Thursday, 20 July 2017

Binnein Beag and Binnein Mor

Saturday 3rd June 2017

This walk was characterised by the rapidly changing weather, sunshine and heavy showers, and by indecision, but curiously the indecision was not really caused by the weather. I had camped beside the small loch that lies in the saddle between Sgòr Eilde Beag and Sgùrr Eilde Mor, an excellent location where I had a good night’s sleep and woke up to the same fabulous sunny weather that I had enjoyed when I went to bed. Setting off along the good clear path that passes my loch I dropped down to cross the Allt Coire a’ Bhinnein before following the excellent path as it contours around Coire a’ Bhinnein. Already this walk was entertaining me as I walked in good sunshine and along this great path that led me to the foot of Binnein Beag where a faint path climbs the loose scree all the way up to the summit of the Munro. This mountain is an outlier of the Mamores and the most remote peak in the range so that it is the last one for me to, I hesitate to use the word, bag. As I was climbing I saw dark clouds coming from the west over the Mamores slowly drowning out the gorgeous sunshine that I had been enjoying since the day before.

From the small top of Binnein Beag I headed back down the scree with my attention fixed on the mountain opposite, the much higher neighbour Binnein Mor, that throws a craggy ridge towards Binnein Beag. There didn’t seem to be much of a path up to this ridge and there is a very steep bastion of rock defending the approach that did not make the ridge look easy to climb and would involve some potentially tough scrambling. Alternatively there is a distant northern ridge and a much closer eastern ridge that looked easy enough once I’d crossed the mouth of Garbh-choire. In worsening weather I crossed the saddle and made my way to the mouth of the small, rough corrie and reached the start of the ridge just as it started to rain. A faint path gradually materialised as I made my way up what became an enjoyably good climb on an airy ridge with hardly any scrambling required, which was fortunate in the wet weather, and led me straight towards the summit cairn of Binnein Mor. I had been to the top of this Munro twice before, first in 2006 and again in 2008, and both times bad weather had prevented me from enjoying a view from the summit.

Despite the rain that had accompanied me for most of the climb I now had clear views so that I see all the way along the ridge to the south top and onto the neighbouring Munro of Na Gruagaichean and the rest of the Mamores. Although the rain had stopped by the time I reached the top of Binnein Mor the mountains to the south were still receiving a heavy deluge while the sun was attempting to break through behind me creating a dramatic, contrasting view. As I made my way along the ridge to the south top I was once more undecided on my onward direction as I’d originally planned to turn left and descend Sgòr Eilde Beag back to my tent, but it was far too early in the day and the weather seemed to be improving. I’d planned a walk that was far too short, simply up Binnein Mor and Binnein Beag, which was accomplished but now what? When I reached the south top I turned right and headed towards Na Gruagaichean knowing full well that I would have to retrace my steps. The weather continued to improve as I descended with fabulous views of the Mamores ahead of me prompting me to stop, have my lunch and take off my waterproofs.

After eating I set off down to the bottom of the col and up the narrow, craggy ridge to the summit of Na Gruagaichean that I had previously visited on the same walks that had taken me up Binnein Mor, and so consequently had also not seen a view from this summit until this moment. It was great to be at the top of these fine mountains in improving weather that enabled me to get a view across the entire range of the Mamores. These stunning views of the awesome ridges of the Mamores were making it hard for me to turn back as all I really wanted to do was keep going. Ever since I spent a fantastic weekend in the Mamores in 2005 I have loved these hills and their narrow connecting ridges so that it was very difficult for me to turn my back on them. Eventually I descended to the narrow gap that separates the small, rocky summit of Na Gruagaichean with its broad, grassy north-west top where I stopped at the cairn that overlooks the broad saddle to Stob Coire a’ Chairn and gazed out over the views.

The narrow gap between the summit and the north-west top is badly eroded with such a difficult path between that I was so reluctant to retrace my steps that I just kept on going down the broad slopes to the bottom of the col and took the path that descends into Coire na Bà. Part of me really wanted to keep going farther into the Mamores to bag a few more Munros, but what is the point of that as I’ve been up these mountains before so I wouldn’t be bagging anything I didn’t already have. Despite the fantastic weather I took this path that I had taken down in 2008 and is very good initially as it skirts below Na Gruagaichean but soon deteriorates as it drops steeply into the valley. It would have been great if I could have followed the contours round the slopes of the mountain but this would be stupid and pathless on steep ground, although that didn’t stop me briefly attempting it before I came to my senses. As the path deteriorated on boggy ground the weather also began to deteriorate with rain once more beginning to fall.

Although this rain was brief by the time I had reached the Loch Eilde Mor track at the bottom of the valley it had started to rain again and this time it was falling very heavily and it had also brought thunder. Being at the top of a mountain in a thunder storm is not a good idea, however fortunately I was not at the top of a mountain, but I had camped near the top of a mountain. With the rain falling heavily around me I had to walk along the Loch Eide Mor track until the rain and thunder eventually stopped so that I could have a more pleasant walk up the path that I’d taken the previous day climbing all the way up into Coire an Lochain to what was left of my tent. In some ways this was a fantastic walk with an awesome climb up Binnein Mor where I was finally able to get a view across the fabulous Mamores, however my choices may not have been great. I had descended all the way down to 250 metres above sea level only to then have to climb all the way back up to 750 metres at the end of a tiring day. This may not have been the wisest action, however it had meant that during the thunder storm I was safely down in the valley rather than exposed on top of the mountain.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Sgùrr Eilde Mor

Thursday 1st and Friday 2nd June 2017

Setting off from the Leacach bothy that had been my home for the last three days I followed the path that passes the bothy and climbs over the pass between Meall Mòr and Stob Bàn. After several days of walking with a light rucksack it was quite a shock to suddenly be carrying a heavy rucksack again even though it was now a lot of lighter than it had been when I’d walked to the Leacach bothy. The weather had deteriorated since the wonderful conditions that I’d enjoyed the day before on the Grey Corries ridge so that now it was grey and overcast, so in other words back to norm. Just after I reached the top of the pass I stopped to attend to a blister that I had on my foot, which had probably been acquired on the rocky ground of the previous day. After one compeed patch had been applied I started descending into the valley with tiny, yellow, flowers (maybe ground hugging broom?) lining the path as it followed the Allt nam Fang to the vicinity of the Meanach bothy. Rather than going to the bothy I turned right and crossing the stream heading up the virtually pathless valley of the Abhainn Rath.

I had come this way in 2013 while on my way from Dalwhinnie to Fort William and the walk was just as dreary as I’d remembered. There is little or no path to follow and nothing really interesting to look at except for the occasional spotted-orchid. After passing over the watershed I started descending into Glen Nevis while the weather tried to both rain and bring the sun out as if it did know what it was doing. There is a point in upper Glen Nevis where the path splits and I remember on previous occasions taking the lower path beside the river after failing to see the higher path so this time I made a determined effort. After crossing the Allt Coire a’ Bhuic I left the path and started climbing the hillside until eventually and after a lot of effort I found the good, though not necessarily better or dryer, path. This higher path had improved significantly by the time the lower path joined so it would be good to take the path in the opposite direction sometime in the future and see where the higher path starts.

Eventually I reached the ruins of Steall and passed into the popular Steall meadow at the foot of An Steall waterfall. I have been here many times with the last time in September just one week before a big landslide had demolished the path that goes through the Nevis gorge. Thanks to the excellent work of the John Muir Trust this fabulous path has been rebuilt and reopened enabling me to pass through, and it was interesting to see the signs of the recent rockfall. In places there were many large boulders and damaged trees below the path that are a testament to the destructive power. By the time I had reached the end of this great path it was raining persistently, but this didn’t stop me as I followed the road down for a distance before taking a delightful path through carefully restored woodland on the other side of the river that took me down to the lower falls. Forest tracks kept me off the road as I made my way to the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel arriving mid-afternoon, but since it was now raining quite heavily I was happy to stop before making a quick trip into Fort William for supplies.

The following morning I waited for the bus to take me back to Fort William and then took another one from there to Kinlochleven while the weather seemed to be improving with blue sky breaking through. I was a little confused by the paths as I started to climb through the woods above Kinlochleven, which I recalled was also my experience when on this path in 2008, but this time I realised my error early and retraced my steps so that I could take the right path through horribly eroded and deep scars making for a difficult climb while carrying a heavy rucksack. Once the path finally emerges from the woodland there is a fabulous view down the length of Loch Leven with mountains and woodland framing the picture on both sides of the loch. Several heavy showers fell on me in between hot sunshine that made it difficult to decide what to wear with waterproofs coming on and off several times while behind me the tremendous view down Loch Leven continued to attract my notice until the gradient finally eased. Crossing the Loch Eilde Mór track I took a path that climbs into Coire nan Laogh to reach the Allt Coire nan Laogh.

With the weather continuing to improve I contemplated stopping at this burn, which would have made a fabulous place to camp, but instead I kept going climbing steeply up the path around the southern slopes of Sgòr Eilde Beag until I reached the loch that lies between Sgòr Eilde Beag and Sgùrr Eilde Mor. In the fabulous weather that I was now enjoying, so long as I kept out of the cold wind, the conical mountain across the loch looked awesome and really inviting. After pitching up my tent near the loch I set off towards Sgùrr Eilde Mor, past the loch and onto the path that snakes up the hillside getting increasingly steep as it climbs the slippery scree. This was an excruciating climb upon a surface that was more dirt than stones and really tricky to get a grip. I was really relieved to reach the summit ridge, however this is so narrow that I felt a bit of vertigo as I walked up the stony ridge to the summit of the Munro. The views everywhere in the good weather were amazing and justified the climb with every mountain around, including Ben Nevis, clearly seen.

So long as I kept my eyes on the distance I was okay, enthralled in the awesome views, but as soon as I saw how steep the hillside all around me was I felt rather uneasy. Before too long I started making my way back to the surprisingly relative safety of the sheer scree slope where I found that my poles were a great help in ensuring I made a slow, careful way down the loose stones all the way back down to my tent. I was camped in a fabulous location and that Friday evening the weather was sensational, and I enjoyed every moment. Most of these two days was spent in pretty dull travelling with only brief moments of interest, and most of them were later in the second day. The first day was just in order to get away from Lairig Leacach and the main purpose of the second day was so that I could get into the ideal position to do a great walk over the Mamores, but that would come the day after. Going up Sgùrr Eilde Mor at the end of the day was a bonus even though I had the rather uneasy feeling that it was merely Munro-bagging. How could I?!