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Ladhar Bheinn: bitter-sweet Knoydart contrasts

Ladhar Bheinn: bitter-sweet Knoydart contrasts

Postby old danensian » Sat Jun 09, 2018 11:55 pm

Munros included on this walk: Ladhar Bheinn

Date walked: 30/05/2018

Time taken: 9.15 hours

Distance: 16 km

Ascent: 1450m

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There are days when you return from the hills with a sense of satisfied weariness, proud of the day’s achievement: you feel as if you’ve been on top of the world, and in your mind you are still there.

Yet there are days when something happens that colours even the most impressive experience and puts a whole new complexion on the memories that are taken away. But more of that anon.

On my previous visit to Barrisdale I’d endured the three hour walk from Kinlochourn in weather that was none too clement: in fact, it was simply wet. As a result, I wasn’t minded to repeat the experience, even if the weather was much better this time round. The ups and downs, combined with interminable headlands that we’re just as frustrating as a succession of false summits, were a t-shirt I’d already bought and worn: no need to go there again.

And so it was, the maritime approach from Arnisdale proved to be a far more attractive proposition, if an expensive luxury just for one. You’ve got to accept that there are times when it’s worth treating yourself, especially if it means breaking the 280 barrier.

A gentle afternoon in Arnisdale

So, I enjoyed a leisurely drive up from Ayrshire on the Tuesday, having arranged to meet Arnisdale boatman Peter at 4.00pm. Twenty minutes later I was standing on the Barrisdale jetty looking along to the far end of Loch Hourn and grateful for the contrasting approach of a few weeks earlier. Rather than lathered, knackered and dripping, now I felt spritely, energised and raring to go. The brief walk to the campsite could be shrugged off as a mere wander rather than the tortuous end of a gruelling slog: far better preparation for a potentially long day to follow.

Luinne Bheinn and Barrisdale

Looking up Loch Hourn - and grateful for a long walk saved

Remote and inaccessible are words frequently used to describe Knoydart. However, a combination of continued clear weather, the increasing popularity of the Cape Wrath Trail and the inevitable lure and majesty of the place, meant that half a dozen tents and a full bothy added significantly to the local population: quite a contrast to image of solitude that is often conveyed.

On arrival I was then confronted by another contrast: my fridge had disappeared. Previously I’d been grateful for the roof of a dry and warm bothy as the rain filled the water courses. Now, in fast-improving weather and with a far less strenuous approach, I’d indulged in the luxury of carrying more, including some cans of a vaguely alcoholic tendency. However, the fast flowing stream I’d sat by a few weeks earlier, and which I hoped would fulfil the role of my fridge, was now completely dry. More stones and a bigger bag in the river itself would have to do. How long can this weather last? No pessimistic answers allowed, it’s merely rhetorical.

An early start was essential the next morning to get high before the heat of the day built up. Getting away by 6.00am also meant that I had as much time as I needed to savour the delights of Ladhar Bheinn. I’d deliberately chosen to arrive in Knoydart the evening before the climb and planned my retreat for the morning after, leaving the whole day to enjoy the hill at my leisure, dawdling, ambling, sauntering. There was no need to push myself and I could take advantage of the weather and setting to the full: such a contrast to all those trips when we’ve dashed and sped round in the briefest of good weather windows.

An early morning start to Mam Barrisdale

The gradual ascent to Mam Barrisdale was accompanied by the persistent noisy squawks of hungry birds demanding attention. Searching the sky I finally saw an eagle circling above and around a pair of smaller birds, apparently shepherding them to a perch high on a crag across the glen. I sat and watched the distinctive splayed finger wing-tips play on a thermal. No snatched fuzzy photograph with a shoogly zoom, just an indelible memory.

At Mam Barrisdale by 7.15am, I was already welcoming the breeze as the heat started to build. To the left Luinne Bheinn loomed above but, having slogged up its slopes the month before, I could turn aside to concentrate on Stob a Chearcaill and Coire a Phuill instead.

Coire a Phuill and Stob a Chearcaill from Mam Barrisdale

There might have been a track across to these defenders of Ladhar Bheinn, but there was no need to waste time looking for it. I simply enjoyed wandering across the rising ground towards the base of the crags falling from Stob a Chearcaill, finding the contours of easy ground and gradually gaining height: straight lines and bee-lines be damned.

The cone of Stob a Chearcaill looks impressive and barely accessible from sea-level. Close up, a couple of grooves look feasible and the suggestion of a long horizontal traverse to the left leads to the skyline. So, the first bit of interest is encountered: a short scramble up a shallow groove. A narrow path that appears to be merely scratched in the steep grassy slope then traverses across to the safety of the bealach. Airy yet safe, but a place to be cautious in the wet.

Further east early morning clouds cling to the glens

Looking back down the spine of Stob a Chearcaill

A small jumble of stones marks the gently rounded dome of 849m, the gateway to the route ahead. Here the real enjoyment begins as Ladhar Bheinn beckons.

Ladhar Bheinn from pt 849m - the fun starts here

There are a few more minor scrambles as the rise after each successive dip gets steeper. The ascent builds as a crescendo, adding excitement and anticipation as you progress. You know you’re on a fine mountain and the top, when it comes, will be worth striving for. The traverse of its neighbours, Luinne Bheinn to Meall Buidhe, I found to be unrelenting, with ups and downs that never gave a sense getting anywhere other than another frustrating obstacle. Ladhar Bheinn was in a different league and definitely worth leaving to be tackled on its own.

Finally, after an even steeper bit of grassy path, you’re there, just there. It’s right in front of you, stretching along for a few hundred airy metres: close cropped grass, with a benign path that looks as if it’s been dug from the turf.

The final slope before the top - get ready to gasp in amazement rather than exhaustion

Summit ridge of Ladhar Bheinn

I spent well over an hour savoring the setting: expansive, plunging views; horizons and ridges dissolving into one another before disappearing into the hazy distance; Cuillins and corries; the sea and, at last, that solitude. In contrast to my previous visit to Knoydart, I knew I could linger. On Luinne Bheinn and Meall Bhuide I was always being pressed by the clock, knowing I had the slog back out to Kinlochourn before my day had finished.

Looking east - back along the spine of the summit ridge and along Loch Hourn

Contemporary art created on the shattered triangulation column

Reluctantly I began the descent over and along the narrow up-turned keel of Stob a Choire Odhair. Again, I took my time, watching the tide retreat, creating artistic patterns along the shore below. Gradually I made my way into the vast bowl of Coire Dhorrcail, overlooked by an all-surrounding serrated skyline.

Going down - the descent along the airy ridge of Stob a Choire Odhair

Looking back along the outward route to Stob a Chearcaill

Each time I stopped I concluded that this must be a dispiriting route of ascent. After dropping below Stob a Choire Odhair I kept looking back, yet all I could see was the buttress immediately behind. There was no enticing view of the top that might have spurred me on until I was down in the corrie’s depths. The climb up this way must be a frustrating succession of false tops.

Serrated and interesting skyline of Coire Dhorrcail

Once in the bowl of the corrie, I swapped the wild landscape for the narrowing ravine and trees through which the Allt Coire Dhorrcail flows. The almost austere and imposing shadowy crags that try to hem you in then suddenly contrast with the lush rich greens and the cloud-dappled magical backdrop of Beinn Sgritheall across the bay. I’d stepped into another world: alluring, calm, welcoming.

Beinn Sgritheall beyond the ravine of the Allt Coire Dhorrcaill and across Loch Hourn

I finally swung round and across the lower slopes of Creag Bheithe before re-entering Barrisdale. Again, there was no rush, only midges were likely to be laying in wait, preventing me from enjoying the chilled cans of thirst-quenching cider secreted in the river.

A few midges made half-hearted attempts at annoyance as I approached the bothy and the campsite: early seasons learners I guessed. After a day like this, it would take more than a few wee beasties to take the edge off a spectacular excursion.

Barrisdale from above

In my absence, a pair of different tents had appeared and during the next hour more arrived. Barrisdale was busy and open for business as Cape Wrath Trailers staggered in and did stretching exercises, a family with young boys planned their walk-out to Kinlochourn, while others chatted or just watched the world with that sense of weary satisfaction.

Then I heard a familiar languid low-throated whump whump whump whump. I live close to Prestwick Airport, where the search and rescue flight of RAF Gannet used to be based, and from where the red and white of the Bristow Coastguard helicopters now fly in and out- straight over our house. Before seeing it appear, I knew.

The early evening was spent by all, watching with concern, as it flew up and down the ridge of Sgurr a Choire Bheithe, before finally hovering above a small crag and lowering the winchman. It left, then returned, then landed briefly before departing. Training exercise, rescue or recovery? None of us knew, yet its appearance left a sombre mood. Our enjoyment and achievements were put into perspective, our exhilaration tempered by thoughts of our own fragility and that understanding that “there but by the grace of God …”

An early morning departure - looking back on Ladhar Bheinn

I learned the sad details on my return home, a final contrast and bitter-sweet conclusion to a memorable visit to Knoydart.
Last edited by old danensian on Sun Jun 10, 2018 10:06 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Ladhar Bheinn: bitter-sweet Knoydart contrasts

Postby johnkaysleftleg » Sun Jun 10, 2018 12:14 am

Wonderful images to record a memorable day, that trig point looks great, like a stubby candle.
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Re: Ladhar Bheinn: bitter-sweet Knoydart contrasts

Postby PeteR » Sun Jun 10, 2018 7:59 am

Another superbly written account Nigel and some great images to go with it :clap:

I have made and unmade, then remade and remade again and again my plans to get back in to Knoydart, but so far the final two big ones in that area evade me :( I really must use your report as the inspriation/kick up the rear end I need to get the job done
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Re: Ladhar Bheinn: bitter-sweet Knoydart contrasts

Postby Coop » Sun Jun 10, 2018 9:41 am

Fantastic report. Really enjoyed reading that as I could feel the happiness and contentment shine through it.
I was asked yesterday on strathfarrar; "do you know which one you'll finish on"
I said no, not made my mind up yet as it's a long way off - now .......who knows.
Cheers again and great pics btw
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Re: Ladhar Bheinn: bitter-sweet Knoydart contrasts

Postby rockhopper » Sun Jun 10, 2018 11:44 am

Nice report and great weather that week. :thumbup:
I was over on Ben Aden that morning and on Buidhe Beinn that afternoon with good views towards Ladhar Bheinn. It was certainly very sad and thought provoking as I had met him the previous day on Sgurr a'Choire-bheithe.
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Re: Ladhar Bheinn: bitter-sweet Knoydart contrasts

Postby ere1 » Sun Jun 10, 2018 7:10 pm

Nice report. I love this area. :thumbup:
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