Mon 30 Sep 2013
I’d returned to my nemesis of the month before – Knoydart… Last time, instead of doing the three Munros there in my two-day stay, the weather was so dire I only ended up battling up one and then giving up. As I’d hated my time on Knoydart I really didn’t want to go back but asked Richard if he wanted to accompany me to cheer things up a bit. He said he was busy… I asked him what he was doing and was met with the reply;
“I’ll think of something”
A hilarious answer but very illustrative of the fact that he really meant it when he said he’d never set foot on the remote and isolated peninsula again!
(Click on photos for full size/resolution)
The weather forecast was a lot better for this visit and I had high hopes of getting these hills finished this trip. I arrived via the Seabridge ferry in lovely evening sun but, despite the weather forecast saying otherwise, had noticed the wind was rising worryingly – it was mainly the wind which had scuppered me on the previous visit.
I was lucky to yet again be staying at Knoydart Lodge (the bunkhouses all being full) and even more lucky that, as they had spare rooms, I was let off the single-supplement. That made it worth staying several nights so I booked for three. I have to say that the breakfasts there are the best I’ve ever eaten – I’m no fan of breakfasts normally!
I took an evening stroll with my camera…
The day dawned bright and sunny but the clouds were scudding along at worrying speed as I gazed out of the Lodge’s windows while I ate. I was off out of the door by 9 o’ clock and heading for Ladhar Bheinn. The route I’d chosen, strongly advised against by Kenny (the nice local originally from Harris) in the pub the night before, was to set out up Gleann an Dubh Lochain as per my other walks. From there I intended to walk the four miles or so to the start of the Dubh Lochain and then turn uphill by a derelict cottage to tackle the slopes to the col of Mam Suidheig to reach the knobbly ridge of Aonach Sgoilte.
The walk up the glen was its usual pleasant self on the excellent landrover track but I noticed it was indeed windy even down at that level. I’d reached the loch in just over an hour and studied the slopes behind the cottage for any sign of a path – as I’d suspected – nothing! Oh well, I followed the short path to the cottage and then round it to head off up the very steep, bracken-covered slopes behind.
The next 1000 feet or so were a complete nightmare. The ground was steep – extremely so in places – and the bracken was chest-high. There were holes everywhere and you couldn’t see where you were putting your feet. It was pretty wet and boggy and there were lots of large rocks hidden under the vegetation and craglets which needed to be worked around. I tried various stream banks as they usually have thinner vegetation and drier, easier going but no luck. It must have taken me nearly an hour to get to the shorter grass far above where the going underfoot became slightly easier. By now I was tired and in quite a bad mood…
I slogged up the remaining climb to Mam Suidheig where Coire Toll an Asgaill and Ladhar Bheinn spectacularly burst into view. I looked along my ridge which had far bigger ups and downs than I’d been expecting – it looked exhausting! I toyed with the idea of dropping down a couple of hundred feet into the corrie to the stalkers path which ends just below an easy-looking grassy rake up to Bealach Coire Dhorrcaill but was a bit loath to lose the height I’d fought so hard to gain – my decision was probably a mistake though.
I located the path running along the ridge and puffed off up the first bump on the ridge – steep but short. At the top of that I could see the path descended and missed the next bump out, then headed uphill at a steady angle for the large peak after that. That large peak turned out to be the split part of the ridge (Aonach Sgoilte means ‘split ridge’). Luckily, the path continued on grass between the two ridges, the left-most one of which was extremely steep and craggy (right-hand one in my photos).
Eventually I saw a cairn in the grassy gap ahead and descended to it and found the path traversed a short, steep section at the end of the right-most peak into a very rocky gap. The gap was quite fascinating – there were large drops down crags and gullies to the right, large holes in between huge rocks and, fortunately, an easy path bypassing the lot on the left.
The path took me to another gap before an extremely steep and rocky peak – I worried briefly I might have to do some scrambling but no, the path headed off around a corner and just went up steeply but easily to the top of the ridge-end. From there it was an easy plod to the summit of Aonach Sgoilte where there was another cairn and great views. Ahead was Stob a’ Chearchaill – the narrow and steep-sided peak which leads down to Barrisdale Bay via an extremely steep and fearsome route down the end crags (well, Muriel Gray said it was scary anyway and I believe her).
I didn’t bother with the narrow traverse out to Chearchaill as I could see I had quite enough to do as it was. I looked across to the ascent of Ladhar Bheinn itself and could see that I had a hell of a lot to do yet! I was so exhausted by this point I had doubts about whether I was going to make the main peak! By now, there was a strong easterly wind blasting across my route from the corrie.
I headed off NW down the gentle ridge on my left on a great path to the short, sharp descent above Bealach Choire Dhorrcail – this had a good path zig-zagging down into the col. The route ahead looked monstrously long and hard and I was worried about the extremely steep and rocky-looking peak ahead and also a band of crag I’d seen just below the summit.
As soon as I set off up the steep ridge on the edge of the spectacular Choire Dhorrcail, I met with various short scrambles, some of which were a bit tricky. At this point I was considering reversing this route for my descent back to the Bealach as I was worried by the general steepness of Ladhar Bheinn’s flanks and thinking the normal descent to Folach could be unpleasantly steep.
I soon reached the start of the monstrously-steep and rocky peak and found that the path continued up between the crags quite easily with hardly any scrambling. It was exhausting work though and I was almost on my knees by the top of it!
Soon I reached the crag band I’d worried about earlier – I’d been right to worry. We’d spoken to a man on our last visit the month before and he’d said there were some very awkward bits on this route – I’d say he was right – this was the worst…
I studied the crag for routes up it – the path tackled a series of ledges head-on but people had taken various routes up them. I clambered onto the first ledge and tried the route to the right first but, even with my very long legs, I couldn’t get onto the next ledge – the rocks were pretty smooth and rounded and it was a massive step up. Others had attempted a set of ledges straight on – I turned my attention to these next. I got up another ledge or so but the next move would have been a big step up with no real handholds and the ledge above pushing me out from the climb – ugh. I got partway up this section but ended up stuck (even trying to push my way up backwards at one point) and having to really hang on so decided I’d best go back down a bit and try another route.
In the end, just above the right-hand route I’d aborted, from my new ledge I found I could go diagonally right up some large rock steps – I was glad I wasn’t smaller or I don’t think I’d have managed these either. This was an easier route but I had no wish to descend it later so my earlier plan was scrapped – I’d go down the ridge-end to Folach as most folks do.
There was then a very steep path going diagonally up the final cone to the summit ridge. Luckily, this path went round the side a bit away from the blasting wind and I could see a couple descending towards me. As I was hoping to do the ‘top’ of Stob a’ Choire Odhair, I quizzed them about which way they’d come. They had come over the top from Barrisdale but said that, with the gale, it had seemed extremely exposed and was very tricky leaving the top for the Munro summit (I’d feared as much).
I was very glad of the rest while talking to them and told them how exhausted I was and outlined my ascent route. I thought their route must have been much harder but, according to the stats in the Munro books, apparently not. The young couple were very pleasant and I kept bumping into them over the next couple of days which was nice…
I continued on to the very windy summit ridge-end and had a study of the route to the ‘top’. Unfortunately, I chickened out, mainly due to the wind. As I want to visit Barrisdale sometime, I decided I’d just bag the top later up the ridge from there.
The summit ridge was narrow but with no exposure whatsoever as there were just grassy slopes each side. It’s a good job it wasn’t exposed as I was fairly buffeted along it by the gale and it was hard to keep still to take photos.
At the end of the ridge I passed an interestingly eroded and broken trig point and found, to my great delight, there were extremely easy wide grassy slopes heading gently downhill to another col before a pretty side peak with a lochan. I romped off down the hill to the col and was again pleased to see there was a nice path heading down from there on further easy grass slopes to the ruined shieling at Folach.
Now I was out of the wind, the sun was beautifully warm and I started to relax and enjoy my day. I was no longer exhausted now I’d finished climbing and strolled happily down to the ruin. There were four lovely Highland ponies hanging around the ruin who were very friendly and I spent a while petting and talking to them.
Folach, and the river nearby, was a beautiful spot and I sat for a few minutes having a break. This was the point I found my metal flask had, unbelievably, broken. I’d noticed when I’d filled it at breakfast that it became almost too hot to handle and wondered why. My coffee was stone-cold – obviously the insulation has somehow broken – with an all-metal flask, I’ve no idea how this could have happened. I blame Richard for using it for tea – that must have corroded the lining! I was too thirsty to care anyway and happily drank it. I’d already had quite a few drinks out of the burn on the descent as, now it was hotter, it was pretty thirsty work. Strangely, I wasn’t hungry at all and didn’t eat anything until my evening meal later.
From Folach there are just over 3 miles to walk back to Inverie by landrover track – initially, it was very pleasant walking alongside the Guiserein river and up to the forest. By the time the track reached the Mam Uidhe though it was a bit more sterile – luckily it’s downhill to the pub from there. I was pleased to reach the pub and sit in the sun on the shoreline having a drink and a chat with my friend Kenny the Harris-man. By my evening meal though, I was too tired to talk to anyone and went into one of my zombie-states!
For folks’ future reference, Kenny’s route suggestion had probably been a better one. He’d advised me to take the Mam Uidhe/Folach path (which is cyclable and bikes can be hired at Inverie) past Folach into Coire Torr an Asgaill. From there he said to go up to Bealach Coire Dhorrcail and miss out Aonach Sgoilte altogether. That would certainly have been an easier walk but I suppose the Aonach Sgoilte is very spectacular if you have the energy for it.
Stats: 15 miles, 4126 feet of ascent, 8 hours