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?!

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