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Trailblazing a route from Cluanie to Loch Quoich munros

Trailblazing a route from Cluanie to Loch Quoich munros

Postby J888ohn » Thu Jul 18, 2019 11:35 am

Route description: Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach

Munros included on this walk: Gleouraich, Spidean Mialach

Date walked: 13/07/2019

Time taken: 9.25 hours

Distance: 38.9 km

Ascent: 1824m

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This summer's WH meet had been arranged for Ratagan and Lee and I had the weekend free so booked up to go. The problem was, we had competed all the Glen Shiel munros at the last Ratagan meet a couple of years ago so I started to look about for something else to do. I'd read about the Loch Quoich road being blocked by a landslide and, apart from Skye, these were the next closest munros to Ratagan, so I started to study the OS maps and came up with the idea of a bike n hike from the Cluanie Inn, cycling south along the old road with the hope of being able to cycle all the way into Glen Loyne. There certainly was trails marked on the maps that made this look possible, and there was also old stalkers paths marked on the OS map leading up the northern sides of Spidean Mialach and Gleouraich so, theroretically, this was possible.

Lee needs a bit more than hope and thororetically when I'm trying to convince him on routes :lol: so I set about mapping it using a GPS app online. It all worked, cycle on the road until we meet the path to the east end of the South Glen Shiel Ridge, ignore the path up to the ridge and continue along between Creag a'Mhaim and Creag Liathtais, drop down into Glen Loyne then follow that path east through the glen (which runs along the river so is undulating at worst, as hopefully we'd still have the bikes) until we can walk up the stalkers path up towards Spidean Mialach. Then we join the ridge walk to the summit of Spidean, retrace our steps over to Gleouraich, drop down the stalkers path off the north side of that, walk back to the bikes, cycle the route in reverse to the pub and get dinner. Simples. :wink:

I calculated it was around 24ish miles. At worst we'd only be able to take the bikes to the start of the SGSR, but that was still the best part of 5 miles each way, so that cut the walking down to around 14 miles, about normal for one of our adventures. Plus, I remember that walk along the road from Cluanie took about 1 1/2 hours, on the bike that would be 30 - 40 mins so it would save time too. I really hoped we could bike all the way into Glen Loyne though.

The thing was I searched about on Walk Highlands and Google and could find no walk reports for accessing these munros from the north, in fact very little information at all on the path through Glen Loyne. I figured it if was marked on the OS map it was at least a half decent trail, what could possibly go wrong! :roll: Lee was convinced, we would be trailblazers, creating a new route for others to follow! The plan was set in stone (or a downloaded GPS file :lol: ) the map was packed so if it all went wrong I could at least point at the line where the path should be and blame OS :lol: :lol: Manda decided to leave us to it and headed up Ciste Dubh with Mountain Mutt and we set off on our bikes into the unknown. :wave:

As anticipated the first section was easy on the mountain bikes. The old road is rough and loose but the bikes made easy work of it. We had both forgotten about the constant incline of the road here so were soon huffing an puffing our way through the gears to try to keep the pedals spinning.

When you cross Bear Grylls with Danny MacAskill

The weather wasn't the best. The cloud was shrouding all the summits and the rain was on and off but it was warm and pleasant enough to cycle in. It took us 40 mins to get to the SGSR path. This didn't look particuarly good for cycling so I'd seen another map that had shown a path going round the south side of Creag Liathtais. We continued down the road to where this was meant to be, but nothing was there apart from some very rough looking moorland. We'd get absolutely nowhere on that so doubled back and decided to push the bikes up the SGSR path until we could see into Glen Loyne to assess the path onwards from there. Before the proper climb starts up the side of Creag a'Mhaim there is a small cairn to the left of the path which indicates the junction for the route into Glen Loyne.

We continued to push the bikes along this until it levelled out a bit and had a go at cycling. What a laugh!!!! :lol: We're not bad on the bikes but we were managing to go maybe 50 yards or so before we just about fell off or got the front wheel sunken into a bog. It didn't stop us jumping back on and trying again for another short distance, with the same results :shock: :lol: Soon we had a view into Glen Loyne. There was a trail, but not the sort of landrover track I'd hoped for, it looked similar to what we were currently on and, to be honest, we weren't going much faster on the bikes than we were walking. We took the decision to leave the bikes here. We figured if we managed to get the bikes down into Glen Loyne it would be a hell of an effort at the end of the day to push them back up and over to the old road back to Cluanie so we were just as well walking from here on in.

View towards Loch Loyne

Leaving the bikes before the descent to Glen Loyne. Spidean and Gleouraich are in cloud in front of us

It was a wise decision to take. On the descent the path started to get very technical for bikes, it was fine to walk on, but it was starting to get very rough and bouldery with a few large stream crossings, one of which was a series of large slabs of rock which were very slippy in places. This is the sort of territory where punctures are common and there is a real risk of bursting a spoke or destroying the rear derailleur which is game over for a bike, or falling off and destroying another collar bone, which for me would probably lead to a divorce as Manda doesn't want to go through all that again! :wink: :lol:

The stepped stream crossing

Quickly we were down in Glen Loyne and joined the stalkers path that runs the length of the glen. Oddly this doesn't seem to join up with the Cluanie road despite heading towards it as it continues east. Maybe it used to and has got overgrown? I didn't have time to explore that far, maybe leave that to someone else. There is an obvious junction here made even more obvious by a small cairn so we couldn't miss this on the way back. We continued to walk west for just over a mile until we arrived at a ford across the River Loyne, beyond which should be the stalkers path I was looking for. For reference, should anyone want to try this route, this is just before an old deer fence and gate and there is a handy out of place fence post to signal where to turn and head across the grass to the ford.

The fence post and Lee making his way to the ford

The "I hope my boots are still waterproof" moment

The ford is ok, bearing in mind the dry weather we've had recently. Some of the stones meant our boots were submerged but only up to the laces, these ones were slippy but it was no hinderance to our crossing. If you look at the picture imediately above you will see an area of grey stone and gravel immediately beyond the river and at the top of that a depression in the grass which appears to be a natural exit from the ford. It is, however leads you straight into a massive bog :problem: Not what we wanted to go through. We had a look around and skirted round to the east side of it and low and behold, here was the stalkers path :thumbup: It was overgrown but we could still see the faint difference in the ground which was clearly a path. Onwards!!!!! This was nice easy walking, a bit boggy in places but nice to walk on and not particuarly steep as it followed the west side of the Allt a'Choire Leacaich Mhoir.

The faint path up towards Spidean

The path continued upwards, further than indicated on the OS map, and headed towards the rocky outcrop between Coire na Fiar Bhealaich and Coire Leacach Mor. We lost it in some places on the way but a bit of searching and the path was quickly found again. On approach to this outcrop we arrived at some massive stone slabs which I just had to go clambering across. Lee chose to stay lower and this was where the path led. Either way we ended up on top of this outcrop looking into Coire na Fiar Bhealaich. The path continued over and down into the Coire but from what we could see began to head towards the bottom of the coire rather than up to the Fiar Bhealach. We looked up the Coire and could see two faint paths leading down from the bhealach along the eastern side towards the outcrop we were on. We decided to scramble along the top of the outcrop (no real issues here, just big rocks to walk over) to try to get to the end of these paths.

View from the outcrop into Coire na Fiar Bhealaich. The paths are very faint, but just visible running from left of centre up to the bhealach

Once close, we dropped off of the outcrop and picked up one of these paths. It was very narrow, rough and slow going due to the gradient. We'd been on the move for almost 3 hours now so it was getting close to break time. A bit of a trudge up here but I was really wanting to get my first view of Loch Quoich from the bhealach so I motored ahead. The view was worth the effort, and now the cloud was lifting I was confident we'd get views from Spidean. Lee caught up with me and we stopped here to take on some food for the final climb up Spidean.

Lee making his way along the path to the bhealach

Vew of Loch Quoich from the bhealach

Looking north to the SGSR

Spidean was the closest munro but, as we found out, has several false summits. We headed up the ridge towards the first one. This was steep going but up a good zig zag path which started out as scree, turned to grass then back to stone. The views over Loch Quoich kept opening up and I can see the appeal of doing the traditional route round these two so you have the constant views. Reached the first false summit, and the usual disappointent of finding out it was a false summit :lol: but could now see where the end was close, via another minor top. The day was turning into a cracker. Now the low cloud had cleared and it was a sunny summers day. The views from the summit of Spidean were superb. It's the last high hill so the views out to the east are expansive, to the south the view down the length of Loch Quoich and to the north the entirety of the SGSR is stretched out in full view, I've never appreciated how long that actually is.

The summit of Spidean

View east

Loch Quoich

North west over Gleouraich and the SGSR

The summit had a nice little wind shelter for us to rest in and enjoy the views, it was really quite comfortable sitting there. I text Manda to let her know we had got to the first one and to see how she was getting on. She was on her first ever solo hike and I hoped it was going well. She text back saying she was on the summit of Ciste Dubh. She was pretty much a few miles due north of us. I was very proud of her but was aware timing wise she was way ahead of us. I'd guestimated this route would take us 6 to 7 hours, we were 3 1/2 hours in and had a lot of walking still to do, so we retraced our steps down Spidean and back to the bealach. Annoyingly we know knew Gleouraich had a false summit too, and the climb up to it looked steep going. We set off and up the good path. Again it was rocky and steep and zig zagged back and forth. It took quite and effort and I was glad when I popped onto the minor summit to see it was just a small drop then straightforward ascent to the true summit. I wasn't glad to see the clag was coming back in.

Summit of Gleouraich

We made our way to the summit and about 2 minutes from it the clag decended taking away all our views, even of our proposed descent route which was off north onto Sron na Bruen-Leitire. The north face of the summit is cliffs so we had to be careful not to drop over one of them and take the quick way down. We sat and got the map out to confirm where we were going and how to get there. We had to initially follow the normal route to Loch Quoich then after a short distance turn due north to Sron. The route to Sron looked quite ridge like on the map and it turned out to be that way too. The clag lifted enough for us to see our way. On our way up Manda had text again saying she was back at the Cluanie and how long would we be. Erm, hours was the answer and I said we probably wouldn't be at the pub until 6pm so she decided to head back to Ratagan for a shower.

Route to Sron

Have faith in this route. It will look like you are about to walk off a cliff but once we looked over the edge there was a narrow ridge leading down towards the flatter section. Mild exposure on the right hand side but no scrambling involved, and there was the faintest outline of a path. We walked all the way to the summit of Sron, looking down into Glen Quoich. There had been a lot of recent development here and a strange cross of trails which looked like a small airfield. Had we just stumbled across a Bond villan's secret lair???? :lol: We could see across to the SGSR again and saw a group of people on Moal Chinn-dearg. I think this was the WH group that set off at 6am to walk the ridge west to east. Could we beat them to the pub?

The work and the "airfield" in the right hand side of the photo

Now for the descent back into Easter Glen Quoich to meet the path east back to the bikes. Again, on the OS maps, an old stalkers path was on the north west side of the mountain, the trick was finding it. The decent on this side was very steep down long, slippy grass. We could see nothing obvious so I decided to just keep dropping down the slope until I got close to a GPS line that swept across the gradient. This was tricky and we had to be really careful not to start tumbling down. Luckily there were a lot of natural terraces so we were able to do small zig zags to make it easier. Round about the 630m elevation mark I could see a much larger terrace directly below me. This looked man made and out of place with the rest of the environment. I dropped onto it and it continued along the contour and out of sight round a corner. Lee joined me and we decided it was better than what we had came down so we had nothing to lose. As it turned out, this was the stalkers path we'd been looking for. :thumbup: It was very overgrown but once we knew what to look for, we could easily spot the next terrace below us and it was a simple case of following what we were on until we found the turn then continue downhill. This made the descent very pleasant. It was boggy in places but we decended quickly using this path.

We were aiming for a ford that was marked on the map over the Easter Glen Quoich Burn however there was a new dam built in the river which looked like the better, and closer, option so we headed for that. Off path now and through some boggy ground but neither of us careed as we wanted to get across the Burn and on the track home. The dam was a useful crossing point, but we had to take care and I'm not sure how safe it would be in spate. We were able to walk along the first section, which was above the water, but then had to cross the sluice to get to a ladder up to the platform on the other side. The top of the sluice was concrete but it was under water and a decent flow was going across it. With a bit of care and a few steps we got across and up the ladder.

The dam

The descent. If you can zoom into this image you will just be able to pick out the occasional zig zag terrace of the stalkers path

Our escapades had not gone unnoticed by the locals who were most unhappy at their peace being disturbed by the two of us.

The locals

One bull in particular was being very vocal about our presence. Lee said he wasn't prepared to be taken out by an angry sirloin steak. We jokingly discussed what the top speed of a Highland Cow was and decided it didn't look that agile so we could at least dodge it instead of out running it. :lol: Luckily the bull lacked the motivation to do anything apart from make some noise so we began the long march west along the glen to get back to the bikes. The terrain of this trail varies to virtually everything you can think of. One minute its a landrover trail, the next a bog, then a rough stony track and it even almost disappears a couple of times in long grass. It undulates along so we were able to cover a mile in about 20mins, which was just as well as it was 3 1/2 miles back to the junction to climb up to where the bikes were.

Our next problem was the weather. It had started to rain lightly and the wind was getting lighter. We were in the middle of midge country and I didn't want to be found the next day as a skeleton stripped bare by the little buggers. This thought kept the two of us motoring along and up the hill to the bikes where fortunately it was windier. We had to push the bikes back to the junction with the SGSR path and, as it was now going downhill, I decided I was an expert mountain biker and could start riding it :roll: To be fair I did manage to ride a fair bit of it, only stopping when the drops looked too big or the turns too sharp, until one complete arse over tit moment as I lost the front wheel off a moss covered rock and went hurtling over the handlebars. I've learned through experience that a tuck and roll technique works well in these situations and duely tucked my head down to my chest and wrapped my left shoulder in so I landed on my back, in the mud, and just started giggling like a big child :lol: :lol: :lol: It's just over a year until I turn 40 and here I am acting like a teenager arsing about on a mountain bike.

Once back on the old road to Cluanie we had a brief uphill cycle then the bit we'd both been looking forward to, the downhill descent to Cluanie. Lee is a demon downhill and soon I heard the shout of him passing on the left. It's a great road to go down, I hit 30mph at one point, and drifted wide on a left hander which caused me to let out a little yelp as I got too close to the edge, much to Lee's amusement. We could see a group of walkers ahead of us, it was the WH SGSR team. It was after 6pm so they'd been on the go for 12 hours. What should we do? Stop and walk the rest of the way in with them, offer the most tired ones a backie or go past them as fast as we could whilst shouting about how using a bike is the way forward. Three guesses which option we took! :think: :lol:

23 minutes after we started cycling, and 9 1/4 hours after we'd set off, we arrived at the Cluanie Inn and met Manda for dinner. We were tired and hungry but chuffed with our adventure. We'd tried something new, something I couldn't find anyone else had done, and it had went to plan, apart for not being able to cycle as far as I'd hoped. Sure, you miss out on the views of Loch Quoich on the ascent but Glen Loyne is so still, peaceful and remote. This route is a viable option to get to these munros, even if you walk the whole thing I think it would be a 11 to 12 hour day but the bike along the old road makes life so much easier.

Now, in true mountain tradition, all that is left is to name this route after the pioneers of it. The LangTommo route, the LeeJo route, or the nutters who get no-one from Walk Highlands to walk with them cause they always go off and do something crazy route? :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:
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Re: Trailblazing a route from Cluanie to Loch Quoich munros

Postby big tommo » Thu Jul 18, 2019 12:56 pm

:clap: :clap: great read John :D I'm always up for a challenge :D it was a awesome day, great route. Though after a two weeks holiday one of which was all inclusive 🍺 I certainly felt this one 😂
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Re: Trailblazing a route from Cluanie to Loch Quoich munros

Postby Alteknacker » Thu Jul 18, 2019 11:37 pm

Nice report, with a good few laughs :lol: .

Interesting route, and I still have these 2 to do....
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Re: Trailblazing a route from Cluanie to Loch Quoich munros

Postby J888ohn » Sun Jul 28, 2019 1:44 pm

Def worth considering Altekacker, I think if you're really fit and keen, or fancy a wild camp, you could throw in Sgurr a'Mhaoraich to this route as well. I thought there might be a bothy at Alltbeithe but I think it's actually a new farmhouse or something to do with the hydro project.
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