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Boulderfield 1: Whippet 0

Boulderfield 1: Whippet 0

Postby tweedledog » Fri Oct 25, 2013 5:12 pm

Corbetts included on this walk: Beinn a' Bhuiridh

Date walked: 24/10/2013

Time taken: 5 hours

Distance: 13.3 km

Ascent: 774m

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It's looking like the one good day in a sequence of wet ones, so time to take The Whippet out for a constitutional. In our random, wandering way we have been visiting each of the lairigs in easy reach of home - which first of all means the four on the east side of the Cruachan range. Lairigs are fascinating since, to have been given the name, presumably they must have been used as high passes at some stage, and so visiting them encourages speculation about the ways people travelled from settlement to settlement. At least it does for me. As far as The Whippet is concerned, they are just flat bits between high bits at the tops of climbs; the distinction between a bealach and a lairig is quite lost on him. But me, I'm reinventing myself as a Lairig Bagger. If you can have Munros, Corbetts, Donalds and Grahams (not to mention sub-2000s) then you can also have Lairig Lists! I may start a campaign. :)
Anyway, The Whippet and me have one of the east side ones left to visit: Lairig Torran at the head of Coire Ghlais, offering an historic route, presumably, from the old settlements in Stronmilchan to Coire Cruachan which now, of course, contains the Cruachan reservoir. Why anyone would have wanted to make such a journey is, I fear, a topic for further research. So Lairig Torran it is, at 728m the joint highest of the east side lairigs along with Lairig Lanachain, which sits between Beinn a' Chochuill and Beinn Eunaich and which many a Munro bagger will have passed across when doing that double by the traditional route. Lairig Torran is a different matter, however, being much steeper at the head of the coire. Indeed, a long standing local, whom we encounter as we are setting out, eyes us sceptically when told of our destination. "That's a fair wee climb," he says, with the air of a man given to understatement. And so he turns out to be.
What we do when we get up there remains an open question. It's possible to reach the summit of Beinn a' Bhuiridh from Lairig Torran; Brian Johnson's Walking the Corbetts proposes just such a route, returning along the mountain's knobbly east ridge. Though he too warns of the steepness of the coire and of equally steep boulderfields on the final ascent. Hmmm. We shall see.

Track_2013-10-24 163857.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

So off we go up the hydro track that also begins the Dalmally Horseshoe route, reaching the parting of the ways just before the bridge across the Allt Coire Ghlais. Here there is a fine view up into Coire Chreachainn, enclosed by the peaks of the Horseshoe itself.
Coire Chreachainn and the continuing hydro track

But we turn left up what has been since the spring a much extended, bulldozed track into Coire Ghlais, given a grey and sometimes sparkling sheen by the lorry loads of Cruachan granite that have been dumped on it. The Whippet hates this track and takes every opportunity to relieve his paws from the sharp edged pebbles. However, his discomfort and the aesthetic horror of the bulldozing remnants are partly compensated for by the speed and ease with which we can now ascend the lower part of the coire.
Looking back down the new track

About 50m before the end of the new track (at NN113291) we take to the grass, boulder and bog terrain which will hamper our efforts for the rest of the climb.
Left off the track and up past those three boulders

There are faint traces of a path, though only intermittently (or, if you prefer, there is a faint path but I lose track of it regularly). Either way, we make steady if slow progress over undulating rough ground high to the left of the allt, and as the gradient increases we get a better sense of the final climb to the lairig.
The upper coire

About this section, Johnson observes 'The slope becomes rather steep towards the top of the corrie and here you will probably find it easier to the right of the burn'. This sounds to me like someone who went up the left side and regretted it (of which more later) but The Whippet has already taken a decision and we scrabble our way up the obvious route on the left of the picture. It is steep, but has the possible virtue of bringing us out higher up the slopes of Beinn a' Bhuiridh. Up to our left the crags of the mountain's east ridge look increasingly dramatic.
Beinn a' Bhuiridh ridge

Finally we reach the lairig, and there are views to be had.
Back down to Glen Strae

Cruachan reservoir

Meall Cuanail and Ben Cruachan

Since we are already on its slopes we start the climb up Beinn a' Bhuiridh but quickly find ourselves in the midst of the aforementioned steep boulderfields.
it's a lot steeper than the picture makes it look!

This spells trouble. Although The Whippet is nimble, and not averse to boulder hopping, he's not really designed for it. Whippets have paws and ankles adapted to running and turning very fast. They are anything but ideal on this kind of terrain, and he insists on striking out on his own, unwilling to follow me as I try to pick a safe way for him through the boulders. In this fashion we work our way up to 787m then come to a halt, sheltering from the chilly westerly wind behind a large boulder. The Whippet gives me his big brown eyes look and whimpers softly, whether in reference to the wind or the boulders I cannot tell. Probably both. I consider the options. Seated across from me in an executive chair shaped boulder is a figure in a dark business suit. It's our Risk Manager. Or, given the modern inflation of bureaucratic titles, the Head of the Directorate of Risk Management and General Interference in Daily Process. "It's your decision." he says, "but I shall not be in any way accountable for whatever fate awaits you." And with that sage advice he hails a passing helicopter and disappears from view. Enough is enough I think. Were The Whippet to break a bone among the boulders I would be hard pressed to get him down the mountain. He's no longer the little puppy who could fit in my rucksack when tired (see the tiny picture top right) but 18 kilos of gangly canine. We retreat back to the lairig. I contemplate heading down to the reservoir and from thence down the access road to Lochawe. But that would leave us having to walk along the unpavemented section of the A85 between the village and the Stronmilchan turn-off, probably a worse fate than the boulderfield. Or perhaps we could climb up to Stob Garbh on the Horseshoe, but that seems just silly. If we were to go up there we should do the rest of the Horseshoe, and there's not time for that. So back down into the coire it is, much to The Whippet's relief. To get some benefit from the decision we descend on the other side of the allt and can confirm that Johnson was probably right to suggest that was the better route of ascent. For anyone following this route, therefore, I'd suggest starting the ascent on the left as we did, but crossing the allt where it does a dogleg at NN100289 and continuing up the fairly clear route on the right.
As we set off down clag starts drifting in from Cruachan and The Whippet eyes it with the satisfaction of a dog who knows the right decision has been taken. Beinn a' Bhuiridh and Stob Garbh disappear from view.
Whippet eyeing the clag

He enjoys the descent since it afford the customary opportunities for much (melo)dramatic pouncing on happily uncaptured voles, and is particularly impressed when we meet a sheep with a punk haircut along the way.
The punk sheep

He is clearly untroubled by losing 1-0 to the boulderfield. After all, there's always next week's game.
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Re: Boulderfield 1: Whippet 0

Postby lindsayh » Mon Oct 28, 2013 7:18 pm

Wind 1 Hemmings 0 - we too got as far as the laraig or col or whatever - and we had crossed the burn to take the slightly easier route. However the wind hit us with a vengeance and to carry on would have been foolhardy so we too turned back! The hill will be there for another, finer, day!
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Re: Boulderfield 1: Whippet 0

Postby tweedledog » Thu Oct 31, 2013 1:30 pm

Yes, it is very exposed to wind up there even when there's hardly any below. As you say, another day. I think I might try The Whippet along the alternative route: up the shoulder to Monadh Driseig and then along the ridge east to west. See how the boulderfield looks from above!
By the way, driving along the A85 yesterday I realise that I was wrong to say there was no pavement between Lochawe and the Stronmilchan turn-off. There is a very narrow one. Still wouldn't be any fun to walk though.
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