Watershed of Scotland Part 11 b Out of the Rough Bounds

Date walked: 16/11/2018

Time taken: 3 days

Distance: 36.5km

Ascent: 3345m

Munros included
Maol Chinn-Dearg
Sgurr a'Mhaoraich
Creag nan Damh
Sgurr an Lochain
Sgurr an Doire Leathain

Corbetts included
Sgurr a'Bhac Chaolais

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3 months! Seriously I had hoped to be leaving the Rough Bounds at the end of June and I had been stuck (metaphorically) at the mast on the wrong end (wrong end that is if you have no transport) of the Kinlochhourn road for 3 months since August 26th when I bailed out in foul conditions. Then, I was fortunate to get a lift from the last hill walkers to leave that day, the only ones left! More than once I have wondered if I made the right decision, the weather lower down wasn’t that bad that day. Moreover, a little rain never hurt anyone but it was always the wind that concerned me. I have been offering up sacrifices (fortunately the neighbour’s cat, who had been missing for a few weeks turned up, whilst I was away so I wasn’t in the frame for that disappearance), somersaulting over fire and generally been very, very good in an attempt to please the weather gods and if you believe that you must also believe in fairies…. And the Loch Ness monster.
I have not been twiddling my fingers in the last 3 months, oh no. Whenever I had a run of 5 days to spare (and it transpired that I didn’t have many of those) I checked the forecast for the NW Highlands. It was depressingly similar; Rain, high winds 60-80mph severe buffeting. There were one or two sunny days but not the run I needed when I needed it. I walked everywhere to keep up my fitness and finally I was rewarded. Everything came together at once and didn’t it just. I had a window of 5 days with nothing in them, I checked the forecast, I checked that my neighbours could see to the hens and my cat (who hadn’t gone missing). I decided not to take the bus as my walk would start and finish in Glen Shiel so packed the van and set off on 15th November, planning a warm up walk on the way. I was 18 miles into the journey which involved passing through Aberdeen when I was snarled up in an hour-long traffic jam due to road works. The warm up walk became a tepid stroll up Foreman Hill but the views were awfie good.
I had hoped to eat at the Cluanie Inn as a last fling before camp food but found it closed and major building works going on. I realised that I have not been this road for many a year but The Cluanie was always a favourite stopping place after a long day on the hills. I have stayed there a couple of times and have fond memories of those stopovers so I hope the work is temporary. A number of hostelries have closed that could have been useful on my Watershed walk. First the Mosspaul then (less obviously) the pub in Greengairs, now the Cluanie Inn. I parked in a layby at NH044114, opposite the end of the stalkers path onto the S. Cluanie ridge near where the Wateshed crossed. Unfortunately, I slept badly.


ImageAscent of Maol Chinn-Dearg via Druim Coire nan Eirecheanach looking at Sgurr Coire na Feinne by Seal54, on Flickr

Despite the lack of sleep, I managed to get up and ready to set off by 08.00 a.m. To get back to where I left off in August I intended to walk from Glen Shiel by way of the stalkers path up Druim Coire nan Eirecheanach , over Maol Chinn-Dearg then down to Loch Quoich and along the road to the Watershed at NG971040. All-in-all almost 15km (9miles). I wasn’t too concerned if I was slow as I could walk along the road easily enough in the dark but in the event, I made good progress despite being distracted by a visitation at close quarters by not one but two golden eagles at the summit cairn of Maol Chinn-Dearg. It was a special moment and made my day. Two playful ravens also came by for a close look and to see if I had any scraps for them. I don’t and wouldn’t give them if I had. Everything seemed to come in pairs as next up were two ptarmigan, almost in full winter plumage which is not so good for them but fine for me as they were easily spotted. On the descent to Alltbeithe I even came across a late lousewort, hanging on in there, showing how mild (but wet and windy) it has been so far but there was only one of those

ImageLooking west along South Cluanie Ridge by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageTwo Eagles by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageSummit Maol Chinn-Dearg by Seal54, on Flickr

Alltbeithe has something looking like a airstrip built next to it. There is also a new track on the east side of the arm of Loch Quoich that penetrates here. Presumably to do with hydro works but ugly and intrusive..

Imageindustrialisation at Alltbeithe by Seal54, on Flickr
The day had been overcast and windy although the latter was less of a problem than I anticipated but I hadn’t met anyone out walking. Then, 1/2 mile down the road, I met two (there is that number again) young men who had walked from Glenfinnan over the preceding four days. They were clear that they wanted civilisation and no more big hills or bogs. They didn’t know about the landslips further east on the Kinlochhourn road and had been hoping for a lift out. I wasn’t certain whether the road was open but they were adamant that they would not follow my advice and head over Maol Chinn- Dearg. I hope they got their lift beyond the slip.

ImageThe crossing of the road (where the Watershed goes) by Seal54, on Flickr

I camped on the Watershed but above the power line. If they were prone to coming down I didn’t want to be underneath them. It was a beautiful night. As the sun went down the moon rose and the cloud cleared leaving the stars to twinkle clearly. It was quite mild and I sat in the door of my tent feeling at one with my surroundings picking out the constellations that were visible despite the strong moonlight.

Imagemoody skies and moon by Seal54, on Flickr

The wind had appeared to have dropped but this turned out to be temporary and although I had felt sheltered from it when I pitched it soon showed me otherwise. It roared and battered its way around the tent all night and I got little sleep. The tent was solid enough with its back to this onslaught but it was the noise that kepot me awake. I wanted to be up and away at first light and given that I couldn’t sleep I did just that. This was the 2nd such night of patchy rest and I felt washed out as I set off up Meall an Uilt Bhain at 07.20. Venus shone brightly to the east until the sun rose.

ImageSunrise by Seal54, on Flickr

The going was steep and rough and as the views opened up I didn’t need much encouragement to stop and turn round to look at them.
ImageSgurr nan Eugallt. Ladhar Bheinn and Loch Hourn by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageLooking to Sgurr nan Eugallt and Konydart beyond by Seal54, on Flickr

From this viewpoint Sgurr na Ciche looks less of a witch’s hat and more of a fedora than when it is viewed directly east or west. Ben Aden had metamorphosed from being a giant lizard to being a hunchbacked, bristly caterpillar.

ImageLooking back to Sgurr na Ciche and Ben Aden by Seal54, on Flickr

Then there was a big reveal moment on Sgurr a’Mhaoraich Beag when the views to the west and north popped out over a bluff. I couldn’t see the end of Loch Hourn below me but if anyone had asked me even a few years ago to say where the Watershed of Scotland went I would never have put it this close to the western seaboard less than 3km away. The nearest point of the eastern seaboard is 66km at the Beauly Firth. The most westerly title goes to Sgurr a Choire Beithe but its summit is about 3.5 km from mean high water on the western seaboard, whilst Loch Hourn’s more easterly ingress ensures that Sgurr Mhaoraich Beag is nearer. No wonder that the rivers on this side are mere threads compared to the likes of the Rivers Spey, Tay and Forth.

ImagePanorama looking north from Sgurr a'Mhaoraich Beag by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageSgurr a' Mhaoraich Beag panorama by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageLoch Hourn Fron Sgurr a'Mhaoraich Beag by Seal54, on Flickr

Sgurr Mhaoraich was just a short hop away and I was able to drop my bag for the last 50 metres to the summit. This was a calendar Munro summit as well as my 2nd ascent of this pleasant hill, the last time in August 2002 in warm sunny conditions. This hill also marks the 22nd Munro on the Watershed. Peter Wright lists 44 Munros on the Watershed and 24 Corbetts. In fact since he wrote "The Ribbon of Wildness" one former Munro has been demoted to Corbett status so there are 21 Munros and 9 Corbetts left for me to cross plus many other fine hills. I do not want to tick them off but I am conscious that the bigger hills are starting to run out so here is a fine excuse to take my time... not that I could speed up even if I wanted to.
After the steep ascent, I took some of that time to absorb the breath-taking views. Most prominent was the South Cluanie Ridge, the row of tops looking like pegs on a giant washing line supporting the hills billowing out below. The cone of Ben Tee distinct to the east but I could not make out the Creag Meagaidh Window. The hulk of Ben Nevis looking like a wave about to break over Carn Mor Dearg and then there were all the hills in between. The light and shadow enhanced the fine features of Ladhar Bheinn, Gairich , Spidean Mealach and Gleoraich. The there was Skye as well. Despite my tiredness the hills made me feel alive and buzzing with their beauty and grandeur. “Wild thing, you make my heart sing!”

ImageLoch Hourn from Sgurr a'Mhaoraich by Seal54, on Flickr

ImagePanorama looking south on Sgurr a'Mhaoraich by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageThe S Cluanie ridge from Sgurr a'Mhaoraich by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageAcross Loch Quoich to Gairich withThe Ben beyond. by Seal54, on Flickr

After collecting my rucksack, I negotiated the short descent to Bealach a Coire Chaorainn with care. It was steep and eroded, with loose rocks all ready to detach themselves and to take me down slope far quicker than I would like. The bealach is a mere step across before a steeper but shorter ascent took me onto the western end of the ridge out to Am Bathaich.

ImageLadhar Bheinn and Loch Hourn from Bealach Coire a'Chaorainn by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageEnd of Am Bathaich ridge by Seal54, on Flickr
I felt that I was making better progress but I was also relishing in the clear day and fine views. The illusion of better progress was short-lived as the wind which had been mostly absent during my ascent started hitting me on the right-hand side as I progressed up the sloping ridge out to Sgurr Thionail. I am began to feel like a bit of pegged out washing myself as I struggled against it with worry about my intended campsite tonight blunting some of my enjoyment. "Blowin' in the Wind" I could see that the route across Bealach Coire Sgoireadail and up towards Sgurr a’Bhac Chaolais had plenty of lumps and bumps that could offer shelter which was reassuring. I did have until Monday and in these conditions who wouldn’t want to delay as long as the wind dropped a bit.

ImageSgurr Thionail by Seal54, on Flickr

I took my time. I picked out hills. It was truly wonderful with virtually no intrusion from manmade structures. The pylons were long gone and from the summit of Sgur a Mhaoraich Beag had looked insignificant (but they supply Skye and parts of Harris with their electricity as I found out in the news of the landslip so the populace there will not find them insignificant). There were windfarms to the east but even they didn’t detract too much particularly from views to the south, west and north. I also couldn’t see the scars around Alltbeithe. My eyes were drawn to the positive sights and avoided the few scars that could have intruded.

ImageView down Loch Hourn to Ladhar Bheinn Sgritheal on the right by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageView from Sgurr Thionail over Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais towards Sgurr na Signe and The Saddle, by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageView of S Cluanie Ridge and down Easter Glen Quoich from Sgurr Thionail by Seal54, on Flickr

The first part of descent from Sgurr Thionail is to be taken with care, lots of loose skittery rocks masquerading as something more solid. Half way down there is a bright blue lochan and then the remnants of a stalkers path which I constantly mislaid, but the going iwas much easier.

ImageSapphire lochan Coire Sgoireadail by Seal54, on Flickr

Across the bealach there is a sprinkling of lochans, shadows growing across them but with Loch Bealach Coire Sgoireadail looking particularly blue and inviting, still in full sun. Should I stop for a swim? Before then though, a chattering and flash of black and white drew my attention to a small group of snow bunting, flitting from rock to rock below me. They moved off round the shoulder and I didn’t see them again.

ImageLoch Bealach Coire Sgoireadail by Seal54, on Flickr

I also started to hear the unmistakable sound of rutting deer. The wind had lessened as I was sheltered from its blast by Sgurr Thionail’s bulk but I had no doubt that it would re-appear in more exposed spots. Having noted the absence of the sound of rutting deer yesterday I wondered if instead of the bellowing of the wind tonight, I would be kept awake by the bellowing of the stags. More immediately I had a dilemma. Should I stop for the night with still plenty of daylight and certain shelter behind one of the many knolls in the bealach or should I press on and risk wind buffeting the tent on the ridge.? My lack of sleep was catching up and the thought of a refreshing dip and a bit of a laze was an easy winner (when is it not?). It wasn’t difficult to find a spot out of the wind but I had come round the shallow side of Loch Bealach Coire Sgoireadail where there were more obvious camping spots. I was impatient and worried that the loch was going to lose the sun before I got in so I stayed on the shallow side and had more of a splash than a dip but re-invigorating for all that. This was far more preferable than heading off up to Sgurr Bhac Chaolais but with only a 1/3rd of the way back to the van completed would leave me a lot to do the next day.I spent the time sorting out my bag before having an early tea as I watched the sky darken into night with the stars twinkling on.

The 2/3rds full waxing moon meant that the full impact on the clear skies were lessened by its light. Nevertheless, on sleeping really well I woke pre-sunrise and post moonset and enjoyed the heavens above complete with milky way; one of the joys of wild camping far from man-induced light pollution. Neither wind or rutting stags had disturbed my slumber and I felt refreshed. Venus was again the last heavenly body to depart the lightening skies. I was on my way as soon as I could distinguish between black shadow and black peaty, feet gobbling pools. I prefer not to use a head torch as I find they reduce my outlook to a narrow beam of artificial light. The mosses and sedges crunched under my feet and ice fingered the edges of the lochans. A large stag appeared on an outcrop above me, apparently reluctant to move on. I slowly reached for my phone, he slowly started to move off and a hind appeared ahead of him. I suspect that I had interrupted something between these two. They disappeared before I got my shot.
The Watershed route goes up to a prominent but unnamed peak where the ridge that joins Buidhe Bheinn to Sgurr a’Bhac Chaolais turns NW. The first time I climbed Sgurr a’Bhac Chaolais, I came along this ridge having set off from Kinlochhourn. It was a good ridge, with rocky Bhuidhe Bheinn being the best part in my opinion. Today, I decided to cut the corner as it would save me half an hour (at my pace), half an hour that I may need at the end of the day. "Under Pressure" In my defence, I have walked this before and it was only a very small section of the ‘Shed (honest).

ImageMorning coming by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageIce by Seal54, on Flickr

Once the ridge was reached the views opened up and I started off on a roller coaster walk but at a somewhat slower pace than that particular fairground attraction. A dry stane dyke kept me company most of the way along, until I turned off the ridge back to the van. I hoped to be back there before it was too dark, figuring that it would take me about 40-60 minutes per peak, enough time to enjoy and photograph the never–ending views. The route today looks like a raggedy figure 2 and I headed west to the top of the 2 with Sgurr na Sgine and the ridges of The Saddle dominating above Sgurr a’Bhac Chaolais. Slightly further back the shadows on the northern corries of Beinn Sgritheall gave the impression that a giant pacman was devouring the hill. All day the sun shone on the southern slopes of the ridges whilst the northern flanks were in shadow. *Good Day Sunshine"

ImageAlpenglo on Sgurr na Signe, Pacman on Beinn Sgritheal. by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageView west from 815 point by Seal54, on Flickr

I found plenty of places where I could have camped, particularly on the first part of the Sgurr Bhac Chaolais ridge, with the dry stane dyke giving shelter. It still has some of the character of the Rough Bounds with ups and downs along the bumps and bubbles of the ridge but on a much tamer level.

ImageSunrise over Sgurr Thionail by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageSummit Selfie Sgurr a'Bhac Chaolais by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageSummit pano fomr Sgurr a Bhac Chaolais by Seal54, on Flickr

ImagePanorama Sgurr a'Bhac Chaolais by Seal54, on Flickr
Once over Sgurr a’Bhac Chaolais (the top of the 2) I turned almost all the way back on myself to head for the Belach Dubh Leac and the S.Cluanie ridge (the long edge of the 2). The route gradually started to smooth out into regular ups and downs, particularly over Creag nan Damh. At times it narrowed and the walkers path and dyke vied for the crest of the ridge at other times it opened into a wide, grassy, wind-blasted route where path, Watershed and dyke digressed from and then crossed one another as each followed its own particular course. "The Long and WInding Road"
I have climbed all of the hills in today’s walk. Sgurr a’Bhac Chaolais was climbed on a cool April day in 2012 with fresh snow under foot. Like today, I was on my own but met others at different points of the day. The first and only time I walked the South Cluanie Ridge was on 19th June 2000. It was a Saturday like today. We had stayed at the Cluanie Inn as a birthday treat (for me) and they had given us a lift to the bottom of the stalkers path up to Bealach Duibh Leac. I remember fine, sunny days for both ascents but my photos show that it was overcast but mainly dry (snow showers on Sgurr a’Bhac Chaolais). We encountered many people walking the opposite way to us on the ridge and didn’t see any one going our way, west to east. "Memories"
Today being a perfect day, a bit of wind, azure blue skies and sunshine, I fully expected to encounter a few groups on the ridge but it wasn’t to be. Where was everyone? With clear views I felt that I was the only person for miles. Even the A 87 didn’t really intrude. In the summer no doubt there would be the constant whine of bikes but the only evidence today of fellow bipeds was the path snaking away over the ridge and the dry stane dyke. I could sing out loud to my hearts content in my very tuneless way, making up the words if I forgot them or frequently just repeating the first line or the chorus "Me, myself, I"

ImageThe ridge ahead from Creag nan Damh by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageSummit cairn Creag nan Damh by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageWest from Creag nan Damh to Loch Duich by Seal54, on Flickr
Apart from making a meal of a (very) minor down climb just before the summit of Creag nan Damh when I failed to stow my poles which then got in my way, I made steady progress. A ptarmigan scuttled about the boulders near the summit of Sgurr Beag but I saw no more of the eagles that had greeted me on my way out. They probably didn't much care for my singing. In many ways I didn’t want to finish the walk today. My heart was full to bursting, any regrets about taking my time returning to the Watershed were long banished. "Je Regrette Rien" .I could have had 2 days of wind and rain, no views to ease the walk, no encounters with wildlife and a battle with the elements instead of relaxed, unpressured walk (after the first noisy night that is). Chris Townsend’s book of his continuous walk along the Watershed – “Along the Divide -Walking the Spine of Scotland” came out in September. He was plagued with high winds and rain for much of this part of the Watershed so was driven to follow lower level tracks. Taking the easier option of a non-continuous walk means that I am able to choose my weather. A consequence of this is that I am taking a lot longer than originally planned but there is no hurry. So what if I only do 4 miles one day and stop at a lovely loch or watch eagles for half an hour instead of pressing on. People ask me “How far you have gone?” “How long will it take you?” “When are you going to finish?” This latest trip has given me the answers. I have got to where I am, I will take as long as it takes me, I will finish when I reach the end. Sometimes the need to return to home and family for other matters puts me under a time restraint but this trip has been ideal as I have a whole day to spare and relish the walk with no pressure. "This (That's) is the way I like it, uh huh."

Imageptarmigan by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageLooking away toi Ben Nevis from Sgurr beag by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageLooking west , summit Sgurr Beag by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageSummit Sgurr Beag by Seal54, on Flickr

Two more fine peaks, Sgurr an Lochain and Sgurr na Doire Leathain follow on from Sgurr Beag and like Creag nan Damh are second ascents for me. Both are good viewpoints and I now could see all the way to the Creag Meagaidh window beyond Ben Tee to the east. South I fancied I could see as far as Ben More on Mull but it was probably the hills of Ardgour, nearer were Ben Nevis, The Garbh Cioch ridge and Sgurr na Ciche, the Knoydart hills , Eigg, Rum and Skye and was that Harris beyond? No, probably more like the Trottenish ridge. More distinct were the Applecross hills and Torridon then closer, the hills around Kintail, Ben Fhada beyond the hills on the North side of Glen Shiel and Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan

ImageSummit cairn Sgurr an Lochain by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageSummit Sgurr an Lochain looking to Sgurr Thionail by Seal54, on Flickr

ImagePanorama from Sgurr an Lochain from east to west by Seal54, on Flickr

ImagePanorama from Sgurr an Lochain from west to east by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageSgurr an Lochain and Loch Duich by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageLooking east to Loch Cluanie from summit Sgurr an Doire Leathain by Seal54, on Flickr

ImagePanorama from Sgurr an Doire Leathain north to south facing east by Seal54, on Flickr

ImagePanorama from Sgurr an Doire Leathain south to north facing west by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageStitched photo of the ridge going on by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageThe west by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageSkye in far distance, Sgurr an Lochain foreground from Sgurr an Doire leathain by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageSitiched photo summit Sgurr an Doire Leathain by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageFive sisters from Sgurr an Doire Leathain by Seal54, on Flickr

I reach Sgurr na Feinne with still a good hour plus of daylight left. I took a last look at Loch Quoich. I have been working my round this loch for 5 days of Watershed walking all the way from An Eag, 6 if I take it back to Meall Blair which is where I drew level with the eastern end of Loch Quoich. I am reluctant to start the descent; often, I find this is the worst part of a day on the hill when all the excitement of reaching the summit has gone and there is just a knee-crunching descent back to the start. The Watershed is slightly different as it is not the end but I still break out into "Little Bird" before I turn to start the last bit of the figure 2 that goes down the rather fine Druim Thollaidh to the A87. The descent was fast and easy, a good finish to the trip. I caught sight of two people descending Druim Coire nan Eirecheanach, just a little behind me, heightwise.
Imagestitched photo looking south from Sgurr Coire na Feinne by Seal54, on Flickr

ImageDruim Thollaidh by Seal54, on Flickr

Gradually the sound of traffic on the A87 made me aware that there was quite a bit of traffic on it. I decided to leave the actual Watershed, 1 km from the road and follow the stalkers path that took me back direct to the van. This meant avoiding ½ km of dodging traffic on the A 87 in the fading light. I arrived at the road just after the other couple. They had left their van at the east end of the ridge and I was able to give them a lift back to their van. We all enthused about what a day it had been and bemoaned the fact that the Cluanie Inn was closed. I do hope it is temporary.
I won’t be back to continue the Watershed until I can safely leave my ice axe and crampons behind. The next section to near Achnasheen is 4-5 days with some severely boggy bits and the last chance to camp at 1100 m (Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan). It will be something to look forward to as I spend the winter on single day trips nearer to home. The memory of this trip will stay with me for a long time. I have no illusions that this was partly due to the much easier going over these hills but it has to be one of the best couple of days I have spent on the ‘Shed. My sacrifices and fire somersaults clearly worked and so I popped by Loch Ness to see the monster on the way home.

Distance on Watershed
21.5 km 13.5 miles
total distance for trip 36 km 22miles

Grand total for Watershed?...lots
How far to go? ... a fair bit yet

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User avatar
Activity: Mountain Walker
Pub: The Creel Inn Catterline
Mountain: too many to name
Place: Knoydart
Gear: Cioch trousers
Member: John Muir Trust
wild Land Group
Friens of Knoydart Foundation
Ideal day out: Awalk, a scramble, a ridge and a dip

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