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No thunder, but rain, wind and clag on Beinn a'Bheithir

PostPosted: Sun Jul 02, 2017 11:23 pm
by Driftwood
Minimal photos for this walk. I don't think that I even took my camera along, much less got it out, such was the forecast (and actual) weather. And my phone stayed safe within its waterproofs except for one moment, when it peeked out to take a couple of misty snaps.

The previous day, Monday 5th, was spent doing touristy things and provided a fine later afternoon enjoying Oban harbour then a leisurely drive up to Glencoe. But that left a mixture of restlessness and even guilt at missing out the hills, even though I could see (from the views to Mull) that there had been cloud from 400 metres or so.

Anyway, I was determined to be out on the Tuesday despite some foreboding forecasts predicting rain, northerly winds (30+ mph so far as I remember) and low cloud. That seemed to rule out some of the longer routes I was hoping to achieve, so a "quick" two-Munro stroll that's only a few miles from the Glencoe Independent Hostel seemed ideal.

After consideration, I decided to try the northeast "Schoolhouse" ridge. That's described as a scramble, which could be testing in the wind and rain, but seemed to be on the mild side. With more poor weather expected, it could be a good indication whether I'd get away with any scrambling. Descriptions and the map indicated that it should be easy to move onto gentler terrain if necessary.

I reached Ballachulish in good time, despite my usual dithering when getting ready for a walk, then spent a few minutes getting waterproofed (right down to gaiters) while rain hammered down in the village carpark. Then it was off up the road at about 9 am, feeling slightly incongruous to be dressed for the hills while walking past the local Co-op and then village streets.

I crossed the River Laroch, which was flowing well, then turned left up a smaller road past the school. The road soon turned into a track for about half a mile of gentle uphill. Low cloud hid much of Sgorr a'Choise ahead, but that and the lower slopes of Sgorr Bhan framed the forested glen. The cloud just about held off Am Meall nearby, though any views were limited by air turned grey with rain.
Am Meall

I turned more uphill soon after passing through the gate out of a fenced area. This started out boggy and heathery, though conditions underfoot improved as I gained height to a more defined ridge. This provided hints of steeper stuff ahead, though I told myself that a lot of the effect was foreboding mist and foreshortening.
Sgorr Bhan northeast ridge

I seem to remember a very brief snack stop at some point, though that might just have been a mouthful of water (to mix with that the rain was providing) and a bite or two of flapjack. There was definitely a pause, in the relative shelter of a stone or outcrop, to compact and stow my walking poles. Though no need to glove up for scrambling; I conducted pretty much the entire walk in thick waterproof mitts, with liner gloves under them!

I found the ridge involving, without being too challenging even in the conditions. There was quite a bit of chilly breeze, but not enough to be a concern (it did turn stronger later in the walk, especially in the bealach between the two Munros). And the scrambling was straightforward enough not to be bothered by the rock being wet. Things did become a touch steep further up - comparing to the WH route, I may have gone up one or two rock bands that are suggested for bypassing - but it felt like a very pleasant scramble, if only the weather had relented,

Instead, it was the scrambling that gave out first, to a much gentler-sloped ridge scattered with broken white stones, which could only be Sgorr Bhan. I'd joined the walkers' route without noticing it, but there was a much more obvious path leading southwest for a gradual descent. This soon turned into a more sustained ascent, with steeper ground and a defined ridge.

That ridge brought me to the higher Munro of Sgor Dhearg, whose red rock showed even through the grey mist of the day. A check of my compass confirmed that it was the WSW ridge that I wanted, a slight left turn, rather than the also-trodden north ridge. At least, that was the way to continue the route. Which I felt happy to do, though after nearly 3 hours was feeling like a lunch stop of some sort.

There's a more sustained descent to the bealach, losing quite a bit of height. I passed some very-hardy sheep up grazing the hill, though nobody else seemed foolhardy enough to set boot to hill at the same time as me. But there was still nowhere sheltered enough for a rest, so it was time to open my backpack.

I made a first use "in anger" of my bothy bag, something I'd bought in case of emergencies and following a problem walk the previous year when I just didn't want to stop This wasn't perfect shelter (especially in a blustery wind), but kept the rain off for long enough to have a bite to eat, check my map and the time and confirm that all was good, or at least adequate, to continue.

I didn't eat much during the break, but enough to keep up my energy levels - I seem to remember a big pack of crisps, perhaps a bite of flapjack. My plan and motivation was to keep going, then visit a cafe near the carpark for something hot afterwards.

So I packed up the bothy bag, taking care not to let the wind carry it away to Oban or Mull. Then away up the east ridge of Sgorr Dhonuill. The going soon firmed up as the ridge became more defined, with a nice bit of ridge-walking then not-quite scrambling before the summit. I did wander a little way past the cairn, to check whether some more outcrops through the mist might be higher, but soon satisfied myself that I'd found the top after all.

Then it was time to retrace my steps back down to the bealach. Fine as it could be to continue further north and west, my plans and the conditions were far more in favour of the quickest route back, down through the corrie then forest. I got back down the steep ground without incident, wishing for even a glimpse through the clouds to see what felt like dramatic drops off to my left side.

From the bealach, I turned left, following the fence line and a wet eroded path according to how the ground and whims took me. The cloud offered hints of thinning, though those never really came to anything. The top of the corrie is very boggy, especially during pouring rain, with burns threading down from the steep ground above. But things improved as a more established path guided towards the top of the forestry.

As described in the WH route, there's a modification to the path that leads for a little way above the treeline on the east side. This even had a Forestry Commission sign to say that it was the way down to the carpark, though at first I was sceptical and thought that had been put there by some joker. But, from seeing later signs (and checking maps), it's the descent and possibly also ascent route for quick access to these Munros from parking above Glenachulish. Though that would miss out on a lot of the ridges, so I'd think it a second-best route for everything except time-saving.

The newer path is not just well-made, with good stone block steps, but also keeps off the vehicle tracks for most of the way. Obviously it's easier for all concerned if the Forestry vehicles aren't scraping off walkers every day. Not that there was any traffic during my visit, though signs warned of felling activity in the corrie north of Sgorr Dhonuill (well away from this path). That might have been finished already, from what I remember of the dates mentioned.

I crossed one vehicle track by the path, but later parted company and took a track (rising slightly to the right) instead. This proved to be the right track for probably the shortest traverse around Meall a'Chaolais (the north ridge of Sgorr Dhearg). I always find it difficult psychologically, even when the walking is easy, to go uphill during the return from a walk, just like "losing" height during the approach stage. My mood wasn't much improved by the rain really setting in. Or maybe it just felt that much heavier, though down among the trees there was no longer much wind nor the cloud to be concerned about.

I trudged along, getting glimpses of Loch Leven and the bridge, even of traffic on the A82 getting closer. But it was some while, with a few more slight rises along the way, before the track turned around a burn for its last descent. I did pass several right-turns, apparently tracks up to areas of recent or intended felling, but was just getting my head down rather than too curious by that point.

I kept company with the A82 for about half of a mile, opting to walk on the grass verge for much of that. There is a metalled footpath, but the (sodden, but I seem to remember trimmed) grass kept me a bit further back from the traffic and, in particular, the spray thrown up. So I was grateful to turn onto a minor residential road to head through West Laroch for the final half-mile back to the car. And even happier of a warm, slightly belated, lunch in the cafe. That also let me dry off, though the rest of my gear would rely on the hostel drying-room to recover.