Saturday, 2 September 2017

Ben More (Mull)

A'Chioch and Ben More
Friday 1 September, 2017

Ascent:     1326 metres
Distance:  13 kilometres
Time:        5 hours 8 minutes

m  Ben More     966m       1hr  49mins
t    A' Chioch     867m       2hrs 27mins
g   Beinn Fhada 701m       3hrs 19mins

An early start to reach Oban for 9:00am and hopefully obtain a standby place on the 9:50am Oban to  Craignure ferry. Ben More had been on my radar for a couple of weeks if a decent day was possible and the forecast was excellent visibility with sunny periods. I obtained the penultimate place on a full ferry, the sailing was a pleasure and, as always nowadays, the staff on the Calmac ferries were helpful and friendly. The Sound of Mull is a special place. Our eldest daughter learnt to walk on a Calmac ferry as we sailed back through the Sound from our first ever family holiday on the Isle of Coll. I also have fond memories of sailing up the Sound in the Tobermory Yacht Race and again in the first leg of the Island Peaks race in 1990, probably my favourite ever ultra race. Clement weather and a calm sea made for a relaxed crossing and I paced the deck reflecting on those magic moments.

It is a 20 mile drive to Salen and then across the narrow waist of Mull to the mesmeric beauty of Loch na Keal. I parked at Dhiseig at the start of the tourist path up Ben More. I had descended this way on three occasions but never climbed the hill from here having always approached it by the scramble up the east ridge. There were already twenty or so cars parked at the foot of the climb, I found a space on the machair above the pebbled beach about 250 metres back. A man parked next to me and was about to take his two young boys up the hill, they seemed more interested in playing on the beach. It was 11:30am when I set out and followed the path that was obvious from several groups plodding upwards. The path was suffering from the 2017 bogginess syndrome and, in an old pair of trail shoes, my feet were soaked within minutes. Although it was warm with bursts of sunshine on the lower slopes, the summit of Ben More was lost in the clouds. I kept an even pace to the summit,  stopping at 300 metres to take off a jumper and fill up with water from the sparkling burn.

I was making good progress until I met a couple of munro bashing Geordies on their descent and we engaged in friendly banter before they shot off down for some beer. This was at about 700 metres and from here the stony path is at a gradient that allows a reasonable walking pace to the summit. By now the cloud level had dropeed to about 750 metres. Arriving at the summit was like emerging into an Andrew Gormley installation with lots of randomly placed static figures silhouetted in the mist on the circumference of the circular stone shelter. It was still, a slightly eerie atmosphere prevailed, no one was speaking to each other. A dog was being fed in the summit shelter. I ate some lunch and decided that I was well ahead of schedule so that there would be time to complete the horseshoe to A'Chioch and Beinn Fhada. I began the descent down the steep rocky east ridge. Everyone else was returning via the tourist route so it was with some trepidation that I searched out the route down, visibility was about 50 metres.

It is steep with loose scree and rock faces and lots of potential routes in the rivulets of scree. It is always harder descending than climbing steep ridges like this. I was careful to check all the options before selecting my way down. After a descent of about 70 metres, the gradient lessens and a distinct path guides you across the narrow bealach to the foot of the less difficult climb up to the outlying peak of A' Chioch. It is a classic ridge traverse although today there was no chance to see anything during the crossing. At the small summit cairn I had a rest, another walker was about to leave and headed down the steep rocky ridge towards Beinn Fhada. I followed him 5 minutes later, checking the compass a couple of times to make sure I was on the correct course in the mist.

Below 700 metres I emerged from the cloud and found a path towards the bealach at 540 metres. It is quite a steep climb of 160 metres through a couple of rock bands to the summit of Beinn Fhada but the going seemed easy. I emerged above the small lochan to a pleasant summit ledge of grass and rock. I had booked the 7:15pm ferry back to Oban and even with the 20-mile drive and requirement to be at the terminal 30 minutes before embarking, I had lots of time in hand. I stayed awhile hoping that the cloud would disperse before beginning the splendid Beinn Fhada ridge walk to the north west to reach its northern top at 563 metres. From here I dropped down to Glen Beinn Fhada, it was mainly grass and heather and quite boggy lower down. I aimed for the new house by the bridge, which is where I had stopped during the Island Peak race to change from hill shoes to running shoes for the final 9 miles on the road back to the boat moored at Salen pier.

Today there was no need for any speed so I strolled back along the wonderful coastline. The sun had finally taken centre stage so Loch na Keal sparkled, the short sheep grazed grass and pebbled beach created a mood of serene satisfaction. A young couple were camping, I dropped down and beach-combed until I reached the car. I was slightly surprised, the walk had taken just over 5 hours and the latter part had been quite leisurely yet the walkhighland website had said 8 -9 hours. I had an hour or so to kill so changed, searched for any remaining food - an apple and some nuts - and then just sat on the machair grass and spoke to others as they returned from their walks. I called in at Salen to buy a drink and then reached the ferry with time in hand. The crossing back to Oban was mainly spent on deck watching the sun set over Mull and watching Oban approach at the centre of a halo of evening sunlight.

Ben More and home in a day had seemed a big outing but I was home for 10pm without feeling any effects of the exertions. The Sound of Mull had soothed them away and as a lady passenger had said to me on the deck as the sun dropped below Mull, "we are privileged".

The start at Dhiseig, Loch na Keal

The summit with random pinnacle figures

Descending the east ridge

A' Chioch from Beinn Fhada
Loch na Keal and Ulva island

Beinn Fhada and A' Chioch

Fond memories of both places

Nature's garden

Beachcombing at end of walk

Summer's end at Scarisdale 
Sunset on Sound of Mull

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