Saturday, 7 September 2013

Garbh Bheinn of Ardgour

Garbh Bheinn from Sron a' Garbh Coire Bhig

Garbh Bheinn behind the Ardgour Hotel
Two wise men on the ascent
Grippy and Pretty
Over Loch Linnhe to Glencoe
Beinn Resipol from bealach
Summit of Garbh Bheinn looking to Rhum
Sron a' Garbh Choire Bhig from Garbh Bheinn
Rock coire north of Garbh Bheinn
Garbh Bheinn from Bheinn Bhig, descent by gulley on left
Coire an Iubhair from Beinn Bheag
Garbh Bheinn and Beinn Bhig from Coire an Iubhair

Friday, 6 September 2013
Ascent:        1200 metres
Distance:      15 kilometres
Time:           4 hours 56 minutes

*    Sron a' Gharbh Choire Bhig          823m      1hr   39mins
c    Garbh Bheinn                                885m      2hrs  6mins
g   Beinn Bheag                                   736m      3hrs 36mins

At last, I have climbed Garbh Bheinn, one of the best of corbetts hidden in the remote Ardgour peninsula. It has been on my radar since 1973 when I first arrived in Glasgow. During a morning coffee break at my work, it was described to me with poetic rhetoric as one of the very best hills by Sir Robert Grieve, the doyen of Scottish Planning and a keen mountaineer. For forty years it has remained as one of my good intentions but I have been diverted by too many Munro rounds and its isolated position that makes it difficult to link up with other hills. It has been on my walk list all year and twice I have been ready to go but the weather had turned foul so I have headed to other lesser hills. Today the forecast was for good visibility and sunny periods although there was a nip in the air and a stiff northerly breeze.

I left early to catch the bus from Crianlarich to Corran. The ferry was busy and I just missed the 9:45am. It was fortuitous because I had a fascinating discussion with a 70-year-old motorcyclist who had been a nuclear physicist and management guru as well as having worked for Robert Maxwell. I spoke to the drivers of a few of the vehicles on the ferry asking for a lift for the 7 miles to the start of the ascent before a fellow foot passenger said she would ask the person giving her a lift to Strontian to take me as far as Glen Tarbert, the start of the Garbh Bheinn walk.

It felt like the first day of autumn and there had been a ground frost in Ardgour, but the skies were evenly splashed with blues, greys and whites. The path that starts at the bridge over the Abhainn Coire an Iubhair provided a route through the boggy lower slopes leading to the hidden Garbh Bheinn. As the gradient increased bands of rock outcrops gave drier and better footing. The sparkling schist and gneiss rocks brought back fond memories of geology lectures by Professor Brown who was a keen climber and leading expert on Scottish Metamorphic rocks.

By 350 metres I had caught a couple of age advantaged walkers who entertained me for ten minutes with the sort of West of Scotland humour and wit that enlivens any walk. I continued the climb, enjoying the rockscapes which provided a grippy and adventurous route to  Sron a' Gharbh Choire Bhig, the adjoining top. Suddenly the summit of Garbh Bheinn was in full view with its fine rock cliffs above a deep coire.  Views opened up to the north and west with the peaks of Rhum and Beinn Resipol very prominent. The breeze had blown itself out and I was still jacketless.

There is a steep descent to the bealach that links the Sron to Garbh Bheinn. It was the type of day when walking is easy and the 140-metre climb to the summit was up a well-graded path which headed to the left of the summit before curving back. As I took photos and admired the views I could see a couple of walkers on the Sron, I could hear them from across the bealach as they were still blethering. But it was lunchtime so I emptied my rucksack of food before deciding to head for the descent to the north with the intention of climbing the Graham of Beinn Bheag.

The descent was tricky and after threading my way down into the bare rock of the coire, I saw a narrow col on the northern buttress which looked like the key to the descent to the head of Coire an Iubhair where a small lochan marked the high point. It required a 150-metre descent down a narrow and steep gulley, mainly grass but one or two rocky sections. From the lochan, I climbed to the north-west to gain the western end of the long ridge that culminates in the Graham, Beinn Bheag. It was a splendid walk along the ridge towards the Glencoe hills and with a skyline filled with the corbetts of Morvern to the north-west.

I was tempted to go over Sgurr Mhic Eacharna but I had not marked it on my map as a Graham although it looked a long enjoyable ridge. I thought it might be quicker to descend to the glen and make a quick exit to the road. I thought that I might catch a lift from the two other walkers to the Corran Ferry, they were making a direct descent from Garbh Bheinn. I did not relish an extra 7 miles walk to the ferry on reaching the road.

The descent was steep and lower down was very boggy before I picked up the path. The path was a curious mixture of short fast stony sections and treacherous bog; it took me 45 minutes before I reached the road. The other walkers had not yet returned and I could not see them on the descent. As I had a ferry to catch to make the 5pm bus, I decided to hitch and after half a dozen cars and lorries had passed me, a white van belonging to a landscape gardener stopped. It was one that had come over on the same ferry and I had asked the driver if he was going to Strontian, he was going in the other direction but remembered me and gave me a lift to the ferry and then to Onich.

I had 45 minutes before the bus arrived so treated myself to a pint in the hotel and I watched the rain clouds gather over Glencoe. As ever the bus journey through Glencoe and over Rannoch Moor was an inspiring end to the day. Bob Grieve was right, Garbh Bheinn is a special hill.

Bidean nam Bian from Onich

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