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Fantastic creatures in Glenfinnan

Fantastic creatures in Glenfinnan

Postby Driftwood » Sun Jul 09, 2017 11:23 pm

Route description: Sgurr Thuilm and Sgurr nan Coireachan

Munros included on this walk: Sgurr nan Coireachan (Glenfinnan), Sgurr Thuilm

Date walked: 09/06/2017

Time taken: 8.35 hours

Distance: 23 km

Ascent: 1540m

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Back at the start of June, the weather was being persistently unsettled. Not quite enough to keep me from the hills, especially when I'd planned and travelled quite so far, but limiting my more ambitious aims.

After three two-Munro days in a row, I was faced with unsettled forecasts for the weekend and into the next week. I had a couple of days without arrangements, followed by a stay in the Kinlochewe Bunkhouse. At first I veered towards a rest day, but the early rain that I'd accompanied from Glencoe improved as the day went on.

After a morning around Fort William, the afternoon was looking promising, but expected to turn wet again early the next morning. So I took a lunch along with me, as well as everything for an evening stay, aiming to walk the Munro circuit behind Glenfinnan, hopefully with a stay at Corryhully bothy. This was slightly longer than some of the options nearby, so it would be good not needing to hop in the car and sort out overnight arrangements at the end of the day.

I almost ran into problems even before the walk itself. There was a "full" sign at the NTS visitor centre carpark and so a lot of people were resorting to the nearby walkers' carpark as the next option. After a very brief wait, I was lucky in getting a space towards the back of the carpark, then could finish squeezing things into my pack in order to set off.

After the number of people around the carpark, visitor centre and other attractions, I passed some more up the track, but almost nobody beyond the imposing viaduct.
Glenfinnan Viaduct

The route in is very smooth, with minimal height gain and not much up-and-down, so would be a pleasant stroll even without heading for the rugged hills around the glen. But I had mountains on my mind, so even a broken reflector beside the track seemed to have a peak-y look to it.
Glenfinnan track

Despite the easy walking, this level approach seemed to take a long while before the track split for a ford before Corryhully. Having the hills in view, as well as a mild afternoon verging on warm, probably contributed to this.
Corryhully bothy

When I eventually reached the bothy, there turned out to be someone there already. I took a break for lunch to catch a chat while he packed up from a similar stop. He was Irish, living in Glasgow and walking the Cape Wrath Trail over several weeks. So this was just a stop by, on his way to A'Chuil for that evening.

I finished my own lunch and set off a few minutes later, so kept in sight for the next while. The track beyond the bothy climbs much more than the lower glen and also twists as it heads around the slopes above the river Finnan. There's a run-of-river mini hydro scheme not far beyond Corryhully, the first of many that I encountered over the next few weeks. Then the track continues before a bridge leading east across one substantial source of the river.

Although the WH route says to turn uphill here, I kept with the track for a little while longer. It was already gaining height at a good rate, while I preferred to avoid the rough boggy ground alongside. But things could only be put off for so long, so I turned as the hillside grew steeper, trying to cut across and join the hopefully-drier ridge-line.
I laboured uphill, appreciating the usual scatter of spotted orchids and some precariously-balanced boulders ahead (which I tried to avoid approaching too closely). After some slogging, I found a small burn flowing down a miniature gulley in a shoulder of the hill. This was a good chance to top up with water, have a late installment of lunch and check my progress relative to the surrounding hills.
Ascending the burn by Sron a Bheithe

The ascent improved soon after this, first of all because the ground grew drier underfoot. But I kept a look where I was treading, noticing one little reptile in the grass. For once, the lizard lingered long enough for me to take a photo, as they're usually quick to disappear, especially once things have warmed up by afternoon.
Common lizard

Some rocky outcrops ahead turned out to be no trouble at all, but leading to a gentle short-turf slope leading pleasantly upwards.
Druim Coire a Bheithe

Getting up onto the ridge brought me more of a breeze, together with improving views of the surrounding hills. I'd considered several possible Corbett-routes south of the A830, so these offered a look at what I was missing. And, of course, the famous viaduct, though that looked more like a model railway layout now that it was a few miles away.
Glenfinnan Viaduct and Loch Shiel

I followed a path, which looks entirely the result of hill-baggers aiming for the summits, for most of the remaining walk.
Ridge towards Sgurr Thuilm

This end of the ridge is pretty gentle, but I could see more lumpy terrain waiting further around to the west. At about this stage, a bird suddenly flew up from beside the path, almost beneath a stone, brushing against my knee and then away. I was almost as startled as they must have been, but caught a glimpse and noticed their distinctive white-edged tail feathers, from which I later confirmed that they must have been a Meadow Pipit. At least they flew off without seeming hurt, or losing any feathers, but it is the first occasion that any wildlife has come quite so close, except for usually-bloodsucking insects.
Across to Sgurr nan Coireachan

I crossed one such lump, looking quite prominent from below but turning out to be just a shoulder of Sgurr Thuilm. At this point, the path joins a fence line, or at least a sporadic series of rusty old iron fence posts. The top was now well in sight, though the clouds were also drifting by and lower, leaving a question whether my views would be panoramic, or on a closer scale.

It turned out that I was in time for views, though those were capped by a ceiling of cloud that felt hardly out of reach overhead. All the same, it was a good excuse for a short break and some photos from the summit, such as a look ahead:
View from Sgurr Thuilm

And another of the many stunning surrounding hills, just short of Munro height but every bit a mountain. This was my first walk in the fringes of Knoydart, but there's lots to come back for in the years to come.
Streap beneath descending cloud

The cloud was catching up with me, so I turned back to descend the southern slopes, avoiding the more-dramatic headwall of Coire Dubh. After a slight short-cut, I rejoined the "fence" as that turns west, crossing a first knobble that gives an idea of the lumpy, rough ground along the middle part of this horseshoe.
The cloud thickens

These bumps and bits are scattered with some tiny lochans and little pools, never enough to become a problem but something to splash through, or offer a home to certain creatures. Such as one amphibian met on Beinn Gharbh, quite comfortable on their mossy seat.
Frog amid the moss

A look back at the eastern half of this section, with Coire Dubh on the left.
Looking back from Beinn Gharbh

The cloud was at least staying above me so far, but seemed determined to cling onto Sgurr nan Coireachan ahead. Not that it needed any weather to look dramatic, with a rock ridge and huge craggy corrie awaiting. I'd been walking for four and a half hours by that point, but there was much more and, it seemed, much rougher walking to come.
Meall an Tarmachain and Sgurr nan Coireachan

The fence becomes, if anything, even more occasional at this end. Or else, as the cloud descended and I negotiated a way over Meall an Tarmachain, I took my own routes slightly off the path. There's much more rocky and stony ground at this end of the ridge. It doesn't need actual scrambling, though I set hand (or glove) to rock now and then, but is definitely more rugged than the grassy route up to Sgurr Thuilm. I met a male Ptarmigan around this time, whether or not this hill might have been named for him.

After descending the last lumps of Meall an Tarmachain, I was fully surrounded by cloud, limiting visibility to a few dozen metres. Enough to get hints of a steep drop to the left and rough, rising ground ahead, but no details. There was some drizzle to the mist and a bit of a breeze, but I pressed on up stones and bouldery stuff until I reached a summit with a shelter wall around the trig point.

No photos from this stage, as one cairn in the mist looks much like the rest - and there were better views to come. I did make sure to take a bearing from the summit, especially since a few minutes pause made it possible to wander back the same was as I'd come.
Instead, I headed south and slightly east. There's a lot of strewn stone and bare rock, especially in the summit area, though traces of a path showed and became more evident where the boots of many walkers had worn into the turf. That brought me down, beneath the cloud, to start appreciating views again. Even the rock looked gnarled, contorted and lumpy.
Rough bounds: Sgurr nan Coireachan

I followed the path, making a slight diversion up one rock outcrop to visit the minor top of Sgurr a Choire Riabhaich. That's a modest lump, but gave good views across the near-vertical drop and back over where I'd been towards some of the even-rougher Glen Dessarry hills.
View north from Sgurr a' Choire Riabhaich

There were also views ahead to the dramatic outlying top of Sgurr an Fhuirain Dubh. But it was already after 7pm, so I persuaded myself to keep to the path for the rest of the route, rather than delay dinner any more than I had to. But the steepness of the path off Sgurr a Choire Riabhaich kept me to a cautious pace, zigging and zagging down steep ground eroded by many a passing boot. In particular, I kept noticing what seemed to be the same set of prints, which I thought had also shown in muddy patches here and there along the ridge.
The weather kept on improving and clouds thinning or drifting away, making the views worthwhile rewards for a belated meal.
Cloud clearing Sgurr Thuilm

There's another steep, eroded path, heading down the south face of Choire Charnaig. During this stage, I encoutered a Ptarmigan with a brood of chicks, some of them on stones beside or along the path itself. Trying a technique from when I grew up with pet chickens and geese, I put out my arm with a walking-pole. That worked to "herd" the family gently up and off the path, to avoid chasing them far out of their way. On other ground, I'd simply have taken a short-cut downhill, but this was too steep for that to feel like an option.

The ground eventually eased, though turned boggy for a stretch before reaching a better-made stalkers' path at about 350 metres. I passed an upturned wheelbarrow partway along this, where the path traverses down Leachd an Doire Chulinn, where ferns beside the path made me think of ticks. But on I went, aiming to rejoin the vehicle track that would lead back down to Corryhully.
Bealach a' Chaorainn

The evening kept on looking better, which I could appreciate more once I had my stove going in the bothy, then a stomach settled with some dinner and a cuppa. I needn't actually have used the stove since the bothy is equipped not just with electric lights but even a plug-in kettle. But it was a chance to keep in practice and I'd carried in the ethanol-fuel anyway. With the fine weather outside, I half felt that I ought to have been using my tent.

A cuckoo was calling as evening turned towards dusk, which is always a sound that I love to hear around the glens. There was the sound of voices outside as the evening went on, after I'd had dinner so maybe around half-nine. Three teenagers had come for a look in, though they planned, or decided, to camp along the glen. I was to pass their tent, down by the river, early the next morning.
Evening over Glenfinnan

As it turned out, I did have some company in the bothy after all. A mouse kept moving around through the night, even once I'd made sure that everything was well within my bag and hung up, so I had a disturbed sleep. That turned out to have one silver lining, because I had an early breakfast and walked out early the next morning. Some drizzle, then light rain, did start up, but at least I managed to reach my car before things turned into a real downpour. As it turned out, there was only one other car parked near to mine (probably the others camping in the glen).

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Re: Fantastic creatures in Glenfinnan

Postby Bmg99 » Wed Jul 12, 2017 11:22 pm

Nice report. I saw a few frogs at the weekend on Ben Cruachan - perhaps the weather this year has increased their numbers?
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Re: Fantastic creatures in Glenfinnan

Postby BlackPanther » Thu Jul 13, 2017 10:42 am

Aaah the magic world of Glenfinnian :D What can I add?

We also met a family of Ptarmigan, they were near the summit of Sgurr Thuilm but ran away before we managed to grab our cameras. The same seems to apply to lizards - I saw dozens of them in the last few weeks, but they are always too fast :lol:

If you're thinking about Corbetts south of A830, try the Callop Circuit - we did it during the last WH Meet, 3 Corbetts with 1500m of ascent, a tough walk but in very beautiful, wild scenery.
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Re: Fantastic creatures in Glenfinnan

Postby Mal Grey » Thu Jul 13, 2017 12:02 pm

Nicely described. It always good to see some wildlife, especially when it decides to pose for the camera for once.
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Re: Fantastic creatures in Glenfinnan

Postby Driftwood » Thu Jul 13, 2017 6:38 pm

Frogs have got to be some of the most camera-happy (rather than camera-hoppy) creatures, so it's a rare hill where you don't meet some. It seemed like there were a lot during my walking this June, or maybe I was staring at the ground more in the absence of views!

The Callup group does look good, Blackpanther - if I'd not been set on the shelter of a bothy, I might even have tried these. But at least it means that I've a lot of stunning hills "saved" for better weather next year. That's what I try to tell myself, anyway. :crazy:
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