About Me

My photo
Hello! My name is Keith Gault and I've been tramping the hills of the UK and further afield for over 40 years now. This blog records some recent hill days undertaken either on my own, with friends, or with clients under my guided hillwalking Company: Hillways (www.hillways.co.uk). I hope you enjoy my diary; please feel free to comment on any of the walks. I will respond to any direct questions.

Friday, 21 October 2016

A 3rd Round of Munros

Sgurr Choinnich Mor

Four Munros to go to finish my 3rd round and all of them spread out along the Grey Corries ridge a few miles NE of Ben Nevis.  The ridge itself, a twisting, turning snake of angular quartzite boulders, really only contains 2 Munros (Stob Choire Claurigh and Stob Coire an Laoigh). The other 2 (Stob Ban and Sgurr Choinnich Mor) sit inconveniently off the main ridge and significantly complicate any plan to climb all 4 Munros in a single day.  As I planned to do.

Across the Grey Corries From Stob Ban
Starting from a short way above Corriechoille, 3Kms E of Spean Bridge, I pushed the bike up the forest track that leads up through the Lairig Leacach and eventually to Corrour & Rannoch.  I only needed to go as far as the small bothy which lies 2Kms beyond the summit of the Lairig.

Stop Ban Above the Lairig Leacach Bothy
From here, a path leads SW up through the heather and grass and over a subsidiary top to the distinctive quartzite cone of Stob Ban (977m; white peak).  Being a cone, there then followed a steep descent to the 800m bealach that separates Stob Ban from the main Grey Corries ridge.

Stob Ban
The path continues up the other side on grassy slopes for a fairly sustained climb of almost 380m before the grass gives way to a quartzite boulder field that heralds the approach to the summit of Stob Choire Claurigh (1177m; peak of the noisy corrie).

Stob Choire Claurigh From Stob Ban
By now, the cloud had come down and I saw nothing of the ridge as I strode manfully(!) on over all the subsidiary lumps and bumps including Stob a’ Choire Leith (1105m), Stob Coire Cath na Sine (1079m) and Caisteal (1106m) before reaching the 3rd Munro of the day: Stob Coire an Laoigh (1116m; peak of the corrie of the calf).

Stob Coire Easain & Stob Coire an Laoigh
Still in cloud, one more descent/re-ascent placed me on Stob Coire Easain (1080m) from where my last Munro finally appeared in view across a 935m bealach.  The descent to the bealach is rocky in places and requires care; the re-ascent on the other side is steep.  But finally, I was on the impressive sharp summit ridge of my ultimate goal and a very weary bunny almost staggered up to the summit of Sgurr Choinnich Mor (1094m; big mossy peak) to become only the 74th triple Munroist.

Sgurr Choinnich Mor 
This is a fine mountain and deserved more singular treatment, particularly to celebrate the end of my 3rd round.  As it was, any elation was somewhat subsumed by fatigue and the knowledge of how far I had yet to go to get back to the car.

Approaching the Last Summit
Still, it was a great relief and the resultant uplift in spirits provided a welcome pick-me-up as I traversed back to Stob Coire Easain and along the main ridge.  I picked a route that descended between Stob Choire Claurigh & Stob Ban (missing both peaks) that got me back down to the bothy in reasonable time.  

Lairig Leacach
Then it was back on the bike for a superb fast freewheel all the way down the Lairig Leacach and that most welcome of sights after a long hill-day: a motor car!

Stob Ban
The 3rd round had largely come to me through my professional work with Hillways without which I would never have come close to achieving it.  And whist I am already half-way through a 4th round for the same reason, it ain’t going to happen again!
Or is it…….

Check out my plans for similar walks at http://www.hillways.co.uk/.htm

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Rough Bounds of Knoydart

Looking West From Sgurr Mor
At the end of the long, lonely single-track road that extends for 20 Kms west from Achnacarry alongside Loch Arkaig, lies the gateway to an isolated area of very rugged mountains and corries and wet glens.  These comprise the eastern border of the Knoydart peninsula hence the area’s appropriately descriptive title.

Strathan, at the Head of Loch Arkaig
There are at least 2 full hill days to be had here, taking in 4 Munros.  Whilst they can, in extremis, be combined into one very long gruelling traverse, it is not to be recommended.  With winter approaching and a Munro round to finish off, I didn’t have the luxury of conservative planning.  And after all, I was only looking to climb 3 of the 4 hills.

Glen Dessary
Leaving the car at the newly enlarged car park at the end of Loch Arkaig, I used the bike for the first 2½ Kms of good track to the estate buildings at Glendessary (the 5 Kms saving on walking was significant, given the length of my day).  Thereafter, I continued on foot along a Glen Dessary bathed in autumn colours and weak sunshine. 

Climbing Above Glen Dessary
After the cottage at Upper Glendessary, the track becomes a rough path and then a rough, wet path alongside a forestry plantation until you reach the crossing of the Allt Coire nan Uth.  Patches of early morning (I’d been up since 6.30) valley cloud and mist added to the atmospherics of this remote place, but the summits were all clear.  There was no mistaking the season of the year.

West From Garbh Chioch Bheag
Turning right off the main path, I started up the S ridge of Sgurr nan Coireachan (a good path) until about 600m before veering left up into the adjoining corrie to reach the skyline at the Bealach Coire nan Gall (733m).  The next 2 hrs were taken up picking my way delicately along the rough, prickly ridge of the Garbh Chiochs - a succession of rocky ups and downs which, even with the aid of a clear path, made for slow painstaking progress.  A dry stone dyke accompanies you the whole way!

Garbh Chioch Mhor & Sgurr na Ciche
The ridge eventually ends at the distinctive shapely cone of Sgurr na Ciche, but today I only had to go as far as Garbh Chioch Mhor (1013m; big rough hill of the breast).  The views are spectacular of course, west out to sea and the Small Isles; north and south across endless peaks. 

West From Garbh Chioch Mhor
Retracing my steps to the Bealach Coire nan Gall, it was time to start climbing again with a  short, sharp pull on to Munro No 2: Sgurr nan Coireachan (953m; peak of the corries).  

Sgurr nan Coireachan
You are now perched mid-way between Glen Dessary and Loch Quoich with wide vistas all around.  My 3rd Munro of the day (Sgurr Mor) lay some way off to the NW and required 2 intermediate ascents before reaching the last col (750m) prior to the final ascent.  This is why most people quite rightly treat it as a separate hill-day.

A Distant Sgurr Mor From Sgurr nan Coireachan
Still, the weather stayed dry and clear as I traversed around to An Eag and then up and over Sgurr Beag before one final toil up the final climb of the day to one of the more remote Munro summits: Sgurr Mor (1003m; big peak).  

Sgurr Mor
Still 8 Kms from the car, I didn’t have too much time to admire the views - back across the Rough Bounds to Knoydart and onwards across Loch Quoich - before heading down into Glen Kingie.

East from Sgurr Mor Towards Gairich & Loch Quoich
The route is now both wet and pathless for half of the way home.  Crossing the infant River Kingie can be problematical in spate, but there were no such difficulties today.  Be prepared to have to detour upstream in wet conditions.

Sugar Mor From the South
A slight climb to a boggy saddle at 360m enables you to intercept the stalkers’ path from Glen Kingie which then leads down to Glendessary.  The bike whisked me back to the car in 10 mins! 

Check out my plans for similar walks at http://www.hillways.co.uk/.htm

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Etive Hills

Buachaille Etive Mor Guards the Entrance to Glen Etive
Three hill-days to go to complete my 3rd Munro round and the longest of these was going to be this collection of 5 peaks hidden away at the foot of Glen Etive.  Whilst they are generally split into 2-3 separate days, the distance required to drive to them and the effort needed to climb the first one have always persuaded me to tackle all 5 in one gruelling day!  With one notable exception, the hills form a long undulating ridge far from the roadside and with a fair amount of up and down - so you know you’re in for a big day! 

Ben Starav From Glen Etive
Starting from the western end, Ben Starav is a brute of a mountain which will take at least 3hrs to climb.  Then comes Beinn nan Aighenan, probably the most awkwardly placed Munro in Scotland stubbornly sitting as it does 2 Km S of the main ridge and accessed via a frustratingly low bealach.  Then it’s back to the main ridge for shapely Glas Bheinn Mhor before another low bealach leads to big Stob Coir’an Albannaich.  Finally, rougher ground leads over a minor top before one last climb leads to Meall nan Eun, the baby of the group.  It’s a long way back to the car!

Ben Starav From the River Etive
I started, as on previous visits, from the end of the access track to Coileitir, a 30-min drive down Glen Etive and a couple of miles short of the road-end at the head of Loch Etive.  The familiar pyramid of Buachaille Etive Mor made for a grand sight in the early morning sunshine as I entered Glen Etive in pursuit of my hills.

Toiling Up Ben Starav!
Once over the River Etive (the bridge is essential), a muddy path leads to the Allt Mheuran which can usually be crossed where you meet it.  There then begins the long, unrelenting climb up Ben Starav’s N ridge. The ridge narrows as you approach the summit and the views are very impressive across Loch Etive and N towards the Glen Coe hills.  But it’s probably the climb you’ll remember.  I know I do!

Ben Starav From Beinn nan Aighenan
Three hours from the car and I was standing beside the summit cairn of Ben Starav (1078m; rustling hill).  Nothing remains of the OS trig point and the summit is surprisingly flat for such a big, steep-sided rocky mountain.  Normally you’d want to linger, but there is still such a long way to go….   

Ben Starav From Glas Bheinn Mhor
Descending quickly to the first of several frustratingly low bealachs, I reluctantly left the main ridge to traverse to Munro No 2.  For this, I had to descend all the way to 618m before re-ascending over 300m to the isolated summit of Beinn nan Aighenan (960m; hill of the hinds).  From here, you can see all the remaining hills and it’s a sobering sight if you’re planning to do them all today! 

Beinn nan Aighenan
It’s best just to keep your head down and plod steadily on. I know I did - back to the depressingly low bealach and back up the other side until I regained the main ridge and, after a steep climb, triumphantly secured my 3rd Munro of the day: Glas Bheinn Mhor (997m; big green-grey hill).

Glas Bheinn Mhor 
You’re never on level ground for very long on this route and there’s not much of it on the steep descent to the next bealach at the head of the Allt Mheuran.  

Stob Coir’an Albannaich & Glas Bheinn Mhor From Ben Starav
This is where most sensible folk would peel off left and return to Glen Etive!  Me?  No, I just had to toil up another steep slope before running out of path and crossing rougher ground leading to the surprisingly small summit of Stob Coir’an Albannaich (928m; peak of the corrie of the Scotsman).  The summit cairn sits on top of a strange grassy mound perched on the edge of the mountain’s sheer N face.  It’s a great spot, even if late-afternoon fatigue can take the edge off the aesthetics!

Stob Coir’an Albannaich
As the autumn sun started to sink in the W, I trudged wearily on heading E looking for the wee cairn that marks the descent route N to the next bealach.  No worries today (it stayed clear all day), and I was soon down at 754m and traversing the intermediate top of Meall Tarsuinn over indistinct ground for the final climb of the day.  One last ascent and I had my 5th Munro of the day: Meall nan Eun (928m; hill of the birds).

Meall nan Eun
The sun really was low now so I wasted no time departing from the flat summit and following the broad NW ridge for the descent into Glen Ceitlein.  There are some awkward steep granite slabs to negotiate on this descent and it is better to trend to the right to avoid most of them.  You run out of path for a while and it can get quite soggy, but eventually, a clear path emerges on the N side of the Allt Ceitlein and this leads all the way back down to Glen Etive.

Glas Bheinn Mhor From Beinn nan Aighenan
Headtorch on, I followed the path under a bright crescent moon until it intercepted a vehicle track in the main glen that leads back to the Coileitir access track.  By the time I reached the car, I had been walking for 11 hrs, covered almost 30 Kms and had climbed over 2700m. 
And boy, it felt like it! 
Late Afternoon Sunshine on the Etive Hills

Check out my plans for similar walks at: http://www.hillways.co.uk/summer/summer.htm

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Carn Mor Dearg

Carn Mor Dearg
A much-needed and very welcome improvement in the weather has enabled me to tackle the few remaining hills of my 3rd Munro round.  The highest of these was Carn Mor Dearg which holds hands with Ben Nevis and is connected to the former by the much-vaunted Carn Mor Dearg (CMD) arête.

Glen Nevis
For this ascent, I opted for the short, steep climb from the end of the road in Glen Nevis.  This avoids the long haul up the mountain’s N slopes and does include a traverse of the arête - but it’s hard work!

The Carn Mor Dearg Arête 
Parking at the road-end in Glen Nevis, it took a few minutes to locate the path in deep bracken.  When it did appear, so began the hard work - almost 500m of sustained steep climbing alongside the water-chute of the Allt Coire Eoghainn.  At least the views came quickly!

Ben Nevis From Carn Mor Dearg
The path disappears once in Coire Eoghainn, but reappears higher up just before the grassy slopes give way to a boulder field.  Keep climbing and all of a sudden, things begin to happen.  Almost simultaneously, the N face of Ben Nevis, the CMD arête and Carn Mor Dearg itself appear with the deep hollow of Coire Leis immediately in front of you.

Coire Leis
Not for the first time this year, the wind now became a problem with gusts of 50 mph threatening further progress.  Fortunately, the wind abated sufficiently to allow me to continue and I wasted no time in traversing the arête on to less hazardous ground.  With stunning views across Coire Leis to the Ben for added interest, the going got easier for the final climb up on to Carn Mor Dearg (1220m; big red hill).

The View North from the Summit
From the summit, I descended the peak’s sharply-defined E ridge to the 830m bealach between Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Mor.  

Aonach Mor & Aonach Beag From Carn Mor Dearg
From here, and in thankfully lighter winds, the return to the car was straightforward - down Coire Giubhsachan, up and over the bealach immediately N of Meall Cumhann and then down to the car park in Glen Nevis.

Check out my plans for similar walks at: http://www.hillways.co.uk/summer/summer.htm