Saturday, 7 May 2016

Sgurr Dhomhnuill and Carn na Nathrach

Sgurr Dhomhnuill from Carn na Nathrach

Friday, 6 May 2016

Ascent:     1691 metres
Distance:  22 kilometres
Time:        8 hours 29 minutes

Sgurr Dhomhnuill      888m       2hrs 53mins
Carn na Nathrach       786m       4hrs 57mins
Druim Garbh ridge    704m        6hrs 31mins

After a night in the Ariundle Centre bunk house, I gave myself a treat, a cooked breakfast in the excellent cafe. I had decided to climb the nearby mountain, Sgurr Dhomhnuill, the highest peak on the Ardgour peninsula rather than  my original intention of the Fuar Bheinn and Creach Bheinn horseshoe that form an excellent walk but are possible in a day's outing from home. The optimist in me had also decided to try and add Carn na Nathrach to the walk; it would take 8 hours or so but save a day later during my attempt to complete all the corbetts. 

The walk began by a stroll through the Ariundle Oakwood, a national nature reserve. It was a bright morning, the winds of the last few days had died out and it was warm enough to walk without a jacket. The excellent car park is 500 metres further up the road from the centre, beyond it a track continues for 4.5 kilometres to the old lead mines. The oak forest is festooned with lichens creating an exhibition of bright green sculptures beneath the oak canopy. The primroses were out and the woodpeckers provided a soundtrack for the early part of the walk. At the junction a couple of kilometres from the car park it is better to take the left hand trail that stays high and then climbs as a path towards the remnants of the mine workings where ores that contain the element strontium (Sr) was discovered. It was isolated and named after the local village by Sir Humphrey Davy.

Beyond the old mine workings a path crosses the waste to the burn, which I crossed whilst keeping my feet dry. I headed across rough rising ground towards the long ridge of Druim Garbh. Once on the ridge the walking is very enjoyable with the outlying peak of Sgurr na h-Ighinn ahead. I undercut this peak by an obvious ramp to the north and arrived at the bealach below Sgurr Dhomhnuill. It had taken me this far to work off the breakfast so a top up of water was all that was needed before the final 200 metres of ascent to the fine pointed summit of the mountain. It was still before noon and the summit was a good viewpoint. I nibbled a few nuts and a chocolate bar and set off slightly nervous about the route ahead, why had no-one else attempted it? The two hills are both difficult to access but are only 2 kilometres apart as the eagle flies but it involves a combined 900 metres of descent and ascent over uncompromising ground.

I soon found out how difficult it was going to be, the very steep descent down the north west ridge was a bit of a riddle, with crags breaking up any obvious route and no sign of any path. It took almost half an hour to descend the 240 metres. I decided to lose more height by heading due north hoping to avoid the crags to my left that protect the 803metre top of the Druim Garbh ridge. Sadly the OS had failed to show the full extent of the crags on the land ranger sheet and I found myself in a walker's worst terrain. Vast bolsters of granite were interlocked with tongues of boggy grass and mosses. Dozens of small burns were disgorging water creating slimy rock faces and the steepness of the slopes just added danger to the mix. It took a long 50 minutes to negotiate my way to the bealach at 390 metres. And then for the tough stuff an unrelenting 400 metres climb up a steep gulley to reach the ridge of Carn na Nathrach. This was a walk for masochists and explained why no-one else seems to have bothered with it or if so have not shared the agony.

Carn na Nathan was an excellent summit, a long graceful ridge with a pap like summit that hosts an attractive rounded cairn. It was 2pm and I was almost an hour behind my schedule for the walk. It was time for a break and I ate what little food I had brought, an orange and some nuts and drank my fill of water before beginning the next leg that would return me to the bealach that I had just climbed up from and then take a rising traverse to climb the Druim Garbh ridge. I was feeling strong  and found a reasonable descent route to the typical boggy bealach. The ascent to the Druim Garbh ridge was over a rock strewn rough ground and after 20 minutes of this I decided to head straight up a gulley. It was another 250 metres of punishment with loose rock and mud slips at a gradient that made you dizzy. It was with some relief that I topped the ridge but unfortunately I had reached it at a height of 704 metres, I should have continued the traverse for a further kilometre before climbing, it would have saved me 100 metres of ascent. 

It was all downhill from here, I headed for the burn that flows westwards from Sgurr Dhomhnuill, It was a perfect mountain stream and walking along its banks, the lilting rhythm of the water cascading over the rocks more than compensated for the boggy ground. I eventually hit a little used path that joined up the frequent bogs alongside the river. My ankle gaiters were completely out of their depth as I squelched along like a baby elephant. Just before I reached the old mine workings, I went through a gate and onto a better path that went past a few of the old mine shafts. It was with some relief when I alighted on the path down to the glen from the mine. I then enjoyed the final hour of the walk passing through the oak woodlands as the evening sun cast long shadows and the lichen covered sculptures provided constant interest.  

I was back at the car for 6pm and hoped to catch the news of the election results. Alas there was no radio reception so I drove on to Ardgour hoping to catch the 6:30pm ferry. Unfortunately the Scottish Six Day Motor Cycle Trial had been taking place in Ardour and there was a queue of almost a mile for the ferry. I was able to listen to the news and admire the serenity of the perfect spring evening and the man patrolling the beach playing his bagpipes probably told me all I needed to know about the election results. Three police motorcyclists were helping control the traffic queues. I fell into conversation with one of them as the queue made intermittent progress and we discovered that we had both trained with Ross County football team. I had never made the team when I worked in Dingwall for a summer, he had managed a few games. We fell into an easy chat about Police Scotland, sport and life in Dingwall. He caught the ferry before me as the police completed their supervision of the event but before leaving he came back to say goodbye and wished me a safe journey home. It was well after 8pm when I caught the ferry, it had been shuttling across the loch constantly to eliminate the traffic delays. It was a beautiful drive home through Glencoe and over Rannoch Moor, very little traffic and I was home by 10pm.

Path through the Ariundle oak woods
Former lead mines with Sgurr na h-Ighinn peeping out
Carn na Nathrach from Sgurr Dhomhnuill
Carn na Nathrach summit
Sgurr Dhomhnuill and my route down to the bealach
Glorious Granite slabs
Descending Carn na Nathrach to the bealach
The route up Druim Garbh, not for the faint hearted
Garbh Bheinn from Druim Garbh
Looking east towards Sgurr Dhomhnuill
Ariundle Oakwoods
Piper on the shores of Loch Linnhe

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