Loch Quoich Camping & Munroing

11 08 2013

Wed 19 – Fri 21 June 2013
On the Wednesday morning, I left Cumbria in bright sunshine and drove north on my way back up to Scotland for another Munro-bagging trip with the aim of bagging my first Munro that evening. The bright sunshine continued over the border… up through the Eastern Highlands… westwards through Glen Spean and then I reached Spean Bridge to turn northward again for the Great Glen. At this point the sky went black and it started to rain… By the time I reached the lochs of the Great Glen the cloud was actually sitting right down on the lochs.

“Oh no, not again” I sighed as I thought back to my clag-laden Munroing of the week before ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I hastily cancelled my plan to drive straight down Loch Quoich to a lovely camping spot I’d seen last time and diverted to the heady metropolis of Fort Augustus (I’m not taking the mickey as I actually love Fort Augustus). I sat in the car until the heaviest showers had passed and then set about finding some accommodation. I’d made this diversion so that, in the morning, I could look both back down the Great Glen towards Loch Quoich, using the Corbett of Ben Tee as my cloud-height marker, and also northwards to my other potential Munros in Glen Affric.

After an hour or so of rain the weather came out nice again and it was a beautiful evening – typical – if I’d continued with my original plan, I could still have bagged my Munro that evening. Instead, I asked my B&B lady for any nice walks in the area. She outlined two to me, both of which would take less than half an hour. I headed off on the one to the south of the town as I’d seen an interesting distant defile in the hills and was wondering whether it was, in fact, the famous Corrieyairack Pass.

I shot off to investigate and found it was indeed the Corrieyairack. I arrived back to my bemused B&B lady a few hours later after a quick trip up to the initial summit of the pass and back. The full walk through the pass is now on my to-do list for the future…

The next morning Ben Tee’s summit was flirting heavily with some low cloud but I decided to press on down to Loch Quoich anyway as it didn’t look any better to the north. After driving all that way, I was damn-well going to get myself some Munros! My planned Munro, left over from the previous evening, was Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich – a very short walk in Munro terms. There were two guys just setting off from their car as I booted up.

Gleouraich from start of SaMhaoraich track
Start of stalkers’ track (excuse the lack of quality – this was snapped with my digi-camera!)

I was pretty keen to keep up with the guys as I’m never really keen on being on claggy hills on my own and wasn’t sure what the slightly craggy final ridge to the summit would be like. Despite my best efforts however, I couldn’t catch them up during my ascent of the excellent stalkers’ path up Bac nan Cainaichean and I was exhausting myself in the process. At first I was only three minutes behind them but, by the first minor summit of Sgurr Coire nan Eirecheallach, I was already seven minutes behind the second guy – his mate had left him way behind and was disappearing into the thick cloud above. I’m never sure why people elect to go on a walk together and then stay so far apart – it was almost like a race.

I diverted back to the minor summit as the stalkers’ path misses it out and that always seems a shame to me. I sat briefly on the summit while I changed a film and, when I looked up, was delighted to see the whole ridge and main summit start to mistily appear. There were swirling clouds which made for quite an impressive view. I was also delighted to see that all difficulties on the narrow, craggy ridge ahead, could be easily avoided on safe grassy flanks to the left.

Sgurr a' Mhaoraich Clearing Ridge

Sgurr a' Mhaoraich - The Ridge To

Sgurr a' Mhaoraich-Looking Back along Ridge
Looking back along ridge on final ascent to summit(above) and looking down final section – would be hairy in snow (below – excuse the film fault – I stretched it as I unloaded)
Sgurr a' Mhaoraich-Path Hugging Final Crag

There were indeed no difficulties to the Munro summit but unfortunately it went back into the clag as I arrived. I did, however, get a brief glimpse of the Top I wished to bag – Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich Beag – this is the summit which, if clear, has superb views into Knoydart along Loch Hourn – I hoped it would clear for a minute for that!

There was no point in lingering at the main summit in the clag so I tapped the cairn and headed down a steep slope with some scree in a generally westerly direction for the Top. After an easy re-ascent, I reached the small shelter and settled down for a coffee, crossing my fingers for a glimpse of the view. The crossed fingers must have worked as, for a brief few seconds, I suddenly saw a misty loch appear. The view faded in beautifully and then faded out again just as quickly as it had come. Oh well – I was happy I’d seen the famous view.

I finished my coffee and returned to the col between the hills. I’d toyed with the idea of going down the back of the hills over Am Bathach but as I had no view whatsoever of what the route was like, decided just to descend southwards back to Loch Quoich. I aimed to eventually hit the south ridge of the Munro and traversed across the hillside looking for it in the clag.

I met several ‘south ridges’ on my long traverse of the slopes, none with a path, and kept thinking each must be the one. Unfortunately, when I dropped out of the clag I saw that the corrie below me was not the one I was looking for. I toyed with the idea of descending out of that corrie past a huge waterfall but wasn’t sure what the steep path by the waterfall would be like. In the end, I stumped back uphill quite a bit to cross another ‘south ridge’. This one proved to be the right one and the correct corrie hove into view with a very easy grassy descent to it.

Sgurr a' Mhaoraich-Below South Ridge
Looking back up south ridge to clearing peaks!

I was soon down in the corrie and following another great stalkers’ path back to the road for the mile or so back to the car. When I arrived back, I was slightly surprised to see the guys’ car still there – they must have gone to do Am Bathach I decided. There were some stags who were totally unsurprised, nay, totally uninterested in me, grazing by the road as I passed…

Loch Quoich Stags

I had a quick cheese sandwich and more coffee then decided, as it was early in the day, to explore the major track which follows the northward arm of the loch to the lovely Glen Quoich behind the mountains (3.5 miles each way). It was of course by now a lovely evening!

There were fine views of Am Bathach’s steep ridge and great views into the corrie I’d been peering down into from my mountain earlier.

Am Bhathach & corrie
(Digi-camera again and for next few shots)

Aonach Air Chrith bad bit from back
Aonach Air Crith’s Bad Bit, South Shiel Ridge

The South Shiel ridge was also by now out in all its glory and looking great. I was surprised to see the house at the junction of the glen boarded up – there were highland cows grazing peacefully outside it though so the estate must visit regularly.

Heilan' Coos, Glen Quoich

Gairich & Quoich Bridge
Gairich – the next day’s objective

Evening Light below Gleouraich
Moody evening light on Loch Quoich

I then headed back to settle down for a night’s ‘car-camping’. Rather than mess with a tent, i find it far more convenient to sleep in the car and just drop the passenger seat down, put a bag under my feet, and kip quite comfortably like that – put it this way, the comfy seats are a lot softer than most of the beds in the hotels and B&Bs nowadays – and they’re free!

As I headed round the final few bends towards the car I was sure I could smell woodsmoke. I hoped it was the camping van with the pleasant-looking couple I’d seen driving that way as I set out on my walk. As I rounded the final corner I saw that it was indeed and they had a barbie going – great to shoo away the midges! They expressed concern about whether they were cramping my style but I said I was delighted to have company. We chatted as I boiled up some drinks on my little stove – unfortunately, that wasn’t good at shooing midges away and I was getting quite mauled.

2 Fallen Trees Make a Perfect Tent!
If you haven’t got a car or a tent these 2 trees have made a nice shelter! ๐Ÿ˜‰

I made myself another cheese sandwich, ate some plums and then eagerly reached for my dessert. I’d been looking forward to this all day – a lovely lemon meringue pie – my favourite! I fished it out of the box and dug my spoon into it to realise something was not quite right. After staring at it for a while I realised, to my dismay, it was a raw one! In the end, I just ate the lemon and the meringue as both were fine raw. That just left me with a raw pastry case which I couldn’t really do anything with – I didn’t think it would cook on the folks’ barbecue next door…

After listening to several albums worth of T-Rex from the good ol’ 70s on my MP3 player I turned in for the night. It was light right up until midnight and then only dark until 0355! I can never sleep until late but finally fell into a deep sleep and woke to the sounds of the campers next door getting up. I hesitated to look at my watch thinking it would be woefully early but was surprised to see it was 0845 – time to get up and get moving! I was horrified at this point to espy a tick crawling up my sleeping bag towards me ๐Ÿ˜ฎ – how many more were inside the bag I wondered?

I had a really long walk planned for the day as it was forecast to be stunning sunny weather, high pressure and matching high cloud. I’d noticed already though that the low cloud across the loch seemed to be in no rush to clear. I was planning to do Gairich and then continue over the Corbett of Sgurr an Fhuarain to my second Munro of Sgurr Mor – quite a remote peak. This would entail a walk of around 20 miles so I needed to hurry.

Gairich from near the Dam
Gairich from near the dam (back on my proper film camera now)

Due to the burns all being very dry, it was a long walk to get water for my morning wash so, despite rushing around as much as I could, it was nearly 10 o’ clock by the time I parked up at the dam to head for Gairich. Just after I set off, I saw a black Range Rover park up and hoped it was someone else heading out on my route as I didn’t fancy Gairich much. I’d had one attempt at it before, in winter conditions, and found the snowy ‘nose’ way too steep for my liking. As I couldn’t see it that morning, I was worried I still wouldn’t like it.

Despite looking back until I disappeared over a hump in the moor, I never saw anyone following me. It’s a long walk up a long low ridge, the Druim na Geid Salaich, to eventually reach a high point called Bac nam Foid. Gairich stayed menacingly hidden in the low cloud…

Now, I’d read in my Munro books, not to follow the stalkers’ path to the left which heads off around the flanks of the peak. Keeping this in mind, I followed the path onwards and upwards – it soon started to head off left around the peak. Believing this to be the erroneous path in the books, I left it and headed back up very steep grass on the crest of the nose. The slope was so steep, you could put out a hand and touch it – I was glad there was nothing unpleasant below me… yet!

Just short of a crag running across my route, I met the path again – it had been correct and had just been on a long zig-zag, thereby missing out the horribly steep ground I’d just slogged up! The path tackled the crag band with a couple of deft zig-zags and no scrambling. That was good but, by now, it was heading up above said crag band and again very steeply, by now in thick mist – I started to become uneasy.

I couldn’t see anything up ahead really, nor below, but everywhere felt uncomfortably steep and the flank just to my left looked more or less vertical. By the time I reached the much mentioned scrambly rock-step, I was losing nerve a bit. The scramble was easy enough but more or less vertical for about 10 feet or so above terrifically steep ground – after that, the nose got even narrower and continued steeply up. By now I was dreading something truly awful looming out of the mist.

Gairich Nose - Airy!
Above the rock step in the mist

Luckily nothing dreadful appeared to bar my way and eventually the slope lessened as it reached the large, wide dome of the summit. Everywhere was wringing wet with cold mist – there was so much dew on the grass it looked white. The summit had virtually no shelter and was absolutely freezing so I just got my map out long enough to get a bearing for my western descent over Gairich Beag where, hopefully, if I could find it, another stalkers’ path would ease my descent down the steep grass to the glen.

During my descent, I lost confidence in the steepening slope to the south-west for Gairich Beag and trended towards the north-west ridge with its gentler slopes and more pronounced escarpment edge. I wavered between the two options for a while and eventually settled for the north-west route. However, when I got down to around 700 ‘metres’ on my altimeter, I peered into the mist and could see a slight rise to the south-west which I hoped might be Gairich Beag. I went over to investigate…

Luckily, as I cast about on the western slopes from there, I hit on the top of the stalkers’ path. I was glad I had as the descent was pretty steep grass and there were also some craggy bluffs of quite some size on the way down which were neatly circumnavigated by the superb path. Soon, the valley hove into view down the back of the hill – still no onward peaks though – even the lower Corbett was still firmly shrouded in mist.

Sgurr Fhuaran Ridge
My proposed onward ridge to Sgurr Fhuaran and Sgurr Mor

Gairich Beag Descent
Gairich Beag Descent

At this point, I’d more or less abandoned my ambitious plan of the three peaks as I had no wish to stomp about in cold clag any more that day. The weather in the valley was turning quite pleasantly sunny and the valley running between the peaks to the loch was delightful.

Track Through Gap to Mhurlagain
Looking to Sgurr Mhurlagain

I decided to wait while I had a break and, if there was no further lifting of the cloud, just recce the route back to base along the back (south) of Gairich as a potential route to Sgurr Mor for another day. After a coffee and a couple of biscuits, the Corbetts of the area still had their heads in cloud so I gave them a wave and turned to head off on the great landrover track for the 7 miles back down Glen Kingie to the car.

Sgurr Fhuarain from Glen Kingie Track
Sgurr Fhuaran starting to clear…

After about twenty minutes or so and a mile of walking, I turned back to see… all the peaks behind me more or less fully out and in sunshine! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Fraochbheinn from Glen Kingie
Fraochbheinn

Under Gairich's South Side
Under Gairich’s south face

Gairich South Face Gill
Gairich’s south face – fierce!

Glen Kingie - long!
Glen Kingie – long!

By the end of the glen though, I was glad I hadn’t turned back again and done the other two mountains as I found it a pretty long walk. The first half was okay until you entered the forest and then it became quite boring really. One point of interest, however, was an atmospheric and lonely old ruin marked on the map as ‘Lochan’ – a strange name for a house.

Lochan Ruin - Sad

Gairich from Glen Kingie
Final look back at Gairich and my ascent nose

North Quoich Munros from Gairich track
North Quoich Munros from track back to dam

On the last mile back to the car, I finally spotted the guy from the Range Rover and set off in hot pursuit. As he’d only done the normal up and back on Gairich I felt I had to beat him back to the car – I’m very perverse like that!

I thundered down the track after him and eventually he stopped and waited for me. I’d been sure that, as he drove a Range Rover, he’d be either a yuppie or a snob but found, as usual, I was completely wrong in my judgement. He was a fellow northerner (a Lancastrian), living in Stornoway on my beloved ex-home of the Outer Hebrides and a very nice man indeed.

We chatted amicably all the way back to the cars where he offered to put on a brew. I accepted and he further offered a northern delicacy – an eccles cake! I was feeling bad that I hadn’t offered any food so far but didn’t really have much of interest. First I offered him an apple but he didn’t want one – then a plum – nope. Then, I remembered…

“How about some raw pastry then?” (I’d already told him the woeful tale of the lemon meringue pie).

He declined that as well…

Just as he was leaving I got a ‘weather text’ from Richard for the next few days – wet and windy. I passed the information on as he drove off to camp in Glen Shiel. I’d been going to camp back at my previous night’s camping spot again but, with the weather forecast, and the amount of midge-bites I already had from the night before, decided just to scrap the rest of the Scottish foray and make a dash for Cumbria – I say dash as it was after 7pm already.

Driving down the A9 later, leaving Perth, I looked in my mirror and saw every hill of the Scottish Highlands lined up under bright sunshine looking glorious just to mock me!

I got back just as it started tipping it down with torrential rain at midnight. Another trip cut short and marred by the weather!

Postscript: I spent the next few days picking ticks off my body – I managed to find 8, some as high as my chest. Not knowing how many more were living on me and still itching all over, I hit on a bright idea… I decided the best place for me was the very-chlorinated local swimming baths – an hour soaking in that would kill anything else left living on me. As it happened, it also cured the normally incurable itches too – result! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Some more wintry photos taken in an earlier year of Gairich and further down the glen towards Kinlochhourn…

Gairich across Loch Quoich

Into Knoydart from Kinlochhourn Road

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12 responses

14 08 2013
LensScaper

Great story, Carol. You sure packed a lot in. Watch out for Tics – Lyme Disease is a real problem although I’ve always associated it with heavily forested areas

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15 08 2013
mountaincoward

Definitely not in heavily-forested areas in Scotland – you can pick them up anywhere at all in the highlands. Possibly in heavily-forested areas in England though? I rarely pick any up here – just one, ever, I think.
Carol.

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12 08 2013
bob

Sounds like an epic Carol. At least it wasn’t day long drizzle and you managed a good haul and reasonable conditions except on the summits for extensive views. Not too bad for the highlands in summer.

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12 08 2013
mountaincoward

More epic epics to come ๐Ÿ˜‰ Watch this space ๐Ÿ™‚

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12 08 2013
smackedpentax

What a great post – I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and wish I was there too. I don’t know Scotland nearly as well I would like (although I have been to the West Coast and Skye a couple of times). You gotta watch those ticks – my brother-in-law got a very nasty infection from one and had to spend several days in hospital having injections – he still has to take some sort of tablets now. Your photographs are superb!

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12 08 2013
mountaincoward

Yeah I know about Lyme Disease – I’m worried that I’m almost bound to get it the amount of ticks I pick up each time I go walking in the Highlands but they really seem to like me. My friend Richard, who often walks with me, has only ever had one! Everything bites me though and nothing him – from clegs to midges to ticks. I think I eat too much sugar and my blood must smell really sweet (he doesn’t ever eat anything sweet). I’ve tried eating loads of marmite as some suggest but that hasn’t helped at all. There doesn’t seem to be a repellent which repels ticks either – anti-midge spray doesn’t seem to ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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11 08 2013
Paul Shorrock

Great post Carol, with some super atmospheric hill shots ๐Ÿ™‚

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11 08 2013
mountaincoward

Thanks Paul – yeah, atmospheric – most of my hill days this year have been ‘atmospheric’ ๐Ÿ˜‰ I have had a couple of clear days though with some rather clearer photos to come…

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11 08 2013
fedupofuserids

Excellent report as usual ๐Ÿ™‚

We don’t seem to be getting any prolonged ‘good’ weather this summer do we, just a few days here & there punctuated by rain.

I always find hill paths seem steeper and more exposed in the mist although I try to avoid the higher tops when they are all clagged up – I hate not getting a view. This probably means I’ll never finish the Munros ๐Ÿ˜‰

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11 08 2013
mountaincoward

I’m afraid it probably will. I’m going to tot up at the end just how many clear summits I had as one of my stats – it will probably be well below 50% – that’s why I usually end up going up them on my own – no-one else wants to slog up them in the clag (well, no-one I know anyway)…

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11 08 2013
McEff

T Rex. Great stuff.

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11 08 2013
mountaincoward

I don’t often listen to them but my usual stuff (heavy and thrash metal) didn’t really fit being in a lovely peaceful spot in the outdoors. They’re not very restful either. Really enjoyed it ๐Ÿ™‚

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