Sunday, 25 May 2014

Sgurr na Ciche to Sgurr Mor

Glen Dessary
Sgurr na Ciche gully to Fidean na Ciche
Pegmatite? rock in Gulley
Loch Nevis from Sgurr na Ciche
Trig Point Hat - Sgurr na Ciche
Garbh Chioch Mhor wall
Garbh Chioch Mhor to Bheag ridge
Garbh Chioch Mor and Sgurr na Ciche

Garbh Chioch Mhor and Sgurr na Ciche

Sgurr Mor from Sgurr nan Corriechan
Rainbow over Loch Quoich
Friday, 24 May 2014
Ascent:      2360 metres
Distance:   32 kilometres
Time:        11 hours 55 minutes

Sgurr na Ciche              1040m     4hrs 19mins
Garbh Chioch Mhor      1013m    5hrs    5mins
Garbh Chioch Bheag      966m     5hrs 27mins
Sgurr nan Coireachan     953m     6hrs 36mins
Sgurr Beag                      890m    8hrs 14mins
Sgurr Mor                      1003m   8hrs 53mins                  

A dawn chorus of cuckoos roused us from sleep but at 4am, it was a bit early to start. There was still time for some more snoozing.  We were fully awake by 6am and had a brew, some breakfast, packed the unusually dry camping gear, prepared our packs and loaded the car before driving a kilometre to the car park at Strathan. We started the walk at 7:45am on a day with little wind and bright skies. It was going to be a long and tough day. We had to be back to Strathan by 8pm if we were to get to Fort William by 9pm to meet Gregor who was coming up on the Glasgow bus.

The first few kilometres past Glendessary and its collection of buildings including a new shooting lodge and fine new cottage made for interesting and easy walking. When we arrived at the cottage at Upper Glendessary, I crossed the stile behind the house to begin the uphill diversion but John called me back, the cottage was empty and we could follow the main track. It seemed a good idea but thereafter the path crossed a boggy meadow and brought us to a barely functional footbridge over the river Desarry and then into the conifer plantations. A group of three walkers had just left the A' Chuil bothy and were ahead of us. All heavily loaded for a walk through to Inverey. Our 20-litre daysacks seemed weightless as we passed them along the meandering riverside in what is a delightful if somewhat boggy trail. As we climbed up to join the path we should have taken from Upper Glendessary, the day's real climbing began.

Just before the high point of the path at 314 metres, I found a faint path heading up a grassy ramp, my instinct is always to climb as soon as possible. After five minutes of wet ground, the path alighted onto a track which had recently been cut into the hillside and provided an easy route up the next 250 metres. We emerged on the wonderful terrace at 600 metres that sits below Garbh Chioch Mhor. I have camped here on two previous occasions and the views over Loch Ness and into Knoydart make it a very special place. Great folds of igneous intrusions are interspersed with short grass and dotted with pools of water. We were both enjoying the stroll and took some time to eat, drink and ablute before the serious stuff ahead.

The gully that climbs up to Fidean na Ciche between Sguur na Ciche and Garbh Chioch Mhor is an absolute pleasure, a steep scramble through the mica and feldspar-rich pink igneous rocks, I assume it is some type of Pegmatite from a dyke. You cross the cascading burn several times before reaching the bealach. At the wall, the path to Sgurr na Ciche continues steeply to the left and as we climbed the cloud lifted from the summit. After a brief flatter section, the route steepens into another scramble to the summit ridge and then just a couple of hundred metres to the summit that is perched overlooking Loch Nevis. Two Glaswegians were already there and we engaged in banter as a sleet shower briefly passed through. The ugly concrete cylindrical trig point had been smashed since my last visit in 2008 and I posed as a human trig point for the record. We had some food but we needed to move on if we were to be down at the car by 8pm.

The walk or scramble across to Garbh Chioch Mhor is one of the most memorable sections in any munro round, The steep descent back to Fidean na Ciche is followed by a less steep climb through the crags. A quite magnificent wall has remained largely intact despite the constant rain, wind, snow and ice of the past hundred years. Its beauty is in the angle of the large stones, the richly coloured hues of the rock and the ridgeline that accentuates the rough hewn intimacy of this landscape. By the time we reached the summit, the cloud had reformed over Sgurr na Ciche and the weather looked ominous to the east.

We began the long walk along to the top of Garbh Chioch Bheag and for the second time on this ridge, I was privileged to see an eagle glide along effortlessly before heading across to Sgurr nan Correachan in barely a couple of minutes. It would take us more than an hour to cover the same distance. The walking is pleasurable but slow with lots of rocky sections and undulations before the final steep descent down to Bealach nan Gall and then a 220-metre climb to Sgurr nan Correachan. We were slipping behind schedule and after a lunch break, I was probably a bit ruthless in trying to move us on from the summit. There are two more intermediate peaks, An Eag and Sgurr Bheag, both distinguished by sizeable drops.

The climb to Sgurr Bheag is greatly eased by a well-constructed stalkers path which zigzags to the summit at a gradient that allows a good pace. Then just the long climb of 255 metres to Sgurr Mor. I was determined to reach the summit before 5pm and made it with 5 minutes to spare. At last, there was a phone coverage and I phoned Gregor who was heading for his bus to say we might be slightly late in reaching Fort William.

The rain had soaked us over the last couple of hours and my fairly new Montane Event jacket had wetted out.  I resisted putting on overtrousers but felt chilled after spending half an hour on the summit. I thought the quickest route back was to descend to the south-east, the path would drop us to 750 metres and then take a direct line down to Glen Kingie. I was probably right but it was punishing after already climbing 2200 metres. A large herd of deer scattered before us as we descended the steep grassy slopes. Crossing the river Kingie was no problem at this stage of the day, soaked and with wet feet, I bounced across some stones without any trepidation about getting my feet any wetter. Ahead was a climb of 150 metres over boggy slopes to reach the top of the pass back to Glendessary. Surprisingly I still felt full of walking and at last, the rain had abated. I found a faint path nearer to the high point and then we followed this for a mile before it began to drop into Glendessary.

A family with two children were taking an evening stroll along the Glendessary track, they were accompanied by four dogs, including what I assumed must be a Great Dane, it lolloped over to say hello and I was given the familiar refrain that it is really very friendly but watch your behind. I charged on so that I could change and be ready for the drive to Fort William.  By the time we were ready to leave, having changed out of our damp gear and made conversation with four heavily laden walkers who were looking for somewhere to camp, it was 8:30pm. We made the Fort by 9:30pm after an interminable half hour driving alongside Loch Arkaig. We had a reasonably priced meal in Weatherspoons before driving back to Glenfinnan and pitching tents at 11:00pm on a midge infested parking spot by the river. Seldom had we dived into tents quicker, it had been a full day and I was asleep before my head hit my rolled up jacket.

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