System shock on Meall Eilde, Geal Charn and Ben Tee

Corbetts: Ben Tee, Geal Charn (Arkaig), Meall na h-Eilde

Date walked: 19/04/2024

Meall na h Eilde & Geal Charn
20km; 1180m; 7h 30m

A WH meet blessed by good weather?

No, surely not. It’s bound to break.

So, with the sky clear on the Friday afternoon it was time to strike while the iron was hot – well, not wet and claggy anyway. Meall na h Eilde and Geal Charn, the pair of Corbetts, at the eastern end of Loch Arkaig, was planned as being the longest outing for the weekend, originally on my agenda for the Saturday. Easing the legs into action with a relatively easy Friday on Ben Tee had been envisaged

However, a prolonged absence from the hills meant I suspected there were insufficient hill-miles in my legs. Since last September all I’d done was make a plodding chilly (and unreported) November ascent of Beinn Maol Chaluim in Glen Etive. Then this year I sauntered up The Merrick in March. The latter took a week for me to recover and resulted in the first case of blisters for years. The other half muttered something about “age.” However, I was unwilling to be persuaded.
But on Friday, the sun was out, I was there, and the weather promised no guarantees for the remainder of the weekend. Go for it.
I guess this report really starts here - above Glen Etive last November ...

... with spectacular skies above Beinn Maol Chaluim ...

... and one of my favourite views, The Merrick from Benyellary ...

... looking north up the Ayrshire coast from the top - but, as my normal go-to first hill of the year, I was a little late in March - hence the weary legs ahead.

The car park by the Eas Chia-aig waterfalls was a hive of activity, but no-one appeared to be walking. A dozen students were juggling cars, canoes, wetsuits, and a van while arguing about the logistics of having enough space in at least one mode of transport to prevent anyone from having to return on foot along the road, let alone swim. As I left them to it, a couple of them stood on the bridge looking at the two cascades. Surely not, I thought.
The Eas Chia-aig waterfalls - a potential challenge for some?

And so began the long walk-in.
A forest track that goes on ... and on ... and on ... before Meall na h Eilde appears in the distance

While not an inspiring walk, at least it gobbled up the distance and got the legs working, accompanied by the soporific and rhythmic sound of gravel underfoot. The track petered-out into a twisting forest path once the hydro dam had been passed and I declined the opportunity to make an early crossing of the Abhainn Chai-aig.
But looking back the atmospheric view of The Ben couldn't have been more impressive.

First a stile ...

... and then a bridge gives access to the slopes above - I decided to give Meall an Tagraidh, on the right, a miss quite early on.

Emerging from the woodland, scrunch turned to squelch. Then the unforgiving steepness to the Bealach an Easain began. So much for the walk-in getting the legs and lungs going. This proved to be as shattering as I’d feared and is best left to a dark corner of memory to remain undisturbed.
Above the bealach, it still took time for the gradient to relent. Hauling on the occasional rusting fence post gave some relief, alongside the inevitable excuse for the increasingly frequent photo stops.
The east ridge of Meall na h Eilde teased with a frustrating succession of false horizons. With each breather I could hear the hill chuckle.
“Got you again, you don’t learn, do you.”
Looking northwest from Meall na h Eilde ...

... and out towards Knoydart from Meall Coire nan Saobhaidh

But, at least the worst was over. Now the undulating pleasure of striding over the intervening hump of Meall Coire nan Saobhaidh and across to Geal Charn could be enjoyed. Well, almost enjoyed. Inevitably, the first twinges of cramp in my left thigh took the edge off the experience. I drank, gobbled peanuts, drank some more, ate a banana, drank yet more and was almost reduced to licking the salt from the empty peanut packet to keep the pain at bay.
Trig point on Geal Charn - and letting the pain subside.

A rest and doze by the cairn on Geal Charn were the most effective remedy before facing what looked like being a lengthy trudge back to the car. The path heading down the eastern side of the Gleann Tarsuinn could be clearly seen etched in the hillside. From the dry summit surroundings, the southeast shoulder of Geal Charn looked like it led to a bit of a bog-fest before anything firm underfoot could be reached. And I was not disappointed.
Down to Gleann Tarsuinn and the way back to Loch Arkaig below Glas Bheinn.

Unfortunately, the track itself didn’t make for a gentle stroll back to the shores of Loch Arkaig. Part stream, part bog and rarely even for more than a few yards at a time, meant that stubbed toes and jarred knees a-plenty were self-inflicted as I tried to relax and lost concentration. At least I didn’t measure my length while taking-in the views. Kilometre by kilometre slowly passed and the track gradually improved as height was lost.
West along Loch Arkaig ...

... and the final stroll back to the car.

There then remained the loch-side stroll back to the carpark where the canoeists had long-since disappeared.

Ben Tee
10km; 935m; 6h

My training day was now my recovery day.
As fellow Walkhighlanders headed for bigger things and Munros further afield, I was grateful to face Ben Tee alone. This was going to be a low-gear day, a steady plod, that ought not be inflicted on fitter company who would be champing at the bit.
The start from Kilfinnan could be described as brutal from the start. Well, it is if you miss the path and decide to take the full-frontal attack on the slope that begins as soon as you step from the newly established car parking area. When I first walked from here there was a pull-in for a handful of cars across the road from the farm and scattered agricultural machinery to deter visitors from parking. The hydro work has certainly changed things, and one wonders how much more will change as the work progresses.
Ben Tee peeps out - a first glimpse once the slog emerging from the slope up from Kilfinnan has been negotiated.

An alpine looking Ben looms in the distance.

Having opted to cross the deer fence above too far to the east, I also missed the path that skirted the gorge above the Kilfinnan Falls. As a result, crossing the so-called “featureless rising moorland” became a bit of a bog-hopping lottery to begin with. However, once I stumbled across an area of ground strangely cleared of vegetation, I was reunited with something approximating a path.
Sron a Choire Ghairbh and Ben Tee on the other side of "featureless rising moorland" - and a stile too far east from where I should have been.

“Soft Ground” was the warning attached to a post in the middle, that could be read only once you’d got there. But by then you’d already got the gist. Was that their disclaimer, I wondered, for anyone lost without trace as they disappear below the surface to be discovered by an archaeological dig after a millennium has passed?
Anyway, the second steep stage of the day lay ahead. Take slow, small steps I was taught. Keep moving forward. Some wags call it “active recovery.” “Oxy” or “moron”? An hour later I knew which part of the word I agreed with.
It must rate as the slowest I’ve climbed a hill for a long time, but I didn’t care. The views cast their own conclusions on the pessimistically low forecast of cloud-free Munros. Once on the top there was a 360 degree view of every one that it was possible to see. A leisurely lunch, a snooze, and an hour or so had been spent simply being there. This was what it was all about: enjoying not enduring.
Slowly reaching the summit cairn of Ben Tee ...

... and looking east across Loch Lochy.

While retracing steps down to the “Soft Ground” the view of Coire Glas prompted thoughts about how it might change over the next few years. Has someone got a time-lapse photography project sorted out that will trace the evolution of the landscape? I know there are no villages or communities to be drowned, but having recently seen photographs of the Ladybower Reservoir swamping Ashopton and Derwent, I know that things will look very different as time passes.
I suspect I’ll return on occasions to see how the landscape changes and what impact the work will have. I’m now off to read more about the plans and see what the future holds.
Down into Coire Glas - wondering what the future will look like.

By then, I’ll hopefully have retrieved a degree of hill fitness that at the moment is sadly lacking.

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old danensian

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