A Walk in the Clouds - Going for 10 on the Tarmachan Ridge

Route: The Tarmachan Ridge

Munros: Meall nan Tarmachan

Date walked: 12/05/2022

Time taken: 7 hours

Distance: 13km

Ascent: 783m

As we all know, the Tarmachan Ridge offers the possibility of "stunning views". That was one of the reasons we decided to pencil it in for Francis' tenth Munro. A nice way to celebrate hitting double figures - and an exciting day out to boot.

Alas dear reader, if it is stunning views you after, this is not the report for you. If, however, you're a fan of photos of low cloud, swirling mist and poor visibility, then you're in for a treat! And if you've ever wondered what kind of idiot could lose their way on a ridge walk, then read on...

Setting off from the smaller car park.

So it was going to be Francis' tenth Munro and his Aunt Tania - my sister-in-law and a keen hill walker - wanted to join us to mark the occasion. Now, Francis and I generally prefer to walk on our own - because we're very slow and quite grumpy - but we figured we could make an exception in this case. So a date was set and arrangements were made.

Five days out the weather forecast looked good. Three days out it looked okay. But by the day before it was forecasting cloud from 750m - meaning the whole ridge would be shrouded. Normally we might've postponed or headed for a different area - but arrangements had been made. So we decided to stick to the plan. On the plus side it wasn't forecast to be cold, windy or wet, so maybe this cloud really did have a silver lining.

The long walk in. The dam behind. Clouds low on Meall Corranaich.

Come the big day and my brother, Kevin - Tania's husband - calls early to say that Tania is ill and won't be able to make it. Shame, I think, but Francis and I are up and ready to go, so we decide to press ahead anyway. But Kevin announces he has decided to come in Tania's place and to bring along their friend Hannah - a trained mountain leader. I panic - having a vision of spending the day trailing slowly along behind my uber-competitive brother and a super-fit mountain expert. How will they cope with Francis stopping at every puddle to look for tadpoles?

But Kevin is unperturbed. Arrangements have been made and they're about to set off. Living closer they'll get to the car park well ahead of us. Should they wait? (No!) Or do we want to just catch them up? (God no! As if!) Then a flash of inspiration. Francis and I were planning to tackle the circular route clockwise - leaving the Munro summit until last. What if Kevin and Hannah went anti-clockwise. Then, everyone could go at their own pace, no waiting around, but we would still meet up somewhere on the ridge? To my relief, this plan gets the thumbs up. Lunch stop when we meet on the ridge.

Crossing the Allt Tir Artair - about halfway along the approach.

Two hours later we park up in the smaller car park - a little bit north of the main one - and set off on the track which will wind us round for about 5km toward the old quarry where we could strike out for the ridge. Kevin and Hannah had set off about 45 mins before. On a good day we might've been able to wave to them. On a good day...

Leaving the quarry road and heading up to find the ridge.

Francis doesn't like long walk ins. He goes slow in protest - which only makes the whole thing even longer. Eventually, though we reach the end of the track and head uphill, NW and into the clouds. A path gets us about halfway there but we lose it crossing a wide, flat, boggy section. The clouds refuse to yield a clear view of the ridge ahead so a bit of careful map'n'app reading is required to take us up the correct gully. It's something of a relief to finally spot the little cairn at the junction of the two paths which confirms that we're finally on the ridge.

Finally coming up onto the ridge path between Creag na Caillich and Ben nan Eachan.

I've long since abandoned any thought of adding Creag na Caillich to our plans so we head NE directly for Beinn nan Eichan. But we've only being going a few minutes when we hear voices approaching. Moments later Kevin, Hannah (and Isla the dog!) emerge from the mist ahead of us.

The fact that they've almost completed the ridge and we've only just got on to it is a little embarrassing - but I take it as vindication for the decision to go round seperately at our own speed. As planned, we take a break and enjoy a cheery lunch. We discover that neither of us have passed, or even seen, anyone else since we left the carpark. It seems likely that we are alone up here in the clouds - because no-one else is daft enough!

The lunch party! Francis, Kevin, Hannah - and Isla the dog.

Sandwiches scoffed, coffee shared, shop-bought and home-made flapjack compared, we say our goodbyes and go our separate ways into the greyness. After all the faffing around, Francis and I are keen to finally hit some summits.

The first easy section towards Beinn nan Eachan.

With no views to distract us we power up the well-worn path through some easy flatter sections and some short steeper ones. Francis is a bit unimpressed. He'd been expecting something more dramatic. I explain that the approach to Meall Garbh will provide the drama - and over-egg the notoriety of the 'bad step' we'll have to navigate. He likes the sound of this. Little do I know that the bigger test will be just finding the flippin' thing!

Twistier route up to the summit plateau.

In the mist, the summit of Beinn nan Eachan is a bit underwhelming so we don't hang around. We simply follow the path which will take us across to Meall Garbh. Except it doesn't...

Beinn nan Eachan summit cairn. As impressive as the views!

... It quickly doubles back on itself and has us heading SW. So we stop and a second bout of map'n'app consultation doesn't help much, so we retrace our steps towards the summit and find the point we'd missed where the path cuts downhill. I think we'd passed this and picked up a bypass path which would've looped us around in a circle!

Descending from Beinn nan Eachan.

Back on the right path we carry on down. For the second time that day I'm reflecting on how easy it is to get completely disorientated in these conditions - even on a ridge with a good path!


We relax again. We're quite enjoying ourselves now. The path is good fun and the mist makes it feel very atmospheric and spooky. The fact we still haven't met anyone apart from Kevin and Hannah adds to the tingle of excitement.

(Ask Francis what happened next and he'll say we got lost - but the pedant in me disputes that. 'Lost' is when you don't know where you are. When I realised we were off course, the OS app was able to tell us exactly where we were. The problem was it was not where we were supposed to be. And I had no idea how we'd ended up there!)

A flash of colour amid the grey.

(Here's my best guess of what happened. In the beallach between Beinn nan Eachan and Meall Garbh the path goes up and over what WH describes as a 'minor hummock'. When we descended to the beallach I think we lost the main path in a boggy area and ended up following another trail south around rather than up and over the hummock. Then that trail fizzled out!)

Just before it all went wrong!

So, the mist is swirling. There is no discernable path. The ridge is nowhere to be seen. I am, again, marvelling at the disorientation. I think I know which way's north - my compass tells me I'm wrong. The OS app shows us how far from the path we've strayed, and I find it hard to believe.

Francis is worried - but only that I've some how bypassed the 'bad step'. I stop fretting about how we got here and focus on getting back on track. Trusting my navigation tools, all we have to do is head NE up the gully on the east side of the hummock and we'll regain the path. And no, we haven't missed the 'bad step.' Francis is relieved.

Back on the right track and approaching the 'bad step'.

Sure enough, five minutes later we find the path - having apparently contoured round the south slopes of the hummock. Heading uphill again toward Meall Garbh we come to the bad step. As we approach I quietly note the bypass route running off to the left - just in case!

Francis scrambles up.

Francis studies the obstacle for a moment then scuttles across the slabs and up the 'chimney' without any trouble. I follow and am relieved to find it more a test of flexibility than of nerve!

The narrow airy section before Meall Garbh - we think!

Pleased with ourselves, we almost forget that the next section is the narrow, airy section. It is certainly quite narrow but there's no sense of the slopes falling away on either side. It feels more like crossing a green bridge in a grey void. Weird - but quite good fun.

The classic Meall Garbh summit photo - just about.

Then we're approaching the rocky lump of the summit. I send Francis on ahead so I can secure the ubiquitous, dramatic photo - but it's a bit of a trade of between drama and visibilty. I look for the sweet spot, far enough away to get a sense of height but close enough to actually see him!

The summit. The ridge invisible behind!

I join him on the summit and it's like standing on an island. The ridge around us disappears into the cloud like rocks into the sea. The isolation reminds me that we still haven't seen anyone else up here.

Descending from Meall Garbh.

Thankfully, the path down from Meall Garbh is clear and impossible to lose - even for us! We enjoy wending our way past snow patches and dark lochans. It's a bit other worldy. Tolkieneseque even. I half expect to hear the clattering hooves of the Black Riders approaching.

A ghostly atmosphere at the lochan.

From the beallach, the ascent to Meall nan Tarmachan is an easy push up a forgiving slope and we reach the broad summit without any further incident. Amid all the navigation excitement I'd almost forgotten that we were here to mark Francis' tenth munro. It had certainly been memorable.

Monkeys on Meall nan Tarmachan.

Realising that sharing a hipflask of single malt might've attracted the interest of social services, I've secretly packed a bottle of our other national drink to celebrate the occasion. So we make a few toasts and enjoy a few welcome sugary swigs of the stuff.

Francis toasts number 10 with a taste of girders.

Again, with no views there's not much reason to hang around so we head off northwards in search of the descent route - which is gratfyingly easy to to spot. And as we start to descend the visibility begins to gradually improve.

The descent path was easy to find - luckily.

The descent path is very well constructed - though some of the steps test my creaking knees! - and we're soon crossing the wee beallach and clambering over the style on the way up to the 923 point.

My knees did not enjoy this 'staircase' section.

It's only as we descend south down the ridge from here that we finally emerge from the clouds. Loch Tay suddenly revealed to us again. Typically, it's at this point that the cloud itself begins to lift, uncovering more and more of the surrounding hills. Somewhere up there, I imagine the weather gods are having a right good laugh at our expense!

We finally come down out of the clouds...

... just as they start to lift and reveal Loch Tay.

So we head back to the distant car. Kevin and Hannah are long since departed (I told you we were slow!)

Not exactly the day we'd planned for - but a good day anyway. Satisfying in its own way. Double figures for Francis and a strangely solitary experience on a popular route. Not to mention some fun scrambling and a bit of actual navigation - with a compass and everything!

And a good excuse to come back and do it again - when the tops are clear.

Francis' customary "I can see the car from here" moment.

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Location: Edinburgh
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