Loch Monar Wilderness – Meall Mor

25 08 2014

Thu 10 July 2014
My second long, hard day of my July Munro Top-bagging trip… The weather was really hot, sticky and airless but some great views were to be had from the hill plus a visit past the lovely Pait Lodge down the desolate wilderness of far Loch Monar.

(click on photos for full size/resolution)
After yet another superb night’s sleep at the Cannich camp site (see my recommendations page for details), I rushed around to get ready to drive to the locked gate at Struy which opens bang on 0900. As the glen opens to the public’s cars at that time and only lets 25 cars in for the day, you pretty much want to get there on time.

I arrived at exactly one minute to nine just as the preceding cars were going through. The gatekeeping lady smiled as she handed me my permit, wished me a nice day and informed me that the glen closed at 2000 hours – I bit my tongue to avoid blurting out that, with the walk I had planned, I might not make closing time! Didn’t worry me if I didn’t as my car was all set up for camping (I don’t bother with a tent) but I knew it would bother them…

First Dam to Drive Across
Couple of exciting dams to drive across the top of!

By the time I parked up at the Loichel Power Station at the road end and got kitted up, it was 0950 – that left me just a tad over ten hours to do my 18 mile walk and drive the 16 miles back down the glen. Cutting it pretty tight over rough and pathless terrain with a big hill thrown in and two walks over lower passes.

The day was by now very hot and there was no breeze whatsoever – I hoped there would be one on the hill but knew there wouldn’t be before I reached the high ridge of Meall Mor.

Although a lot of this walk is pathless over wild moorland terrain, there is at least a path for the first couple of miles up Gleann Innis an Loichel – I hurried up it already being harried by horseflies (clegs in Scotland).

Walking in cleg territory unfortunately means that, no matter how hot it is, you can’t uncover any flesh as you will get very badly bitten – the bite sites usually swell up drastically and itch badly for at least a couple of weeks. I had put long trousers on and kept my hiking socks pulled over them but refuse to have my arms totally covered up as then I would get far too hot walking – that meant I had to constantly wave my arms around to attempt to keep the clegs off – not much fun on a long and hard day.

By the time I’d reached the end of the path up the glen, I’d got a couple of nasty bites already. I then had a pathless plod up to a col between two peaks of Meallan Buidhe at around 1500 feet. It isn’t too far to climb from where the paths diverge and become faint and I was soon in the gap. I noticed the cairn of Meallan Buidhe wasn’t too far away but, after wistfully looking at it for a minute, I decided I couldn’t really add anything into my already long day with the time constraints I had.

Pait Lodge, L Monar, Bideon an Eoin Dearg
Pait Lodge (hidden in the trees) and Loch Monar appear (terrible haze on the shots across this glen due to the heat – sorry)…

I then had a long descent northwest down rough moorland to cross the Allt Riabhachain where another path sprung up to take me on to Pait Lodge. I could see the small area of trees where the burns entered Loch Monar by the lodge – looked pretty far away. I could also see a hazy and distant view to my Top of Meall Mor. It looked very far away and a very long, hard ridge for such a hot day – I already felt like giving up! I knew how hard it was going to be…

Meall Mor from Outward Pass
(another appallingly hazy photo – sorry- they get better!)

The descent to the burn went well and I soon located the track down the rest of the moorland to the lodge. On arrival at the lodge grounds there were various gates and I wasn’t sure whether I was allowed to continue through the grounds or not. I checked each gate and saw they had what I call ‘walkers fasteners’, i.e. easy hooked chains, so I assumed I was permitted to enter.

I soon reached the perimeter fence and trees of the lodge with another gate – I was pretty sure I shouldn’t be walking right past the house so looked for the bridge across the burn. I saw it was right next to the house… I tried to reach it up the river bank but ran out of bank and had to return to the Lodge entrance gate again. There was a guy mowing the lawn so there was a chance I could be turned back…

I waited until the guy was out of sight around some bushes and hurried up the path to the lodge entrance where I could see another gate to the bridge. No-one yelled at me and I just had chance to see how pretty the lodge was (but unfortunately not get a photo) before I went to hurriedly tackle the gate to the bridge.

Unfortunately for me, the hook was almost impossible to get out of its holder to release the gate and I ended up stood there pushing and pulling for ages, all the while expecting a shout behind me! I eventually got the hook to come undone (unusually, you have to push the gate slightly down and towards the gatepost – you usually have to lift or something). I had just as much trouble rehooking the gate but then hurried across the bridge.

I only had my small flask of coffee and knew there wouldn’t be any water from this point on so had a good couple of flask cupfuls out of the burn to drink and soaked my buff to stick on my head to further cool me. Then it was across the bogs and peat hags for the foot of the long slog up the side of the ridge to Meall Mor.

It was quite a long and a very hot climb to the ridge and I tried to follow the dry burns up as the ground is generally easier there. The clegs became much worse up this section and added to the misery of the sweltering climb – ugh. They ended up following me all the way up to, and partway along, the ridge – very unusual for them to go so high. I decided this was because so few walkers come this way and so there is little blood to be got so they work harder for it here!

Loch Monar & Pait Lodge
Loch Monar from the Ascent

Aonach Buidhe from Meall Mor
Aonach Buidhe (Corbett) leading to the lovely Glen Elchaig

I eventually reached the ridge where I hoped there would be a breeze – there generally is. Unfortunately, there was still no breeze at all so I just had to make do with the lessening of the gradient and slog on.

Sgurr Choinnich & Chaorachain from Meall Mor

Beinn Tarsuinn from Meall Mor Ascent

When I reached the top of the ridge, I was a little dismayed to see just how far along the ridge the summit was and how hard it all looked. As I’m struggling with fitness this year, I wasn’t exactly full of energy. I did notice it was a very pretty hill though…

Meall Mor

As a further consolation, the views which had opened up across Loch Monar were absolutely wonderful. I could see Munros I’d done before from Strathcarron, principally Sgurrs a’ Choinnich and a’ Chaorachain with the pretty Munro top of Bidean an Eoin Dearg – a superb peak. I have to admit that Loch Monar’s environs are some of my favourite in Scotland. It’s just so wild and desolate…

Torridon Peaks behind Sheasgaich
Across Bidean a’ Choire Sheasgaich to the Torridon Peaks

I continued along the ridge for quite a way without any real strain and with a sketchy path. Ahead were quite a few sharp rises – luckily, when I reached them, the path became quite good. There was still the short but very steep final rise to the summit though – the sting in the tail!

I kept my pace deliberately slow due to the heat and reached the final rise soon enough. To speed the passing of the steep climb, I started mentally reciting the many verses of ‘Barnacle Bill’ again (as for my Braeriach top earlier this year) 😉

Bidean a' Choire Sheasgaich

Near the end of the song the summit cairn hove into view on the rounded grassy summit. I continued past it after a brief touch of the stones though as I wanted to see where I’d turned back on my visit to Lurg Mhor – I’d known the traverse to Meall Mor was very ‘exciting’ and had chickened out of it in the mist and rain on the slippery rocks. When it came into view, I was pretty glad I’d turned back really – it looks quite mean!

Meall Mor to Lurg Mhor

Meall Mor to Lurg Mhor Arete (portrait)

After a quick break on the summit for my first coffee of the day, I decided I wasn’t yet hungry and that I’d have another break in the breeze on the bridge by Pait Lodge. As I set off back along the ridge – very pleasant in descent – I noticed there was actually a breeze when going in that direction and it was much cooler.

Back Along Meall Mor

Back Along Meall Mor Ridge

I happily sped back along the ridge, stopping occasionally to peer down the huge northern crags into the corries. I was surprised to see some deer relaxing in one corrie apparently completely surrounded by crags – I couldn’t see how they’d got where they had, nor how they would get back down!

Meall Mor Northern Crags (portrait)

Choinnich & Chaorachain from Meall Mor

Bidean an Eoin Dearg from Meall Mor

Approaching Meall Mor Ridge End

At the ridge-end, I romped off back down the side, the only problem being the resurgence of the clegs who had missed bagging the summit but had now re-discovered me unfortunately. I gained another sly bite or so…

On arrival back at the bridge by the lodge, I knew I was due a potentially waterless slog back across the low hills to my car so decided to preserve my flask and drank several cupfuls more water from the burn – very refreshing. I also stopped on the bridge in a nice breeze for an oatie bar. It was then back to the fight with the gate to the lodge – the man was still mowing the lawn but had seen me and looked fine about my presence – he was just an estate worker anyway…

As I exited the perimeter of the lodge I noticed the ‘lady’ of the house was strolling down to the loch shore in wellies for a spot of fishing. I’d decided also to go down to the loch shore as I couldn’t face the amount of pathless moorland ascent to reach the col I’d come over by Meallan Buidhe. My return plan was to follow the loch shore for a couple of pathless miles to another low pass between Meallan Odhar and Beinn Dubh – that would take me almost straight down to the car and had the advantage of being some 600 feet lower than the outward pass.

Bidean an Eoin Dearg fm nr Pait Lodge

The pathless shoreline went much better than I expected (Loch Quoich’s is a nightmare!) – there were a few burn crossings but, as the water levels were very low indeed, there was no problem with any of them. I was soon at the burn exit where I intended to head up over my moorland pass.

Craig Munros from Loch Monar Shore
Sgurr Choinnich/Chaorachan Range

Bidean an Eoin Dearg fm Return Pass
The Beautiful Bidean an Eoin Dearg – worth much more than ‘top’ status!

Luckily, although the ascent seemed very long, there was only one what I would call ‘heartbreaking rise’ and then I was crossing the long, level, peat-hagged pass. I knew there was a stalkers’ path at the far end of the pass which headed off back to Gleann Innis an Loichel and the car.

Although I was looking the wrong side of the glen for the path (for some reason I thought it was up to Beinn Dubh and not Meallan Odhar), I found a path coming down from Beinn Dubh which crossed the river and morphed into the stalkers’ path back down to the glen.

Now I knew I was home and dry and, looking at my watch, with at least an hour to spare, I sat for a longer break to enjoy some of the sunshine and finish my flask. Unfortunately for me, the clegs decided that would be a great time to step up their harassment campaign and they moved me on much sooner than I was planning.

Oh well, back to the car. Now, parking at this spot by the power station has, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, one very huge advantage in summer. This is the truly massive jet of water emitting from the building which sprays the whole surroundings with lovely, cool spray. Whenever I arrive back here on a hot and sticky day, I strip down to my t-shirt and trousers and stand in the cold spray, rotating slowly around and getting deliciously soaked. A really quick way to cool off at the end of the day 🙂

Pretty soon, I felt ready for the long drive back down the glen. This time, as I didn’t know when I would be back, I resolved to stop often and take photos of the many beautiful vistas down the glen – Strathfarrar is a truly lovely place.

Upper Strathfarrar from Lochiel

Strathfarrar winding river

Strathfarrar loch and island

Strathfarrar Swan Pool

Strathfarrar pool

Arriving back at my restful campsite, I was pleased to note that, for the first time this year, I wasn’t exhausted after my long day!

Stats: 18 miles, 3841 feet of ascent, 8 hours 10 minutes

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14 responses

9 12 2016
hattie

I am called after Loch Monar. Every year I stay in Pait Lodge.

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11 12 2016
mountaincoward

I think Loch Monar is just about my favourite Scottish loch – certainly my favourite area of Scotland. How come you visit Pait Lodge? I thought it was private?
Carol.

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5 10 2014
fedup

Missed this one too 😦 I seem to be getting so much spam recently everything gets lost in my inbox!!

Looks good walking country 🙂 another glen on my list!!! I can second your recommendation for the Cannich Campsite

Cheers

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6 10 2014
mountaincoward

I really do like the solitude in the Loch Monar area and intend to do a lot more there when I’ve finished my tops. I’ll definitely be making an annual pilgrimage to the Cannich Campsite too 🙂

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5 09 2014
GrahamInHats

I’m sure it’s worth it to get such great shots.

Don’t worry about a fear of heights. It’s not that the mountains are high, it’s just that the bits in between are low. 🙂

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5 09 2014
mountaincoward

It was nice to be able to get some decent photos in some good weather for a change – I’m not noted for getting good weather in the Scottish hills. Shame about the haze on the earlier ones though…
Carol.

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2 09 2014
McEff

I had a similar experience to you in the glen a few years ago. The lady on the entrance gate was very nice but I felt pressured to get my walk done before it was locked at night. Plus, I had a run-in with a stalking party, and that blighted the day somewhat.
But if I’d known there was a wet T-shirt display taking place near the power station I’d have brightened up a bit.
Cheers, Alen

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5 09 2014
mountaincoward

LOL! I never thought of the effect of my wet white t-shirt – good job no-one else is ever around in that area. Not that it would bother me as I haven’t much ‘shame’ 😉
Carol.

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26 08 2014
bob

Great post and photos Carol. I’ve only visited that glen a couple of times. I try to avoid the Western Highlands in heat wave conditions due to the clegs midges and humidity. Read an article in the latest Scottish Mountaineer mag that the folk that live in Glen Etive are so fed up with rubbish and abandoned tents every summer in that glen, where wild camping is allowed, that they are suggesting it be a private road where you would have to walk in to camp. (The photos of the mountains of junk left behind are pretty bad and they get left to clean it up) I’m well behind the times as I still remember Glen Etive as a beautiful remote area with only a few tents belonging to genuine outdoor folk..
Also in another article in S.M. human waste is a growing problem in the outdoors with the recommended method being you should carry any waste produced back out again in a bag.
Changed times since the carefree days when all you needed was a small trowel or a spade.
Maybe you are completing your Munro adventure at the right time.. while its still wild and unrestricted.

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26 08 2014
mountaincoward

There certainly are a lot of campers down Glen Etive – last time I was there (when it ate my car 😦 ), there were campers the whole way down the glen. Some of them would be hill people and probably cleared up afterwards, but there were some quite large, uncontrolled-looking fires with groups of folks around them drinking lots of cans who didn’t look so good really. Down the end, by the beautiful loch, seems to have turned into an unofficial campsite and I wasn’t so sure about the look of many of the folk camped down there either – although I might be being harsh and they were possibly all okay. It was the middle of the day and I was just taking photos so I didn’t get to see what was left at the end of their camping.

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25 08 2014
smackedpentax

Wow! Looks a magical place!

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25 08 2014
mountaincoward

I like the peace and desolation down there – lovely…

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25 08 2014
stravaigerjohn

THere has been a great deal of hot weather in Scotland the past few summers.

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25 08 2014
mountaincoward

It’s been very hot each July but that’s been the only good weather I’ve had up there really – same as here I think. Hasn’t August been cold?

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