Thursday 26 June 2014

TGOC 2014 - Day 3: Loch Quoich to Inchlaggan

Sunday 11th May 2014

Two fantastic Munros followed by a road walk down Glen Garry 

Distance: 24km; Ascent: 1640m; Windy & showery on the summits, warm down in the glen; Mostly solo

After yesterday's long day I wasn't in much of hurry to set off this morning, although I was keen to leave this tick infested area!  Therefore I had my morning coffee and muesli, packed the tent up and set off shortly before 9am.  It was dry and overcast, with patchy cloud on the summits, as I walked along the Loch Quoich road for a couple of kilometres to reach the start of a stalkers' path up Gleouraich.

Camp by Loch Quoich
Looking west over Loch Quoich
I was glad that I hadn't tried to push on any further yesterday evening as I didn't spot any better places to camp as I walked along the road, and there was a dead deer lying in the only obvious camping spot I saw by the start of the stalkers' path.  The path initially headed up through an area of damp overgrown rhododendrons, which made for slow progress.  However I soon left these behind and continued to ascend, with excellent views over Loch Quoich towards Gairich, Sgurr Mor, Sgurr na Ciche and many other hills!  There also appeared to be a new looking bulldozed track on the east side of the Allt Coire Peitireach - I wondered what it was being built for?

Sgurr Mor, the Knoydart peaks and Loch Quoich from the path up Gleouraich
Gairich across Loch Quoich from the Gleouraich path
Looking west over Loch Quoich into Knoydart from Sron a'Chuilinn
I continued to ascend towards the nose of Sron a Chuilinn, stopping briefly to resupply with water on route.  The views were excellent this morning and continued to improve as I gained height.  The stalkers' path made for excellent upwards progress and I was soon detouring to visit the summit of Druim Seileach.  Continuing northwards I rejoined the stalkers' path which continued ENE towards Gleouraich before ending abruptly at a well built looking shooting butt, beyond which a boot worn Munro baggers' path continued steeply upwards.

Looking up Wester Glen Quoich from Druim Seileach
Gleouraich from Druim Seileach
Looking west across Glen Quoich towards yesterday afternoon's hills
I followed the boot worn path upwards to reach the 984m NW top of Gleouraich, where I rejoined my original planned route for the day.  As I continued along the ridgeline towards the highest point I could see another walker on the summit, who I ended up following around 500m behind for the next few hours - I later discovered that it was fellow challenger Andy Dawkins.

The summit slopes of Gleouraich (Andy on the summit)
I reached the summit of Gleouraich (Munro, Marilyn) at around half-past midday in intermittent cloud.  I stopped here for lunch and after a few minutes it started to rain!  Luckily this turned out to be a short, but sharp, shower and I soon had excellent views eastwards along the ridge towards my second Munro of the day: Spidean Mialach.

Summit of Gleouraich
Looking E from Gleouraich
Despite the short lived shower, I opted to stick with waterproofs for the next section of ridge walking as it was now quite cold due a bitter wind!  I continued along the excellent ridge, whose north side was still covered in a surprisingly large amount of snow for May!

Gleouraich from the east ridge
Lots of snow left up here!
I continued onwards to reach the summit of the eastern outlier of Gleouraich: Craig Coire na Fiar Bhealaich (Munro Top) at around half-past one.  It was now sunny, but still a bit windy, so I swapped my waterproofs for a fleece.  Again the views were absolutely stunning up here; I could see my onward route to Spidean Mialach with Loch Loyne further east.  In the distance to the east the weather appeared to be worse than here, with low cloud and rain; I hoped it improved before I got there!

Loch Loyne and Spidean Mialach from Creag Coire na Fiar Bhealaich
After descending to the Fiar Bhealaich I began to ascend up the WNW ridge of Spidean Mialach.  By now it was quite warm and I was suffering from having already had two long days of walking, so my progress was quite slow!  However to compensate there were good views along almost the entire length of Loch Quoich and the cloud had pretty much lifted off all the Knoydart peaks :-)  I could make out the pointy Sgurr na Ciche just above the far end of the loch together with many other hills!  Views like these are one of the many reasons why I love hillwalking in the NW Highlands :-)

Looking up all the way up Loch Quoich towards Sgurr na Ciche at the far end
Creag Coire na Fiar Bhealaich from NW slopes of Spidean Mialach
Looking across the head of Coire an Spidein to Spidean Mialach
Continuing past the remains of cornices at the head of Coire an Spidein, I finally reached what turned out to be my final summit of the day: Spidean Mialach (Munro, Marilyn) at around ten to three.  By now I was quite tired, so I took a rest here by the cairn to admire the fantastic views.  There was a noticeable difference in weather depending upon which direction I looked in: to the west it mainly looked fine with sunny spells, whereas to the east it looked grey and wet.  I hoped that the weather would improve as I continued eastwards!

Summit of Spidean Mialach with Loch Loyne beyond
Views westward from Spidean Mialach back towards Knoydart
Gairich, Sgurr an Fhuarain, Sgurr Mor, Sgurr na Cihce and Loch Quoich
I descended the SE ridge with the intention of continuing east along the ridgeline all the way to Lochain Bad an Losguinn.  However given it was already late afternoon, and I'd recently heard by text that Alan, Andrew and Phil weren't going to make our planned rendezvous in Coire nam Brath, I decided to look into an easier option.

It was clear to me that if I left my planned route it would be quite tricky to rejoin it before Fort Augustus.  Therefore I came up with a plan that involved descending down to Glen Garry, from where I could follow the minor road, forest tracks and Great Glen Way to reach Fort Augustus tomorrow afternoon.  The only question was where should I stay this evening?  I had a vague recollection that there was a B&B in Inchlaggan, a couple of kilometres east of Tomdoun, so I got my phone out and was pleased to discover I had sufficient signal to search online for their phone number.  I gave them call and was pleasantly surprised to discover that they did indeed have space this evening, due to a last minute cancellation!  I booked the room there and then, and was already looking forward to a good night's sleep in a comfy bed :-)  However there was still the small matter of getting there, and it was still 11-12km away!

I continued down the rocky ridge to reach the remains of a stone building just south of the bealach.  The decent from here down into Coire an t-Seasgaich was very steep and rocky in places, which made for slow progress down to the road.

Loch Quoich dam
Once I reached the road I picked up my pace as it was still around another 10km to my overnight accommodation.  After two or three kilometres I caught up with the other walker that I had been following for much of the day since Gleouraich.  By now I had guessed that he would be a challenger as who else would be walking for miles along a tarmac road!  When I reached him I discovered he was Andy Dawkins, who I had met on a previous TGOC.

Andy and I chatted as we continued to head east along the road and after a while we eventually reached the old Tomdoun Hotel.  Here Andy stopped to camp, where we also found Alan, Phil and Andy setting up camp for the night.  I stopped for a while to chat about what we had all been up to for the last three days, and discovered that they had had a bit of an epic scramble through a gorge in deepest Knoydart!

Trailstars outside the old Tomdoun Hotel
After a while I decided that I'd better get going and walked the 2km down the road to my B&B in Inchlaggan, where I arrived at around 8pm.  After a dinner of couscous and chocolate, I unpacked all my stuff to let it dry out and went off to sleep in a comfy bed for the first time since leaving the west coast!

Monday 16 June 2014

TGOC 2014 - Day 2: Glen Arnisdale to Loch Quoich

Saturday 10th May 2014

A low level walk from Glen Arnisdale to Kinloch Hourn, followed by an afternoon ascent of the Munro of Sgurr a'Mhaoraich 

Distance: 25km; Ascent: 1870m; Wet in the morning - warm & sunny in afternoon; Solo

I woke to rain this morning and so didn't make much of an effort to get an early start!  As I hadn't ascended up to my planned camp on the Druim Fada ridge last night, I decided due to the rain not to bother going up high today due to the weather.  Therefore I set off walking at around half eight, in showery light rain, and headed east along the reasonable track to reach the Dubh Lochain.

Looking down Glen Arnisdale in the morning rain
Waterfall at the outlet of the Dubh Lochain
The walk through the woods to reach the loch was pleasant enough and I was rewarded with an impressive fall of water tumbling out of the outlet of the Dubh Lochain.  I continued along the north shore of the loch before stopping to resupply with water just beyond the eastern end of the loch.  I had declined to collect water from the previous couple of burns I had passed due to the proximity of them to dead sheep - therefore I spent time checking upstream of this burn prior to filling my bottle!

I then continued along the track to cross another burn by way of a a handy bridge, which like all the bridges I had encountered so for in Glen Arnisdale had a sign warning me that I crossed at my own risk and that horses weren't allowed to use it.  Luckily I didn't have any horses with me today, so I happily crossed the bridge and continued for a few hundred metres to a track junction.

The Dubh Lochain
Bridge over the Allt an Tomain Odhair
This warning sign seems to be displayed on the all the bridges in Glen Arnisdale
The junction was the point at which my foul weather route from yesterday joined up with today's route, together with the line of pylons that stretches from Skye to Invergarry via Kinloch Hourn and Loch Quoich.  Soon I had to the ford the Abhainn Ghleann Dubh Lochain, which today posed no problems as I was able to boulder hop my way across - however I could imagine this could be quite tricky if it were in spate!  I then ascended up a reasonable track, with good views back down Gleann Dubh Lochain.

Looking down Gleann Dubh Lochain
Soon I reached Lochain Torr a'Choit, where I had considered camping last night had I been on my FWA.  However I was glad I hadn't as at first glance there didn't appear to be any nice spots to pitch!  I crossed the Allt a'Coire Reidh by way of a bridge and began ascending again, with good views back towards Loch Hourn and the east end of the Druim Fada ridge.

Loch Hourn and Druim Fada
Around here I met my first other person of the day: a walker out walking their dog.  I continued and began to ascend down towards the forest above Kinloch Hourn.  My original plan had been to traverse above this forest, cross the Allt Coire Sgoireadail and ascend up onto Sgurr a'Mhaoraich.  However given that it was still raining I decided instead to descend to Kinloch Hourn, where I stopped at the tea room :-)

The Kinlochhourn tea rooms :-)
There was a handful of other challengers here, the first I'd met since leaving Glenelg, and it was nice to chat to them whilst I enjoyed my tea and scone :-)  After the best part of an hour I decided it was time to make a move and I went outside to discover that the weather had significantly improved since I had arrived at Kinloch Hourn!  Therefore I decided that I'd spend the afternoon climbing my planned Munro: Sgurr a'Mhaoriach, although not by the route I had originally intended to.

The Lochourn River
I had a quick chat with Alan Hardy who had just arrived at the tea room, before I set off in shorts and t-shirt, which made a pleasant change from this morning when I walked in full waterproofs!  I followed the road along the Lochourn River for around a kilometre and a half to reach Loch Coire Shubh.  Here I stopped for a short break to discover that I had four ticks on my legs!  These were swiftly removed and trouser legs donned for the rest of the day in an attempt to prevent any more ticks biting me!

Loch Coire Shubh
I had decided to ascend Sgurr a'Mhaoraich by way of the descent route in the Pocket Mountains: West Highlands guidebook, which involved ascending along the route of the pylons before heading steeply up the rocky NW ridge of Meall an Uillt Bhain.  This was a nice ascent, although it was completely pathless and hard work in the heat of this afternoon!  I was however rewarded with excellent views out over Loch Hourn :-)

Looking down to Loch Hourn from the NW ridge of Meall an Uillt Bhain
Shortly before 5pm I topped out on the 607m high summit of Meall an Uillt Bhain (Highland Five), from where there were excellent views.  I studied the SW slopes of Sgurr a'Mhaoraich from here to attempt to pick an ascent route avoiding as much of the steep craggy ground as possible.

The SW slopes of Sgurr a'Mhaoraich from Meall an Uillt Bhain
Gairich, Sgurr an Fhuarain & Sgurr Mor from the SW slopes of Sgurr a'Mhaoraich
The ascent was pleasant enough, and initially I followed what appeared to be the remains of an old stalkers' path, although this faded after a few hundred metres.  There were good views out towards the hills on the south side of Loch Quoich from here: Gairich, Sgurr an Fhuarain & Sgurr Mor, which I had been planning on traversing on my last TGOC back in 2010.  I continued on upwards into intermittent mist to reach the summit of Sgurr a' Mhaoraich Beag (Munro Top) at around 6pm.

Summit of Sgurr a' Mhaoraich Beag
Between Sgurr a'Mhaoraich Beag & Sgurr a'Mhaoraich
Continuing eastwards along the ridge between Sgurr a'Mhaoraich Beag and Sgurr a'Mhaoraich I stumbled across a well camouflaged ptarmigan hiding next to the rocks, which seemed surprised to see me but didn't fly away.  I guessed it was probably protecting its nest and moved quickly on past to avoid disturbing it any more!

At around twenty past six this evening I finally reached the lofty summit of Sgurr a'Mhaoraich (Munro, Marilyn).  The cloud had mainly lifted above me by now so there were excellent views from here :-)  I rested a while to enjoy the views before deciding that it was time to begin my descent down to the valley to seek out somewhere to camp.

My original plan had been to descend down to Alltbeithe for the evening and ascend the north ridge of Gleouraich tomorrow morning.  However tomorrow's forecast, coupled with the large amount of snow I had seen on the north side of Gleouraich from the coach on Thursday, meant that I decided to take the easier option instead of descending to Loch Quoich, from where I would be able to pick up a good stalkers' path for tomorrow morning's ascent.

Summit of Sgurr a'Mhaoraich
Looking east down to Easter Glen Quoich and Gleouraich from Sgurr a'Mhaoraich
The descent east along the ridge was good, with lovely views to keep me going after what was turning out to be quite a long day's walk!  There were occasional showers to contend with, although this did mean that I was rewarded with a rainbow over Loch Quoich!  I continued on over the summit of Sgurr Coire nan Eiricheallach (Corbett Top) and started to descend southwards along the Bac nan Canaichean ridge.

Rainbow over Loch Quoich
Looking along the Sgurr Coire nan Eiricheallach ridge
Lower down I stopped to collect water for the evening from one of the many burns that drained this waterlogged hillside.  I then started to keep an eye open for potential camping spots for the evening but nothing took my fancy so I continued down along the stalkers' path to reach the road many hours after having left it!  I had previously heard that there might be some flat spots to pitch near the Loch Quoich bridge, and I found a spot close to the start of the vehicle track to Alltbeithe.

It was around 9pm when I finally pitched the tent this evening!  It appeared that I had picked a relatively ticky spot to pitch as I had to brush several off my hands after pitching the tent!  Therefore that evening I had the inner tent open as little as possible in an attempt to kept the ticks out, which actually seemed to work as I didn't get any further bites :-)  I had a quick dinner before drifting off to sleep after a very long, but good, day.

Saturday 7 June 2014

TGOC 2014 - Day 1: Glenelg to Glen Arnisdale

Friday 9th May 2014

An excellent walk up Beinn Sgritheall to start my TGO Challenge walk for 2014 

Distance: 23.5km; Ascent: 1340m; Mostly dry with occasional showers and cloud above 800m; Solo

After yesterday's long journey it was nice to wake up this morning on the west coast :-)  I chatted to Bob Tucker over breakfast in our B&B, which also happened to be the sign-out point for Glenelg (and hence why I decided to stay there).  It was raining heavily at breakfast-time, but the forecast was for the weather to improve during the day.  Therefore I saw little point it rushing off and instead opted to have a leisurely first half of the morning before repacking my bag and signing out at 10am.

Ready to set off at Glenelg
I wandered down to the sea near to the village war memorial, where some passing Corbett bagging walkers kindly took a photo of me on the west coast.  I nipped down onto the beach to dip my boots in the sea before heading SSW along the coast road with intermittent rain showers.

Glenelg war memorial
Boots in the sea at the west coast
Soon I reached the road junction at the foot of Gleann Beag where I had to make a decision on which route to take: my planned high level route or my foul weather option up the glen.  The weather seemed to have improved significantly since breakfast so I opted to head up into the hills :-)

Decision time: high or low level route?
There were a couple more showers as I continued SSW along the coast road, which climbed up to a height of around 200m over the next few kilometres.  There were excellent views out over the Sound of Sleat towards Skye on the other side, as well as further afield towards Eigg.  I was offered at least two lifts along this section of road, which I naturally declined!

Looking SW along the Sound of Sleat
Looking down the Sound of Sleat towards Eigg
Around a kilometre beyond Upper Sandaig I stopped for lunch with excellent views out over the sound.  A friendly pickup driver stopped for a chat before I set off walking eastwards along a good forest track.  After a kilometre or two it began to deteriorate to a grassy, muddy track, which led to open country at Loch na Lochain.

Loch na Lochain
I picked a way through the damp ground near the loch to reach a very pleasant looking green grassy area by the Allt Gorm; if it wasn't so early in the afternoon I might have been tempted to camp here!  I ascended up to reach a small lochain at the foot of the west ridge of Beinn Sgritheall, from where there were excellent views over to the peaks of the Knoydart peninsula.

Loch na Lochain from the SE
The peaks of Knoydart over Lochan Bhealach Rarsaidh
Soon I reached the Munro baggers' path and began to ascend up Beinn Sgrithreall's west ridge.  By now it was quite a warm afternoon so I opted for shorts in an attempt to stay cool whilst lugging my heavy back up the hill!  I took frequent rests to admire the absolutely stunning views out over Loch Hourn and the Sound of Sleat towards Knoydart, Eigg and Skye :-)

Eigg, Loch Hourn, Sleat and Beinn Mhialairigh
Looking west to Beinn Mhialairigh and Skye from the west ridge of Beinn Sgritheall
Looking across Loch Hourn to Ladhar Bheinn from the west ridge of Beinn Sgritheall
The cloud base seemed to be varying at around 800m to 1000m, which meant that I was occasionally able to pick out the summit of Ladhar Beinn across the loch, which had been the first hill I climbed on my previous TGO Challenge back in 2010.  Unfortunately the cloud stubbornly refused to lift off Beinn Sgritheall, so at around 750m I ascended into the cloud and the stunning views are replaced with the familiar view of the inside of a cloud!  Nevertheless I continued my ascent and reached the summit of Beinn Sgritheall (Munro, Marilyn) at around quarter to four.  I took a break here near the toppled remains of a trigpoint near the summit cairn.

Broken trigpoint on the summit of Beinn Sgritheall
On the summit of Beinn Sgritheall
Once I felt suitably refreshed I continued on through the mist to visit the cairn on the summit of the East Top (Corbett Top).  From here I descended steeply down towards the Bealach Arnisdale.  I had been toying with the idea of staying high and continuing on over the two Corbetts of Beinn na h-Eaglaise and Beinn nan Caorach, but it transpired that the cloud base had dropped significantly in the last hour, which meant that it could be tricky to pick a safe way up the steep slopes of Beinn na h-Eaglaise past the crags; instead I decided to stick with my original plan and descend down to Arnisdale.

Summit cairn of the East Top of Beinn Sgritheall
The descent SSW from Bealach Arnisdale was very steep; at around 500m I dropped back out of the cloud, to find I once more had excellent views down to Loch Hourn.  I soon picked up a Munro baggers' path, which I followed steeply down near the Allt a'Mhuilinn past a waterfall.

The steep descent SW from Bealach Arnisdale
The Allt a'Mhuilinn
Lower down the angle eased and I was able to enjoy the views across to Knoydart, which were still stunning even though the cloud now covered the summits.  I continued to descend down towards Loch Hourn to reach the road at the western end of Arnisdale village.  It was now early evening on my first day of the TGO Challenge and I was once again back on the west coast, hence I concluded it was probably time to leave the sea behind and start heading east!

Arnisdale and Loch Hourn
Loch Hourn at Arnisdale
After kilometre or so of road walking I picked up the track up Glen Arnisdale and began to look for somewhere to camp for the night.  After a brief detour to take a look at the building named on the map as Achadh a'Ghlinne, where I had been considering camping, I continued another kilometre up the glen in the lovely evening sunlight to find a spot to pitch my tent near the River Arnisdale.

Achadh a'Ghlinne
Evening Light in Glen Arnisdale
I pitched at around half-past eight after a ten and a half hour day of walking, much of it dry with excellent views :-)  It was nice to be backpacking again and I enjoyed dinner followed by a wee dram of Jura before getting some well earned rest!

Camp in Glen Arnisdale