A winter ascent of the Corbett Ben Resipol from Strontian in the area north of Loch Sunart.
Date: 22nd November 2013
Hills: Ben Resipol [Corbett]
Weather: Chilly start but clouding over with milder temperatures and rain later
Route: View on OS Maps
It’s not often that I find myself doing a day walk out of season and on a week day. Such it was that on Friday morning I found myself walking down the main road through Strontian, decked out for another day in the wintry hills of Ardgour and with an ice axe strapped to my pack, threading my way between mums and children heading to school!
It was a dead calm morning and a heavy frost lay everywhere, the land almost merging with the still waters of Loch Sunart. Walk Highlands suggests starting this walk from higher up the glen beyond Strontian, but unsure of the road conditions and tempted by a proper car park rather than the grass verge higher up I opted for this route which really only added on a couple of kilometres to either end of the day.
I crossed the river and then left the main road behind to enter the still confines of Phemie's Walk. This delightful little stretch of woodland rose up the hill beyond the village and offered good paths that threaded their way amongst the trees, autumnal foliage drifiting on the floor and crunching underfoot.
A path leaves the waymarked routes at the top of hill and then crosses the common grazing land to meet the farm lane. As I crossed the pastureland I could see that Ben Resipol was attracting some cloud though there was still some weak sunshine hitting the hills further into Ardgour.
The farm lane took me north in parallel with Strontian river and I enjoyed the views down over the sinuous village, a hazy mist rising up amongst the houses. Away down the glen the hills of Ardgour, Sgurr Dhomhnuill's twin summit most prominent, stood, sharply defined in the morning sun as it rose somewhere beyond Lochaber. The ground was frozen with puddles and icy pools but I was able to avoid the worst of the slippery surface and picked my way along to the point where the Right of Way to Polloch branches off and starts to climb the slopes of Beinn a' Chaorainn
The track wound its way up the hillside, following the course of a burn that tumbled down in a series of different waterfalls. Progress was hindered only slightly when a misplaced foot caught the edge of an ice patch and I came tumbling down, luckily landing in the heather. After that I spent a little more time watching my feet and a little less time gazing off at the sunlit hills.
The views opened out as I gained height and soon I was looking back at Garbh Beinn as its shadowy flanks came into view across the way beyond Ariundle. Cloud was swiftly gathering as I left the icy track behind and followed a minor burn up the final stretch of hillside to reach the northeastern shoulder of Beinn a' Chaorainn. This provides the shortest route from the Polloch track to Ben Resipol, my target for the day.
The ground was wet but I picked a dry line across the hillside until I passed through a rocky portal and got my first proper view of Ben Resipol. It's eastern spine stretched away westward and into the clouds but it was a magnificent sight nontheless. I stopped here for a bite of food and a drink, watching as the cloud started to veil the Ardgour hills. A glimpse of water told my that Loch Shiel was just in view.
Meall an t-Slugain, the bealach between me and Ben Resipol proved an interesting series of topographical challenges, the land constantly rising and falling, the going wet and at times dangerously icy. I steered a course through it all, relying on my poles more than usual. I was glad to start finally climbing the true slopes of Ben Resipol where I soon got into the snowline.
The light was rapidly changing as I hit steep ground and had to pick my way carefully uphill, the snow proving mostly soft and yielding to my Scarpas. The surrounding hills had almost disappeared but sunlight was still shining down to the south illuminating the hills beyond Loch Sunart.
It was good to reach the ridge proper and now I started threading my way over and amongst the rocky lumps, making my way gradually westward towards the snow slopes of Ben Resipol proper. I rose to meet the lowering cloud base until I was eventually lost in a mirky grey world.
There wasn't much of a discernible track to follow so I chose my own line, climbing up the snowy slopes until the ridge eventually narrowed and there was just one way up. On a blue sky day this must be a spectacular walk. Entirely non-technical but enjoying a fabulous position with the slopes dropping away steeply on both sides. The ridge is wonderful and I enjoyed following its unwavering line upward through the whiteness and then across a series of false summits before I was finally climbing up to the summit of the Corbett.
I stopped here for a well earned rest. It was mostly still but cold in the damp air. I munched a couple of sandwiches down, gazing off into the blank. In my mind I was looking out westward across the sea to the isles glittering under a blue sky. I was looking northward and eastward to the serried ranks of the Highlands. This is a summit I shall be revisiting for the full experience.
I donned my crampon's for the descent, knowing there were at least a couple of short steep descents which had been easy in ascent but might prove otherwise in the poor visibility. Then I was off, retracing my steps through the dim, veiled world.
I skittered down the last of the snowy slopes, dislodging a crampon as the mossy grass took hold. I stopped to take them off and put them away, looking across at Beinn a' Chaorainn. I thought I might be able to take a more direct route back by heading to its summit and then dropping directly back down to the farm track above Strontian.
The rain came down harder and faster as I recrossed Meall an t-Slugain. From the high point on the eastern shoulder there wasn't much more ascent to make to the summit, perched on a rocky strip between peaty pools. I had a final drink, my hood pulled low over my brow, and then tried to find a way off the hill.
It was easy enough to pick a way down through the first set of crags but on inspection I decided that the upward track would be easier than picking my way across a good mile of peat and bog and dips and rises.
I made my way back to the track, eventually picking up an argocat route for the final stretch and then it was downward, the rising temperature and drizzle making light work of the remaining ice patches.
Down on the farm track and I had to do some avoidance moves around a large herd of cows which had taken up residence, and then it was back across the grazing land, down through the woods and back to the car for a short drive back across the bealach and up the coast to the cottage. Another fine day out despite the lack of views.