13:15 – Spidean Mialach (M146), 3268ft, 996m
14:45 – Gleouraich (M097), 3396ft, 1037m
The meanings of the names of these mountains refer respectively to wild animals and the noises they make. As I gained the huge corrie that lies between them, I began to hear it – the unmistakable roar of stags. The cloud was down to just above the summits, but moving past very quickly and not completely obscuring the light of the sun. The ground was dry and the colours of the land dulled, so it was difficult to locate the source of the roaring. I disturbed a group of young hinds sheltering in the peat hags. Later as I scrambled up the gully of a burn in an effort to keep out of the wind, nearing the summit ridge, I was surveyed by a large heavy antlered stag and his harem. When the ground flattened into grasses and shattered rock, I passed over the tracks of where they had walked and the scent of his musk still hung over the ground. I was evidently witnessing the first of the rut.
The northern slopes of this pair of Munros are a chaos of broken rock, crags, sheer cliffs, steep corries and unstable peat. Its sharp buttresses are a familiar view to anybody who has walked along the South Glen Shiel Ridge and seen Ben Nevis in the distance behind them.
The path along the ridge is very good and it affords views of everywhere, but today these were diminished by haze and cloud. More is made of these aspects in walk reports than the resident fauna – in particular the zigzag stalker’s path by which I was planning to descend. After a very tasty lunch in the lee of Gleouraich’s handsome cairn, I descended the walker’s path onto the south shoulder of the mountain and discovered the end of the stalker’s path – the place that the path goes, its purpose.
Behind a low wall, dug into the mountainside, partially paved and with ample room for supplies, an emplacement for those whose pleasure it is to slaughter animals, looking down on a vast corrie of peat hags and rutting grounds, still echoing from time to time with grunts and roars. Stalkers are after all those who know where the deer are to be found, so they can carry out their duties for the owners of the land, their guests and clients. The paths they use are often very ancient and their lines are not necessarily the ones a walker would choose, primarily because horses are also employed in the task of killing deer – although the gentler gradients of zigzagging no doubt makes it easier for those who do the actual killing to get to places where they can get their best shots. I tarried a moment to reflect upon this realisation – that my access to these mountains is granted by my complicity in this elision of land management and canned hunting. Not that I am unaware of these things, but this simple shelter scooped out of the ground brought me back to reality. I thought for a moment of taking a photo of it, so I could display it here, but I decided not to make use of this facility in any way, not to acknowledge it and to walk on.
The path down is of course excellent, a remarkable feat of engineering, paved and drained all the way from clinging high on the edge of the precipitous west shoulder to zigzagging through crags and bogs, always looking down on the mess left at the shores of Loch Cuach by water no longer used by the dam and beyond to the hazy peaks of Knoydart.
The line I would have taken coming off this hill, if there had been no path and I were looking only at the contours on the map, would have involved following the crest of the south shoulder so I could look back to the left to survey the ridge I had walked, and then fnding a way down back to the road in a more south easterly direction. The stalker’s path does more or less this except for one crucial detail; it is very carefully constructed on the leeward side of the ridge that encloses the corrie so that any deer going about their business will be sheltered from all sight, sound and smell of any human beings on the way to shoot them from above. Not that I am ungrateful for the path; if I had wanted, I could easily still have followed the crest, and it was a relief to be out of the wind following a well trodden route that was going to take me safely back to the car without having to navigate nor ploughter over complicated ground before driving for another three and a half hours. But the experience of stags and the place at the end of the path reminded me of how it is possible for me to be here at all.