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Little Hells in Glen Dessarry

Little Hells in Glen Dessarry

Postby weaselmaster » Mon Jul 01, 2019 9:52 am

Corbetts included on this walk: Bidein a'Chabair, Carn Mor (Glen Dessarry), Fraoch Bheinn, Sgurr Cos na Breachd-laoigh, Sgurr Mhurlagain

Date walked: 30/06/2019

Time taken: 29 hours

Distance: 57 km

Ascent: 4400m

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It's that time of year, with long, long days that calls for some of the big routes to be undertaken. And there's a few of those to be done. I actually felt like having a gentle weekend, but that would have been a waste. So Glen Dessarry was in the sights. Last Sunday we went up the most frequently climbed Corbett (well for Walkhighlanders anyway) - The Cobbler. Now we were off to tackle the two least often climbed Corbetts - Carn Mor and Bidean a'Chabhair.

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I'd plotted a route which included those two, plus the three Corbetts on the north of Glen Dessarry and had come up with a distance of mid-50's kilometres. That - needless to say - included the three Simms lying to the west of Bidean a'Chabhair, which I'd spotted when we were doing Meith Bheinn & An Stac a few years back - it looked too good a walk to miss out on. Of course it added mileage - actually around 14km to the route, but if we weren't going to do them now, in forecast excellent weather, when would we? I didn't mention too much about the extra distance to Allison when we discussed the route on Wednesday night 8) . I was kinda hoping that we might get the route done by Saturday evening...

We set off into a blazing-hot evening on Thursday, 30 degrees going up the A82 at 6pm. Allison had been smitten by a cold since I'd seen her 24 hours previously and was feeling rough, sneezing and snuffling in the car. Not the best start for a grueling weekend. Sun was bright and low driving up Loch Arkaig - not the easiest driving at the best of times. We arrived at a very busy Murlaggan sometime after 8pm and set off along the track, shouldering 3 day supplies: who did we meet but Jonathan Mitchell with a couple of mates, back from climbing Sgurr Mor in the heat. I'd only seen him last weekend at Nick Cave.

I wasn't really sure where we would end up that night - options were to camp somewhere around A'Chuill bothy or head up onto the back of Carn Mor, where we'd pitched once before. The human snotbag beside me indicated it was all one to her. It was a gorgeous evening, with just enough breeze to keep the airborne menace at bay - we came out of the woods by A'Chuill and started up the shoulder of Carn Mor between Coir a'Bhoganaich and Coir an Eich. We found an ATV track which was going our way for a while, then settled for a flat spot somewhere between the 568m and 616m points. Quiet, gentle breeze, afterglow of the sun over the hills - just perfect. It was around 11.30pm when we bedded down - both of us tired, but neither of us able to sleep for some reason. Granted, it didn't get dark at all, and the sun was up and blazing in the tent by 4am, but I felt a bit vexed by the lack of slumber.

ImageP6270001 by Al, on Flickr

Late night light
ImageP6270003 by Al, on Flickr

It was clearly going to be a scorcher of a day - the first Little Hell of Sun and Heat. Allison was in her shorts and cut-away top, I decided to cover up a bit more. We headed along the back of the hill, leaving our packs by Meall an Spardan, to where we'd be returning, and summiting Carn Mor unladen. Last time we were here it was all clag and no view, today the scenery was special - all the way dowen Loch Morar and out to Rum. Across to our right was our next port of call, Bidean a'Chabhair, with the Sgurr na Ciche hills beyond that. We headed back for our packs and descended into Coir an t-Searraich, aiming for the Allt and the start of the long pull up Bidean. You drop to just below 200m where-ever you come down, sadly.

Morning, looking east
ImageP6280004 by Al, on Flickr

Heading for Carn Mor
ImageP6280005 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP6280006 by Al, on Flickr

Loch Morar
ImageP6280007 by Al, on Flickr

View to Sgurr na Ciche
ImageP6280009 by Al, on Flickr

Bidean a'Chabhair
ImageP6280011 by Al, on Flickr

Picking out a suitable route up Bidean we started off, the heat was making us both wilt and progress was far from fast. Pausing high up into Coire nan Laoigh we had lunch then made it to the back of the mountain. There's a large lochan before the final climb to the summit - we paused here for a while, paddling in the lovely cool water. I nearly went for a swim, but the floor was sinky mud of unknown depth. We did watch numerous Great Diving Beetles going about their business - we had a discussion about how they got here - I believed that they could fly, whereas Allison thought they had "always been there", presumably an autochthonous inhabitant.

ImageP6280013 by Al, on Flickr

Loch Nevis, Sourlies
ImageP6280014 by Al, on Flickr

After some time in the cooling breeze we re-assembled and started up the narrow way to the fine summit of Bidean. We could see down to Sourlies at the head of Loch Nevis, near where we hoped to be by the end of the day. Next was the impressive, rocky peak of Sgurr na h-Aide to be climbed, from which the three Simms stretching down the spine of this fine mountain were visible. Oh it looked a long way out! Rum and Eigg sat becalmed on the luminous blue sea, Skye off to the right. No let up in the heat. It is a couple of kilometres to each of the three Simms, with various ups and downs en route - enervating in the fiery sunshine. There were no streams up here - which meant that water had to be procured from the pools and lochans - thankfully I had my Sawyer Water Filter with me, rendering the process less hazardous than might have otherwise been the case with standing warm water.

ImageP6280018 by Al, on Flickr

Summit Bidean
ImageP6280019 by Al, on Flickr

Sgurr na h-Aide
ImageP6280021 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP6280022 by Al, on Flickr

Summit Sgurr na h-Aide, the long back of the mountain stretching west
ImageP6280024 by Al, on Flickr

View back at Bidean/Sgurr na h-Aide
ImageP6280027 by Al, on Flickr

Eigg, Rum & Skye
ImageP6280029 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP6280030 by Al, on Flickr

Sgurr Bhreac, the second Simm top. Still a way to go
ImageP6280031 by Al, on Flickr

We ditched packs before heading out to the final Simm of Sgurr Mor. By this time it was about 5.30. I reckoned we should have our tea when we got back to the packs, then press on a bit further. Food Doctor rice and lentils tonight - not bad. Back on with the packs and a case of contouring round Coire na Murrach, aiming for Garbh Coire - I reckoned we'd make better progress high up than if we descended to the shoreline. We dropped down into the narrowing gash of Garbh Coire and found fresh flowing water - refilling our bladders, bottles and throats, as well as a great deal of splashing of faces and arms in the cool silver. How much further? It was approaching 12 hours walking today and both of us were a bit wiped out with the heat - I had hoped to get round as far as Finiskaig, but I knew that the traipse along the shoreline would be tough going - when we spotted a flat topped prominence overlooking Sgurr na Ciche, we knew that would do for the night.

On Sgurr Mor
ImageP6280032 by Al, on Flickr

Loch Morar
ImageP6280033 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP6280035 by Al, on Flickr

We're heading back towards the head of Loch Nevis
ImageP6280036 by Al, on Flickr

I've had worse views of an evening
ImageP6280037 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP6280038 by Al, on Flickr

No midges, but sadly, once again, no sleep - it was simply too hot. We probably dozed a little in the small hours between 4 and 6 - neither of us unduly keen to get up early today. Looking out the tent, the mountaintops were under clag - the second Little Hell of Humidity and Clegs was about to unfold.

Saturday morning
ImageP6290039 by Al, on Flickr

Setting off from our eyrie we followed the stream to the foot of Garbh Coire and - as suspected - found the going along the coastline tough. Thank the lord for deer - at least they'd made some tracks to follow, weaving in and out of the boulders and clefts. Part of the walking was on the shoreline, through fields of bladderwrack, carrageen and velvet horn. The ruin of Finiskaig drew near - along with a catatonic sheep that simply stood glaring out at us from the other side of the Finiskaig River. Crossing was easy, with the current water level low. We then had the long trek up the path towards Glen Dessarry. Clegs had lain in ambush for us as we crossed over the Finiskaig and the next few miles were troubled by their attentions, plus those of the midges any time the light breeze dropped away. We passed a group of teacher/DoE assessors by Lochan a'Mhaim and a group of about 20 youths filing along somewhat further up the track.

ImageP6290040 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP6290041 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP6290043 by Al, on Flickr

Allison seemed in somewhat better health today, vindicating my belief that you shouldn't give in to a cold. Although there may be a difference to not giving in and what we did yesterday :wink: At the split at Reidh nam Fiadh, we kept to the left, spotting the long shoulder of Sgurr Cos na Breachd Laoidh rising ahead of us. Allison led the way - a gentle climb, but the fervid air continued to take its toll. Somewhere to the south of us a tremendous peal of thunder rang out, rolling among the mountains. And again. And again. We discussed what we ought to do. We were not going to be on the highest mountain top in the vicinity, and at present the storm was far off - probably just keep going and be prepared to head down if it did approach closer. We could see the sky to the south west darken, but could see no lightning or rain - but the thunder kept coming. It's a while since I've been anywhere high in a thunderstorm - part of me does hope to be gently touched by lightning and given the superpower of shooting thunderbolts from the fingers, a bit like Emperor Palpatine, if you will.

Thundery clouds swirl around
ImageP6290045 by Al, on Flickr

We continued to climb and the thunder seemed to lessen, although sinister clouds continued to swathe the surrounding hills. Up to the cairn, then an amble along the northern ridge of Druim a'Chuirn. What would we do now? Neither of us had the energy to press on and tackle another two pathless Corbetts with another 1000m ascent - it was around 4pm when we reached the high point of the ridge. Hmm - we could either camp high where we were - but water would be a problem; drop down to the tail of the ridge or descend to the valley, Feith a'Chicheanais. The last option might be on the boggy side - we'd once camped there before on our way through to Sgurr Mor. So we decided upon the tail end of the ridge, at around 600m where there was a serviceable flattish piece of ground - not great adhesion for the pegs, mind, but the breeze was only gentle...

Summit of Sgurr Cos na Breachd-Laoidh
ImageP6290046 by Al, on Flickr

ImageP6290047 by Al, on Flickr

Druim a'Chuirn
ImageP6290048 by Al, on Flickr

Fraoch Bheinn
ImageP6290049 by Al, on Flickr

Rest for the evening (or not)
ImageP6290051 by Al, on Flickr

We enjoyed the rest, sitting looking out over the surrounding mountains. I ventured back up the hill a bit to forage for water out of some dodgy looking pools and we decided to turn in early after two nights with little or no sleep. A gentle patter of rain appeared intermittently over the course of the evening - the forecast was for heavy rain overnight and the next day. Around midnight the wind began to pick up - that hadn't been in the forecast I'd seen. Oh the Little Hell of Gales. By 3am the tent is flapping around like a bat possessed, the few rocks that I'd found and put over the pegs failing to withstand the gale. I donned my waterproofs and headed out into the half-light, in search of more rocks, but there were none. I did find a somewhat more sheltered area, perhaps 50m away and decided we should move the tent away from the lip of the ridge to this new spot. Not entirely easy, especially as the rain decided to re-start at that moment. We were now pitched at a more sloping angle than was conducive to good rest, but we gamely tried to get back to sleep. By 6am the wind direction had turned, sufficient to render our new position of little more shelter than our original one and the side of the tent was battering off Allison's head. After lying for a bit longer it appeared it was time to get up :roll:

We had great fun dismantling the tent in the wind and rain - I was grateful that we hadn't decided to pitch high up on the ridge. Managed to boil enough water for coffee in the vestibule, despite the wind repeatedly snuffing out the Jetboil, and fortified by a light breakfast, we set off into the new day.

We descended steeply to the east, making for the valley between our hill and Fraoch Bheinn, which I planned to head straight up onto the ridge. The valley floor was indeed boggy ("feith" referring to "a stagnant channel in a bog" so little wonder) and the wind was almost as strong here as it had been higher up. I momentarily wondered if we'd manage to get our two hills done today - then put such a stupid notion right out of my head :lol: We ground out an ascent to the ridge of Fraoch Bheinn and made our way to the summit. Wind was quite ferocious, but the rain little more than a desultory drizzle. Again we came off steeply to the east, pausing beside a giant rock for a very early lunch (or more accurately a "second breakfast" as it was only 10.15). Anyhow, this gave us some more energy to take on the task of clambering up to the 880m top of Sgurr Mhurlagain.

Summit Fraoch Bheinn
ImageP6300053 by Al, on Flickr

A rare glimpse of Mhurlagain through the clag
ImageP6300054 by Al, on Flickr

A gentler ascent from the valley that Fraoch Bheinn, but a longer toil to the summit. By the time we stood at the cairn, the rain had decided to stop toying with us and came on in earnest, wind tearing at our waterproofs, rain lashing down - what a great day :D Matters weren't helped by repeatedly losing our way and coming off first to the west, then the east of the target route and having to contour to avoid crags in the latter case. Finally - and it definitely felt as if it had taken forever - we made it to the ATV track and followed this boggy road back to the civilisation of the tarmac road. The two hills had taken five hours - I don't think either of us would have managed to tack that onto yesterday's efforts, even for the advantage of having better weather. Back to the car at a very much quieter Murlaggan parking area (only 3 other vehicles) and a drive out along Loch Arkaig with very little traffic to deal with . Since we'd eaten lunch so early, it seemed an ideal opportunity to call in at The Wildcat in Fort William for some food - being nearly 3pm when we got there it shouldn't be too busy - wrong - not a single seat to be had. Damn. Ach well, a packet of crisps on the road down sufficed to keep body and soul together for another weekend.

A wet and windy summit of Mhurlagain
ImageP6300055 by Al, on Flickr
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Re: Little Hells in Glen Dessarry

Postby Alteknacker » Mon Jul 01, 2019 11:27 pm

Heck, what a contrast in conditions you had there. But you did get this area at its best on the first (second) day. That camp spot (Pic 6280037) looks just wonderful!

If it's any consolation, Sgur Mhurlagain can look a bit more attractive than you found it ... :lol:

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