Stalking the stalkers on Sgor na h-Ulaidh

Route: Sgòr na h-Ulaidh and Meall Lighiche

Munros: Sgòr na h-Ulaidh

Date walked: 13/09/2021

Distance: 16km

I'd had my eye on Sgor na h-Ulaidh for a while, assuming I'd do it from Glencoe. Then I read bobble hat kenny's report of doing it from Glen Etive, which didn't look as steep. I dithered about it but in the end camping in Glencoe with other half who doesn't do hills swayed the decision towards the Glen Etive approach. I'd be doing it solo so if there was an easier way to go, my thinking was that was the way for me. So a big thanks to bobble hat kenny for his helpful photos, route and comments.

Not wanting to leave Pete stuck without transport I suggested he drop me off at Invercharnan and return to meet me at a time estimated allowing for possible eventualities - although I didn't foresee the eventuality it turned out to be!

Started from Invercharnan in Glen Etive

We had a leisurely start and Pete dropped me off around 9.30. I was glad I didn't have to leave the car as someone from the hydro building scheme appeared as soon as we stopped on the patch of ground just north of the bridge, to ask us not to park there due to turning lorries. Since it was the only off road parking space I could see this could have posed a problem. I chatted briefly to another workman to check the hydro track I could see just over the bridge was the one on my map, which it was. I kept Keira on the lead as we passed a small village of workmen's huts and toilets and hoped there wouldn't be too many passing heavy vehicles. There weren't. Just a few stationary ones.

View back to the Bhuachailles from hydro track

Tractor and Ben Starav

Blue pipes to match the sky

Yellow digger

The track was easy walking and the felled area on the left allowed for good views of the hills ahead and back to Ben Starav.

Beinn Fhionnlaidh on left, Sgor h-Ulaidh further away on right

Ben Starav

There came a point where the wide track continued straight on and a smaller track went off at an acute angle to the right. I had a feeling that might be the way to go and walked along it for a few minutes but the turn didn't appear on the map I was following (unashamedly copied from BHK) and seemed to be taking me back the way I'd come so I abandoned it and returned to the main track which soon came to an abrupt end at a churned up muddy area. And it would have been worse if we'd not just had the driest summer on record.

Wooden pallets to aid vehicles across mud at end of hydro track

End of track

It had taken an hour to clear the forest, a time I noted for the return. I felt a frisson of excitement that now apart from a faint ATV track I was off piste and heading across unknown territory on my first solo Munro. I'd finished the occasional one on my own before but not set off alone from the start, making me wonder if I'd left it a bit late in the day to embark on solo Munro climbing!

Making for bealach between Sgor na h-Ulaidh and Meall a' Bhuiridh

The going was immediately slower with tracks fading out and picking what looked like the best line to traverse the side of Meall a' Bhuiridh. With burns carving their way down to the glen floor there were multiple ups and downs along the way. But a frequent supply of running water was good for keeping the dog cool, always a concern on those days when it's wall to wall sunshine.

Keira heading for waterfall

Labs have an unerring instinct for finding water

Ben Starav and Beinn Sgulaird

So far I'd not seen a soul since leaving the hydro workmen on the Glen Etive road. That suddenly changed when I saw five figures ahead of me. Where had they popped up from? With some dressed in tweeds they didn't look like hill walkers. Oh no, I'd completely forgotten to check about deer stalking and had gone and stumbled into a stalking party.

While four of them continued up Meall a' Bhuiridh, one was heading in my direction, something Keira wasn't best pleased about. While not being bothered about other walkers in our local woods she is deeply suspicious of men who suddenly appear on 'our' hillside, especially if she doesn't approve of their headgear. Predictably she didn't like his deerstalker hat and was quite vocal about it, while wagging her tail at the same time. Like saying "I don't wish you any serious harm but I don't like your hat". He was fortunately a dog savvy guy and as I apologised and put her on the lead, he said she was a good dog to react like that when a strange man approaches me on the hill!

He asked about my route so I showed him the map. He said if I kept going on that line I was heading for where the deer were and if these guys he had out with him didn't make a killing today it would be his fault. I said no, it would be my fault, not his. I mentioned I was doing the hill from this side as it looked less steep than the Glencoe approach, at which he said "Oh it's steep!" He'd been ten years in the glen and had only gone up Ulaidh recently from this side so was speaking from experience. He asked if I'd mind following them up the side of Meall a' Bhuiridh, which would take me by a less direct route to the bealach. Since I should have checked about stalking today and he was being so reasonable about it I couldn't possibly refuse.

Stalking the stalker

Which I did at a polite distance

View back improving all the time

Zoomed to pointy Ben Cruachan

Beinn Fhionnlaidh which I climbed from Glen Creran

I like the angles

Keira posing with our hill ahead

Following the stalkers was a new experience. I tried not to get too close or Keira would feel obliged to object to their hats and that wouldn't be good for sneaking up on the ill fated deer. But eventually I had to catch up as they had hunkered down among boulders overlooking the bealach and were tucking into their sandwiches. It struck me as funny that stalkers out for the kill would do something as homely as eat sandwiches.

At this point the man in charge said it was fine for me to go on ahead and pointed out the faint path starting up the other side of the bealach. Keira let the guys know she didn't like their hats and he told them to take their hats off, which I thought was a nice touch. I wished them a successful outcome (what a hypocrite) and dropped down into the bealach as nimbly as I could, aware these young guys would be wondering what an old cailleach like me was doing out on her own in a place like this.

Steep climb starts across the bealach

He was right about it being steep, but it was reassuring to find the fence posts which I followed over grass and rocks rather than by the crumbly looking path.

Looking for the fence posts

View south from bealach

Looking back at Meall a' Bhuiridh from helpful fence post

But this one was perched at top of a vertical rock wall

There was a way round to the left to avoid the vertical rock, which on the descent I had to backtrack a bit to find. It's not always so easy to spot obstacles on the way down. The climb wasn't as steep all the way up with a bit of respite before it steepened again for the rocky summit area. I tried not to delay apart from occasional breaks to take photos of the hazy views to the west.

Loch Creran

Zoomed to Mull

It had clouded over and as I neared the summit I had a slight sense of foreboding. I caught a glimpse of two other walkers disappearing in the direction of Stob an Fhuarain. I don't think they saw me. Apart from the stalkers they were the only sign of life I'd seen on the hill. I hadn't even see the deer waiting to be shot down below me. About an hour and a half after leaving the stalkers I heard a single shot ring out and hoped it was a clean kill.

The final ascent is rocky with a bit of weaving between boulders that leads to a massive cleft plunging down almost vertically, which the photo doesn't do justice to.

Split summit

Sunlit Bidean nam Bian above the cleft

There was a slight scramble next to and immediately above the cleft, which people clearly used. I started up it then had second thoughts. This would be tricky for Keira so I backtracked and found another way to the summit cairn that wasn't so exposed.

Sniffer dog checking cairn at Sgor na h-Ulaidh summit

Stob an Fhuarain on the Aonach Dubh a'Ghlinne ridge

Zoomed to Loch Leven and Glencoe village

I don't think I'd have enjoyed this hill so much without the dog's company. She's so tuned to me that very little has to be said - apart from when we meet men with questionable taste in the hat department!

Faithful companion

The views from the summit were glorious.

Loch Etive

Hills in north east

Hills in south east

I was careful leaving the summit to find the correct line. There were fence posts going off more directly west which beckoned me to follow... but if I'd gone that way would have led me astray. So I climbed back up to find the path I used for the ascent. It was steeper than it looks in the next photo, so I descended slowly and carefully, mind probably more focused on safety because I was alone and this side of the hill sees little footfall.

From the descent looking east towards crags of Beinn Maol Chaluim

Forest I'm heading for looks very far away

Back at the bealach and still the guiding posts

"Lead me to the rock that is higher than I" (Psalm 61)

That rock pointing upwards brought those words to mind but I couldn't remember where they were from until I looked it up later. I find being alone in the hills is a sure way to make me think of deeper things, humbled by the beauty all around.

I didn't take any more photos after that one but concentrated on finding the most efficient route back to the hydro track at the edge of the forest. The delay with the stalkers meant I was behind schedule and needed to get a shift on to reach the road at the time I'd told Pete I'd be there. Ideally I wanted to arrive before that so I could start walking along the road to meet him.

The descent from the bealach was straightforward. Ironically it was on level ground at the bealach I had my only slip of the day - on mud, giving me a wet backside, which soon dried in the breeze. That breeze was also helpful in keeping midges at bay for the rest of the route. Nearing the forest I saw fresh wheel marks from the vehicle that had taken the stalking party up to where I first met them.

Once on the hydro track I got a good speed up and arrived at the Glen Etive road slightly ahead of time, so was able to walk along the road to meet Pete, the icing on the cake of a brilliant day. My first fully solo Munro - just me and my dog.

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