Saturday, 7 June 2014

Chno Dearg

Start of the walk
Stob Coire Sgriodain as the cloud clears
South Top of Stob Coire Sgriodain
Chno Dearg from Stob Coire Sgriodain
Loch Treig from Stop Coire Sgriodain
Mamores from Garbh-bheinn
Eassains and Loch Treig
The track up Leum Uilleim

Glencoe from Leum Uilleim
The Eassains and Loch Treig from Leum Uilleim
Loch Ossian from Leum Uilleim

Friday, 6 June 2014

Ascent:      1555 metres
Distance:   33 kilometres
Time:         8 hours 52 minutes

t   Meall Garbh                  976m         2hrs  34mins
m  Chno Dearg                1047m        3hrs   2mins
t    South Top                    956m        3hrs   41mins
m  Stob Coire Sgriodain    977m        3hrs  53mins
Corrour                             400m         6hrs 24mins

c   Leum Uilleim               909m          1hr 26mins          2hrs 18mins

It was a fine Friday sandwiched between the wet days of early June. I decided to collect the two munros east of Loch Treig. The normal ascent is from Fersit but it is a long drive of 120 miles to get there and better done as part of a multi day trip. I have fond memories of my first ascent of these hills on a dull November day in 1990. We had stayed at the bunk house at Roy Bridge and climbed of Beinn Teallach and Beinn a' Chaorrainn from Roughburn in the morning. It was 1pm as we reached Fersit and heard on the news that Michael Heseltine had declared that he would stand against Mrs Thatcher for PM. It was the beginning of the end, and  although it was dark when we got down that evening, there was a lightness to our steps.

I started to look at the maps and realised it would be possible to catch the West Highland line train to Tulloch and walk over the two munros and down the long ridge of Garbh-bheinn back to Corrour. But it involves a couple of miles walking along the railway line from Tulloch back to Fersit and I know from previous experience that the distance between sleepers does not fit easily into my stride pattern. Why not just make it a round trip from Corrour and, if time permits, I could take in the nearby Corbett of Leum Uilleim? I would have 9 hours between trains if I caught the early morning sleeper train.

I made the train with 5 minutes to spare and the friendly station master at Bridge of Orchy told me about new franchise for the sleeper services that had been won by Serco. I found it typically British that a company that ran prisons and prisoner escort services would be running a sleeper service for people to escape from our overcrowded cities. The train pulled in and I found myself in a the only non sleeper carriage, which was full of German hikers, all immaculately equipped in their hiking uniforms and looking a lot like Serco escorts. I had to remove a towel to find a seat. The weather was exactly as predicted on the quite excellent Met Office Mountain Forecast which is now available for individual hills; there was low cloud down to 600 metres but it was  dry and still.

On arrival at Corrour station I took the path that runs to the west of the rail line and crosses the boggy upland by the high point of the West Highland line just north of Corrour. I was being escorted by the pack of Germans, which seemed odd since most people head east towards Loch Ossian and the Ben Alder range of hills. I made my escape and after a couple of miles I crossed the tracks and started the long ascent of the ridge leading to Chno Dearg. I found a track vehicle route which twisted its way to the knolly ridge and then began the steady climb along the ridge.

There was a large cairn at 700 metres and then after a slight dip a more gentle climb to the summit of Garbh-bheinn. I was in the cloud now with visibility down to 100 metres. The silence was at full volume in the totally still air. It was interrupted by the plaintive cry of plovers and occasionally a transatlantic jet aircraft passing overhead. Occasionally a ghost like deer would be silhouetted against the skyline. It was a remarkably peaceful passage of the walk. It seemed to be taking a long time but another look at the map confirmed that this was one long walk. My initial hope had been to complete the two munros by 1pm., which would give me a couple of hours to get back to the railway line and then 3 hours to climb Leum Uilleim. To make matters worse my feet were blistering because of socks that were too thin and I had only one plaster.

It had become a challenge and I upped my pace, the two steeper climbs to Meall Garbh and then Chno Dearg were completed without any breaks. The views were non existent until I had descended from Chno Dearg to the broad bealach that separates it from the much more interesting ridge towards Stob Coire Sgriodain. The summits were slowly revealing themselves with the quartzite white cairn of its South Top providing a good view of the summit that was just capped by the clouds. Ten minutes later I was at the summit and miraculously it coincided with its emergence from cloud at the time predicted by the Met Office. I sat on the wonderful perch overlooking the deep trench of Loch Treig and towards the impressive Easains to the west. It was 1:10pm and I allowed myself ten minutes for lunch.

I began the walk back with an ambitious hope that I could reach the railway line by 3:30pm. This would give me a fighting chance of completing the Corbett but this would require me to shave an hour off the ascent time to Chno Dearg. The race was on and apart from a few photos on the move there were no stops until I crossed the railway line. The views were superb with the whole of the Mamores and Grey Corries coming into view and Glencoe visible beyond the Blackwater reservoir. The plovers were still in full cry but apart from a distant walker seen on the skyline descending Chno Dearg there were no other walkers. I observed the massive drop towards Beinn na Lap that had been my route up to Garbh-bheinn the last time I did these hills in 2007 during a Friday night/Saturday round taking in the ten munros between Laggan and Loch Ossian.

I made the railway line on schedule and then returned along the path almost all the way to Corrour. It was 4pm as I set off up the extremely boggy track route up Leum Uilleim. If this was treacle then it was like walking through a scottish mountain bog. I was pushing myself and decided that if I didn't make the summit by 5pm I would turn round. At about 700 metres the gradient lessened and it became a pleasant trail on the Tom an Eoin ridge over drier ground. The afternoon sun had grown stronger and the views to Ben Nevis were superb. Unfortunately the trail goes to the head of Corrie a' Bhric Bheag and this added an extra kilometre or so. I was reluctant to lose height by making a more direct beeline for the summit. I started the last 100 metres of climbing at 5pm, I was not letting this one get away. I had decided on looking at the profile of Leum Uilleim that a direct descent from the summit was the quickest descent and I figured that I could do it in an hour. The summit was rounded with a large cairn  with wonderful views at all points of the compass.

I had long since finished my water so there was no reason to stop and apart from a few photos I passed the cairn and began the charge to Corrour. There was a faint path that I lost a few times coming down the rock strewn ridge and by the time I reached 650 metres there was only the long slog through the boggy ground which was hoaching with pale yellow moths. I began to fantasise about a pint at the bar adjacent to the station and made it with 15 minutes to spare. The bar was closed.  The station was empty apart from one other walker and three full litter bins. The train was fairly full with tourists, bottles of wine were being drunk as we passed through the amazingly wild scenery resplendent in the perfect evening sunshine. I was home by 8pm.

Mamores, Ben Nevis and Grey Corries from  Leum Uilleim

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