Corbetts: Beinn na h-Uamha, Sgurr Dhomhnuill
Grahams: Sgurr a'Chaorainn
Date walked: 14/07/2019
Time taken: 8.5 hours
Feeling like I'd regenerated well after last week's Deeside trip, and with the weather looking better the further west I'd go on Sunday, I decided to take my first steps in Ardgour, now that I had the map and was able to venture past Loch Linnhe. Given that my start and finish point would have to be Corran, I decided on a simple-looking circuit up Glen Gour and down Glen Scaddle, with a couple Corbetts and a Graham in between. Originally, I'd wanted to extend the route to include Carn na Nathrach too, however I was forced to let go of that as it wasn't feasible as a one-day trip. Perhaps next time (although likely not via Glen Scaddle - more on that later).
Waking up was rough, to say the least. Between coming back from work around 1 AM and having to be at the bus station at 4:45, I couldn't have snoozed for more than an hour. I was nodding off on the bus for a while, but between that and a soft bed, there's no comparison. In Glasgow, I only had 5 minutes to change buses, so with the connection not guaranteed, I was only allowed to buy a ticket for the 8:30 bus, not the 6:50 one; fortunately, the first bus was on time and the second one's driver was understanding and let me in. After a couple more hours of snoozing (and trying to get some breakfast in), the bus approached Inchree; as I'd been unsure if I'd make the connection, I'd brought the Glen Coe map along just in case, and it turned out to be quite useful in letting me know when to get off of the bus. A short ferry ride later, during which the breeze (faintly smelling of the sea) hopefully woke me up, the walk could begin, just before 10 AM.
The initial stretch of road between where public transport can take me and where proper walking begins is never the most pleasant, but the weather was as good as promised, and the surprisingly well-maintained strip of grass along the right side of the A861 meant avoiding cars was no hassle, so I reached Sallachan in what seemed like no time at all. Crossing the Gour, I turned right onto the main track up Glen Gour - a track guarded by a gate with an ominous warning...
As several other reports have pointed out, the track is going through an identity crisis where it's trying to become one with the swamp in many places, especially where it's hugging Loch nan Gabhar; fortunately, the more watery bits can often be bypassed without much trouble, and where the track is dry it gives good going, so the miles were still going by pretty fast. Due to all the water, there were tons of dragonflies everywhere, and sometimes I could see frogs hopping off of the track in front of me. I also found the bull - luckily, he didn't find me, or he and the other cows didn't think I'd be worth the effort; it was positively roasting, and I couldn't wait to gain some altitude to enter some cooler air, as there wasn't to be much wind to speak of on this day.
The official route recommends ascending Beinn na h-Uamha via Stob an Uillt Dharaich, however, the descent route mentions the track fording the Gour, which I decided to use as I wasn't planning to return the same way. Although this is not drawn on the map, after making a sharp turn just behind the mouth of Allt Daraich, the track fords the Gour and continues up the glen along its left bank. On foot, it isn't the easiest of river crossings, but it still can be done without wading. Once on the other side, I left the track and started ascending the grassy slopes. Although being more than 6 km from the shore, I've barely gained 50 metres of altitude, meaning I had to do practically all of Beinn na h-Uamha's barely-Corbett 762 metres in a single pull.
The lower slopes are bumpy and covered in tall grass which gives way underfoot; the initial going was surprisingly difficult and it was disheartening to be winded so soon with so little gained. Luckily, later on as the slope turned steeper, the grass became shorter and provided more support for the shoe, making for one happier hillwalker.
I was slowly making my way up, checking my altitude against Beinn Bheag on the other side of the glen; however, this method of measuring can be awfully inaccurate, and on this day in particular I was getting ahead of myself quite a lot, believing myself to be higher up than I was actually. The fact that Beinn na h-Uamha has its fair share of false summits wasn't helping matters, and even when the slope eased off, the true summit initially appeared way too far over a stretch of ground that was once again a little boggier - nothing that can't be bypassed without difficulty, though. And despite everything else, I found myself on the summit within the time limit, if more exhausted than I'd expected.
The route between Beinn na h-Uamha and Sgurr a' Chaorainn crosses undulating terrain with more ascent required than would be expected of a simple way down from a summit to a col, which itself is further than it might appear and I could see it getting pretty boggy in wetter conditions. From then on, it was a short push until the summit of Sgurr a' Chaorainn; unlike the ascent before, the summit of Sgurr a' Chaorainn is visible pretty much the whole way, and looking back at the ridge towards Beinn na h-Uamha gives the impression that the lost altitude is regained quickly.
It's interesting to note that although Sgurr a' Chaorainn is only 1 metre lower than Beinn na h-Uamha, the former is a Graham while the latter is a Corbett. It certainly would've been a fun walk had the two truly been the last of the Corbetts and the first of the Grahams, just some 3 km apart; alas, with Mull's Beinn Talaidh in between and stealing the #1 Graham position for itself, perhaps this area now gets less attention than it would've otherwise.
Looking back, here is where I should've stayed on the ridge and descended well into Bealach Mam a' Bhearna. Instead, I set off NW diagonally across the steep northern slopes of Sgurr a' Chaorainn, thinking it would be faster. Normally, descending steep slopes like this is okay with me, but something about this one... it was far too wet for how steep it was, and overall I was having trouble guessing where I can and can't afford to place my feet, meaning I was a lot slower on the descent than I would've liked, putting strain on my schedule. I also ended up crossing Abhainn Ghleann Mhic Phail some way NE and a good 20 metres under the bealach, but that was nothing in the scope of the day's overall ascent.
There's a line of fenceposts leading up Sgurr na h-Ighinn from the bealach, but I decided to tackle the slope from where I was; it didn't seem like the going would've been any easier over there. It was mostly hard grassy going with some scrambling required here and there, difficult not only physically but also mentally as I had to reach the same altitude for the third time that day, Sgurr na h-Ighinn joining Sgurr a' Chaorainn and Beinn na h-Uamha at the Graham-Corbett border at 766 metres. From there, it was a short drop to the col under Sgorr Domhnuill.
I picked up a faint path on the way up from the col, following it for a while as it snuck up Sgorr Domhnuill, turning slightly anti-clockwise, but as I kept losing and finding it, I decided not to bother and simply head up for the top. At 888 metres, Sgorr Domhnuill is the highest point in Ardgour, and the summit is marked by a highest point-worthy stone jacuzzi to provide wind shelter - except in the absence of wind, it was sporting a swarm of midges floating above, so I decided to go eat my lunch elsewhere. The midges didn't follow me, fortunately. Interestingly, I'd seen the very same thing on Beinn na h-Uamha, with midges guarding the summit cairn and not straying far from it. Is this evidence of human-triggered evolution? Have the midges figured out that cairns are what hillwalkers aim for, and are now concentrating their efforts on those instead of scouring everywhere?!
When I'm hillwalking alone, I rarely eat proper meals on the hills, usually saving them for the bus / train rides, but this time I made an exception. Having cooked a batch of pierogi the day before, I sat down on a midge-free rock, opened the container, and enjoyed. They were a bit plain and dry, but the views around added a flavour unattainable at home
A little fuller, I started my descent down the E shoulder of Sgurr Domhnuill; after the initial steep part, this was a pleasant, grassy ridgewalk, and while the altitude wasn't dropping really fast, the going was quick. Around the point where the shoulder splits in two, I startled a herd of deer into descending into Gleann Mhic Phail, in a direction I later took myself, aiming for a path said to follow the stream. This was a typical pathless descent down a grassy slope, but with the grass growing taller lower down, checking for ticks would definitely be required later, even though I was wearing long trousers. The glen got boggier the closer I got to the stream, but fortunately, the path has been visible throughout and though I am very proficient at missing the path, this one was obvious enough that I could find and follow it down to where Abhainn Ghleann Mhic Phail joins Allt Gleann na Cloiche Sgoilite. Further down, the path started getting boggy, but it stayed visible enough to follow.
Now, I remembered that I had to ford the other stream. However, if I had checked the map before the fording (and not after, when I couldn't find where the path was on the other side), it would've shown me that the path backs up the stream for a while before crossing it. This led to a fording that didn't need to be nearly as awkward as it was; fortunately, I didn't fall into the stream - although with the temperature back to roasting as I was once again below 150 metres, I might've welcomed the cooling. I did use the opportunity to plunge my hat into the stream, though.
On the left side of the stream - which becomes River Scaddle from now on - the path improves, and when a shelter is reached, turns into a track heading down Glen Scaddle. After about 45 minutes, I reached the place where this track crossed the Scaddle again, heading up the forestry on the other side. It was there where I made the decision that... I'm still not sure if it was a good one or a bad one, but it impacted how I now feel about this hike in a big way.
The schedule I'd set for myself was pretty tight and should've seen me arrive just in time for the 19:00 ferry - the one I absolutely had to catch. From the bridge, I had 2 options: continue down Glen Scaddle and then reach Corran on the road, or take the shortcut via Druim na Sgriodain and bag a second Graham; interestingly, both options looked equal when it came to the time required. At this point, I was around 10 minutes behind schedule, and figured I didn't have it in me to go through 700 more metres of ascent, especially if I had to be faster than the estimated time. With that decision in mind, I decided not to continue on the track - which after crossing the Scaddle climbs up to ~150 metres to the point from which I'd hoped to follow Dearg Allt upwards - but venture onto the path, drawn to stay close to the river before eventually fording it and joining with another path contouring it similarly on the opposite bank.
If you're thinking about taking the shortcut here: don't. Compared to the Glen Gour track, this path had all the bad and hardly any of the good. It was boggy, overgrown with grass, and kept disappearing. I was waving off flies, and had to walk right past a herd of cows that didn't look too thrilled about me being there. I tried to identify the point where I should cross the Scaddle, but was unable to as everything on the left looked pretty much the same (and I feel like I was looking much further into the map than where I actually was), so I just crossed it where it looked feasible - not that the path on the other side was any better. The going was painfully slow and not any easier for it. When I rejoined the track, and realised how far I still have to go down the glen, I came to the horrible realisation that I wasn't making it, which might've been the lowest point of my Scottish hillwalking experience so far. I've had situations where I had to run the last bit, but this was more than that. If I could run for an hour straight, perhaps I could still save this - but there was no way I'd manage. I'd have to rely on hitchhiking.
Long story short: I reached the road, 6 kilometres from the ferry, with some 35 minutes to go. After walk-running about a kilometre, I managed to stop a car and got a ride to the ferry. (Incidentally, the older couple, whom I am hugely indebted to, were the first humans I'd seen since Sallachan, which was a massive surprise; yes, there was Wimbledon, Formula 1, and Tour de France, but it was still a July Sunday with exquisite weather - I'd expected the hills to be packed.) The ferry, the bus, and the second bus all ran on time, and I came home safely, making the hike a success. It just didn't feel like it.
Perhaps it's a matter of pride, and a blow to my ego that what I'd expected to finish using my own strength, I couldn't. But it was different in that there's no relying on hitchhiking, the way I could rely on a bus. There was no telling if a car would go my way, or if it would take me on. What's more, it was all down to my own stupid decision up by that bridge. Ascent or not, I'm pretty sure if I'd just followed the track, I would've been easily 15-20 minutes faster - and those would've made all the difference. On the other hand, had I gone for Druim na Sgriodain, I wouldn't have been sloshing around in the bog. But had I realised up on the summit that I was out of time, there would've been no outside help available whatsoever; as infrequent as traffic is on the A861 north of Corran, successfully hitchhiking a helicopter is still less probable. Looking at the S/SE slopes of Sgurr na h-Eanchainne, there would've been no running down those even if I'd wanted to. I would've messed up for good.
A day of two Corbetts and a Graham is always a victory. This one just tasted particularly bittersweet.
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- Munros: 37
- Corbetts: 18
- Grahams: 15
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- Trips: 1
- Distance: 33.8 km
- Ascent: 1736m
- Corbetts: 2
- Grahams: 1
- Joined: Jul 08, 2019
- Last visited: Aug 25, 2019
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