Munroing in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

28 11 2012

June 2009

The last set of Munros Richard and I needed to do in the Fort William area was the 3 Munros in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart at the end of Loch Arkaig; Sgurr nan Coireachan, the Garbh Ciochs (Mhor and Bheag) and Sgurr na Ciche. I’d spent all week reading up on them, studying the maps and looking at the piccies in the guide books but was feeling a little nervous as I thought the walk would be quite demanding on my nerves. The weather forecast for our last day at Fort William was good so I decided it was the day to go for it!

We got up pretty early (for us) as we knew it was a really long drive down Loch Arkaig on a not very fast road and that there was limited parking at the roadend. Despite setting off from Fort William at 0800, it was 0915 by the time we reached the parking at the end of the loch at Strathan.

Streap & Sgurr Thuilm from Strathan

The water looked beautiful all the way along the loch – mirror calm and with beautiful light, but I didn’t feel we had time to stop for photos (although I knew it wouldn’t be like that later). The actual pull-off at the roadend was full by then so we went back up the hill slightly to park on the very rough and rocky verge and got our fold-up bikes out for the ride-in to Upper Glendessary. A van parking up after us got badly snared underneath on a rock so it isn’t the world’s best parking really.

The track was rougher than we normally cycle and, at first, was very hilly so we ended up walking with the bikes more than riding (they’re not really built for rough-tracking up and down hills but fit in the back of the car really well). After about half a mile the track settled down to being pretty flat and was much easier for the next 2.5 miles to the house at Upper Glendessary. Two Irishmen had just set off walking as we parked up but it took us most of the way to catch up with them – they were setting a cracking pace!

Just before the house the track sets off for a short distance up the side of the hill – there are green ‘rights-of-way’ signposts, however, the Irish guys hadn’t seen these and were about to set off past the house and towards the forest. I put them right and we all set off along the track over a couple of very rickety stiles.

I’d seen, during my long research, that a better route than slogging up the steep ridge of Sgurr nan Coireachan would be to go up the river to Coire nan Uth – gentle slopes all the way.

Sgurr nan Coireachean Ridge or Should we Follow the Burn?

However, as that route wouldn’t have any kind of path and the ridge does, I thought Richard wouldn’t really go for that so we set off up the ridge. We both thought in retrospect that the other route would have been far nicer and much quicker – it would certainly have been much easier! I also, in retrospect, wished I’d done Sgurr nan Coireachan on its own!

Knoydart from Sgurr nan Coireachan Ascent

We eventually reached the summit of Sgurr nan Coireachan after a few false summits and a very steep and unremitting climb – I have to say it wasn’t worryingly steep, just hard work! 2.5 hours had gone by when we reached the summit and the book says it should only take 5 hours to the summit of Sgurr na Ciche at the far end of our walk!

I knew the descent to the col between Sgurr nan Coireachan and the Garbh Ciochs was steep but was soon to find out just how steep… I can honestly say I was completely terrified and it’s one of the worst descents (apart from the Bealach an Lapain in Kintail) that I’ve ever suffered! There was, as Richard pointed out, a perfectly good zig-zag path down the ever steepening ridge but I found it a bit loose and, after the first steepish bit, the path suddenly seemed to go vertical! I could see there was ground missing below the curve it took down to the col and just knew there were big crags below us – there were! Luckily no one had caught us up at that point as I was making some terrible noises and spent the whole descent urging the completely unfazed Richard to ‘be careful for goodness sake!’ He of course thought there was nothing to it…

Bloody awful descent (was much worse than the photo makes it look!)

I had a short rest on the col to try to get my nerves back into one piece and we duly set off for the ascent of Garbh Cioch Bheag. This is a very long ascent but nowhere steep and the path follows slight scrambles up little craglets most of the way – but there was nothing scary or exposed anywhere and the rock was exceedingly solid. Also, if you wanted, you could always walk round on grass each time you reached a rocky bit but even I was finding it great fun and didn’t bother! There is, as the book says, a wall all along the ridge so even if it hadn’t been a cracking day (which it was – absolutely red hot and very clear) you wouldn’t get lost. The ridge is a fantastic viewpoint for Sgurr na Ciche.

Sgurr na Ciche

We reached the very pleasant summit of Bheag which was uncharacteristically wide, flat and grassy but there was a lot to do so we continued straight past it.

The Garbh Chiochs

There was a very slight descent and the ridge continued in much the same rocky vein towards Garbh Cioch Mhor but ever so slightly narrower. You got a great view down the more or less vertical sides, on your right into Garbh Cioch (apparently the roughest corrie in mainland Scotland) and down huge crags to the left. But everything was still nice and solid and there was still no exposure. We reached a rocky turret where, for once, there wasn’t a grassy route round but it was very secure and shortly after that there was a small descent and an easy rise to the main summit. We had a very short break there but I was anxious to see what the descent to the next col was like after my fright earlier!

This descent was a complete contrast to the earlier one… it was only ever in short steps of maybe 20-30 feet down easily-angled scrambly bits and again, extremely solid. Then you would have a grassy platform and another short bit to descend. On the couple of grassy platforms above the col, there were some pretty little lochans. Hoping there would be more on the col, I decided we wouldn’t have a break until we got onto the col – sadly, when we got there, there wasn’t really anywhere to sit as there was just a bog.

Garbh Cioch descent from Sgurr na Ciche

Unfortunately for poor Richard, I again decided I didn’t want a break anyway as I’d seen the ascent to Sgurr na Ciche – and it wasn’t where I’d originally thought! I’d been looking at the peak all the way along the Garbh Cioch ridge and had seen what looked like paths going up the end of the mountain – didn’t look very steep to me. However, when we got there, I couldn’t see any feasible route to take you to the end of the mountain. Instead I saw where our route was heading – along a slightly ascending grassy rake to a boulder field above big crags… and then straight up the side to the summit ridge! To me, with my great fear of steep, it again looked horrendous!

I decided we could probably get off the peak another way after we summitted, like down to the Druim a Ghortein towards Sourlies bothy and Camusrory in Knoydart proper. We could easily get off the side of the Druim to our route back. So off up we headed – I can go up steep (better traction and you don’t have to look down) I just don’t like going down steep.

The route started off up big boulders (which were luckily very firm) and then up a fairly eroded zig-zag which, from where I was standing, looked long and vertical! I shot off up it and waited for Richard on the ridge. I have to say that Sgurr na Ciche is a superb viewpoint! You can see the whole of Knoydart including all the Munros. Beinn Sgritheal looks great from there across Loch Hourn. Loch Nevis is very prominent in the summit view, you can also see Loch Morar and Loch Quoich/Sgurr Mor etc. At this point we’d taken 6 hours, not 5 as in the book.

Loch Quoich & Sgurr Mor from Sgurr na Ciche

Down Druim a Ghoirtein to Loch Nevis

We spent a while taking in the view and I took some photos and I had a look down towards the Druim but thought it looked a bit steep – I decided ‘better the devil you know’ and decided to descend our ascent route. I descended very cautiously but can’t say I was actually terrified this time, just pretty wary. I thought the fact that I’d gone up Sgurr na Ciche despite my fears of descending it again and after my scare earlier in the day showed some promise of me eventually improving as a Munroist!

We now just had the famous Feadan (Feadan na Ciche) to do. I’d had a read about it and it sounded like it may be daunting but had also looked up some pictures on the internet of it from below and it looked okay. So we headed off – me with a little trepidation… There was a path each side most of the way down so you had choices. The route would approach what looked like a huge drop over rocks (I’m very wary about following watercourses down mountains) but, each time you got there, there was no problem whatsoever. In the end, partway down, I found I was enjoying myself hugely – Richard of course loved it.

The Fabulous Feadan

At the bottom of this I finally relented and said we could now have a proper break! We lounged around on grass atop a little crag with a great view down the route which goes to Sourlies and the end of Loch Nevis and also of people picking their way down the Feadan. It was hot and sunny and we really couldn’t be bothered to move for about an hour so we sat and ate most of Richard’s tea-loaf and drank our flasks (I’d had nothing so far except a little water).

Loch Nevis from below Feadan na Ciche

Garbh Cioch Mhor side

It was a long but very pleasant walk back under the Garbh Ciochs and I spent a lot of time marvelling at how sheer and craggy they were and taking a few more photos.

The Garbh Ciochs Pass

Looking Back to Sgurr na Ciche

Heading back from the Rough Bounds

I must have driven Richard completely mad on the way back as I was so amazed we’d got round, what with my nerves and his lack of enthusiasm for long, hard walks on very hot days, that I kept banging him on the back suddenly and saying ‘Well done mate! we did it!’ We were back following the 2 Irishmen again who’d passed us as we were lounging. The walk didn’t really feel long or tedious until the last mile before the house at Upper Glendessary – didn’t help you couldn’t see the house until you descended the last bit towards it! I think last miles always seem loooong…

Eventually our bikes hove into view and we found it great to just mount them and freewheel all the way back to the car instead of walking the last 3 miles or so. We only fell off our bikes 3 times each on the rough track back – one of my falls was so spectacular, the saddle ended up back to front! My last one was the most embarrassing as I was just coming round the gatepost by the carpark on loose gravel when I skidded off in front of everyone. Richard’s best effort was to ride into the ditch.

Strangely, since I got back from this walk, despite me having various worries and frights along the way, it’s the walk and area I’ve most missed since getting back home, especially the Garbh Ciochs which were great fun and I’d love to do them again. I won’t ever be going near Sgurr nan Coireachan again though…



14 responses

10 12 2012

Great post of hills I can hardly remember doing now (Well it was over 20 years ago) Good to see your foot seems to be improving Carol with your latest Corney Fell Day out.Hopefully by the time spring comes you,ll be back
to full power again on it.


10 12 2012

I should be I think – unless I have an accident on all this stupid ice we keep having. We haven’t had much snow here – it just rains and then freezes solid for a few days. I skated right round my car twice the other day walking to and from work – I knew it was icy as well so was only creeping along slowly! 😦


30 11 2012
Paul Shorrock

Great post Carol – another monster day!!


30 11 2012

It was a long day – but very enjoyable (apart from that horrid descent)


29 11 2012
Dan (aka icemandan)

It’s worth thinking about doing these from Inverie and overnighting in Sourlies bothy at the head of Loch Nevis. This avoids the long demoralising plod along Glen Dessary. You can get a water taxi if you don’t fancy the walk. It’s a good walk though and the view of Ciche from the top of the pass is awesome. Spend a bit longer and you could do Ben Aden which is one of the best of the Corbetts. Friends who are braver than me have dined on mussels straight from the sea in Sourlies.


30 11 2012

I won’t be dining on mussels – I’m vegetarian! I didn’t find the plod along Glen Dessary demoralising – the bikes took care of the long landrover track to the house at the end of the track and the rest of the walk was okay – I just found the last mile of walking on the way back tedious… but then I always find the last mile tedious on any walk!

I’ll probably do Ben Aden eventually but it looks pretty hard, craggy and steep!


29 11 2012

Great trip report MC! An area I am yet to visit, and this has certainly bumped it up the list. You had a great day for it. Would you try and tag this walk with another, maybe with a wild camp thrown in somewhere for good measure?


29 11 2012

I don’t wildcamp as such but there’s a bothy, A’ Chuil, close by (it’s on the forest route to the foot of Sgurr a’ Choineachean instead of the open glen track we took). It’s an absolutely superb area for bothying if you’re a keen hill-walker as there’s a heap of really tempting Corbetts and the Munros in this post. There are also 2 other bothies nearby – Pean Bothy, 3 and a bit miles from Strathan (about the same as A’ Chuil) and, over either of the 2 northerly passes, Kinbreak Bothy – probably a 5 mile walk. Would be a great place to spend a week! People often do camp at the end of Loch Arkaig…

If you want to see a trip report about my bothying trip to the area, go onto the Index page and look for the ‘Bothying in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart (Carn Mor)’ post. We visited Pean and A’ Chuil with the Corbett in between. Was a great and interesting trip.


29 11 2012

Another part of Scotland I’d love to visit – its somewhere on my ever increasing to-do list ! I’ll have to follow this one on a map as I know little about these hills.

What’s the Loch Arkaig road like, would a largish van get down or is it best to cycle ?

I was aiming for a wander up Black Combe last week from Whicham but got sidetracked 😦

Thanks Simon


29 11 2012

Shame you didn’t – you might have bumped into me and Richard. We were also bumbling about on Corney Fell (report to follow).

The Loch Arkaig road is narrow, winding and humpy (as a lot of roads over boggy ground are) – the surface is a bit bad in places too. You just have to be careful at the top of the humps as it can go either right or left suddenly and there’s often a car coming the other way. But, there’s plenty of passing places and I can’t see a problem taking a camping van down there apart from maybe finding parking at the end. You’d probably be best to park about half a mile from the roadend and cycle from there. The road is nothing like as bad as it’s painted though – not like Hard Knott or Wrynose or any of the more severe Lakeland Passes that’s for sure!


28 11 2012
Scotlands Mountains

It`s a long way back to the car down Glendessary,isn`t it ? Bikes are the way to go though I`m not so sure in your case 🙂
Off up to the Cairngorms this weekend to resume battle with the white stuff…


29 11 2012

I think the Cairngorms would be about the only area I’d like to tackle the white stuff in Scotland – I’m wanting to do Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach before the end of the year but think I’d find them too steep and narrow in snow! I look forward to seeing your report and photos when you get back as I love everything in the Cairngorms 🙂

Me and Richard are both fairly rubbish cyclists, especially on rough tracks – probably doesn’t help that they’re small-wheeled fold-ups instead of mountain bikes either! But I think we were tired and rushing to get back to the car – it was about 10pm by the time we got back to Fort William afterwards!


28 11 2012

Hot summer days are suddenly starting to feel a long way away as the temperature is starting to plummet here for the winter! When do you expect to be out on the hills again properly? I know it was a good 6 months with my ankle – it’s a good job no-one told me that at the start! – but your foot’s being a touch more problematic isn’t it?
And what’s with the tea loaf? I’ve seen you say that you only ever have two fingers of shortbread on a walk!


30 11 2012

I’ve been doing English hills in the Lakes and around here. I’m not sure I’ll be going up to Scotland unless the snow goes – I really don’t fancy winter walking while I still don’t have sufficient muscle in my left foot to give me proper balance.

It has gone very cold hasn’t it? Just got back from another trip to the Lakes – had some nice walks but the only hill we did was Black Coombe (which is a very nice walk) and I went exploring on the descent and found a nice narrow little valley. Reports to follow on that weekend when I’ve got my photos back…

As to the tea-loaf – if we’re going on a long trip of a week or so, Richard bakes one and brings it with us. He carries it. I still keep my couple of shortbread packs in my pockets for when he turns back on walks or doesn’t come with me. But I only ever eat one slice of it, if that (so does he for that matter – he doesn’t eat when he’s walking either). We didn’t even bother taking flasks this week as the walks seemed too short to bother.


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