An Garbhanach – Please Make a Cairn Someone!

13 06 2015

Thu 14 May 2015

After a better night in a nice B&B in Fort William (I had wanted to car-camp in Glen Nevis but, looking at all the warning signs, thought I would end up getting moved on), I awoke to a second sunny day. My knee had recovered from its collapsed state but my quads hurt (a sign though that they had at last started to do their job and protect my ailing joints) and my legs were very tired. I thought I’d be pushing my luck to do another 3000-footer today…

An Garbhanach-the Monster!
An Garbhanach – scary beast!

Click on photos for full size/resolution
Really, all I wanted to do was go back to my caravan in the Lake District and sunbathe the day away but I realised I couldn’t really do that – you just can’t waste decent weather in Scotland as you never know when you will ever see any again! I drove unenthusiastically round to Kinlochleven as I’d decided that the only other southern, i.e. snow-avoiding, route to a Munro Top I could do in the area was that of An Garbhanach from there.

Doing An Garbhanach from the Kinlochleven side means that there is a small matter of a Munro in the way – that of Stob Coire a’ Chairn. My map showed that a little path cut round from the col into Coire Gabhail to reach the Bealach a’ Cadha Riabhach below An Garbhanach. As that was the north-east side, however, it was likely to be blocked by snow which meant I would probably have to do Stob Coire a’ Chairn on the way out and back!

I felt generally tired anyway and my legs felt wrecked so I really didn’t feel up to doing the route – even the easier version if the bypass path was passable. I set off thinking I’d just recce the route as far as the stalkers path up the corrie and the return via Mamore Lodge.

Kinlochleven Mare's Tail

A steep zig-zag path set off up through the woodland by the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall – I was soon in sight of the corrie. When I reached the crossing of the Mamore Lodge track, I forced myself to push on and continue ahead along the long path through the corrie up to the col.

Am Bodach & Gorge
Am Bodach and a rather superb gorge

As I followed the path I stopped noticing my tired legs – they must have been wearing in! Higher up the path, I found a poor frog. It was lying on its back completely bloated – I’m not sure why. I couldn’t really do any more for it than put it back upright, move it off the path into some shallow water and give it a good soaking to rehydrate it. I didn’t hold out much hope…

Deep frozen waterhole
A deep melting hole!

Am Bodach & Eastern Gorge

The stalkers path does two long traverses below the wall of Na Gruagaichean and, from here, I could see that there were huge banks of snow along the ridge of Stob Coire a’ Chairn which suggested that my traverse into Coire Gabhail would be blocked as originally suspected.

Am Bodach from Stalkers Path

Stob Coire a' Chairn from Stalkers Path
The Excellent Stalkers Path
Na Gruagaichean from Stalkers Path

An Garbhanach - First View
An Garbhanach appears on reaching the col

When I reached the col, I peered over into Coire Gabhail – on the section of the traverse I could see, there was only one awkward snow patch showing – I couldn’t see very far though as there was soon a corner. I’d wrongly assumed that the path started straight from the col but later found I should have gone about half-way up the second of the grassy rises to Stob Coire a’ Chairn. I decided to give the traverse a go even though I couldn’t see the path.

Stob Coire a' Chairn
Stob Coire a’ Chairn and my traverse slopes

I went across to the side of the snow patch and edged down the horribly steep slope by the side of it – I saw I was above a gully at that point so hoped I wouldn’t slip. There was a group of guys coming down off Na Gruagaichean observing me and probably wondering where on earth I was going.

I eventually managed to pass under the snow patch and around the corner on a slight shelf. I was pleased to note that, once round the corner, I could re-ascend to the ridge much more easily than my route so far if I needed to. I continued around a couple more corners until I was faced with a huge snow slide which extended from the top of the ridge to the foot of the corrie (visible on the above photo) – probably around 500 feet below. I didn’t have an ice axe today, only my walking pole.

After a moment’s indecision, I decided I wasn’t happy to cross the snow patch with the length of the potential slide. I studied the snow – there was a grass island about 50 feet down which I could reach on a steep, narrow rib – the rib ended with only about 10 feet of snow to slither down to the grass island. From there I could cross a narrower patch of only around 20 feet – I decided to do that.

When I arrived at the short slither to the grass island, I found the snow was fairly stable and treadable. I crossed the grass island to the narrow strip of snow and tentatively started to stamp my way across the snow using my pole above me. Suddenly, my pole stuck in the snow and I ended up lifting the top half of it completely off leaving the inner stuck in the snow (are they supposed to do that?) I retrieved the inner and found I now had use of two poles – a short stub in my upper hand and the longer half of the pole in my lower hand – it actually worked quite well but must have looked quite funny ๐Ÿ˜‰

After safely crossing the snow patch I rounded another corner to see I was almost at the upper corrie below An Garbhanach and just had easy grass to descend and reascend to the bealach. There were just three snow patches across the reascent – two were avoidable but the top one to the bealach wasn’t so I just headed straight up it. The snow here was superb and I kicked my way steadily and safely up it. My progress had been watched with interest by the group above who’d now reached Stob Coire a’ Chairn…

Once on the bealach I reassembled and stowed my pole and peered up at the steep and narrow ridge to An Garbhanach – from where I stood it looked fierce but fairly short. I hoped it was okay and set off up on a zig-zag path…

An Garbhanach Start
Doesn’t look too bad – what about that blue sky!

Quite soon I reached a scramble up some blocks – the ridge by now had narrowed to just a few feet and reared above me menacingly. As soon as I reached the top of the scramble I realised the path had actually just swapped sides of the ridge as it appeared on the opposite side so I needn’t have done the scrambling. I surmised at this point, quite correctly, that there isn’t actually any scrambling during the ascent of the ridge – the path just swaps from side to side all the way. It was quite airy but, looking down the sides, I decided it wasn’t yet fatal drops, just very steep.

Eventually, I reached the narrow and blocky summit ridge. This wasn’t such a nice place and the drop, at least on the right-hand side, would now be fatal if you lost your balance. There were three basic humps, the second was definitely slightly higher than the first so I continued to clamber along the top to the second hoping to see a cairn atop it marking the summit.

Unfortunately, when I reached the second airy summit, there was no cairn. I looked across a void to the third hump and couldn’t see one there either – I could just see huge blocks stacked on end like a cockscomb – nasty! The path to the third hump was even nastier and took off around the right-hand side, over the fatal drop, on an exceedingly tiny path. The path went around a corner and got even narrower. By now I was swearing quite badly and panting in fear.

Nope, no cairn on the third hump either and there were no more humps after that – just the tent-ridge to An Gearanach – so it was back along the nasty path. I reascended the second peak and decided that was probably the highest after all. Actually, on reflection a few days later, I realised that the cockscomb of standing blocks I’d seen were where I’d given up when coming from the An Gearanach side as I thought the side path too nasty to use (Richard had continued along it and back to wave to me from An Garbhanach). So that meant I’d now done the whole ridge, albeit in two separate visits.

As I’d been returning to the second hump, I met the first of the guys who’d been watching me from Na Gruagaichean and Stob Coire a’ Chairn. They could see I wasn’t happy and concernedly asked if I was okay. I said I wasn’t mad on the route! I asked if they were coming back that way after An Gearanach – they said they were so I said that, if I got stuck, I’d wait crying on the descent for them! They laughed…

Just starting the descent from the ridge, I met the rest of the guys in the group. “What was it like?” they asked. My exact answer was;

“F***g ‘orrid… sorry… I mean not very nice”

They too laughed… I told them there wasn’t a summit cairn and that I was very glad I’d already done An Gearanach and so hadn’t had to do the truly awful corner to reach it!

Further down I had to pass a group of three foreign walkers coming up – it was a bit of a squeeze and made me more nervous. They could see I wasn’t happy though and so they told me to stand still and clambered around me. I continued down exceedingly cautiously, using my hands all the way down.

I eventually reached the col and sighed with relief. I toyed with the idea of having a break but decided to get the sharp slog up the northern ridge of Stob Coire a’ Chairn out of the way – I’d already rejected the return traverse of the corrie wall, despite now being able to see the path as it crossed the big snow slide but much higher up than I had.

Sgurry Mhaim from An Garbhanach col
Sgurr a’ Mhaim from the col

Binnein Mor & Na Gruagaichean
Binnein Mor and Na Gruagaichean in the other direction

I turned to Stob Coire a’ Chairn and plodded resolutely up the steep zig-zag path in the scree. I was soon at the summit where I briefly admired the stupendous views all around and decided it was too cold to sit for a break as the cold easterly wind was hitting that peak. I took more photos and clambered down blocky quartzite scree to the grassy shoulder below.

An Garbhanach
An Garbhanach not looking quite so nice from here

Start of Traverse round SC a' Chairn
Where the path actually takes off for the traverse

Na Gruagaichean
The lovely Na Gruagaichean – definitely a beautiful maiden
Na Gruagaichean Zoom

Once I reached the grass it was just easy strolling back to my original col and the long, gentle descent of the stalkers path. I was glad the ground was quite wet as that made it soft and spongy and my legs loved it. The poor frog was now dead though ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

As I reached the stonier and drier section of the path, I got my pole back out. I reached the Mamore Lodge track just in front of a motorbike – I stuck my thumb out hopefully… A nice old guy with a big white beard cheerfully called out that it wasn’t far now. My legs didn’t agree but there was no room on his bike.

When I reached the now-deserted Mamore Lodge (an ex-hotel), I was a bit upset to see that I could have driven up there and parked, saving myself a couple of miles of walking and about 500 feet of ascent/descent. It would also have saved my legs from the worst (from their point of view) part of the descent – the hard tarmac back down to Kinlochleven. The tarmacked section finished my legs off completely – by the time I reached the car I was staggering badly and leaning heavily on the pole.

Another one in the bag although this and the previous day’s peaks should really have been done in one walk. Hopefully I’m back in semi-action though…

Stats: 8 miles, 3795 feet of ascent, 6.5 hours

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24 responses

18 06 2015
tessapark1969

Some great pictures there. I am yet to venture into the Mamores!

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18 06 2015
mountaincoward

Do it in summer – I wouldn’t fancy a lot of it in winter/snow etc. – some narrow ridges and some very steep bits.

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15 06 2015
McEff

Shame about the frog, but these things come to all of us.
Great pictures, Carol, And a great account. I did that ridge about 15 years ago from the Glen Nevis side, and two things stick in my mind: the slog up the front of An Gearanach was incredibly steep and arduous, and at one point on the connecting ridge I was holding on by my fingertips and toes. Other than that, it was a great day.
Hope your knees are still holding out. If you can manage ground like that you should be able to tackle just about anything.
Cheers, Alen

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15 06 2015
mountaincoward

My legs are improving (I’m not bragging about how they look, honest) ๐Ÿ˜‰

I googled the bloated frog later and there was nothing I could have done. Apparently, it was probably an egg-bound female and there’s nothing you can do to release them. Poor thing though…

The slog up the left-hand side of An Gearanach (as you look at it from Glen Nevis) isn’t steep – you must have done the scary opposite ridge. We came down that and I wished we hadn’t! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

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16 06 2015
McEff

I followed the stream into Coire Chadha Chaoruinn and hit a zigzag path that went straight up the front. It was a fair old slog.

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18 06 2015
mountaincoward

Yeah, we took the zig-zag up the front but eventually it leads you out onto one side or other of the final peak. The left-hand exit and onward route was much easier – I wouldn’t go near the other one again!

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15 06 2015
Rowena

You are brave! I would have been terrified doing that route.
I know what you mean about grabbing the sunny days in Scotland while you can though ๐Ÿ™‚

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15 06 2015
mountaincoward

I was glad I’d continued up the hills when I got back and recovered – always nicer to go up in bright and scenic sunny conditions ๐Ÿ™‚ The route up the ridge isn’t too scary really, at least not going up, but the top was truly ‘orrid!

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14 06 2015
underswansea

Looks like it was a lovely day. You could have set up camp on one of those snow slides and worked on your tan. Fantastic photos and write up. Take care of those legs. Bob

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15 06 2015
mountaincoward

It wasn’t really hot enough to tan – not like this last week I’ve just done in Scotland – that was really hot for a change and even I caught the sun (my skin is notoriously tough when it comes to tanning – it normally doesn’t bother here)

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14 06 2015
Blue Sky Scotland

Well done. Great photos and good mountain weather combined. I was down on High Street last weekend in similar conditions but lost all my pictures from the trip. Gutted! You cant have that many tops to do now?

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15 06 2015
mountaincoward

22 left as of this last week at Roy Bridge ๐Ÿ™‚ You can always check my remaining total on the ‘News & Totals’ page… How awful to lose your photos – I’d be heartbroken!

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14 06 2015
Gaslight Crime

Such grand pictures!

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15 06 2015
mountaincoward

Thanks John ๐Ÿ™‚ It was a superb day for a change.

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13 06 2015
fedup

Aced the weather again ๐Ÿ™‚ Great pics its amazing how a bit of blue in the sky changes things (not saying your pics are bad in the mist either!!)

You can’t have many tops left? I’ve sent you an email just in case it gets lost in your spam! Cheers Simon ๐Ÿ™‚

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13 06 2015
mountaincoward

Hi Simon, I’ve yet to get onto the e-mails – will be soon. There will be millions though (hardly any from friends though unfortunately, especially now I’m on so many petition sites and so on).

I’ll update my ‘News & Totals’ page tonight as I’ve just had another great-weather week in Scotland and my leg played ball too (no, I haven’t taken up football!)

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13 06 2015
Hannah

Sounds fantastic! And those views!
At the Keswick Mountain Festival I won a walking holiday and decided to take it in the highlands in September…I’m looking forward to reading your adventures up until then (and obviously afterwards as well:-) )

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13 06 2015
mountaincoward

Lucky you winning the walking holiday ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t usually win things but both my parents do for some reason.
Carol.

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14 06 2015
Hannah

I have to admit, I thought it was a joke/scam when I got the email! But super excited now and taking a friend from work who likes mini-adventures too!

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15 06 2015
mountaincoward

I’d probably have deleted it fearing it was a scam and not daring to open it first!

Liked by 1 person

15 06 2015
Hannah

je je je…I almost did! Hope you had a lovely weekend:-)

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15 06 2015
mountaincoward

It’s been restful – I think I was too tired to do much after the week we just had in Scotland – I’m getting old!

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13 06 2015
smackedpentax

Wow! That looks amazing. Scotland is so stunning…and it is time I got over there for a hike (now I have my new knees) ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

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13 06 2015
mountaincoward

How did it go? presumably okay? Has your pain gone away yet?

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