up over such a distance. So it was 7:30 by the time that I'd parked and set off from the Old Bridge of Tilt carpark. The evening was still bright and warm, making me feel the weight of a pack with more food than I was used to carrying. At least using the bothies meant that I was leaving the tent.

The road / track wends through pleasant meadows, where cows and horses were grazing at their leisure. I'd had several lunches during my journey, but needed to cover a last 5-6 miles (on foot) before my own final meal of the day.
Meadows above Bridge of Tilt

I picked among the signposted routes, trying to chose the most direct for my aim. This led uphill into Glen Banvie, with some attractive woodland that I didn't have the time or light to appreciate. Then through a section of forestry and gate onto the open hill, where the evening light and views continued to improve. After glimpses of Carn Liath behind me, the next notable hill in sight was - you guessed it, Schiehallion.
Turning north away from Glen Banvie, I reached a tall well-constructed cairn. Beinn Dearg looked very distant and it felt like I was making slow progress, though I was getting warm striding along. Another 25 minutes' walking and I was still following the track around Ruigh Carn Dearg.
Views on the approach

After a day spent negotiating various amounts of traffic along the A1(M) and other roads, the last thing that I wanted to do was get stuck here. Luckily the route cleared quickly and I could continue.
Queues approaching Allt Scheicheachan

After a slight diversion towards Glen Bruar, I reached Allt Scheicheachan as evening was turning to dusk, with pale blue skies and pastel-touched clouds above. There were already people in the downstairs of the bothy, but space in the sleeping quarters upstairs with another couple. I quickly fired up my Trangia to boil water for a meal and cuppa before settling myself. A cloud of midges liked the idea of dinner, so I ended up eating quickly while pacing back and forth.

I woke early. Peeking out discovered that the midges were also early risers, so I adjusted my breakfast plans. Some flapjack should fuel me up, then a more leisurely stop higher up the hill, hopefully with a breeze and less bloodthirsty company. It was a beautiful morning, with clear blue skies and hardly a cloud to be seen, so not to be wasted. Also, I hoped to gain some height before the day became too hot.
Early start from Allt Scheicheachan bothy

I ascended easily by a track alongside the Allt Scheicheachan burn, then followed a path which zig-zags up some steeper, but still moderate, slopes. The day was warming up, but still beautiful, so I delayed breakfast until about 8:20 on the stony Sliabh na Cloiche More. That was also a good point to apply sunscreen and look forward to a last short stretch up into Beinn Dearg.
I turned right from the ascent track to cross pinkish boulders forming the summit and cairn. This is a fine viewpoint, with the deeply cleft Glen Bruar and Glen Diridh to the southwest and southeast, rolling heathery hills to the sides and northwards. I'd taken just over 2 hours from the bothy, including breakfast, but was about to leave the paths behind so expected the next stages to be much slower going.
Beinn Dearg westwards

Beinn Dearg also gave a good vantage to consider the next stage. My target, Beinn Mheadhonach, lies across the steep Gleann Diridh, but the obvious routes were either a long route over high ground to the north (Elrig'ic an Toisich) or cutting more directly across the broad peaty bowl of Chama Choire before turning south.
In the dry conditions, the second option was an easy choice. With hindsight, I may have been better taking a completely different route and heading north to the remote Corbett of Beinn Bhreac, leaving Beinn Mheadhonach as a comparitively-short walk for some other time. That would have worked better with my next targets, but at least it's an excuse for another long trip in this area.

I descended the east side of Beinn Dearg, initially over bouldery ground but soon finding easier slopes and a softer footing. The peat was beautifully dry, pleasantly springy underfoot, making crossing the hags and soft ground much more relaxed than when any step might disappear up to your ankle or deeper.
Crossing dry peat hags

If anything, the warm dry conditions were a problem. But I topped up on water from Allt a' Chama Choire and used it to soak my sleeves to help with temperature control. Then continued at a gradual pace, feeling the mid-morning sun as I made a rising traverse around Carn a' Chiaraidh. I would be returning almost the same way, so it seemed best to minimise the amount of ascent and keep the gradient gentle.
Beinn Mheadhonach is a very broad grassy ridge, so the top scarcely shows the deep glens on either side of the hill such as the eastern corries scooped from Beinn a' Chait.
Beinn a' Chait from Carn a' Chiaraidh

There is a slight dip in the middle of the hill, with raised areas to the north and south. I'd often be tempted to visit both, but the hot morning persuaded me to trust the OS that the northern rise held the highest point. So I spared myself the extra quarter-mile each way and instead turned back on my steps.
The neighbouring top of Carn a' Chiaraidh is lower, but more rugged compared to the short mossy turf atop Beinn Mheadhonach. There were views beyond to Carn an Fhidleir and An Sgarsoch, backed by the highest western Cairngorms. And the tempting sight of Loch Mhairc, which may have contributed to my continuing to ignore Beinn Bhreac.
North from Beinn Mheadhonach

There was some brief but welcome cloud to shade Carn a' Chiaraidh, but the midday sun grew ever stronger. I took another longer break by one of the burns feeding Caochan Carn a' Cheiridh, taking on water and enjoying a refreshing soak. That proved a good choice as Loch Mhairc itself looked less welcoming for a dip, with gravelly sand and water levels low. I picked around the western side, then over the knoll of Tom Liath, as thicker clouds built up around 1pm.

From here, I looked down into Glen Tarf and picked my next steps. I was also conscious that the gathering cloud and weather nearby, together with warning from the last MWIS forecast that I'd seen, indicated a risk of localised thunderstorms. I still hoped to reach the next two Munros, but kept in mind the option of following the Tarf downstream to shelter in Feith Uaine (the Tarf Hotel) about 2.5 miles away.

I made a brief descent, then easy crossing of the Tarf Water, though it was flowing well considering the parched conditions. Then opted to head east by southeast and slightly uphill, using a faint path for some of the way. But not for long; I soon struck out east, curving north onto the south ridge of Sron Gharbh. Cloud continued to gather, with spits of rain, prompting me to make haste uphill. When the weather turned to thunder nearby (though some miles away), I dashed over the top and then northeast to seek shelter in a peat gulley near to the next bealach.

The shower lasted a while, though the rain was light and the storm seemed not to be getting any closer. I waited for the weather to change, taking a refreshment break while I tried to make up my mind. Then the skies started to calm down, reassuring me enough to continue. I headed around and uphill towards the dip between Braigh Coire an Stuic Ghuithais and Carn an Fhidhleir, feeling warm again as the sunshine returned.

Taking off my waterproofs and leaving my pack, I noticed two walkers descending towards me, the first people that I'd met since leaving the bothy that morning. They had biked in from the Linn of Dee, so were at the midpoint of their route. We chatted briefly before I headed north to the cairn and they continued the long descent (then climb) to An Sgarsoch.
Western Cairngorms from Carn an Fhidhleir

I met no fiddlers at the summit, but there were extensive views and a chance to see the heavy showers falling on less fortunate hills.
Then to retrace my steps and collect the pack before following the other couple. I saw them ahead on the west shoulder of An Sgarsoch, but I made slow going of the descent - and especially ascent. The heavy pack, warm conditions and still more pathless heathery ground weren't helping. So I took nearly an hour and a half to reach the next, taller cairn.
An Sgarsoch

The broad top and south ridge of An Sgarsoch provided much easier walking than the heather and stone slopes, though they did rob the extensive views of their depth. I've walked enough of the Glen Shee and southern Cairngorm hills that I tend to recognise them, though as usual a new hill was giving different perspectives on its neighbours.
East from An Sgarsoch

The afternoon was running out as I started to descend more steeply, looking forwards to the Tarf Hotel; indeed, it was now in view, though with several miles to go. I picked a route near the Caochan a Macranaich, preferring grassy ground to struggling through the heather. This was also a chance to top up on water, though I was thankfully not suffering from the heat as I had been six hours previously.
Descent from An Sgarsoch

The ground stretched out before me, but eventually I reached and crossed the Allt a' Chaorainn before following its west bank for about half of a mile. There were traces of a path, but I left that to pick my own way across peat hags on slightly raised ground east of Meall Dubh-chlais.

The final obstacle was the Tarf Water, broader and brisker downstream of my earlier crossing. But I found no difficulty stepping between rocks and a couple of stony islands just upstream of the junction with Feith Uaine. There was a light shower about this time, so I'd put on a jacket rather than risk a soaking in the last minutes before reaching shelter.
Crossing the Tarf

I got to the Tarf Hotel at almost the same time as another couple of hikers, though it has plenty of space for much more than three to stay. It turned out that they'd spent the previous night at Allt Scheicheachan bothy, so there was the chance to chat while we each settled in and made dinner arrangements. A good meal and brew were very welcome after the long day, all the better for some company and the fine surroundings.

The next morning was fine and bright, with a clear view of the route up to Carn a'Chlamain. My feet and legs were feeling OK after the preceeding long day and hot conditions, but I thought it best to take a fairly direct route and so get down into Glen Tilt before the weather might turn unsettled later.
Towards Carn a'Chlamain

I left the bothy at 8:40 and other couple headed east soon after that. My route crossed the Feith Uaine Mhor burn, then head up the heathery Meall Tionail.
Checking out from the Tarf Hotel

Meall Tionail (or toenail?) was a bit stony from the north, but gave no difficulties and looked better than trying to follow the burn, while needing less additional ascent than some of the other tops nearby.
Cloudberry on Meall Tionail

Once at the top, I had a quick break to take in the views, from An Sgarsoch and Carn an Fhidhleir northwards to my next target ahead. The morning was still fine (I'd only been walking for about 40 minutes), tempting me to take in my time, especially since I didn't have much planned for the rest of the day apart from a couple of hours' driving. Lazing on the hilltops felt like the best way to appreciate such great conditions.
Meall Tionail towards Carn a'Chlamain

Another stretch uphill brought me to Carn a'Chlamain, with a large cairn on the stony top. There, I lathered on the sunscreen, settled my cap - and just sat taking in the views for about half an hour. Although slightly smaller than the surrounding Munros, the hill offers panoramas in all directions, including of the previous day's walking and other hills that I'd only seen on overcast or cloudy days.
Carn a'Chlamain towards Glen Tilt

I eventually stirred, but not because of boredom. Rather, the clouds were gathering and growing dark in places, making it seem wiser not to get caught on the exposed summit. So I headed steeply downhill on a path over the blocky stones (another option would have been to turn north/west for a minute to join the track). Then a vehicle track leads southeast, but I quickly left it for a foot-worn path heading more directly southwards.
Clouds continued to gather as I kept with this path around the side of Grianan Mor, though as it turned out the weather remained dry, warm and mostly-sunny until I was well down the Glen. But the cloud did lend some drama to the views, as well as prompting me to get a move on.
Gathering thunderclouds

I continued along the path (not shown on the OS 1:25000) across the southwestern ridge, Faire Clach-ghlais, eventually joining the vehicle track properly after nearly half an hour. A small cairn marks the spot, though the ground is open and heather short enough that it could be crossed without using either.
Descent paths and track

I distracted (and delayed) myself during the descent by taking photos as the sunshine persisted.
Butterwort flower

Although the bog cotton was out (and looking splendidly fluffy), the ground had no hint of bogginess after however-long of dry conditions.
Bog Cotton

Close to the end of the ridge, I left the vehicle track where that turns east by northeast towards Clachghlas. There's another foot path straight down the ridge (in addition to the one mapped heading into Gleann Craoinidh). I spent a hot minute or two chasing what turned out to be a Small Heath butterfly, though only got the poorest of photos, just enough to identify it later.
Then it was down into Glen Tilt, looking green and beautiful though clouds continued gathering. I started to meet other people from this point, most of them in vehicles (one pickup crossing Gaw's Bridge just as I arrived there).
Glen Tilt

After about 1 hour 10 to descend into the Glen, I took about 1 hour 35 for the long walk out. I stayed on the track, so the south side of the river, following slight diversions uphill of Marble Lodge and then Auchgobhal.
By that stage, the clouds were really gathering and turned to spits of rain. I stopped soon after Croftmore to put on full waterproofs, just in time as a downpour began. There wasn't only rain but a lightning flash followed moments later by the thunder-roll. I'd have to guess that the lightning struck Meall Dail Min or Meall Gruaim, very close but thankfully much more elevated than the track.

There was one other group of walkers, from their age and equipment probably there for DofE or similar, as I walked through the woods in continuing rain. Then the shower eased off as quickly as it had begun, leaving a short stretch by road past Fenderbridge and down to the Old Bridge of Tilt.
I was reassured to find my car safe in the carpark, but did spot one addition clinging to the door. I removed them carefully before packing up and heading off towards Shiel Bridge.
Spider hitching a lift

Actual walking time (including stops, but minus stays at the bothies) was 2h 10 + 12h + 4h 45, which included plenty of stops for carrying a full pack and the hot weather.

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