Saturday, 19 September 2015

Sgurr Ghiubhsachain

The walk in from Callop
Streap and Gulvain touching the clouds
Sgorr Craobh a' Chaorainn 
Sgorr Craobh a' Chaorainn from Meall na Cuataige
Sgurr Ghiubhsachain
Druim Tarsuinn ridge, Sgurr Dhomhnuill to left
Beinn Odhar Bheag and Beinn Odhar Mhor across Loch Shiel
Loch Shiel looking north
Loch Shiel and Glenfinnan from Meall nan Creag Leac
Starting the climb up Druim Tarsuinn
From the summit of Druim Tarsuinn looking south east
Friday, 18 September 2015
Ascent:         1585metres
Distance:       24 kilometres
Time:             7 hours 30 minutes

t    Meall na Cuataige                 566m     1hr   34mins
c   Sgorr Craobh a' Chaorainn    775m      2hrs  6mins
c   Sgurr Ghiubhsachan              849m      3hrs  6mins
t    Meall nan Creag Leac           755m      3hrs 42mins
c   Druim Tarsuinn                     770m      4hrs 52mins

I had arranged to go to Skye this week but did not think the Inn Pinn would be much fun in the windy conditions and poor visibility. But Friday looked good in the west and I wanted a day out after spending the past three weeks at home with grandchildren and gardening duties. I was up and off early having decided that these three tough hills south of Glenfinnan would give me a good workout. The traffic was not bad apart from the usual delays south of Fort William and I was parked at Callop and walking by 10am.

I had been discussing the hills with the man parked next to me who intended to do two of the corbetts and he asked if I wanted to walk with him but he was going up via Loch Shiel. This would have added an hour to my day so I declined and set off up the track to Callop and on towards Cona Glen. The walking conditions were just perfect: blue skies, cool morning air, a barely discernible breeze and a clarity that lightens up any day in the hills. I met a couple from Germany coming down the track, their rucksacks were overloaded for a walk from Fort William to Mallaig over 5 days. I suggested a couple of camping spots en route and felt pleased that they would enjoy two good days in the Knoydart hills. They warned me about the boggy path ahead but I had guessed that and I would not be spending much time on paths today.

After the end of the track there was an unusual gate set at an angle to the vertical so that it closed and stayed closed by gravity, I was struck by the simple ingenuity. Then a winding path that climbed quite steeply until I reached a point after the next gate where I thought it best to veer off to the west and climb the ridge to Meall na Cuartaige, the outlying top of Sgorr Craobh a' Chaorainn. The morning sun made it very warm and I stripped down to a T shirt for the hard labour ahead. The ground conditions were as tough as you can get, the slopes still waterlogged from rain and the grass knee high at the lower levels. As I climbed I reached the exposed rock bands that made the going a lot easier.

I was distracted by the evocative and familiar sound of a Black Five locomotive pulling the Mallaig train through the narrow low gap between Loch Eil  and Loch Shiel. I watched as it began to climb up to the Glenfinnan viaduct. It stoked me up a bit and I was soon sitting on the summit taking a drink and soaking in the superb panorama all around me. Gulvain has never looked so tempting and the distant third corbett of the day, Druim Tarsuinn, looked an awful long way off. I was glad that I had resisted the option of making this a two day walk over to the distant peak of Sgorr Dhomhnuill and then over two more corbetts on the way to the Corran ferry. It looked like a route for masochists and I have begun to jettison that tendency when it comes to hill walking.

The slight drop and climb to Sgorr Craobh a' Chaorainn was the best of walking, a short ridge followed by a steady ascent to a fine airy summit. It was time for a drink. I didn't dally for long as the prospect of lunch of the summit of Sgurr Ghiubhsachain was an incentive to start the next leg of the walk. The initial descent is down a steep rock face and I turned it to the left (south). There was a faint path that found a way through the crags and then onto a broad ridge that descended to a small lochan. As I sauntered down an eagle soared high above Sgurr Ghiubhsachain and glided off towards Cona Glen. I had the company of a couple of ravens for the next couple of kilometres.

I began to climb another gentle ridge before turning north at the head of the corrie where I identified a good line up a grass ramp leading to the summit ridge. It was quite easy going and I was pleased to be at the summit shortly after 1pm, thirty minutes ahead of my schedule. There is a large cairn at the summit and a jumble of rock outcrops all around. Some clouds had formed so lunch was not as sun drenched as I had hoped. The man in the next car had not yet arrived so I continued on southwards dropping through a complex topography of rock outcrops.

There were glimpses of the cobalt blue Loch Shiel but it looked as if there would be a better viewpoint at the top of Meall nan Creag Leac about 2 kilometres to the west. Although there were lots of  outcrops it was a fairly easy ridge and, being ahead of schedule, I took 20 minutes to walk out to the top to take some photos. What I had not anticipated was the inhospitable terrain ahead. There is a drop to below 500 metres that gave me the chance to drop down to a burn to top up my water.

The climb up Druim Tarsuinn was not what I wanted at this time of the day but I put my head down and ratcheted my way up the pillows of exposed rock to a bealach and then up the final 120 metres of steeper slopes guided by two parallel sets of old fence posts. The summit of Druim Tarsuinn or  Stob a' Bhealach an Sgriodain (snappy name) as the SMC book would prefer it to be called, was a rough collection of rocks. I looked over to Sgorr Dhomhnuill askance, the drop and climb up the slopes opposite were about as steep and uninviting as any I have seen.

My problem now was to find the best way down to Cona Glen. The guide books tell you to retreat to the bealach before Druim Tarsuinn and then descend to the head of Cona Glen but I was tempted by a long ridge to the north east that seemed to be more direct. It was an excellent route until I reached the glen, where there was about a 300 metre complex of braided streams with thousands of clumps of grass providing the only footing. It was a physical example of pointillism and could have been designed by George Seurat. I had to balance across the clumps to avoid the several inches of water that provided a stagnant mud moat of punishment if I wobbled off. The river when it arrived was no problem I bounced across on the stones without even washing the mud off my shoes. But then there was a hundred metres of ascent through long grasses to reach the path from Cona Glen. I was tired but still moving quite well and hoping to be back at the car for 5:30pm and home for the start of the Rugby World Cup.

I then caught up the man I had met in the morning, he had climbed Sgurr Ghiubhsachain but decided to descend to the Cona Glen path rather than tackle the second corbett because he had cramp. We walked back slowly over the last 5 kilometres enjoying the evening sun and exchanging stories about our walking trips and life in general. He was a munroist and slightly ahead of me in his attempt to finish the corbetts but spent a part of the year at a house in the South Downs that was making him a more of a rambler than hill walker.  Although I was tempted when he invited me back to the hotel for a beer, I declined and set off to drive home to catch the second half of the rugby and, to celebrate a hard day in the hills with a bottle of Wainwright beer, exquisitely lovely as it says on the bottle..

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