Date: 26th to 28th April 2013
Hills: Meall nan Damh (Graham), Sgurr Ghiubhsachain (Corbett), Stob a’Bhealach an Sgriodain [Druim Tarsuinn] (Corbett)
Route: Click to view on Social Hiking
With just two weeks left until the start of the TGO Challenge I decided it was about time I got out and did some backpacking. Recent weekends have been taken up by a number of interesting diversions with trips to see family in Yorkshire at Easter, a few nights in London followed by a wedding in Norfolk and then taking visitors around the delights of Royal Deeside. All of this amounted to a lot of good food, drink and travel, but very little hiking and certainly no nights spent cooped up in a tent listening to the Scottish rain hammering down.
So it was that I found myself making an early get-away from Aberdeen on a Friday morning and driving west through an ever changing mixture of sunshine, cloud-covered mountains and rain showers to reach the Corran Ferry south of Fort William. This glided across the glassy waters of Loch Linnhe to Ardgour and just a few miles north of the pier I parked up at the entrance to Cona Glen, one of the glens that runs east-west through the eastern end of the Ardnamurchan peninsula. After recently reading about James’ brilliant trip to this area my own plans had been solidified and looking for a mix of good glen walking, some hills and without worrying about conditions at Munro height I was here in Ardgour with a plan.
After another rain shower passed over it was under pleasant sunshine that I ambled my way into the peaceful confines of the glen. The river chattered away, the water level reasonably high, and I made good progress on an easy landrover track.
Lower Cona Glen is green and fertile and the narrow sides hide the mountains away from you but beyond the trees I came out into open upper reaches where a string of hills marched away on either side, culminating in the snow-capped twin peak of Sgurr Guibsachan, a Corbett.
The rain came on heavier and I stopped to put on my waterproofs but beyond the locked cottage of Corriarach it slacked and then eased off completely, dark grey skies to bright sunshine in just a minute or two. As lunchtime had passed during the shower I left the track and paused down by the river for a wrap. The remarkable views pulled me onward and soon enough I was in the upper reaches of the glen.
On my left the Graham of Meall nan Damh offered an “inviting” climb and so rather than wade through the track building site I climbed steeply up to its heathery ridge.
As I gained altitude it was clear the next shower was on its way and as I headed along the undulating summit plateau it hit in full force, a fierce northerly wind bringing bitingly cold snow.
I paused only briefly at the first summit but by the time I reached the west top it was easing and as I descended down slippery slopes to the glen of the Allt na Cruiche the sun returned and I quickly warmed back up.
After crossing the boggy glen it was then a very waterlogged track that dropped me down towards the River Callop. Ahead of me a snow-capped Streap emerged from dark clouds. On the way I caught up a slow moving walker who turned out to be 70 years old and just embarking on the Cape Wrath Trail. He was complaining about brining along 1.5kg of amateur radio equipment!
After passing Callop and the public car park I turned onto the Forestry Commission road which runs along the southern side of Glen Callop. Here a series of side trails lead to viewpoints and I stopped at the “River View” for a late afternoon snack.
Then it was onward, passing the branch off to the boardwalk that leads to the Glenfinnan Memorial and turning south the follow the east shore of Loch Shiel.
By now it was early evening, the rain showers had dried up and it was wonderful. The forestry road is a bit of a slog but the views to the high peaks of Ardgour and Moidart made up for it. At the cottage of Geusachan I found the place had become an industrial complex with fish farming and generators droning away. I was glad to leave it behind and as I approached the forestry spotted a likely looking spot right by the water’s edge. With two streams flowing into the loch and good views it was here that I would pitch for the night.
It was a bit blowy as I got the tent up so I sheltered in the porch to cook dinner (soup, couscous, cheese and salami followed by tea and dark chocolate). As evening advanced the wind died down and I went to sit by the shore watching the light change over the water. This culminated in a beautifully subtle sunset that set the water off in hundreds of shades of pinks and oranges and purples.
I retired to my sleeping bag for another cuppa and to listen to some podcasts. Later on I went outside and found a glittering show of stars. It was calm by the water but a strong wind was teasing the clouds out over the tops of the hills. Back in the tent I snuggled up into my down cocoon and drifted off to sleep.
Saturday morning was chilly but utterly still and sunny. Deep in the trench of Loch Shiel I didn’t get the direct sunlight and slept in until an hour or two after sunrise. Rising I got water on for coffee and porridge and then poked my head out to look at the reflection of Beinn Odhar Beag in the loch. It was a stunning morning and the forecast was good for the rest of the day, at least until early evening when the wind would sift back to the west, increasing in strength and bringing with it a bucketload of Atlantic ocean!
Fuelled up I got packed away and started the brutal ascent of Meall a Coire Cruinn, one of the many peaks that rise up almost vertically out of the sea level loch. It was a tough clamber up heathery and grassy slopes, weaving hither and thither to avoid bands of crags, but the reward of attaining the ridge was seeing a white-tailed sea eagle take off and sweep down into the gloom of a coire.
Behind me the view over the loch to the rough peaks of Moidart was stunning and now ahead of me I was faced with the alpine north-west face of Sgurr Ghiubhsachain, the Corbett which had dominated the head of Cona Glen the day before.
The ridge was a jumble of crags and rocks but it was possible to thread a route through all this and only the final ascent to the summit shoulder was truly steep. For this I donned microspikes and shouldered my axe but the snow was soft and didn’t pose any problems.
I emerged to glorious views down Cona Glen all the way to Nevis and the Mamores. The final slope was a joyous scramble and then I was at the huge summit cairn under blue skies.
The views were incredible in all directions, not only to the Lochaber peaks near at hand, but further off to Creag Meagaidh, the Monadh Liath, and then towards Loch Arkaig and the peaks of Knoydart. In the south the land stretched out to the sea and in the distance the dark shape of Ben More on Mull stood out.
After a long break here I carried on my traverse of the hill, following easy ridge south to the next top of Meall nan lice. This offered more glorious views down Loch Shiel and also served as a good spot for lunch.
After this I dropped down some very steep slopes to the low bealach above the head of Cona Glen and then picked my way up the ridge of Drum Tarsuinn heading for my second Corbett of the day.
Despite the easier gradient there were still a few crags to manoeuvre around but the summit of Drum Tarsuinn (called Stob a’ Bhealach an Sgriodain by the OS) brought the reward of yet more views.
Further on I crossed my final top of the trip on Meall Mòr, stopping to look down to Cona Glen and then to Lochan Dubh nestled before Glen Scaddle.
There was a sustained drop down to the next bealach, during which I stopped to chat to a couple over from Fort William for a few nights, and then it was down incredibly steep slopes to reach the shores of Lochan Dubh.
The ascent was pathless except for very faint traces in the upper reaches and soon it became prudent just to carefully pick out the most likely way down and follow it, poles clutched tightly in hand.
Down by the lochan it was warmer and I stopped for a final break looking along the waters which were starting to be ruffled by that promised westerly wind. From here I made my way along the shore, occasionally picking up a track but more often than not boghopping.
Beyond the lochan the track became clearer and this made progress down into Glen Scaddle much quicker. As I reached the glen a footbridge took me across the burn and at the point where the two waters met I found an idyllic stretch of grass to pitch the tent.
Tent up I spent a time lazing in the sunshine. Unfortunately I soon found out that the idyllic site was also a bit of a hit with the local ticks. After evicting these from my trousers and noticing that big black clouds had gathered in the west I retired to the tent for dinner (super noodles, pasta, cheese, salami followed by tea and dark chocolate). By 8pm it was raining, hard, and so I resigned myself to an evening in the tent, reading some Murakami and listening to music.
The rain continued pretty constantly all night. At around 7 it slackened off and I roused myself with a mocha. As I was about to peer outside the tent it came on again harder than ever so I spent another hour reading. I packed everything up in the tent and then headed outside. Both rivers were now raging past and I soon got the tent away and strapped to the handy carry loops on the bottom of the pack.
The weather once I got going wasn’t actually too bad and with a nice easy walk down the glen ahead of me and the wind behind I made good progress. Occasional pauses to look back confirmed that there was plenty of dramatic weather in the hills today.
At the LRT crossing I took to the opposite bank of the river but then, rather than following the track as it headed into the forest, I attempted to follow the path marked on the OS map running close to the river. This proved a bit of a mistake as the path was very “aspirational” and I spent more time hopping along the firm riverbank than I did following its course.
It wasn’t bad though (although the path on the north bank is much firmer and clear as far as I could see) and I eventually rejoined the LRT for the final stretch through Glen Scaddle and back to the car. Although it rained off and on I got back largely dry. The glen had been dramatic with waterfalls raging down the high coires to the south and the high peaks behind shrouded in cloud with occasional bursts of blue sky.
After getting changed it was then a short drive down to the ferry which I missed thanks to a motley group of new born lambs and their mothers who were sauntering their way into Ardgour. A half hour later though I was across and soon driving back east through all sorts of weather to finally make it back to Aberdeen after a rewarding weekend.
Bring on the TGO Challenge!