Glenfinnan to Inverie with a wee detour up Sgurr na Ciche 3

Munros: Garbh Chioch Mhòr, Sgùrr na Cìche, Sgùrr nan Coireachan (Glen Dessary)

Date walked: 28/05/2016

Time taken: 48 hours

Distance: 48km

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When P&P told me they were doing a walk from Glenfinnan to Inverie, my munro baggers ears pricked up! Ah-ha - surely that goes along the base of the Sgurr na Ciche ridge? That’s one of those outings I'd been pondering for some time, having caught the distinctive shape of that hill from several different distant angles. Even better, it would be a reunion of 4 of us who were in a walking club at Sheffield University in the late '70s - all long hair, flared trousers and smock tops - and long walks in the Peak District! That was not the dress code for this trip however! This was to be a camping trip with 2 nights before we could stock up on food again in Inverie. So light weight gear - as little as you could get away with - was the order of the day. I made a few begging phone calls to mountain marathon friends plus a visit to one of my favourite retail outlets, and ended up with a rucksack weighing about 13 kilos - heavier than I would normally care to walk with but not bad for a camping trip.
We met up from various directions at Glenfinnan early Saturday evening, and set off from the Catholic Church about 6 o’clock – what a setting above the loch!
setting off from the church at Glenfinnan
We were slap bang in that run of lovely warm weather - set for 3 glorious days of walking, so we were feeling pretty excited at the prospect ahead. Passing under the Glenfinnan Viaduct there were no signs of any wizards or warlocks but we got a spooky echo calling out under the arches.
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what an engineering feat! Glenfinnan viaduct
The plan was to walk a few miles up the glen and camp just beyond the Corryhully bothy, but the fine evening sunshine and light breeze was ideal to push on to the head of the valley. A quick nosey into the nice-looking bothy – electric lighting indeed – whatever next! Somewhere around the bothy the nice tarmac road had turned into a track, then got steeper and became a rougher track!
We passed some happy walkers who were coming down off the 2 Glenfinnan munros, and later noticed the options for clockwise or anticlockwise routes helpfully signposted off the main track. Those hills looked enticing, but they weren’t set in my sights on this particular trip! Turned out a friendly young guy and his daughter had nabbed our original camping spot at the fork in the river. Still, a reasonably gentle pull up the valley and a couple of hours from the start we had reached an even better place to camp – just over Bealach a Chaorainn. Nice and level, dry[ish], with running water, a breeze to keep the midges off, and a great view down the other side as the shadows started rising up the higher slopes and the sunlight faded out.
the head of the Glen - time to camp!
A quick bite of breakfast as the sky lightened
Up early next day - as you do in a tent, when you’re used to the dark from shutters in an old house - we were having our breakfast by 7 and away at 8! The prospect for the first section looked pleasant – a long steady walk in a straight line along the valley floor in sunshine, with crags to either side, watched by large herds of deer. In the distance we could see the forest in Glen Pean where the route bears east towards Loch Arkaig. I imagine this section of about 6kms must be a totally different prospect in normal conditions, but we were lucky enough to walk it after a prolonged period without rain! Jammy for us, we were able to walk not sink across the boggy bits, and had time to admire the view and the lovely waterfall en route. We’d been remarking how surprised we were not to have seen anyone else on the march, but then down on the banks of the River Pean we came across a big encampment - just packing up after what looked like a bit of a night on the Jack Daniels! We encountered our only major bit of swamp making our way through the trees to join the forest track, headed east to the remains of the settlement at Strathan. At the ‘Y’ junction some walkers opt for the southern route up Glen Dessery, sticking to the forest track and passing the nice-looking bothy at A’ Chuil. We preferred the northern route because it was out in the open – in the sunshine – and so that some of us could make a detour uphill.
In Strathan - looking back the way we came

My Hubbie is fairly local to these parts [maybe why he has never understood my enthusiasm for climbing the munros] and he tells some amazing stories about an old guy who used to live up Glen Dessery. He was known as the Brochter [the Badger] and was a gamekeeper on the estate. He was known to take the odd ‘refreshment’.….One day he had just been driven home from a bar in Spean Bridge; right the way up Loch Arkaig on a single track road, and then some! The guy who’d driven him went back to the pub, and who should be sitting at the bar but the Brochter! Imagine his surprise! Turned out the clouds were down and a Forestry Commission helicopter, that had been working in the area, spotted the cottage and had landed. They asked the Brochter for directions back to Fort William, and he said “go down Loch Arkaig, turn right at Spean Bridge….tell you what, I’ll show you if you can drop me off in Spean Bridge”!…. I was smiling about that as we walked along Glen Dessery; trying to work out which house he might have lived in. Not the grand Glendessary Lodge, for sure!
Glen Dessery is long and broad with a nice wide river and interesting hills in the distance, but you don’t get a glimpse of the 3 munros for quite some time. Just nice to tramp along, enjoying the peace and quiet, miles from civilisation.
At Upper Glen Dessary - where you take to the hillside
After Upper Glendessary the track turned into a narrower path that hugged the side of the forest, and the southern slopes of Sgurr nan Coireachan and Garbh Chioch Mhor suddenly appeared, spread out like some alpine scene beyond the trees.
Sgurr nan Coireachan to the far right; the ridge to Garbh Chioch Mhor left of it in shadow
With our packs and the warm sunshine it was quite slow going but around 1 o’clock we had some lunch and the group split into 2 – the munro-baggers heading up the steepish southern ridge off Sgurr nan Coireachan, while the others opted to go low level to Lochan a Mhaim, where we could meet back up again. This is where the heavier rucksack became a bit more noticeable. I’d looked at ways of avoiding carrying everything to the summits but it added so much distance to the day it wasn’t worth it, and in fact it wasn’t that bad. The route up was a distinct little zig zag path avoiding the rocky outcrops, rising steadily to the top. We were noticing some dark cloud building up towards Kintail, and with the earlier warmth we weren’t surprised to hear thunder shortly afterwards and decided not to hang about celebrating the summit!
The munro bagger strikes again - On the top of Sgurr nan Coireachan

The stone wall that runs all the way along the ridge between the mountains is a marvel of someone’s determination! If the cloud had been down I would have found it comforting to be able to work our way along it, but we were lucky enough to see everything, even though there were now black clouds a plenty over Loch Quoich to our back, and the heavens burst open on us, distracting us from a really nice craggy ridge walk!
a fine ridge walk - if you aren't trying to get away from a thunderstorm!
dramatic storm clouds over Kintail
This time I saw the lighting shortly before the next thunder clap, and others who were coming towards us were debating whether they should continue in that direction. Looking west we were getting cracking views to Loch Nevis and more blue skies out towards the islands – beautiful.
Loch Nevis in the distance
Although Sgurr na Ciche was tantalisingly close across the bealach and the rain had already stopped, we decided that Garbh Chioch Mhor would be the end of our ridge walk today. Knowing our friends were probably sitting in a puddle at the bottom wondering if we were okay, we had to head down. We took the gully running out of Feadan na Ciche, which is the established route. After a hairy adventure in a narrower gully off another recent munro I was a bit sceptical at first, but it was fine – easy to work across the boulders and dot back and forth across the burn. There were some lovely wild flowers, and the warm sun came back out.
Like being in Corsica when the sun came out again!
I was looking longingly back at Sgurr na Ciche, but you’ve got to learn to let it go sometimes!
At the base of the crags we skirted left and followed the grassy terrace turning back towards the head of Glen Dessery, before we did a bit of cross-country to take us west towards the sparkling waters at Lochan a Mhaim.
Lochan a' Mhaim looking back to our descent
No sign of the others, but a young lad had the most perfect camping spot at the head of the lochan. Meandering along the valley beside the Faniskaig River we eventually came across the wayward pair, perched high above the river watching us. What? More uphill! Yes for some reason, a stalker’s path takes a route over a small hill - to avoid a river gorge I think. Normally it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but after our earlier exertions a bit of grumbling was not surprising! We were soon catching glimpses of Loch Nevis sparkling in late afternoon light which urged us on though, and there were signs of activity with a bonfire going on the shore. All downhill now towards the bothy at Sourlies – our destination for the 2nd night. There was quite a crowd there already, but plenty room for us as well. Tents were soon up and dinner on the stove. It’s amazing how good a rehydrated chilli con carne can taste after a long day on the hills!
The shore of Loch Nevis at last!
Campsite nr 2 beside Sourlies

The next day the others headed off on the last leg of the trip to reach Inverie, but I had other ideas! The day was looking gorgeous again and I knew that it was too good a chance for me to miss a crack at Sgurr na Ciche before I went. So leaving the tent, with bottles of water and various bars stuffed in my pockets, and other essentials slung from my belt, I headed straight up the side of the hill behind Sourlies and up the long ridge towards the summit.

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Looking back from the ridge above Sourlies across Loch Nevis
Looking back I could see my tiny ant-like friends winding their way across the saltmarsh below. Sgurr na Ciche looks at its best from the west – a sharp pointy peak, standing out from its neighbours, still with a tantalising wisp of cloud along its shoulder.
Sgurr na Ciche reveals herself!
There wasn’t an obvious path but I caught snatches of one here and there, and route-finding was easy enough avoiding unnecessary detours over the knobbly bits and steadily aiming for the peak. The last few hundred metres involved scrambling steeply up between the crags, but, skirting eastwards I suddenly topped a rise and another solo female walker was heading up the proper path towards me; the summit was just a few steps away!
On the summit of Sgurr na Ciche - Garbh Chioch Mhor beyond
Always nice to meet another woman out walking on their own and exchange stories! We walked back down the boulder gully together then she headed off down yesterday’s route while I carried on down the big empty valley of the Coire na Ciche, eventually picking up the superb stalker’s path that joined the valley below the Lochans, close to where we’d met our friends yesterday. Trotting part of the way to make up time, I was conscious that I still had to pack up the tent, skirt the bay with the tide now in, and then head over the high pass to Inverie.
back at Sourlies
Back at the camp I came across 2 red deer standing in the lagoon to cool down! They seem unflustered by humans – one of them had spent the evening snuffling round the camp site, clip-clopping over the stones on the beach – I was quite expecting it to join me in the tent on a mission to find food! I wonder if he was responsible for the massive number of ticks I managed to gather along this trip! Anyway, packed up and off by about 2. Yep, the tide was high so I had to go over part of the headland, but it was only a minor deviation from the shoreline – far easier than I’d expected from reading some of the other walk reports! The walk across the marsh had looked easy looking down from my early morning vantage point, but no obvious path that I found. I met someone going the other way though who said the bridge was near the trees, so I headed over, but ended up just fording the river which seemed easy after so little rain. The guy had told me there was a lovely series of pools that you cross en route to the big hill climb, and with the hot sun beating down it was too much to resist a dip!
my private plunge pool with special view [no extra charge]
Unfortunately I was conscious the others were expecting me but no down time had been factored into the ETA so I didn’t want to hang about too long. The climb over the pass from Carnoch towards Inverie is a killer! Well it is with a big rucksack and in the heat! Two thirds of another munro! It took some time!!
Over the pass at last and then another long tramp, dropping gradually back down to meet the wide meanders of the Inverie River. I could see the large monument on the hillside outside Inverie for some distance, and it made a good goal to aim for.
nearly there!
Some lovely woodlands along the route, the river was inviting, there was a nice bothy and an interesting bridge…but by this point I was just keen to get to the campsite and put my pack down! It seemed to take forever to get there from the edge of Inverie – I could see the tents along the shore, but you had to skirt round the top of the village and walk down through the community wood, past some houses and eventually you made it! Half six, and only half an hour after the expected time – not bad! And there was a big communal fire, cups of tea and a celebratory rehydrated curry to mark the end of a fabulous walk!
The final destination!

3 glorious days of sunshine [we’ll skip the thunder storm], 3 nights camping [with good sleeps], 3 munros [tick tick tick – no, not that sort!], and the company of 3 old friends [not in age you understand]! A walking trip doesn’t get much better than that!

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Location: near Culross
Activity: Munro compleatist
Pub: Ubiquitous Chip in 1980s
Mountain: Slioch
Place: Back of Keppoch Arisaig
Gear: Rab lightweight fleece
Member: none just now
Ideal day out: Accompanied by friends. Cycle in up gentle green valley. Climb up spur or stalkers track. 2 or 3 tops connected by good ridge walk interspersed with scrambles. Clear views from top. Fast route down to babbling stream. Splash in cool water in the heat of a sunny afternoon. Nice bar or tea shop at the end. Bath.

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